Microsoft donates $1 million to help expand ‘blended learning’ in D.C. schools

Microsoft has donated $1 million to help D.C. teachers redesign their classrooms using a “blended learning” approach that combines online learning with face-to-face instruction.

Blended learning has drawn both excitement and skepticism as it has exploded in popularity in recent years. Boosters believe that technology could transform schools and give students a more personalized learning experience, while critics fear that when executed poorly, blended approaches reduce learning to clicks on a computer.

The donation will help expand a D.C. program — known as the Education Innovation Fellowship — that exposes teachers to the latest thinking in the field and then encourages them to adapt those ideas into their own classrooms.

Local philanthropy CityBridge Foundation launched the training program for 12 teachers this year with help from the NewSchools Venture Fund, a national nonprofit that invests in education groups and has supported a number of education-technology efforts.

Participating teachers — six from traditional D.C. schools and six from charters — traveled to New York, New Jersey and California earlier this year to observe blended approaches in various schools. Now the teachers are designing their own blended approaches that they will test in summer school classrooms.

Nineteen-year D.C. public schools veteran Valyncia Hawkins, who teaches at Anne Beers Elementary, is designing a summer math program. Students will work individually to practice skills on computers, but they also will solve problems together and work with a teacher in small groups.

“It has just opened my eyes,” Hawkins said of the fellowship. “It’s made me look at teaching a different way.”

The three-year Microsoft grant will help double the number of teachers in the program each year, with a focus on teachers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

CityBridge has supported the implementation of blended learning elsewhere in the District, including at Hart Middle School, where a computer algorithm helps determine what each student will learn each day in math.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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