So how are teachers working with and finding solutions in blended learning? In the heart of Silicon Valley is a school that, despite the impressive tech pedigree of children whose parents work for Google, Apple, and HP, completely eschews all forms of technology. From old-school blackboards to learning fractions with pizza, the entire nine-classroom school is more on par with the one-room schoolhouses of yore than the busting technological metropolis it’s located. For the cool price of $41K, a child can spent his or her 13 formative years at the prestigious Waldorf School without computers, technology, or screens of any kind.
Across the country, however, most schools paint a much different picture. Rather than eschew technology, they embrace it wholeheartedly, with projectors replacing chalkboards and even tablets making quick work of manipulating math.
But which is the better approach? The truth is that whether a child learns math on an abacus or a calculator, it’s the teacher who facilitates the level of education. And the vast majority of educators aren’t teaching like it’s 1899 or 2029: they’re using a combination of both teaching methods.
Blending the Classroom
The statistics are conflicting: The Waldorf School boasts a 94 percent post-secondary attendance rate, but a Stanford University study proved that integrating technology into low-income schools essentially doubled post-secondary attendance for at-risk kids.
It’s why teachers must walk the ultimate tightrope between offering plenty of hands-on, traditional learning, while still implementing the technology that kids will need to gain an edge throughout the rest of their school careers and lives. For teachers, it’s not about limiting one type of learning, but knowing when to apply certain strategies to give kids the best chance; just in case teachers’ jobs weren’t hard enough.
It could be as simple as using beads and other manipulatives to teach second-grade math, but allowing practice using gamification on tablets. Or allowing children to research a topic online, but expecting them to write out their report in their very best handwriting after some class discussion. Blended learning combines both theory and practice to increase memory recall and skill-building. To have one type of learning without the other could leave kids at a disadvantage.
Paul Thomas, an associate professor of education at Furman University, told The New York Times that “Teaching is a human experience. Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.” In the very same article, Ann Flynn, the director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, vehemently disagreed. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools,” she said, “they are cheating our children.”
It could be that both experts have pure intentions, but an extreme approach one way or another could have kids missing out on vital parts of their formal education. Just like in corporate settings, blended learning takes the best of each teaching style and delivers information in the right method for the subject matter and the ultimate goal. The best teachers aren’t those who banish tech or teach with a tablet; they’re those who know how to grab kids’ attention and keep it–using whatever tools they can.