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Blended Learning Courses at CISD

May 30, 2012

CISD has many innovative, creative, successful ways to engage and educate gifted children.  One of the newest programs — and one that appears to benefit students of all academic levels — is blended learning, where students learn through both a face-to-face and virtual environment.  The typical design of a blended learning course is for students to acquire knowledge during the virtual portion and attain meaning and application during the face-to-face portion of the course.

Blended Learning classes, piloted this year at CHS and West, offer a unique advantage to Coppell students and are not available anywhere else in the metroplex.  Tabitha Branum, CISD Director of Strategic Initiative, highlights the benefits of a blended learning environment.

In Blended Learning Courses, “the journey is an individualized journey.” — Tabitha Branum

  1. Teachers (“Facilitators”) are able to differentiate to meet individual needs and interests of the learners.
    1. vary the complexity and depth of lessons online.
    2. create small group sessions for personalized instruction
    3. provide student choice in acquiring knowledge and demonstrating comprehension
  2. Technology component embodies 21st century skills in a format that students already embrace.
    1. inherently engaging learning environment
    2. necessitates developing time management, professional ethics, internet literacy skills
    3. requires active participation.  “Learners cannot be anonymous in a virtual world,” according to Branum.
  3. As virtual courses are becoming commonplace in college, these classes support the district initiative to prepare students for college by providing a guided virtual learning environment.
  4. Required content is covered, but the development of the curriculum is by the CISD facilitator, allowing for flexibility to tailor the course to meet the student needs and high standards of rigor  and relevance of CISD academics.

The format of the middle school and high school classes is very different due to the different needs of the students in the classroom.

CHS

All sections of AP Human Geography in the fall will be Blended Learning Classes.  Several sections of AP US History are offered as Blended Learning Classes.  Every HS student will take Government and Economics as virtual classes.  The structure of the classes at CHS will be different from this year’s pilot program due to the creation of the new Virtual Blended Learning Lab at CHS.  This lab, designed by interior design students, is the comfortable, high-tech, supervised location that students attend class during their days of virtual lessons.  For the first 4-6 weeks of class, the initial framework is for learners to be in a face-to-face environment for 3 days a week, and spend 2 days a week in the Virtual Blended Learning Lab.  Facilitators have the flexibility to vary this schedule depending on need.

WEST

The Blended Learning English 1 class, facilitated by Laila Sanguras at West, was created to meet the challenge of providing a language arts class to 2 unique groups of students: 8th grade students who already took 8th grade GT LA in 7th grade, 9th grade students who participated in athletics outside of school 40 hours a week yet had additional LA needs.  Because the students did not all attend West (even the 8th grade students attended different schools), logistics demanded that the course be primarily virtual, yet maintain a face-to-face component for small group instruction and oral commentary.  Although the students had the same general curriculum, the academic needs of the two groups of students resulted in the creation of 2 separate paths in which each student flourished.  For purposes of this article, I am going to focus on the GT students’ path.

Ms. Sanguras posts weekly assignments on Sunday for the students to work on throughout the week.  This flexibility gives students “a lot of ownership and responsibility in their education,” according to Sanguras.  The assignments and resources are posted in online folders.  Students are expected to participate in online discussions and activities.  Sanguras encourages students to take advantage of all of the information at their fingertips, “This is what you want – for students to understand and apply their knowledge.”

Writing assignments are also different in a blended learning environment.  The facilitator is able to provide feedback more easily online, as well as gauge progress and understanding.  Sanguras also allows the learners in her blended learning class to request reassessment for any assignment.  “By removing the consistent GPA pressure,” she says, “students are able to really focus on what they need to learn and understand.”

Click here for a sample of the virtual discussion about To Kill a Mockingbird by participants in the Blended Learning English 1 class.

Sanguras enjoys the role of facilitator as she is a resource instead of a provider of knowledge.  The coursework is stripped of all the extraneous materials and targets the specific learning objectives for the course.  Students acquire knowledge from online sources, and through feedback and questioning by other students.  She never gives them the answers, instead she encourages them to ask the right questions.  “The hard part of learning in knowing what to focus on,” according to Sanguras.  Students in blended learning classes are able to navigate the skills needed to be lifelong learners.

The Blended Learning Classes are rigorous and provide a creative and engaging learning environment for your gifted learner.  These classes will continue to expand and evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of education.

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