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.

Teacher Tech Talk

During my exploration deeper into the world of edtech, meeting with countless entrepreneurs & investors and attending numerous conferences & events, I feel a very important perspective is missing from this growing movement… the voice and participation of educators. Can we really redesign and distribute new innovations in teaching and learning without active involvement from the teacher community? I’ve been to several edtech meetups, Startup Weekend EDU events and conferences and it’s rare to find attendees that are actually current teachers, working directly with students and trying out the new tools that seem to pop up weekly.

So, what can we do about that? Last night I hosted the first Teacher Tech Talk event to help identify and build a community of educators that are interested in playing a more vocal and active role  in this growing edtech movement. It’s been hard to miss all the buzz around the ‘edtech’ world lately, however, people who have been thinking about ed reform for a while recognize that technology is merely a tool and the larger disruptions and improvements to current teaching and learning practices depend on when/how those tools are used, which is  largely driven by educators.

My goal for this community is to collectively figure out how best to bridge the educator and education startup worlds. How can we get more perspective from what is happening in classrooms and schools into the product development process of startups, rather than when it’s time to find beta testers or product evangelists? The group consisted of current and former educators, entrepreneurs, school/district tech leads and even an investor. The diversity of perspectives lead to a very insightful discussion session, and as this community grows I imagine it will attract more entrepreneurs and investors, however, I’m extremely focused on keeping the content and conversation centered on educators.

After some networking, we settled into a brainstorming and discussion session around what the educators think would make their teaching lives easier. The responses ranged from predictable need for more time, access to devices, actionable data to more collective impact approaches, engaging parents, inter/intra district collaboration and thinking how to bring more relevancy and real-world application to the current standards-based curriculum. Greg Klein was our first guest speaker, invited to share his perspective as a former principal in Oakland and current teacher, leading the blended learning initiatives at Downtown College Prep. He shared an in-depth look into the tools (Khan Academy, Manga High and long list of others) and process he’s piloting at DCP and stay tuned for a follow-up post that goes into more detail. Brett Kopf, co-founder of Remind101, then shared his experience incubating his startup through Imaginek12 and speaking with hundreds of teachers before starting to build his product that aims to power communication between teachers, parents and students.

This pilot event was a success and surfaced some extremely useful feedback on how to grow and shape this community going forward. Look out for an invite to next month’s event and if you’re interested in getting involved in anyway, let me know. As with most startups, I’m figuring this out as I go and can use all the feedback I can get!

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.