Maricopa middle school trying blended learning

August 28, 2012

The U.S. Department of Education calls blended learning a new trend in education. It’s a combination of traditional classroom learning and online instruction.  As Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez reports, the City of Maricopa’s school district is giving it a try.

NADINE ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Some of the students in this classroom are solving Algebra problems, a few are studying a foreign language, and several others are getting help from their teacher. And everyone is using a laptop. These are sixth, seventh and eighth graders, with a range of skills and abilities. They attend Maricopa Wells Middle School about 40 miles south of Phoenix. This cohort is part of the blended-learning pilot program that integrates face-to-face lessons with online class work. What makes this so different is that technology is at the center of the lesson and teachers provide the backup support.

JOE VERES: The image that you have in your head of school you have to completely take out. You have to remove the walls of the classroom.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Joe Veres is a principal at the Maricopa Unified School District who designed this local program.

VERES: The teacher is of no more of the traditional 'I’m gonna stand and lecture,' it is 'I’m going to help you facilitate the learning, be a partner of your

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Blended learning uses a certified curriculum website. The text books are online. Every night these students create the next day’s class schedule and decide what subject they’ll work on in any given order. They also schedule at least one meeting with their instructor to address any problem the student may need help with. Seventh grader Markel David says he’s allowed to work on assignments at his own pace.

MARKEL DAVID: I take my time so I can get it correctly. I’m not the type of person who works fast, 'cuz sometimes I tend to make some mistakes when I work fast.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: And that is one of the advantages Principal Veres and the district see in the program. Students learn much of the material, submit most of their assignments and complete their exams online. Here’s teacher Willy Lange. 

WILLY LANGE: The nice thing is once you have that data that day, the next day you can pull them and start re-teaching lessons and questions that they didn’t get on their own. 

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: The U.S. Department of Education has yet to conduct an in-depth analysis of blended learning. But in 2010 a brief report showed that face-to-face teaching with online instruction did enhance learning. And for the most part schools are left to implement the program in a way that suits them best. At Maricopa Wells Middle School students work out of a living room-like environment. They don’t respond to school bells when it’s time for other students to change classrooms or shift subject matter. The students are encouraged to make themselves comfortable. They grab a snack from the fruit basket and sit anywhere they please -- on the floor, at the conference table, or at a desk. Markel David prefers the couch …

DAVID: I just feel sort of encouraged I’m on the couch. [Is that how you do your work at home?] Yeah. [So you don’t use the desk?] …No … no one uses a desk any more.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Education experts say blended learning will become more prevalent in affluent neighborhoods because they have the resources to pay for the technology. But experts suspect low-income school districts could follow suit, since the hybrid method reduces cost in the long run. Ultimately that means some teachers could lose their jobs.

Updated 8/29/2012 at 4:29 p.m.

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