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When worlds collide in blended learning

Idaho districts try a blended learning model and discover surprising benefits

blended-learningThe internet is doing a lot of things for her classroom, but Idaho teacher Kelsy Colwell said one thing it’s not doing is replacing her.

The Kamiah High School math teacher spent her summer building a curriculum that uses tablet computers instead of textbooks and has students watching lessons and submitting assignments online. Colwell is one of several teachers in the district and throughout the region using a blended learning approach.

When the school year began, both students and parents were skeptical about what the change would mean.

“I wanted a regular textbook,” said Kamiah senior Logan Six.

But Six said he’s found the flexibility and instant feedback the online component of the class affords him has been worth the transition from paper to iPad.

(Next page: How Idaho districts are implementing blended learning)

Colwell said incorporating the online component in her classes has many advantages, including making her more available to help individual students during class because her video lectures and lesson presentations are viewed online as part of a student’s homework. Math problems that used to be done as homework are now calculated during class.

“They’re doing their consuming outside of school, then doing work and interacting in class,” explained Theresa Carter, who helps educate teachers who use the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a state-sponsored online school that contracts with the Kamiah district.

In addition to Kamiah, Carter said she is working with teachers at schools in the Orofino and Cottonwood districts this year.

In Colwell’s classroom, students partner up to tackle assignments using iPads and calculators supplied by the school. Students discuss options, refer back to video blogs Colwell has posted and raise their hands to indicate they need her in-person help when they’re stumped.

“It’s productive chaos,” Colwell said.

“I think it’s helping a lot of kids that didn’t understand math or think they were good at it,” said junior Lars Kludt.

Like Six, Colwell said many students have gone from resisting the new format to embracing it.

She attributes that turnaround in large part to the one-on-one time the system allows her to spend with students.

“It almost clones me,” she said. “It puts me in a lot of different places.”

Most of Colwell’s students have Internet access at home, but even those who don’t say its absence hasn’t been a problem. Six, for example, isn’t able to go online at home, but he can log on anytime during the school day and get his work done.

“This morning, I looked down the hallway and saw six students doing homework on their phones,” Colwell said.

“I really like that I can access it everywhere,” said junior Kareena Stamper. “Like at home.”

The system offered by the Idaho Digital Learning Academy helps head off another potential pitfall of online learning, Carter said–internet safety.

“Instead of a teacher sending kids out to a website, in a learning management system, she can create an item and they click on that link,” Carter said. “They’re not out wandering around the web.”

A 2002 graduate of Kamiah High School, Colwell began teaching here last school year after returning to the community with her husband, with whom she moved around the country for several years as a military wife.

With a background in online design, Colwell said she was motivated to explore ways to bring the best possible education to her rural district.

Colwell, like her students, had moments of doubt as she got started.

“There were days where I asked myself, ‘Why did I do this?’ ”

The significant amount of work teachers put in to develop a course and get it up and running can be one of the limitations of the program, Carter said.

The first year, teachers typically keep a detailed record of what went well and what went poorly, so only minor tweaks are necessary in subsequent years.

“Teachers tell me they take a lot of time taking care of that,” she said.

Carter said once she and her students got past “battling the technology,” they started realizing the potential of this new model.

“I get to meet their individual needs a lot more,” she said.

Colwell’s video blog and journal notes can be viewed at: and

©2014 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho). Visit the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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