A Deeper Look- Blended Learning at DCP

Last fall I was fortunate to meet Greg Klein, Director of Blended Learning at Downtown College Prep in San Jose, and got a chance to see one of the few truly blended learning schools in the Bay Area. Greg manages his lab as a startup, piloting a variety of software programs giving himself and his students a chance to test it all out before integrating it fully into their workflow. As the first guest speaker at my Teacher Tech Talk event, Greg gave us all a deeper look into the tools he uses and some of the key decisions he’s made to cultivate an engaging and highly academic blended learning environment.

It helps to start with a deeper understanding of the student population. Downtown College Prep (DCP) in Alum Rock is located in one of the lowest income communities in San Jose. Greg’s campus serves 180 students (6th and 7th graders) of which 89% are on free/reduced lunch, however, 2/3 of the students d0 have access to internet at home. 60 students at a time spend 90 min/day in the learning lab going through 3 30-min rotations. The computers are setup in rows with a simple system of using red/green plastic cups to identify student progress and who may need some additional support.  Greg went on to share the pretty comprehensive list of tools he uses to structure the content and delivery during those rotation sessions.

Greg and the DCP Team are currently experimenting with these products in the following areas, although many of them can be used in other content areas, too.

Communication: Edmodo***, Goalbook*, Google Docs***
(* indicate Greg’s enthusiasm for these different products)

A student and instructor favorite, Quizlet, is in the process of launching a beta version of  a new product, Sentencer, that allows kids to collaboratively create sentences and then vote up/down their writings. One of the obvious gaps was software tools to support science instruction and project-based learning (PBL,) and DCP currently uses Google Docs through Edmodo to deliver lesson plans that the teachers themselves created.

In generating this list during the discussion, a teacher made an interesting point wondering if students then had 11 different logins to manage these systems? While a Google Apps login is shared across a few of the tools, there are still several different logins that students have to remember and enter on a daily basis. This tied directly into an early suggestion on the need for unification of tools/systems to make it easier for students and teachers to use and access data from these different platforms.

Special thanks to Greg for being our first guest speaker and sharing these insights from the blended learning environment he’s creating at DCP. Keep an eye out for similar deep-dives as I plan to connect with the blended learning folks at SF Flex Academy and Rocketship sometime soon.

Creating Distribution Pathways

Edmodo, considered Facebook for schools, announced at SXSW that they are opening up their API to third party developers to build and more importantly distribute their apps on this platform. There are more detailed write-ups from TechCrunch and HackEducation, and my favorite part is “Edmodo is also launching a Teacher-Developer Exchange to connect educators directly with application developers so that together they can create the apps most needed in today’s classrooms.” As Edmodo begins tackling the massive challenge of distribution into schools and is engaging educators in the process, are they on their way to becoming the OS for K12?

Blended Learning- In Real Life

I’ve watched the videos, read the blogs and spent a full day in SF last month at a conference that championed the future of blended learning…and today I got to see it in real life (IRL.)

A friend of mine, Justin Su, invited me to check out the learning lab that he helped set up at Downtown College Prep(DCP) who just launched their Alum Rock campus with 180 6th and 7th graders this fall. DCP is one of the few schools in the Bay Area that has implemented a truly blended learning approach where each student spends 90 minutes a day in the learning lab with Greg Klein, a certified teacher and self-proclaimed tech geek, who is clearly optimistic about the potential for this model. The lab contains 60 computers, configured with help from a Cisco volunteer, that provide a variety of offerings for the students, including; Khan Academy (math), TeenBiz/Achieve3000 (ELA), MangaHigh (math), ALEKS (math) and GoalBook. Klein utilizes Edmodo as a tool to communicate and collaborate with students to guide their learning by creating individualized playlists for different groups of students.

A couple of the students walked me through their daily math routine. Choose a station->log into Khan Academy (via Google account)-> load Edmodo to see their playlists-> begin working. I quickly learned that many of the students skip the videos and jump right into the exercises, applying lessons learned from their math teacher, in real life, to figure out the right answer. If they get stuck, they request a hint through the system, select an answer and move on. As a fan of Sal Khan’s videos, I couldn’t help but feel the kids were missing out, but having worked with middle schoolers for years I understand their perspective— “I get it. I know the answer. Let’s move on.” And Greg gets it too, sharing his view that the goal is not for the kids to watch the videos but rather for them to understand the content and be engaged in their learning process. The beauty of this just-in-time content delivery, where the videos are there for review if/when students need them, is the backbone of a self-paced learning environment. These content tools blended together with guidance from educators like Greg, as well as the ELA and Math teachers IRL, create an effective and interactive learning environment for these students.

Greg’s simple ‘red cup/green cup’ system builds on this view, where once a student has completed their assigned work they are given a green cup (can you see them in the picture?) which means they are free to work on whatever area they choose. This simple system empowers students to take ownership over their time and learning progress, which is the hallmark of a successful blended learning model.  Tools such as Goalbook further enhance this process, allowing students to create personal learning plans where they can write their own goals and easily track/share progress with teachers and parents.

I’m very optimistic about blended learning and feel that when implemented effectively, it can really improve the learning experience for students and teaching experience for educators. I’m grateful for the time I got to spend observing blended learning IRL and my experience reminded me that while online content is great, you still need real life interaction to solidify and reinforce your knowledge and beliefs. Next up on my list is to check out the learning lab at Rocketship.