Rachael Purdom: Blended Learning

by Sarah Brock on Sep 16, 2015

in Teacher Tips, Team & Family

1. Why did you decide to implement blended learning at Intrepid?

When I was in the classroom teaching math, I came to KIPP because it’s impossible to teach math in a 45-minute block and tiny school year. I came here for the extra time. Even at KIPP, it was really tough to reach all of the kids. I felt like I was letting down the high-end and the low-end kids. I heard about Khan Academy and we had an iPad cart, so I would borrow the cart. We were able to run about five iPads at a time, making sure my highest and lowest kids were getting instruction on their level.

The next year I was pulled into leadership and continued doing research. I kept thinking we can’t not do this. Intrepid received a Gates grant and got a lab with 100 Chromebooks. One student, Elmer, popped up every day in my inbox in terms of the amount of time spent on the iPad. Within three months of Khan Academy, he was doing basic calculus. That’s when it hit me – how many Elmers do we have and not realize it?

We received another grant and were able to go to 1:1 on the Chromebooks. I’m proud to say Elmer just got a $100,000 scholarship to Awty High School.

2. What’s the advantage of blended learning?

The thing about blended learning at KIPP that’s so exciting – once you get the KIPP culture of high expectations and you add the possibilities of differentiation you get with blended learning, I really and truly believe the sky is the limit. KIPP’s professionalism and high expectations with the technology – the sky is the limit.

Quantitatively, we’ve noticed our middle to high math kids have grown immensely. Our lower kids aren’t growing much more in math than they did last year. In reading, though, it’s the opposite – our lowest readers have moved mountains and our highest readers haven’t grown much more than they did in the past.

They no longer sit and wait for the teacher to answer a question. There is no more passive learning time where you have to wait for everyone to catch up. It turns the teacher’s role into a coach and guide and encourager rather than the person who holds all the knowledge.

3. How would you suggest schools implement blended learning if they are considering it?

Find a handful of your most patient but eager teachers, and let them run with it. It spreads. Don’t be afraid of the technology – it’s easier than you’d think. Then, lead with the data so teachers on the fence can see - oh wow, they’re moving. Keep your eye on the purpose. There is a big difference between blended learning and blended babysitting. It won’t fix bad teaching – don’t expect it to fix or replace bad teaching.

4. How did you set-up the expectations for the students, especially considering every student has their own Chromebook they take home?

It is very, very, very much a work in progress, but we’ve learned a lot. They were so excited to get the Chromebooks, so we were deliberate with expectations. We taught them how to carry it, where to charge it, where to put it, etc. I’ll definitely admit it’s been one area for the most growth, especially teaching the younger kids all the little things with caring for their technology.

5. What are your biggest goals for the program next year?

With the math team, it is to come up with a plan for moving those lower kids forward. Let’s look at all the data we’ve gotten and figure out where it worked the best in differentiation. There are some classes it’s worked remarkably well, so we need to look at the data and come up with plans to really maximize it across all content levels.

Rachael estimates her students spend about 40 minutes per class on their Chromebooks (50% of their instructional time). Teachers have free reign over the programs they use with the exception of Edmodd, which is used across the school as the landing platform. Rachael says her teachers have had success with Khan Academy, Think Through Math, and Achieve 3000, among others.