A Blended Learning Pilot: Teacher Tried, Student Tested

By Melissa Mauter, CityBridge-NewSchools Education Innovation Fellow and 8th grade math teacher at The Kipp Key Academy in Washington, D.C

Editor’s note: This guest post is part of an ongoing series from Microsoft’s YouthSpark non-profit partners focused on their work in local communities. In this back to school post, CityBridge -NewSchools Fellow and 8th grade Math Teacher Melissa Mauter tells us about the classroom pilot she created this summer along with 12 other teacher fellows as part of the CityBridge-NewSchools Education Innovation Fellowship (EIF). Earlier this year, CityBridge announced a $1 million grant from Microsoft to support STEM Education via the EIF’s blended learning approach.  

Early on a recent Monday morning, 12 Education Innovation Teacher Fellows reflected on summer school by answering this question: What would we each keep, change, or dump from our summer school redesigns?  In the months leading up to summer school, fellows planned classroom redesigns based on a blended learning model.  Blended learning models leverage computer based technologies in classrooms to personalize learning and accelerate student achievement.

With summer school under our belts and the new school year starting, we each gained experience in planning and implementing our classroom redesigns. The “keep, change or dump” list would serve as a springboard for designing fall pilots which iterate on summer school models to account for lessons learned.

I scanned the list from my fellow teachers.  Shane wanted to keep competency-based learning in his classroom -- He would need some tweaks to make it scalable to larger classes in the fall.  Charlotte and Vee would change back-up plans when hardware or timeline agreements with digital content providers failed. The “dump” list ranged from specific classroom procedures to earlier mindsets related to students learning best in more traditional ways. 

Kipp Key Academy Senior Kenya Johnson reflects on her progress towards her personal growth targets using Khan Academy, a computer-based math program.

This activity captured the spirit and practice of the Education Innovation Fellowship (EIF) in supporting teachers to increase student achievement and act as ambassadors in the field of blended learning.

Before the Fellowship, I viewed computers as adding a degree of separation between teachers and students. Through my classroom redesign, I learned that this notion had to do with how I had previously used computers in class.In my summer school classroom redesign I eliminated the use of a one-to-one computer model and created 6 computer stations instead. This move created more time to engage students in meaningful, project-based learning in smaller groups. I gained more chances to informally check for student understanding and adapt my instruction to respond to student misunderstandings.

Working with smaller groups of students proved to be a much less stressful learning configuration compared to my traditional style of teaching. In my more traditional style of whole group instruction, I would often feel uneasy about teaching towards the middle.  I experienced preoccupying thoughts of students who may be feeling bored or feeling confused.  My biggest takeaway from my classroom redesign is that using computers more strategically actually has the opposite effect of adding a degree of separation. In fact, computers helped me strengthen my relationships with my students by creating space to work with smaller groups and more opportunities to help and enjoy my students.

In this Fellowship, I have also learned how to apply the scientific method to help solve problems hindering student achievement in my classroom. While I have sweated the details of classroom plans more than ever before, I have also implemented ideas for changing my practice on a quicker timeline. I can confidently say because of this Fellowship, I have learned more about how students achieve in my classroom and I have learned it much faster than I would have on my own. The Fellowship has created a valuable framework for helping teachers to apply the scientific method to problem-solve through meaningful school observations, pilot planning templates, individual feedback, pilot redesign focus groups and conversations with just about every expert in the field of blended learning.

As a rising fifth year teacher, I can confidently say participation in this Fellowship constitutes one of the steepest and most impactful learning curves in my teaching experience. With what is best for students at the forefront of my mind, I owe it to other teachers to spread the word about lessons learned through this experience as well as progress made as blended learning continues to evolve in my classroom.