Shelby County Schools To Implement "Blended Learning"` - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Shelby County Schools To Implement "Blended Learning"`

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) - - Technology is taking a more prominent spot in some SCS schools next school year as the school district implements “Blended Learning.”

SCS will provide 13,000 iPads and laptop computers to students in 16 schools, hoping to improve state test scores.

Shelby County School officials are using the Huntsville, Alabama school system as a model.

After just two years of implementing blended learning, Huntsville has had nearly 1000 people from 15 states visit the school district, including school leaders from Shelby County.

From a hands-on learning-style computer lab with neon lights, to little hands navigating over the screen of an iPad, text books in Huntsville Public Schools are a thing of the past.  The concept known as “blended learning” combines traditional face-to-face classroom instruction with online education. And so far, it is paying off.

“We’re seeing higher graduation rates, much lower discipline problems. Discipline is down by about a third,” says Dr. Casey Wardynski, Huntsville Superintendent.

Huntsville issues every student in grades three and above a laptop computer, while younger students get iPads.

The devices take the place of traditional text books and are theirs to take home each day to work on homework and study.

Huntsville Superintendent Dr. Casey Wardynski says the devices allow for a tailor-made learning experience.

“I think where we’re headed now is really personalizing curriculum for children. Math was probably written by people who understood math when they were young, or really liked math. I’m looking for math curriculum for artsy kids or athletic kids that don’t like math. There are probably 8 different kinds of math curriculum I need for the same content area because children are different.”

SCS will spend more than $5 million for the lease of 13,000 learning devices with digital curriculum. The cost comes out to about $350/a student at SCS, much less than Huntsville is currently paying, which is about $500/a student.

It’s an investment SCS leaders like Cleon Franklin, Executive Principal of the Memphis Virtual School, hope will impact state test scores after seeing how successful the curriculum has worked in Huntsville.

“One of their middle schools after the implantation went from being the worst performing middle school in the state to being the best performing middle school in the state.”

Superintendent Wardynski says the biggest obstacle most schools face when introducing blended learning isn’t caused by the students.

“I would say it’s the change of the adults. The kids come by it very, very quickly. The younger they are, the easier it is for them because they never knew anything different.”

Staff members in Huntsville went through about 30 days of training in the first year of the program to help it launch. SCS teachers will also be training this summer on the new devices.

“Blended learning is in no way mean to replace the teacher as the content area expert in the classroom. What it does do is give our students 24/7 access to curriculum so they can move at their own pace,” says Principal Franklin.

Teachers in Huntsville say the devices take away “busy work” like grading, and allow them to focus on classroom instruction. Superintendent Wardynski says the computers and iPads also allow learning to happen outside of school.

“Immediate feedback is really important to learning. If they get stuck, there are resources there to unstick them, including an online tutor until 2 in the morning.”

Classrooms in Shelby County are changing and ahead of the curve, as school leaders say this new way of learning will soon be the norm.

“It will revolutionize education as we know it,” says Principal Franklin.

SCS will begin training some staff members later this month with teachers starting their training at the end of July.

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