Teaching in a Blended Learning Environment Raised Student Performance

Laptop computer and school supplies

With the proliferation of online learning tools, more and more schools are considering blended learning programs. College Park Academy (CPA), a public charter middle school in Prince George’s County, Maryland, opened its doors August 2013 with a 100 percent online curriculum. Students attend classes from 8:25 a.m. – 3:25 p.m., but they use Connections Learning®, Pearson’s online curriculum, for their textbooks, homework, and assessments. Thus far, the blended learning school is performing well. It outperformed the district on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA). I recently had the opportunity to speak with Joshua Young, CPA language arts teacher and department head, about the impact of online curriculum on teaching and learning.

Q: How does an online curriculum differ from a traditional printed curriculum?

Joshua: When I taught 10th grade in Delaware, it was with textbooks, and we had exactly twenty-five textbooks. So when twenty-five students came to the room, they each got a textbook, we went over the readings, and they got a worksheet to do for homework. They did not have access to the curriculum outside of the classroom other than what they took home on pieces of paper. And so having them do readings or having them work at their own pace was impossible.

With the technology and online curriculum that our kids have now, it’s wonderful in that they’re able to work outside of the classroom. They’re able to work at their own pace. They’re able to access the information and respond to my inquiries. We’re able to have a conversation when they’re not even in the room, which is great.

Q: How does an online curriculum change the way you teach?

Joshua: The biggest difference between teaching in a traditional classroom and teaching with the Connections Learning curriculum is the online curriculum is a gateway to connecting with students in a multitude of ways. It really gets into what the students are interested in and looking at online—websites, videos, blogs, wiki pages, discussion boards, and emails—and using all of it to construct knowledge.

We’re just getting into a drama unit now where we’re talking about Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol, and the students are doing a research project. They’re conducting research on what was going on in Great Britain in the 1800s and tying it to A Christmas Carol and Charles Dickens. They’re using that information to build a research paper and construct a multimedia website where they will create posts and a slide show to demonstrate their knowledge in new and different ways.

Q: Are students more engaged with a digital curriculum?

Joshua: Absolutely. For our writing prompts and essays, we have a class blog. All the students are required to post to the class blog. And they’re required to give each other feedback on what they did well and what they can improve on. I’m finding that they are very engaged in that because they want to receive praise from their peers and they want to do a good job to show off their work. So they take more pride in their work. And they make their work the best that they can before they post it out there in public.

It is more engaging to them than simply “Sit with a partner and peer edit.” In a traditional classroom, they would do those tasks. They would lose interest. They would sit and talk. They would sit and socialize. But when their comments are actually logged and they can see comments from people whom they wouldn’t knowingly be teamed up with, that’s exciting for them. They really enjoy that.

To learn more about CPA’s blended learning curriculum, read the success story.