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Integrating Technology to Increase Student Engagement and Accelerate Math Learning

Blended learning allows districts to personalize educational experiences for students on a new level

By integrating technology into mathematics classrooms to complement face-to-face instruction, educators can provide uniquely individualized learning for all students. This web seminar, originally broadcast on August 28, 2014, featured administrators and a blended learning expert, who shared successful approaches for implementing this technique, including strategies, tips for modeling blended learning for elementary mathematics, and as well as first hand comparisons of student growth with the amount of time digital tools are used in each classroom.

Tim Hudson 
Senior Director of Curriculum Design
DreamBox Learning

Blended learning, as defined by Michael Horn and Heather Staker in their whitepaper from 2012, “Classifying K-12 Blended Learning,” is a combination of a formal education program in which students learn at least partially through online delivery, the key being some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace. The other part of their learning time is in a supervised bricks-and-mortar location away from home. Learning is no longer restricted to the pedagogy used by the teacher or to the pace of an entire classroom. It can be more personalized. If you are considering implementing blended learning, these are some key things that you need to wrestle with: Are we really using technology just to optimize existing practices or are we using it to change some of the practices of our teachers and in our schools? There are some pros and cons of integrating technology and using blended learning. One big benefit is that you are becoming far more thoughtful and strategic about the precious use of class time. When students are in school, how can we really make the most of that time? Whereas the danger is that you can become less thoughtful and strategic about how students understand and make sense of things. We can’t let the pedagogy be lost because we need engagement on the part of students and we need to cause quite a bit of learning for them as well.

Christina A. Gibson 
Principal
Howard D. Crull Elementary School
Port Huron Area School District (Mich.)

We are a schoolwide Title 1 funded school. In 2011, we were identified as a focus school with very large performance gaps in math and writing. So we started an engaged school improvement team and began looking at our data. We tracked our attendance, our discipline and perceptions: What do kids feel? How do they feel about learning? How do they feel when they’re here at school? Then we started to ask, “How can we honor innovation to advocate for the needs of our students and create an education here for them at school?” Then we pushed all our staff to attend a lot of conferences. We attended model-schools conferences by the ICLE, lots of technology conferences, reading recovery conferences. But some of the most effective things that began our school improvement conversation were our site visits. We went to about eight different schools and we tried to steal all of their best stuff. Some of the commonalities that we came across with our research and with these schools that were beating the odds were the student goal setting, recognition of achievements, student tracking data. And not just teacher tracking data, but data walls where the kids could see how they were doing and how they were performing. We loved a lot of student engagement that we saw. So when we started writing our plan, that led us into looking at blended learning as a way to help our students. We found that these things could all be accomplished if we chose the right tools for our kids to use. We also wanted to change the way that the teachers taught, not just the device that they used.

Julie Alley 
Instructional Coach
Howard D. Crull Elementary School
Port Huron Area School District (Mich.)

One thing I did during year two is I scheduled push-in lessons where I co-taught with different staff members. These were our reluctant-to-technology staff members. They had great things to pass on to students, but they were scared about how to use this technology. So I set up a weekly schedule where I would push in and co-teach with, for example, our 2nd grade. And the teacher would learn and become comfortable with using whatever app it was. They were always product-based apps. So we would use Pic Collage. Or we would go in and use iMovie. And they would use it if they were learning about the frog life-cycle in science, for example. I would go in and it could be a one day lesson or I might come in for a whole month, and the students and the teachers would learn how to use these applications. They would become much more comfortable using the devices.

Gibson: In the summer of 2013, we decided we were going to pilot a summer camp where we pushed our blended learning model. We set up four station rotations. We utilized DreamBox Learning for mathematics, because of the excellent data tracking that you can do for the students. You can actually see how the students are performing in real time, where they’re stuck, where they’re struggling, and then the support services that are provided afterward. So we didn’t do any direct instruction during our summer camp in 2013 for mathematics. We just let DreamBox do it all, because we were really curious to see what would happen with the students who were in our program. We used our NWEA spring to fall to assess growth. We added 64 students into our data. And we saw an average gain in RIT points using the NWEA in math for students who were involved in our summer program. The interesting part is we saw the loss of the summer slide with a negative 1.54 average points of RIT loss for the whole school as opposed to the kids who participated in our program. We continued in year three. We had our 400 devices. We continued to embed a literacy and technology coach, targeted our online individualized learning environments, and then all the teachers got five iPads in their classrooms so that they could run small groups. We wrote DreamBox into our school improvement plan last year for 60 minutes per week for every single student. We found that most of our low performing students did not respond as well with online platforms. They preferred the teacher small-group instruction.

Alley: Our average and high-performing students felt challenged and felt more at home using those online platforms and were able to do well with them. Even though they didn’t like them the best, our mid- to poor- performing students had the highest increase with their ability.

Hudson: At DreamBox, we combine three essential elements to reinvent the learning experience. We have a rigorous curriculum for pre-K through grade 8, a motivating learning environment, and our intelligent adaptive learning platform that differentiates for students in real time. For more information or to request a demo, go to http://www.dreambox.com.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to http://www.districtadministration.com/ws082814