Blended Learning Boot Camp at Alpha Public School
By Martha Sessums
Alpha: Blanca Alvarado Middle School, a new charter school in San Jose, has taken the bold step to ensure computers are integrated members of the education team. All classes use blended learning, a mix of teacher instruction, group project learning and individual learning on computers in one classroom. Students rotate to one of the three areas every thirty minutes in a ninety-minute period.
The school is holding a three week summer school, starting July 23, where students and teachers focus on getting used to this new teaching and learning practice that depends on technology. Alpha’s first sixth and seventh grade classes will start this September.
But teacher training comes first. John Glover, Founder and CEO of Alpha Public School, invited me to join his teachers and administration at a half-day professional development on understanding this new tool for the classroom. Education Elements, Alpha’s blended education consultants, directed training. Its staff had worked for three months with Glover and his administration on developing the models and choosing the software.
Some of the Alpha teachers’ concerns: “What will this look like in practice?” “How will it change the way I teach?” “What is the classroom pacing?” “Kids are engaged with technology, but there is a limit. Is this too much?” “How do I manage a class with so many potential distractions?” “How do I use the daily data roundup on each student?” “Will this be easier or harder?”
Jane Bryson, part of EdElements School Partnerships Team, led the session with the help of other trainers and tech specialists. We were immersed in the blended learning model as we moved from small group instruction to computer stations where we went through material at our own pace. The goal was to get comfortable with blended learning Alpha-style.
“Blended learning is not less work for teachers and students,” said Bryson, “but is more efficient and effective.”
How? According to the EdElements videos, it returns teachers to small class instruction where they can have rich interaction with students. It accelerates learning because computers let students learn at their own pace, and they benefit from a teacher’s individual attention and small learning groups. Plus, much of the testing and grading is done by the computer system, freeing teachers to teach. The teacher checks the dashboard each morning to see the progress of each student and identify where to encourage.
“We’re changing the role of educators and education, and we will see how it changes the kids in the classroom,” said Glover. “We’ve been talking about using a blended learning model for a year, and now we get to see it in action.”
When I left at noon, the teachers were getting comfortable with the process for assigning curriculum to students and understanding the data on each student’s progress on the training dashboard.
“Wow, I can do that?” said one teacher.
Blended learning is a big topic, from curriculum, to success rates and even the required size of the network, so I will return again to this topic. You wouldn’t be an ACE Partner School if you didn’t use technology in the classroom. How is technology working for you and your students?