Disrupt your Math Classroom with Blended Learning

I am currently preparing a resource booklet for my next BER seminar, “Enhance Your Mathematics Instruction Through Blended Learning (Grades 6-12)”. As I compile research about blended learning in general, I am adapting what I find based on my experience in the secondary mathematics classroom. One really great resource for this is “The Rise of K–12 Blended Learning: Profiles of emerging models“ by Heather Staker, which can be downloaded for free at this link: christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/The-rise-of-K-12-blended-learning.emerging-models.pdf.

This publication concludes with a section titled “Steps for Success”, highlighting blended learning best practices that emerged from a research study of 40 schools from across the US that have implemented blended learning in a variety of formats. I immediately saw how each of these strategies can be effectively adapted for secondary math teachers.  Two of these steps are listed below with my recommendations for adaptation for the secondary mathematics classroom.

Beginning with Nonconsumption

According to the aforementioned text, “Blended-learning models have the greatest potential to follow a disruptive trajectory if they begin by offering online learning in brick-and-mortar settings to students who are non-consumers of mainstream schooling. When it goes head-to-head with the incumbent system by serving mainstream students first, blended learning is more likely to be crammed into the current classroom and sustain, rather than transform, the traditional classroom model.” Dropout recovery programs, alternative schools and self-blending programs for advanced students are offered as examples of this principle at work.

As math teachers, we have all dealt with varying forms of “nonconsumers” in our classrooms.  It may be the sleeper, who sits in the back of the room, totally disengaged with your teaching no matter what you try, or the super-advanced kid who is always underwhelmed by whatever new activity you introduce, as he or she is way ahead of whatever topic you are covering from the curriculum.  It could even be the teen mom/dad with a baby or a slew of younger siblings, and a job–which makes the student seem perpetually distracted or exhausted in your math class, when he she is not absent.

Whatever the case, giving students choices with regards to incorporating self-guided learning powered by technology could be an effective intervention.  Putting a student who previously checked-out of you class onto Khan Academy to “catch up” shows him or her that you really care enough to be flexible and offer them an alternative to (non-) participation in class as a way to learn.

If you want to try blended learning, consider starting with the kids that are not currently engaged in your lessons–perhaps this is just the jumpstart they need to get back on track. Additionally, as previously disengaged students get more interested in math as a result of self-blending, even your best students will be intrigued and want to try it for themselves!

Autonomous Zones

The writers present “autonomous zones” as schools within a district or charter network that are afforded greater control over things like class size and certification requirements in exchange for higher accountability around outcomes:

“Innovation stands the best chance of success if its leaders choose the right organization structure to manage it successfully. When an organization seeks to create deep changes around the economics
of its business model, the right organizational structure is an autonomous team. An autonomous team allows its participants to step away from their functional responsibilities in which agreeing with each other is difficult and become an independent team with its own set of purposes. In this new structure the team can rethink the organization’s resources, processes, and, importantly, its revenue formula. Thus, leaders at all levels seeking to transform the education system must establish autonomous spaces where they can deploy innovative models in the right context and create new funding models.”

Your classroom becomes an autonomous zone when you simply allow students make choices with regards to how they want to learn, using technology to augment your ability to differentiate based on each student’s expressed needs.  For example, setting up a rotation model where students can decide whether they want to stay with you and receive direct instruction or work with their peers (or individually) on practice problems on a computer or tablet gives students the freedom to do what they feel is best, which usually results in increased engagement.  Additionally, setting high standards for performance and behavior helps to keep students on task even when they are working on their own. My experience is that students like doing this so much, that they will stay on task to avoid having this option taken away!