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‘Blended learning’ pilot project underway

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Combining classroom instruction with e-learning is the focus of a pilot project now underway at the Northwest Catholic District School Board.

Known as “Blended Learning,” the local board is now in the second year the project, which has been funded by the Ministry of Education for 16 boards across the province.

“Blended learning is taking online courses that are created by the Ministry of Education and using them with the teacher’s guidance and lesson planning and everything within the classroom with the kids,” explained Christine Jean, the board’s lead teacher for the pilot project.

For the local Catholic board, the pilot involves Grade 7 teachers—including two from St. Francis School here, one from Sioux Lookout, and one from Dryden—bringing “blended learning” into their classrooms, with a specific focus on numeracy.

The online curriculum can include different type of curriculum instruction, quizzes, monitored discussion groups, and blogs, among many things.

Online courses are where school is tending to go, such as at a high school level, noted Jean. But by having it in the classroom, students can work on curriculum content with teachers there to guide them through and reinforce skills.

“[It] allows the teachers to use different ways to teach kids at different levels, giving them different lessons or different instruction or different content to look at depending on where their grade level is,” she explained.

For example, if a class is doing mathwork and some students aren’t at grade level, the teacher can set up the online program individually so each student can focus on the area of the curriculum they need to improve in.

“It allows them to work on that skill repeatedly with different avenues instead of being given extra work or being separated from the class to do their work,” Jean said.

“For students that are excelling, we do have higher level grades that we can go into and grab content, so we can really motivate those students that are willing to learn quite quickly,” she added.

“It’s online and class learning all wrapped up in one environment,” enthused Mike Belluz, MISA data co-ordinator for the local Catholic board.

“Students really love it because it’s part technology,” he noted, referring to the response they’ve seen from the Grade 7 students so far, adding it’s a “natural fit” with the SmartBoards they have in classrooms.

Belluz said some of the other boards taking part in the pilot project have gone so far as to make the online curriculum available for students who are away—such as for a hockey tournament—so they can log in and complete needed lessons on weekends.

And given the local Catholic board has students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 8, future possibilities for blended learning could include having it at the high school level for students to take religious education courses, he said.

To get a program like blended learning going, Belluz said it takes the co-operation of superintendent of education, IT department, and teachers working together.

Superintendent of Education Al Cesunias has been “instrumental,” stressed Belluz, as well as Information Systems manager Colin Drombolis, who has worked to get all the needed technology in place and working so students and teachers encounter no problems when they go to use the computer.

A portion of the funding from the province for the pilot project has gone towards training while the other portion has gone towards upgrading the technology, such as purchasing laptops that can be used by students in the classroom.

“You think rural Fort Frances but we’re on par with the big boards in Toronto,” Belluz enthused.

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