By SunGard K-12 Staff
Medina City School District began its blended learning journey thanks to a $130,000 grant from eTech Ohio. The grant funded the creation of rotational-style blended classes. Three classes were launched in fall 2012, and six more are in development for the 2013-2014 academic year. For the first year of this project, Stephani Itibrout, Christina Hamman, and Shannon Conley developed their own content and all the resources for three new classes—respectively Rhetoric and Composition, Honors Advanced Quantitative Analysis and Mathematical Modeling, and Local and American History.
A lot of kids struggled with the blending-learning model during the first year of the project. “Next year, we are going to hold a required one-day boot camp and have two weeks to finish the online portion,” said Stacy Hawthorne, technology integration coordinator. The team has blogged about their experiences at http://medinablended.edublogs.org/.
The following are highlights of panelists’ reflections on their journey:
Technology Integration Coordinator
Medina City School District, located in the suburban Cleveland/Akron area, has 2,310 students in its high school alone. The high school has dense wireless—there is enough bandwidth for every student to connect. They are primarily BYOD, although it’s at the teacher’s discretion. The district has six computer labs, each with approximately 30 computers.
Blended classes are three days a week in class, two days a week out of class. The sessions are held in the morning, and the students attend their regular classes in the afternoon.
The school district spent almost half of the grant money on professional development. [eTech Ohio required that at least 25 percent of the grant funding be spent on training for teachers.]
In addition, the grant funding was used to purchase software and hardware, including laptop computers for the teachers in the blended program, laptop computers for the mathematics class, and iPad minis for the history class.
The district also purchased digital content though the Learn 21 Consortium, including 12 fully online courses from K12 and blendedschools.net. The district plans to adapt some of these courses to blended classes, which will be rolled out for the 2013-2014 academic year.
Language Arts Teacher
Rhetoric and Composition
For Stephani Itibrout, this blended-learning project gave her an opportunity to think creatively about the subject she has taught for 16 years. “I wanted to see what English looks like outside of a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom,” she said.
Instead of using more commonly studied texts, she employed today’s reading material—online content from Time magazine, The Onion, and various newspapers. She also tapped into satirical shows, like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and contrasted their content with more traditional news offerings.
“This is what people read and watch outside the classroom. Maybe we should learn to process this information in a more learned way,” she said. “And, with the new common core standards, informative text is becoming much more important.”
In addition to allowing the students to develop a context through which to critically consider the information they read, Stephani hoped to prepare them to be more responsible when they learn.
During the course, she has used VoiceThread. “It was a way to help my students reflect and to [move to] that higher level of thinking,” she said.
For her first exercise, she shared her own children’s VoiceThreads and required her students to create a reflective response. In subsequent exercises, the students posted their own pictures, explaining why they were important to them, and responded to the other students’ posts.
Through the process, students learned how to critique writing and workshop a paper. “This accomplished several things. It got the students writing. It got the students to know each other and to know me and to [become] familiar with the vocabulary of writing and workshopping. And, it got them familiar with using technology to present.”
Like her students, Stephani also learned from her experience. “One of the exciting things about teaching Rhetoric and Composition as a blended course is that I’m learning to apply some things that I do for this course to my other two courses,” she said.
Honors Advanced Quantitative Analysis and Mathematical Modeling
Through the grant, Christina Hamman was able to offer an advanced course not previously offered at Medina High School. “I wanted this to be a special topics course, with a heavy emphasis on stats,” she said. During the course, she exposed her students to real-world data and tools, like Excel and Minitab.
The course content is delivered online. “They’ll have some readings. They’ll have some videos. I have online activities that they can go through,” she said. With so many sources, Christina said that things got “messy” quickly. She employed the online tool SoftChalk to build her lessons. “The students like it because it’s a one-stop shop.”
“When students come to class, it’s more of a workshop-type model,” she said. “Basically, we’re there to solve problems.” For projects, the students must put together a project proposal that maps out the purpose of the project, the process and timeline for completion, and responsibilities for team members. There is always a paper and a presentation at the conclusion of the project. Most projects take two to three weeks.
For team projects, the class collaborates on Google Apps. And, the main form of assessment is through problem-solving or projects.
Christina said the course has evolved as her own experience with the blended-learning model has increased. “If you look at the course from week one to now, it’s changed because I’ve had to adapt things to suit everyone’s needs,” she said. She hopes to eventually get the course to the point that it is self-paced.
Local and American History
Shannon Conley’s students are documenting the history Medina through short stories that connect to national history. The content is housed on an app that was developed in conjunction Cleveland State and the Chillicothe Educational Learning Center.
Shannon wanted her blended-learning course to have an impact beyond the classroom. “I want students to be engaged and to find the value in not just learning history, but in using history to make personal connections,” she said. “My students don’t do projects that are just turned into me. My requirement is that it’s published. They create content that is accessible and presented all over our town.”
The students direct their research. “My students individually select the story they want to tell,” she explained.
In her classroom, Shannon serves as a facilitator. “I’m giving them online content to move through, but I’m also meeting them as their support person.”
As she teaches collaboration skills, Shannon says that she is benefiting from the opportunity to collaborate with her colleagues on the panel. “I think I speak for the group when I say that I think we are standing on the edge of a huge cliff,” she said. “It’s good to have support. It wouldn’t have happened without that support.”