I hated school. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it on so many levels. I wasn’t very good at reading and writing, I wasn’t very good at math, I wasn’t even very good at socialising. I was terrible at PE and I was terrible at science. I hated secondary school where I remained not very good at everything and now I am a teacher.
I have subsequently been part of schools where they bedazzle parents with a huge variety of big words, like ‘decontextualize’, and ‘inquiry’ and ‘cognitive disequilibrium spatial context proximity synergising’. All aimed to give the parents a pretentious confidence in the school’s ability to deliver a cutting-edge education for their kids, towards the cutting-edge world they face, to avoid children being bored or not liking school. This variety of pedagogical descriptors has not been translated into the same variety of classroom practices. Elementary schools have not had the paradigm shift out of the Victorian age, where, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it… “we still educated children by batches, we put them through the system by age group… why do we have this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are?”1 We know we need to deliver differently, but it is difficult to make that change.
The development and growth of online communication and gaming has greatly impacted the way we organise, communicate and connect as a society. Children are accessing internet enabled devices at very young ages. “…there’s a lot of evidence parents are passing back their smartphones to kids as young as age one. iPads and iPhones have become digital toys for young kids.”2 Online, distributive and virtual education has grown significantly in the post high school environment and has been ‘recognised’ as a useful tool for pre-graduating students that are encouraged into online collaboration.
On-line learning has not been taken up so distinctly in elementary schools. This is due to the importance hinged on social and emotional aspects of the developing child and their need for face to face tuition with peers and adults. “”We don’t have research on the consequences for social-emotional skills,” says Deborah Stipek, an education professor at Stanford University. “School settings where children can interact and learn to cooperate with peers may be important for developing social skills, at least for some children. We need to know not only if it works, but how it works, when it works, and for whom.”3
Blended Learning has emerged with a significant role to play within the elementary classroom, in fact it will be a game changing role. Implementation of robust blended education in elementary schools will necessitate changes in teacher roles, student roles, timetabling and the entire curriculum delivery of discreet subjects.
“Blended learning is an education program … that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some elements of student control over time, place, path, or pace.”4
This will give students the best of both worlds. One where they are face to face with peers and teachers, and another where they control the pace and direction of their own learning. Whilst working face to face students learn social skills, how to interact and how to recognize the nuances of facial expression and tone of voice. How sharing and collaboration work in real time with real objects and a direct comparison between themselves and their peers. Working on-line develops a sense of responsibility and ownership. It helps promote a range of digital literacy skills and enhances on-line collaboration skills.
“What makes blended learning particularly effective is its ability to facilitate a community of inquiry. Community provides the stabilizing, cohesive influence that balances the open communication and limitless access to information on the Internet. … Blended learning has the capabilities to facilitate these conditions and adds an important reflective element with multiple forms of communication to meet specific learning requirements.”5 Bringing an online component into a real-life activity combines skills for an authentic learning experience.
However, Blended learning is a multifaceted construct described by Badrul Khan’s Octagonal Framework. Khan recognises the many ‘dimensions’ that encompass Blended Learning. “The original use of the phrase “blended learning” was often associated with simply linking traditional classroom training to e-learning activities, such as asynchronous work (typically accessed by learners outside the class at their own time and pace). However, the term has evolved to encompass a much richer set of learning strategies or “dimensions.”6
Young elementary students play, build, make and move and inherent in all these activities are inquiry, decontextualizing, analyzing, imagining, sequencing, extrapolating etc.
Elementary school learning should not be solely by ‘date of manufacture’1 unless necessary. E.g. physical health education warrants a same age approach more than another discreet subject will. Ability based learning has its advantages but also its disadvantages where students associate themselves with the grade they are given and no longer find it necessary to improve or try.
The BC Curriculum now endorses and encourages curricular that encompasses the core competencies of communication, creative and critical thinking, personal and cultural identity, and social and personal responsibility. Blended Learning opens up opportunities for a different kind of elementary school by embracing these core competencies. A project based approach to learning where students work individually or in groups on a long-term undertaking such as creating a practical invention, testing a scientific hypothesis or making an animated movie. The classroom becomes a Maker Lab, or Science laboratory, or an engineering garage, or a Robotics workshop, or a film studio. These creative activities are supported and overseen by a physical teacher using physical resources. The necessary learning of academic content runs in parallel but is delivered through an asynchronous online delivery. This makes the students learning entirely self-paced and unrestricted.
By relating the academic work closely to the project, the academic work becomes more authentic to the student and relate closer to real world skills and achievement. By encouraging an online collaborative approach to academic output, students benefit from a larger learning community and experience skills in digital literacy.
This Blended approach will also allow the use of technology to be considered and purposeful. There is no need to approach online learning as a must, just because it exists, and we mustn’t make the move to a completely online environment for young children.
“It is already perfectly apparent that the way we construct knowledge is even now too embedded in past perceptions of knowledge, schooling and learning. It is worth considering how educational thinking moves within a separate agenda, which is not focused on technology. Technology is but part of a number of changes in society that demand reflection.”7
There is much argument and discussion currently centred around the accessibility of education to students of a range of needs abilities and skills. The responses to these are largely in the form of adaptation and accommodations for children in Grades 4 to 7 to fit a system that is not necessarily fit for purpose in delivering a modern curriculum. Key infrastructure decisions need to be made to allow students to access and build on the strengths. We need to act on the words we use; access, differentiation, personalised, and perhaps even Cognitive Disequilibrium Spatial Context Proximity Synergising!!!
“A key goal in modernizing the education system is to provide students with an education that is still rigorous, but also flexible and innovative, one from which they gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to succeed in today’s modern world.”8