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Blended Learning: Emphasis on Learning

A successful blended learning implementation requires a focus on the ideal student learning path and effective professional development

To achieve measured success through blended learning, it is essential for educators to create learning experiences that enhance student understanding through technology. The team at the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools assists teachers at low-performing schools by providing resources such as engaging instructional software that create these experiences. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on October 17, 2013, an administrator from the Partnership explains the keys to a blended learning strategy that will yield student progress, including the role the right software plays in this strategy.

Nigel Nisbet 
Director of Content Creation
MIND Research Institute

It is critical to focus on what technology is actually doing to aid the learning process in a blended learning model. The effect on student test scores has been incremental at best over the last 40 years, despite the large amount of money being invested in education technology. I think this is partially due to the focus on technology instead of learning. Even though we often change the mechanism of delivery of instruction, we are not actually changing the instructional model. To put that focus on learning, we need to think about what learning looks like. How can we analyze the learning experience?

I use the Learning Path to break learning down into four stages. All learning begins with experience—touching, feeling, prodding. Experience learning can be done to provide students with technological experiences that can build their intuition about mathematical ideas before we teach the formal language of math. The next part of the learning path is connecting that intuitive experience to formal mathematics. This requires the teacher to be an integral part of the learning process. Once you have built students’ intuitive understanding through experience and you have connected that intuitiveness to formal mathematics, then students are in a position to practice. Once students have practiced, they are in a position to apply their ideas into another realm, which can be done through technology. In a typical classroom, teachers will go straight to lecture and bypass giving the hands-on experience and connecting to mathematics. The students never get a chance to build their own intuition about the math.

At the MIND Research Institute, we are not interested in replicating what is already going on in classrooms; we are interested in providing technological tools for teachers that actually build these other important parts of the learning path that are difficult for teachers to do. We have designed learning games that are essentially interactive manipulatives for students, put into a game setting. There are hundreds of games at each grade level for K5, and many apply to middle grades as tools for secondary intervention.

Myeisha Phillips 
Coordinator of School Improvement
Partnership for Los Angeles Schools

At the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, we have a strategy that utilizes ST Math to support our blended learning strategy. The Partnership is one of the largest nonprofit urban school turnaround organizations in the nation. We are looking to transform 17 of the lowest performing schools in Boyle Heights, Watts, and South L.A. We serve 16,000 students. We began using ST Math at a middle school in the 2008-2009 school year, and now all middle and elementary schools in the Partnership are using the program. This year, we are piloting ST Math at one of our high schools.

Since using ST Math, our math growth has been higher than both Los Angeles USD and the state. We are outpacing in growth across all content areas, but have the largest growth in math. We feel that ST Math has strongly contributed to our math success. In the beginning, we felt it was very important to get teachers used to working with the program to help students make adequate progress. We created benchmark progress charts to help school leaders track progress. We connected on a regular basis, provided weekly reports to our principals, and highlighted both on- and off-track teachers. By looking at these data, we were able to see which schools needed support on which topics.

Support came in the form of ST Math and representatives from the Partnership. There were also leads in the schools that could provide support. We use ST Math as a strategy to meet the needs of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The visuals and concept development that are a part of ST Math help teachers and students address the standard of rigor in conceptual understanding, fluency, and application. In getting school leaders to think beyond the computer lab, there are three things that we do at the Partnership:

  • Create models
  • Provide support
  • Offer resources

We are strategic in identifying teachers who are exhibiting the practices that we want to grow and enabling others to see these teachers in action. There is a small cohort of teachers I work with in providing intensive support; we focus on making them better equipped to be able to teach, with ST Math as an instructional tool. These teachers are an onsite model for other teachers. These teachers also assist in the creation of resources the Partnership provides, as well as in the sharing of resources with other teachers.

An area of focus right now is game analysis. We feel that teachers need to understand the game, understand the math that is connected to the game, and know how best to incorporate the game into instruction. We spent time aligning games to standards so teachers understood which games worked best with which standard. Eventually, we want all teachers to understand at the objective level how a series of games connect and how certain games can work together in a lesson or series of lessons to support unit development. One resource we provide is a lesson planning template, which teachers can use to think through a game and capture their thoughts as they plan lessons. Right now, we are supporting the schools with math professional development cycles.

It is essential for the teachers to have the opportunity to play the ST Math games. They are focused on recording the problems that are posed in the game. Teachers also learn what is happening in each of the levels and understanding how the math content is being addressed. As part of this professional development, we show a clip of ST Math being used as an instructional tool by one of our teachers. After reviewing the lesson plan in the video, we show the lesson plan in the template that we share with our teachers. The next phase is for teachers to practice the lesson, with peers observing. Finally, during refinement and reflection, teachers provide feedback to one another and discuss ways to enhance their lessons.

In implementing an effective blended learning program, we have found that the key factors are:

  • Making sure conditions allow for progress and usage benchmarks to be met
  • Allowing teachers time to play the games, understand the games, and understand the math connected to the games
  • Setting structures that allow teachers to try it, see it in action, and have resources at their fingertips to help guide them in the process

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to