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Is Blended Learning Elementary?

One KIPP school is adding online learning to the mix for its youngest learners.

As blended learning's popularity continues to grow in high schools and middle schools, KIPP Empower Academy (KEA) in South Los Angeles has taken the model a step further by introducing it to kindergarten students.

In reaction to California's fiscal crisis and budget cuts, founding principal Mike Kerr introduced a modified version of blended learning for his youngest students in 2010-11. KIPP employs the rotation model-students move from online learning to small groups to individual instruction. Kerr wanted to preserve the small-group approach to ensure a low student-teacher ratio in core areas.

While KIPP has found short-term success in its first year (see sidebar), it was a challenge to get the program up and running. Finding software and learning aids was one obstacle. "There was not one company that had sufficient content for students in all of the core content areas of reading, writing, math, and science," Kerr says. KEA had to build its own interface to track data.

Kerr has also had to address critics' concerns. One common concern is that blended learning doesn't provide kindergartners with enough human interaction or physical activity. To address this problem, KIPP developed a customized classroom schedule.  

"Our students are only on the computers for two cycles of 25 to 30 minutes at a time," says Kerr. "We thought this would strike enough balance for our students."

The software needs to be balanced, too, says Kerr. It should include art, critical thinking, and motor skills, along with core math and reading components.

Blended Models 101*
Face-to-Face Driver: The teacher decides when to implement online learning on a case-by-case basis, to help supplement the curriculum.

Rotation: In this model, students move on a fixed schedule between online learning (which is most often self-paced) and traditional teacher instruction in a classroom.

Flex: In this model, the online platform dominates student instruction. On-site teachers provide support as needed through tutoring or small-group sessions.

Online Lab: Courses are taught entirely online. Labs rely heavily on software modules, but online teachers are also available.

: Most often seen in high schools across the country, the self-blend model lets students take online courses to enhance traditional classroom learning.

Online Driver: This program is designed so that an online platform delivers the entire curriculum. Check-ins with a teacher are often optional, though occasionally they are mandatory.

*Source: The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning: Profiles of Emerging Models 

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