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Blended Learning

Let students lead a digital learning transformation, and you might be surprised by what happens next
 
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Abhinav Tirath uses a tablet to follow along with his teacher in an eighth grade Spanish class at Autrey Mill Middle School in Johns Creek, Ga. on Thursday, May 9, 2013.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Students on the Tiger Tech Team have a starring role their middle school’s technology program.
 
The students have become an on-call, built-in support system in a school located just north of Philadelphia. They test new digital tools, help classroom teachers when devices don’t work and mentor classmates learning digital responsibility.
 
“Students are often the least-heard voice and the most important voice,” said Dawn Martesi, instructional coach at Armstrong Middle School in the Bristol Township School District.
 
Martesi enlisted volunteer students last year to form a tech team. The team includes a wide range of the school’s students, including special education and gifted students. They were vital in helping the district plan for a new program that brought more tablet computers into the classroom, Martesi said. For instance, they tested devices to check whether filters to block websites deemed inappropriate for school if worked. They found “holes” that were patched before the tablets went out to the entire school, she said.
 
I talked to Martesti last week in Philadelphia. Students from her team were being interviewed by educators at a national program that provides training and technology to schools, through a program offered by Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization that advocates for effective use of education technology.
 
This week more than 18,000 people are expected to attend the annual ISTE education technology conference in Philadelphia. We’d all do well to keep the students in mind as we walk halls filled with new ideas and glittering products.
 
And, as always, here’s a look at the news you need to know.
 
1. Trends to watch: This year’s New Media Consortium’s Horizon 2015 K-12 report was released Monday at the ISTE conference in Philadelphia. A section is devoted to trends in blended learning, as I reported in a story published at The Hechinger Report. Lawrie Mifflin (@LawrieMifflin) and I are representing The Hechinger Report (@HechingerReport) this week at ISTE.
 
2. Computer science for everybody: Technology is a booming industry in California, of course. So are children learning the skills they need to pursue those jobs? In a story published last week at The Hechinger Report, you can read about the San Francisco Unified School District’s plan to introduce computer science as a required course in every grade level and for every child. Speaking of STEM-based programs, I have a question about a USC Rossier School of Education program called Speedometry: Could you do this research without Hot Wheels-branded toys? Or is there something uniquely educational about Hot Wheels that is not available in, say, a generic toy car?
 
3. The robots are coming: Michael B. Horn offers an opinion that connects the dots between blended learning and the looming loss of jobs formerly performed by humans in a recent op-ed published at Slate. As you consider the questions and ideas raised, you might watch this video of robots working in an Amazon warehouse.
 
4. Are you innovative? The League of Innovative Schools, a program offered through Digital Promise, is taking applications from school districts that would like to take part in the program. Apply by the end of the week. Details here.
 
5. Ideas from thought leaders: Several think tanks and advocacy organizations have new reports and websites out, offering their perspectives on various topics related to education technology. First, I wrote a story for The Hechinger Report about an event at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. Second, check out an updated list of “Proof Points” about blended learning schools published at The Clayton Christensen Institute. And the Alliance for Excellent Education has a new website, launched Monday, that explains their take on proficiency levels for each state.
 
6. You keep using that word: The Universal Service Administrative Company is the quasi-governmental organization responsible for running E-Rate, the federal program that offers subsidies to schools and libraries that can make technology bills more affordable. The agency, which must follow priorities set by the Federal Communications Commission, has been working to streamline the E-Rate application process. Obtaining funding from E-Rate is often described in terms that sound like schools and libraries are competing in a marathon that takes place in a labyrinth. A new IT system nears completion. The system will be known as EPC, and the commission specified that acronym should be pronounced “epic.” Um. What? An epic is not fast, modern or streamlined. (And, for a LOL, here’s what comes to mind.)
 
7. It depends on how you define necessity: One of the FCC commissioners gave a speech where he declared access to the Internet "isn’t a necessity or a human right." Meanwhile, social media was abuzz last week about research into what happened to sardine prices in southern India after fishermen were given access to mobile phones.
 
Send news tips, questions and story ideas to me at dobo@hechingerreport.org. And don’t forget to bookmark The Hechinger Report website for the latest news about innovation and inequality in education. Follow @HechingerReport on Twitter for high-quality news about innovation and inequality in education.

Stories you need to read this week


The (Accidental) Power of MOOCs,” via The Atlantic.
 
Digital Youth in Brick and Mortar Schools (Craig Peck, et. al)*,” from Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice.
 
How Data Science Shaped This Teen-Counseling-By-Text Service,” via Fast Company.
 
The ConnectED program turned two years old, and the White House published a “Fact Sheet” about it.
 
Cincinnati Public Schools Launches Bootcamps for Blended AP Courses,” via T.H.E. Journal.

 
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Nichole Dobo writes the Blended Learning newsletter for The Hechinger Report.
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Tweet of the week



Barbara Treacy (@barbaratreacy): Absolutely! #blendedlearning #profdev needs to embrace a blended design and learning model!
 
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