How to Blend Math

Most schools are looking for ways to boost achievement and save money.  Blended learning is part of the solution.  Blended learning is an intentional shift to an online environment for at least a portion of the student day to boost learning and operating productivity.  Math is a great place for a school or district to introduce blended learning because it:

  • · facilitates individualized progress
  • · leverages great math teachers
  • · takes advantage of quality math content (open & proprietary)
  • · can be augmented by games and tutorials

School of One, a pilot middle grade math program in New York City, is a good example of multiple modes of instruction aligned with an assessment framework.  An early example of a smart recommendation engine creates a unique schedule for each student every day.   This important pilot project introduced the idea of a customized learning playlist, but it has not attempted to improve operating productivity.
Let’s assume you didn’t win an i3 grant and need save money.  With grades 6-12 in mind, here are 10 steps to blend your math.
1. Pick a core curriculum aligned with state standards.  An online math curriculum is simplest spine for the blended math program (more advanced systems will link learning objects to an assessment framework).   Proprietary vendors (e.g., Connections, Carnegie, Compass) will have the advantage of integrated assessments and data reporting capabilities. Hippocampus from National Repository of Open Content is a good free option.
2. Supplement learning options.  Locate supplemental content that provides alternative ways to learn including games, simulations, tutorials, and videos.  Khan Academy (now on Edmodo and Hippocampus) is a great library of video tutorials.  MangaHigh is a great collection of pre-algebra math games.  Small group instruction and online tutoring are also great additions to an online core curriculum.
3. Develop an assessment framework linked to standards.  The core and supplemental curriculum may have embedded assessment.  Determine if you’ll need to add additional assessments to facilitate individualized progress.  An adaptive assessment will help place new students at the appropriate level.   Your state may require end of course exams (they should be available on demand).
4. Competency-based progress. To facilitate individual progress you may need to get a seat time waiver from your state.  Make clear to students how they will demonstrate learning and progress from unit to unit and course to course.
5. Differentiated and distributed staffing.  A typical middle school that traditionally had four math teachers could run a blended program with three with help from paraprofessionals and volunteers.  Larger staffing ratios may require a contract waiver.    A remote teacher or partner could provide extended day helpdesk services.  Online speech therapists and other specialists can be scheduled on demand.
6. Student access.  A computer lab setting works well for core curriculum access.    It’s ideal for supervision and support to have a double classroom with room for small group instruction.   Tablets are becoming a viable primary access device with the advantage of being highly portable and great for an at-home learning playlist.  Increasingly, districts will allow students to bring their own technology to school.
7. Scheduling.  Students that are more than a semester behind should get a double block of math.   In middle school, a double with science could leverage a master teacher and facilitate project-based learning.  Active monitoring of student progress allows dynamic scheduling of small group instruction and application and integration projects.  Online curriculum and mobile computing can extend the learning day and year, it eliminates the need for snow days, and can even facilitate a three or four day week in a rural setting.
8. Leadership.  A blended learning program takes effective school leadership.  Designing and implementing a program requires plans covering academic, technology, financial, policy, and communications.  A master teacher, department chair, or assistant principal should act as program manager with responsibility for budget, scheduling, curriculum, and staffing.  As just one example, program leaders will need to overcome local and state barriers to seat time requirements in order to grant competency-based credit.
9. Professional development and program management.  Online instructional experiences generate lots of data.  Teachers need time to analyze achievement analytics, consider program enhancements, modify scheduled lessons, and plan small group instruction.  A blended environment requires team-based staffing and active collaboration.
10. Get some advice and share.   There are lots of interesting experiments combining online and onsite learning.  Get some help comparing options for technology, curriculum, scheduling and staffing your blended learning program.
Here’s an example of a middle school with 200 students per grade.  A typically math department of 4 math teachers would handle a course load of about 150 students.  A blended program may have a master teacher, two teachers, and two paraprofessionals (or volunteers).  Class loads increase to 200 students, but the environment is shifted to student-centered learning where teachers get a lot of help in content delivery and assessment.  The master teacher would receive a longer year contract and extra pay for program supervision.
The shift from print to digital instructional materials will save some money, particularly if some of the content is open source.  The savings should be sufficient to pay for a mobile access device (tablet or netbook) for students.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.