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When Blended Learning Becomes Calvinball

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This article by Dr. Stacy Hawthorne, the Davidson Academy’s Director of Online Learning, was originally published on the State of Tech website in 2014. 

One of the biggest, unforeseen challenges that we have faced on our blended journey was teaching the students to learn in a blended space. How do I define a blended space?

  • A classroom where students are accountable for their learning and time
  • A place where students have to formulate questions then discover and evaluate answers in order to learn
  • An atmosphere where collaboration is essential to success
  • A setting where learning occurs in any space and any time; and
  • An environment where mastery is shown through authentic projects or presentations.

Haven’t you, even for a moment, dreamed of a classroom like this? We all did, which is why we embarked on this blended learning journey. The problem is that we thought our students were dreaming of this classroom, too. We designed high quality classes and marketed them to high achieving, good students. And that’s when we hit our first bump in the road.

High achieving, good students were defined as high achieving and good based on an antiquated classroom model. They were high achieving and good students because they came to class Monday through Thursday, listened to the lectures, took copious notes, on average raised their hands twice a week, and on Friday were fully prepared to regurgitate everything that they had observed back to us on an exam. But this definition of the high achieving, good student does not fit with the blended learning spaces that we were designing. In fact, our high achieving, good students struggled (at first) to fit into their blended learning space. In fact, a few even longed for the face-to-face lectures and weekly quizzes because that is what years of schooling had taught them to expect. They were good at the game of school and then along came a few teachers who started playing Calvinball with the rules and the students simply were not ready.

We had to take a few steps back and realize that we had to teach students to unlearn the game of school and really learn to think. I’m not trying to holistically denounce the game of school, because it got many of us to where we are today. It’s just that the world has changed around us, so it is time that we change the definition of what a high achieving, good student is. More importantly, we have to change what the high achieving, good student expects in the typical classroom. All students deserve to learn in a blended space (as defined above) but just like we taught them how to play school so many years ago, now we much reteach them how to excel in our classroom of the future.

So, that brings me to where I was inspired. I was asked what innovation in education did I feel could make the greatest positive impact. I immediately knew the answer: “Teachers with open minds – ones willing to step outside what they are used to doing and make a difference for kids.”

Our blended teachers are creating blended spaces for students to learn and everyday impact the lives of over 100 students and they are really making the difference. They are teaching students to stretch beyond what they thought was possible, to see learning in a new light, to contribute to their world and to challenge the status quo. In the words of Margaret Mead, our blended teachers are thoughtful, committed citizens who are not only changing the world; they are teaching their students to do the same.

Dr. Hawthorne is currently the director of the Davidson Academy’s online campus. Open to profoundly gifted students living anywhere in the United States and Canada, this accredited online option builds off the one-of-a-kind, exceptional framework put in place by the Davidson Academy’s Reno campus. The result is a robust online community where gifted children thrive. See Davidson Academy teaching methods >

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