A small group of eighth-graders sit at a cluster of desks, staring down at their iPads. On their screens are diagrams of the interior of a slave ship. Their teacher, Tanesha Dixon, leads the discussion. She prompts them to consider what it was like on those ships. They enlarge the image for a closer look.
At another cluster of desks, students are discussing passages about the Atlantic slave trade on their iPads. The rest of the students are reading silently about the Fugitive Slave Act on their iPads.
From her tablet, Dixon can monitor all her students. An alarm sounds; the students working with Dixon move to the discussion group. The students working individually move to Dixon’s area.
Dixon is a social studies teacher at the K-8 Wheatley Education Campus, part of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). Her classroom is an example of blending learning, which integrates online technology and content with traditional face-to-face classroom activities. Her students have instant access to source documents and other resources electronically through their tablets through a service called Techbooks – digital textbooks with text, audio, video, and images.
Students have individual IDs and can log in on to any device – computer, mobile phone, or tablet.
“Digital textbooks are more engaging,” said John Rice, DCPS’s manager of blended learning. He recently took representatives from several national education associations on a tour of three district schools that were using blended learning in their classrooms.
The practice of blended learning is growing in schools across the country. Proponents say it allows students to practice simple or rote lessons online, freeing the teacher to do more small-group and individual instruction. DCPS uses blended learning in a variety of ways in its schools.
At the K-5 Randle Highlands Elementary School, all grades moved to a blending learning approached at the beginning of the school year. In one second-grade class, some students sit at classroom desktop computers, working on a program called ST Math. It allows them to work individually at their own pace, while their teacher works with another small group.
Other grades use a program called I-Ready, which includes language arts and math, for self-paced work.
Columbia Heights Education Campus houses a middle school and a high school. The high school, Bell Multicultural High School, features an early college program and classes taught exclusively in Spanish.
Sebastian Kreindel teaches ninth-grade World History in Spanish. He uses Techbooks to find digital resources such as Spanish videos for his students.
Fellow World History teacher Kristen Whitaker’s students don’t have individual computers or tablets yet like they do in Tanesha Dixon’s class, but she’s found a low-tech solution: She prints out Techbook resources for her students, including information about Genghis Khan for a recent discussion on psychological warfare.
Discovery Education, which sponsored the tour, provides Streaming Plus – a collection of instructional videos, skill builders, games, audio files, images, writing prompts, and encyclopedia reference materials – to DCPS district-wide. The company also provides the science and social studies Techbooks to five district schools.
“We are pleased to share with representatives from some of the nation’s leading education associations the wonderful digital learning environments DCPS educators are creating each day,” said Stephen Wakefield, Discovery Education vice president of public affairs. “The district’s efforts to create classrooms that mirror how students are interacting with technology and digital content outside the classroom are helping to prepare a new generation of learners for college, careers, and citizenship.”
The tour was organized by the Learning First Alliance, a partnership of education organizations, of which NSBA is a member.