Expanding Learning Time with Technology

Morton Middle School and Talbot Innovation School in Fall River, MA are looking to create an innovative expanded learning time model that will be driven by integrating technology into their classrooms. In collaboration with NCTL, Fall River is partnering with Education Elements, an education technology company that is at the leading edge of helping schools combine teacher talent and technology tools to create “blended learning classrooms”. Since November, Education Elements and NCTL have partnered with Fall River teachers, district leaders, and the school principals to integrate an expanded school day and the most recent developments in blended learning.

With three schools that have had an expanded school day for more than four years, Fall River has a history of bold school improvement strategies. For a number of years, the district has been interested in adopting a more personalized approach to instruction through blended learning. When the district was selected to join the TIME Collaborative planning process to rethink the day and year at more of its schools, it quickly saw how more learning time would support a blended approach. With a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, NCTL has been able to combine its expertise in expanding learning time with Education Elements’ expertise on creating blended learning classrooms.
The school teams and district leaders have learned that building a successful blended learning model of ELT is much more complex than simply purchasing access to digital content providers and handing out passwords to students. They have had to determine the balance between using digital content for skill building, remediation, or to introduce new content. They have had to rethink the role of teachers in a blended learning classroom, and of administrators in a blended learning school. They have had to determine whether to roll out blended learning school-wide, or phase it in one grade at a time. They have had to inventory their existing hardware and facilities to assess the need for upgrades – right down to counting the number of power outlets available in each classroom! 
District and school leaders have also attended school-level design workshops led by Education Elements to determine how to use digital content, as well as to consider each school’s technology, staffing, and other needs in the blended learning planning process. District leaders are currently working with school planning teams to support the selection of content providers that meet the needs of each school, while also optimizing both quality and efficiency for the district as a whole. Targeting content providers that could meet the needs of multiple schools and be purchased in bulk is one example of their efforts to achieve this goal.
The teams from Morton and Talbot are looking forward to participating in a Blended Learning leadership academy in Washington, D.C. in April that will help them prepare their colleagues for a new approach to teaching and learning – and a new school day – this fall. While it has been complicated integrating their TIME Collaborative planning and the design and decision-making needed to move towards a blended learning model, both schools are now closing in on a final design for their new school day that was hardly imaginable just a few years ago.