Lessons from KIPP Math Blends

Anirban Bhattacharyya led the development of blended learning pilots at KIPP Chicago.  As the Digital Learning Director for the KIPP Foundation, he is working to develop a national strategy to support the implementation of next generation learning models that leverage innovative instructional technology at KIPP schools.

As suggested in the Blended Learning Implementation Guide, Anirban helped KIPP Chicago set clear goals for their digital conversion:

  • support transformational academic achievement,
  • enable high-leverage instructional models,
  • facilitate data-driven instruction,
  • enhance digital fluency, and
  • support sustainability.

The default blended learning model for middle schools has traditionally been lab rotation, where a classroom rotates to a computer lab and engages in online learning for one period.  Anirban observed that because middle school teachers are departmentalized, traditional lab rotation models typically don’t  impact core instruction.

Flexible Lab Rotation. “We have seen many successful middle schools implement large and flexible lab rotations instead of traditional lab rotations or station rotations,” said Anirban.  This gives teachers the flexibility of either being in the lab, working with small groups in their classrooms, or something else entirely. This reduces the necessity of teachers to teach an unfamiliar subject if there is a school wide small group curriculum aligned to a subject area (e.g. guided reading).  Features include:

  • Lab has more than one classroom of students, which enables small group instruction in other classrooms.
  • Students can switch days or periods between lab and small group rooms.
  • Lab adult(s) may not need to be credentialed teacher(s).
  • In lab, student to adult ratio can be larger than traditional class because of the engagement of the software

Team sport. “We have seen elementary schools adopting station rotation models successfully because stations/centers are already common features of elementary schools,” said Bhattacharyya. Moving from blended classrooms to schoolwide transformation requires a common vision for personalized learning. School (or district/network) leaders need to shape:

  • Instructional design: instructional priorities, academic goals, and teaching competencies;

  • School model design: schedule and physical space; staffing and performance management; operations, finance and development; and blended learning models.

Middle (and high) schools are traditionally more likely to default to whole-group instruction and less likely to have school-wide instructional visions.  Anirban notes that historically, instructional vision have been decided by each content area teacher or department, with little ability to impact the school model. Facilitating the adoption of a schoolwide design is new role for many school leaders.

Both lab and station rotation models without connection to school-wide instructional design and school model design are possible but have special requirements of teachers. First of all, teachers must be great classroom managers since students won’t be held to standardized expectations from the school in multiple classrooms. Second, teachers must be “tech savvy” since ongoing PD is less likely. Third, teachers must be “data savvy” since the data from online programs is less likely to be incorporated in school-wide “data dives.” Lastly, teachers must be able to justify the investment without help from others.

Blended Schools. The 975 students in KIPP Chicago are nearly all African American students from low income families. Three models are used across the four campuses:

  • Tech-infused instruction
  • Classroom rotation: mix of teacher-led and independent centers- some of which feature adaptive content.
  • Lab rotation

In the middle schools, ST Math is used for students below grade level, Think Through Math is used for students on grade level, and Khan Academy is used to review important standards and facilitate engagement.  (Newsela, i-Ready, Wordly Wise are used for for literacy). Student access is provided through a combination of tablets and Chromebooks.

Executive Director April Goble and the KIPP Chicago team found that strong classroom management is key to ensuring success of instructional technology. They also found that teachers benefit most from synthesized, actionable data–and training on how to use it. Teachers need to know how to use the programs.
KIPP Create, a KIPP Chicago middle school that opened in 2012, employs a large, flexible lab model discussed above.  School leader Kate Mazurek has designed a model where half of a grade level is in the lab working on online math programs and small group lessons, while the other half of the students are in classrooms in small groups working on other subjects.  Students switch between lab days and small group days.
In New York City, KIPP Washington Heights also employs a large, flexible lab model for a class called Math Computation.  The following article describes how the school leader, Danny Swersky, has designed a school where Math Computation is taught in a large, flexible lab and guided reading is taught in small groups simultaneously. http://www.voicesofny.org/2014/02/mastering-math-in-classes-of-50-students/
At KIPP Foundation, Anirban and Michelle Bruce, Director of Technology and Technology Innovation, support KIPP schools as they design blended learning models that align to their instructional visions and school model designs.  Instructional technology leaders meet several times a year to share successes and tackle common challenges.   This formal collaboration often leads to leaders from around the country working together to solve problems.  For example, recently, Jin-Soo Huh (Director of Technology at KIPP Chicago) and Cindy Lee (Director of Operations at KIPP Washington Heights in New York) connected to tackle challenges they were both having with getting useful student data from online learning programs.  Furthermore, KIPP instructional technology leaders have shared and collaborated with leaders from other charter networks and public districts as well.  Anirban observes that, “There are so many combinations and permutations of models, hardware, software, etc. that constant communication and collaboration between all leaders working in blended learning is necessary so we collectively move forward and positively impact teaching and learning.”
This blog is brought to you by The Nellie Mae Education Foundation as part of a series on blended math. For more stayed tuned for the Getting Smart on Blending Middle Grade Math bundle and see the other posts in this series:

MIND Research and Curriculum Associates are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. 

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.

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