Blended Learning: I-SS students, teachers maximizing technology

Posted at 6:39 PM on Feb 12, 2016

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Photo: Tenth-grade students in Trey Arey's class at South Iredell High School participate in a learning method called 360 Degree Math.

Access to MacBooks helps close achievement gap, boost interest in college

By Karissa Miller

TROUTMAN — In Trey Arey’s Math III honors class at South Iredell High School, his students’ eyes are fixated on their MacBook screens and their attention is locked in on solving multi-step problems.

Upon closer inspection, the students are not all working on the same problems. Some are figuring out addition and subtraction of rational expressions, while some are busy solving problems on paper. Still others are watching instructional videos.

But every student is on task.

More and more teachers like Arey are using this “blended learning” approach in the classroom.

It is a part of the Iredell-Statesville Schools’ Project IMPACT initiative — Innovative Methods for Personalizing Academics, Complemented by Technology, which is designed to improve the academic performance and success of students through the use of technology.

I-SS middle and high school students are midway through the fourth year of having MacBooks to use at school and home. The laptops were purchased using a $20 million, four-year federal grant.

One of the main components of blended learning is that it provides students with an opportunity to keep working on a concept or skill until they master it. Then they can move forward at their own pace when it clicks. That’s why students like Arey’s are often working on different lessons and assignments.

It also gives teachers the ability to create an online classroom. School officials say that this offers better communication with students and parents and even lets teachers send homework to the students during times of illness or school closings.

For a teacher, that’s a plus as it “puts accountability on students,” explained Arey.

Blended Learning at Home

Arey helps students with their math homework by creating videos through a YouTube channel, which he posts online, and through the use of an online whiteboard tool.

Many of the students in his Math III honors class say they watch Arey’s videos regularly, and they find them helpful.

For Joseph Cross, the videos are convenient. He likes that he can learn from his teacher at home, even on the weekend, rather than wait until the next school day.

Arey said blending learning helps students learn, but that it’s also a learning process for teachers.

“The learning for the teacher never ends. I’m constantly trying to adapt and do things differently,” said Arey, who spends an average of four hours creating each YouTube video.

“Bottom line, if done properly, it can work,” he explained.

Seeing Improvements

School officials say the “blended learning method” has led to improvements in the classroom.

Phil Hardin, executive director of Project IMPACT, said the technology is extending learning and narrowing the gap between students who previously did not have computer access and those who had access.

The school system offers Wi-Fi connection devices that can be checked out so that those students without Internet at home can still connect.

Students have a higher rate of retention when they are engaged, Hardin said.

Hardin pointed out that the number of high school students filling out FASFA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms for college has increased by 7.23 percent since the MacBooks were introduced into the district’s middle and high schools. Also, there has been a 3 percent decrease in disciplinary referrals and a 2 percent decrease in absentees, according to a fidelity study.

“It’s truly not a ‘tech project’ but it’s more closely related to what’s good teaching, what’s good instruction and it’s one of the key tools to meet the need of our students,” Hardin said.

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