Blended Learning Is Not Just a Charter School Phenomenon: Lessons Learned at the 2014 Education Innovation Fellowship
Program Day One
Nineteen of D.C.’s strongest public and public charter school teachers gathered in a small conference room at the Microsoft Policy Center in downtown Washington, D.C. to kick off the second year of the Education Innovation Fellowship (EIF)–a program designed to introduce D.C. teachers “to the most promising innovations in blended learning.” I’m joining the cohort this year as the curator of knowledge to document the Fellowship experience through video and writing.
Expanding our knowledge base and understanding the growing national landscape of blended and personalized learning is a core element of the EIF program. We kicked off the first phase of our Fellowship experience hearing from two experts in the field who introduced us to current thinking about the opportunities and challenges of blended learning and design thinking in the classroom.
We began with an introduction to design thinking through the “marshmallow challenge,” a design exercise. Eric Westendorf, Co-Founder and CEO of LearnZillion led a discussion of the book, The Lean Startup, and remarked that many of the concepts in the book have influenced the way he runs his own company. Alex Hernandez, a partner at the Charter School Growth Fund, led our first group discussion of a blended learning school model, First Line Schools based in New Orleans. In our analysis of this case study, Hernandez emphasized the importance of iterating on a good idea in order to yield successful results in launching a blended learning model.
Our afternoon session shifted focus to what’s happening with blended learning in the D.C. I had previously thought that blended learning was almost exclusively happening at charter schools, but educators from the D.C. charter sector and D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) challenged this notion. Of particular interest were compelling comments from John Rice from DCPS. As the Manager of Blended Learning from DCPS’s central office, John said he works tirelessly poring over the vast market of Edtech products to find the very best tools for D.C. teachers to implement in their classrooms. There are now 44 D.C. public schools using ST Math to personalize math instruction, and 44 schools piloting literacy programs with Edtech products for the current 2013-14 school year.
Kwame Simmons, principal at D.C’s Kramer Middle School, reflected on the challenges and opportunities connected to the blended learning instructional model his school uses. With a 35 percent special education population, Kramer has implemented a 1:1 laptop and station rotation model to serve this high-need population. Simmons said that since launching the blended learning model at Kramer, his teachers have had more time to build relationships with students, and he’s noticed less frequent burnout among his teachers as well. Clearly, blended learning is not just a charter school phenomenon.
With the first program day of the 2014 Education Innovation Fellowship completed, we look forward to the coming year and the opportunity for all of us to travel and learn, design and innovate, and expand and share our knowledge.
I’ve already realized there is still so much work to be done in the field of blended and personalized learning. As I blog each month on the experience, my hope is that I can share with you our Fellowship learning process as we work to make personalized and blended learning a standard practice in more and more classrooms in D.C. and beyond.