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Engaging Math Learners and Improving Achievement Through Blended Learning

The right interactive technology can provide the personalized learning experience necessary to achieve measured growth

Giving every student a more personalized learning experience is made possible through blended learning. The use of rigorous, engaging learning technology can help increase student achievement in mathematics. This web seminar, originally broadcast on February 27, 2014, featured an administrator who discussed how she achieved teacher and parent buy-in for a blended learning model, how data extracted from learning technology drives instruction, and the measurable increase in student achievement after she implemented blended learning.

Principal Cleveland Elementary School
Santa Barbara (Calif.) USD

We used a blended learning approach to turn around Cleveland Elementary School. When I started as a kindergarten teacher at Cleveland in 1983, it was a high-performing school. However, there was a significant drop in scores over the past six years. It was the lowest performing school in Santa Barbara USD. It is a high poverty, 75 percent ELL school. The technology in the school was from around 1993, and subsequently teacher and student morale was very low. They needed something to change everything. As an incoming principal, I started out by looking at the school’s relative strength, which was math. I had been aware of DreamBox Learning, which is an adaptive online learning program.

Because morale was so low, I knew teachers needed to make a change. Wireless infrastructure had just been installed, and students in upper grades were using an adaptive reading program, so I knew the concept of adaptive technology would not be totally foreign. I also knew that many high performing districts were using DreamBox Learning. There were still challenges. Even though teachers wanted to change, the idea of moving from a traditional model to a blended model was not what many thought was the best idea. I had to champion this idea and get School Site Council support, as well as parent support. Our School Site Council is comprised of myself, teachers and parents. This group as a whole is the decision-maker for how federal and state funding is spent. I pitched DreamBox Learning, why it would help us and what kind of improvements for students we could make with a blended model. We designed a three-group rotation blended model, where students rotate between working independently, with a teacher and with technology.

DreamBox Learning’s adaptive platform is different from topic-based software. Teachers previously had been using topic-based software, which wasn’t always personalized for each student. We had to make sure we had a strong model of instruction in classrooms and that the technology was rigorous. DreamBox became the preferred activity for students. We also used data in professional development to change the academic trajectory for our students. Programs that use adaptive technology allow us to see very individually and very personally what is happening with each student. We can remediate difficulties students are having at any point to help them move forward. Teachers needed coaching and professional development to understand how to use data from the technology. We piloted DreamBox in the third grade. For about a month, teachers kept saying “nothing is happening.” My job was to go online and look at the students’ data to see how they were progressing. Within six weeks, the students who had been at kindergarten level were moving up to first and second grade levels, which ultimately led to the third grade teachers selling the program to the rest of the staff.

By April of 2013, 87 percent of teachers were able to use DreamBox Learning Math. We also hired a home-school technology liaison because we wanted students to use DreamBox for 20 minutes each day for homework. That meant we needed to get support for parents to get the platform on their technology at home. We have a program in Santa Barbara county that provides used computers to students in grades four through six. Internet for all of my students is now $10 a month due to a Connect to Compete program in which local internet providers participate. The home-school technology liaison can set up technology in students’ homes and show parents how to set up DreamBox on tablets and iPads. I have support for parents and students at home so they can experience individualized learning at school and at home. During intersessions and breaks, it is very important that students continue to work online and in this personalized environment. We also have an instructional coach and an RTI coach who support teachers with data and rotation modeling. We have also developed a partnership with our after-school program so that students who attend have time to use DreamBox. Starting with a pilot and having support at all levels are some of the reasons why we had made such progress by April 2013. In California, we have the Academic Performance Index; we went up 15 points overall. And for the first time, we had no students at the “far below basic” level. Even for our most at-risk students, DreamBox is the most preferred activity. If they earn some free time, they want to use DreamBox.

Senior Director of Curriculum Design
DreamBox Learning

At DreamBox Learning, we put students in the driver’s seat of their own critical thinking. We want to give them great problems to think about so they can develop understanding. Ultimately, learning happens in each child’s mind, so we need to engage that mind in meaningful, personal ways. Personalized learning and personal learning stand as alternatives to impersonal and industrial approaches to education. And it’s important to distinguish the idea of schooling—which includes the structures set up by adults —from the nature of learning, which is the pedagogy used with students. Many schools are designed with industrial structures, which often results in impersonal learning approaches. For example, if a teacher has 30 students in a class and only one hour of mathematics in a given day, it is very difficult to personalize for 30 students. A personalized learning approach really takes a look at the learner and asks “what should this student be learning, doing, or thinking about tomorrow?” In an impersonal, industrial learning model, the first question is usually “what is the student’s birth date?”

Too many structures and decisions in schools are driven by when a student was born. Consider how the terms “accelerated” and “below level” are relative terms that usually relate to age-based data points. At DreamBox Learning, we provide teachers with useful information about individual students’ understanding of mathematical ideas, including longitudinal data for students as young as pre-K and Kindergarten. Our reporting lets teachers know how much time students spend using DreamBox, which lessons they have completed, and more. In terms of the pedagogy of personalized learning, at DreamBox Learning we use evidence-based learning principles in all of our lessons. There are many methods, models and approaches to blended and personalized learning, but there are fewer research-based principles of learning that apply with or without technology. If we really understand the principles, then we can choose the best method for blended learning. For example, students cannot understand concepts and skills unless they have had a chance to wrestle with ideas, models and examples. At DreamBox Learning, we want to empower young minds to engage in mathematical thinking and generate ideas on their own. We have 1,300 rigorous, adaptive lessons for pre-K through grade 6. Our technology is convenient, flexible and successful and provides reporting aligned with the Common Core State Standards and other standards.

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