Chris Sturgis blogs for YTFG, where you can read this blog and many others.

We all know that a successful high school, alternative school, detention alternative, or foster care program is rooted in the quality of the relationship between adults and youth.  It’s natural to think technology in the classroom might undermine those relationship.  The worse case scenario of a student stuck in front of a computer with a drill and kill software program is pretty horrifying.

Although counter-intuitive, it’s very possible that the effective use of technology can actually nurture relationships.  In a recent meeting on next generation learning in which we watched the TED interview with Sal Khan, a very skilled principle dedicated to the most vulnerable teens in the South Valley in Albuquerque said “I thought technology would be dehumanizing.  But this shows that it can actually be used to strengthen relationships.” She had walked into the meeting resistant to the idea of next generation learning. She walked out wanting to find a way to pilot the possibilities.

It’s the possibilities that occur when we flip the classroom: students review new content on their own, then work through the application through projects, group learning and individual exercises.  Suddenly, its not the student:teacher ratio that is important but the ratio of student: instructional time with teacher.  The job of teacher becomes more focused on connection (with the student and connecting the content so that it has meaning), formative assessment (is the student mastering the material and if not where are they getting stuck), andintervention (what does the student need to understand the content, what learning tasks might help them practice).

There is a great blog called Blend My Learning about Envisions Academy’s experimentation this summer in using the Khan Academy resources. The Academy, based in Oakland,  is using summer school to try to understand the pro’s and con’s of the traditional and next generation learning approaches.  Some students are in a traditional math classroom while others are in the flipped classroom using the Khan Academy resources and information system.  The postings and videos in the blog bring out the challenge that teachers face day in and day out of supporting students with significant gaps in knowledge.  How can you try to push students on to the next level math course if they don’t understand if equations work from left to right or right to left?  Similar to competency-based models, suddenly the focus zooms in on learning rather than units or courses or credits.

The other thing that jumps out of the blog postings is the frustration and tendency to give up too quickly that students who have experienced repeated failures bring to the process of learning.  Its an important thing for anyone wanting to improve graduation rates needs to consider in helping students that are over-age, under-credited (i.e. they’ve failed courses). We just have to take into account the social-emotional aspects of learning if we are going to do the u-turn that will get young people back onto a track to college and family-wage jobs.

If you want to get up to speed on the advancements in online and blended learning its worth reading the Innosight Institute’s report The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning. There is also a video of Rick Ogsten from Carpe Diem charter school in Yuma, AZ that is helpful.  Diploma Plus has been experimenting with blended learning in the NYC iZONE by having teachers organize their curriculum online so that students can advance at their own speed, leaving teachers to help them when they start to get frustrated or stuck. They aren’t relying on a provider to understand the content that is going to be engaging to students. They are drawing from their network of teachers who are dedicated to young people.

It all comes around — to making connections.

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