Blended Learning in K-12/Blended Learning In Grades 7-8
Blended Learning Grades 7 - 8
As students mature and can handle learning without constant teacher attention, online applications may become more effective for teaching some curriculum. After teachers and students feel comfortable with e-mail and webpage design, they can dig further into the realm of blended learning by accessing some excellent websites. All of these sites are designed to help the learner better understand a topic. These are just a few good examples of websites; there are numerous other sites available.
Triple A Math This site is great for K-8 math teachers because of its content. Students can read the explanation of each measurement, play some challenge games, and some interactive practices. Students will have endless hours of fun checking out this site.
Seattle Art Museum (Science, Social Studies) This site is for the "explorer" learner. Students can learn about navigation techniques used in the Age of Exploration. The site includes a video clip of how to use an octant. This was very cool to see in addition to learning about the navigation used today.
Hands On the Land Imagine collecting water samples, monitoring the ground ozone levels, and more on this environmental website. The site provides interaction with other schools, students, and the forest preserve as students are engaged while learning about the environment. There are even lesson plans for teachers to further enhance the students learning.
BioPoint This is an online site for teacher created webquests. They are listed by grade level and have everything you need to deliver a unit.
Barking Spiders Poetry Barking Spiders is a site devoted to poems for children. Students can design their own poems online by filling in the blanks. There are mazes that can be completed and poems to be read.
 The Smithsonian is known world-wide for its magnificent collections. Since not every class can take a trip to these free museums, the Smithsonian has made it easy for every class to access the collections and activities to go with them online. Teachers can search for lessons by state standard quickly and easily. Teachers can also check out resources that can be sent to their classrooms.
Social Science Some teachers are more comfortable with enhancing their class through projects. A sample of one would be a project developed by Kate Purl at Urbana Middle School. The year was ended with a seventh grade project on Africa. Each student had to research an area of Africa, learning specifics about the area such as flora and fauna. The information they found was then added to a website. Once all the areas of Africa were added, the adventure began. As teams, the students had to traverse the African continent. The information that the students provided was combined into a webquest that was a toss up between "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" and "The Oregon Trail." Decisions made as you traveled the trail could lead to success or failure as an African explorer. The site is still available at: Africa: Choose Your Own Adventure.
Other successful online adventures for Middle School students might be Virtual Ancient Civilizations which is a work in progress:
Numerous Subjects Quiz Hub. What can't you do at this site? The site is loaded with news quizzes, online maps, chess games, concentration games and much more. Your students will never want to leave the site. This will have them engaged for hours upon hours. There is even an art area where you can design whatever you want. This was my favorite link!!
Benefits for Students Research shows that students who are involved in online learning during the middle school years are more likely to keep their academic grades higher than those who are not exposed to online learning (Belanger, 2005). Additionally, the attendance rate of students using computers is higher along with the ability of students to do well in group situations and within project-based instruction. Blended learning is also research based in that it pulls from research done by Piaget, Vygotsky, Bloom Keller and Gery. Using online education for middle schools students is a viable way of enhancing the curriculum by providing live events such as online homework help. This could come from the teacher, or it could be from other students in a cooperative learning environment. Blended learning also gives the students a chance to move at their own pace. What one student may be able to learn quickly another may need more time to digest and understand. In blended learning, students moves at their own pace and they have the availability of a teacher when questions arise. There is also a collaborative element to blended learning. If a student does not understand part of an assignment, there are other students available to ask questions. Students can use a chat room, IM or e-mail to work together to complete a project. Along with the curriculum, testing can also take place online. This would allow students to take assessments when they feel they are ready. It would also allow for quick feedback from those assessments so that students know where they stand with respect to their grade. Lastly, when students use the web for learning there is a wealth of materials available to them at the click of a mouse. Dictionaries, encyclopedias and research are just some of the information that students can access during their learning experience. These five ingredients to blended learning are important for the students to have the best possible educational experience. It allows them to remain anonymous so that their mistakes are not broadcast throughout the classroom, giving them self confidence. It is a way to allow students to take control of their own learning experience.
The Down Side As with every advance in technology, blended learning can have it's faults also. While online courses have been available for several years to the post secondary student, use of online technology is generally thought of as an enhancement for the secondary schools. Schools are using computers more than ever before with an increase from 60% in 1993 to 84% in 2001 and home use of computers growing during the same time from 25% of students to 66% (NCES, pg 1). Schools might use computers more if computers were available in each classroom. Many schools don't have that luxury and, instead, must move students to a central computer lab to make use of the technology available. This creates more work for teachers and takes away from instructional time. Most will also admit that it is the teacher, and her comfort with technology, that affects how well that technology is presented in the classroom. In his book, “Oversold and Underused,” Larry Cuban states that computers are not successful because teachers who use computers for instruction do so infrequently and unimaginatively (Harvard University Press, 2001).
Taking Technology Further Some students, for various reasons, need to work at their own pace. While distance learning got it's start at the post secondary level, it is slowly gaining momentum at the middle and high school level. Students who are gifted, challenged or have health reasons and do not do well in a traditional learning environment now have the opportunity to complete their education online. Several schools are now in operation that offer aid to these students. Some worth looking at are:
Teacher Controlled Blended Learning As with any level of education, there are some teachers who prefer to have control over what their students are doing online. Instead of accessing one of the above websites or a WebQuest, these teachers choose to develop their own curriculum for their students. This curriculum needs to be well thought out before anything is ever put online. New South Wales Department of Education and Training has some guiding questions that teachers should ask themselves before they begin to design a web-enhanced course. They first suggest that you know WHY you are trying to place information online for your students. Once you are sure that what you are looking for is not already online, then it is time to understand the goals that you have for you students regarding the online content: Do you want them to learn to work independently? Or do you want to free up your time to work with those students who need the extra help? The other suggestions include teaching your students slowly, showing them step by step what you expect from them. However, the ultimate suggestion was that if a teacher were to be interested in providing web-enhanced learning for their class, they should have had the experience of online learning themselves (NSWDE, 2005).