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Fri, Oct. 18

The art of blending teaching and technology

According to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, “the only thing that is constant is change”. More than a millennium later, this principle holds true today, and nowhere is it more evident than in the field of technology. In my half century as a student and educator, we have gone from chalkboards to whiteboards to interactive televisions; typewriters to word processors to shared, collaboration-building Google docs; hand-cranked mimeograph machines to Xerox machines to shared links and documents; encyclopedias to CD ROMs to software to online apps; and, mainframe computers to personal home computers to portable palm-sized computers that allow access to the entirety of human knowledge within seconds. It is no surprise then, that the workforce and education has had to adapt at the same breakneck pace. Blended Learning is one such adaptation that began in the workplace and has made its way into classrooms.

By definition, Blended Learning is a combination of online instruction and face-to-face teaching, but it is far more than that. It brings the latest educational software, websites, tools, and the expertise and heart of the teacher together to offer personalized learning. It is interactive and highly engaging for our 21st century learners. One of the most valuable and exciting new developments in educational technology is referred to as adaptive learning. Programs such as Khan Academy, MobyMax, Hour of Code, DuoLingo, and Typing Agent allow students to work at their own pace to practice and learn skills unique to each learner. Students fill in skill gaps, explore enrichment activities and work toward individualized goals. Many of the programs include a home access component for further instruction and practice with parent information and supports as well. With curriculum standards that emphasize a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts, multiple strategies to solve problems, and number sense that students can apply across grade levels, these resources can be invaluable to parents.

Here in Prescott, Blended Learning was implemented at Washington Elementary with great success. When declining student enrollment led to the school’s closing, parents requested that the model be continued. Taylor Hicks Elementary answered the call and implemented Blended Learning. With three classes per grade level, one teacher offers a completely self-contained classroom while the other two specialize in math and science or language arts and social studies. All classes include a one hour technology block each day. With the Blended Learning philosophy, teachers use ongoing assessments and observation to inform their decisions about how students will utilize technology time each day including time to do what teachers do best; interact with, support, and care for students one on one or in small groups while others learn at an individualized pace. It is vital to understand that while educational technology has developed to finally meet many of the real needs of the classroom, computers will never replace the human beings that nurture and guide our students every day.

Heraclitus would marvel at the technological changes that have taken place, but would be delighted that the presence of the teacher, while adaptable to the waves of change that perpetually strike the shore in education, will forever be the most valuable and constant component of any child’s education.

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