Silicon Schools Fund – Funding Innovation in Blended Learning

Source: KQED Mindshift, Oct 2012

… parts of the program that worked well, namely letting the technology do some of the heavy lifting in terms of grading, lesson planning and collecting analytics that free up teacher time to focus on students. … Giving students more responsibility for the learning process was also a significant outcome of the Envision pilot program. “What we’re finding is that if you make the steps clear and make them accountable, the more you put them in charge of the process the more they amaze,” Greenberg said, referring to students. The pilot program also helped move the class toward “proficiency-based learning,” in which a student is responsible for an intended outcome, but not penalized every step along the way.

Technology in no way replaces the teacher. At some point the usefulness of technology runs out and the educator’s role is crucial. He also says that technology doesn’t preclude the need for a good classroom management systems and positive school culture.

 Greenberg was clear to recognize that this movement is in its infancy. There is no blended-learning canon that can be taught to teachers. Rather Greenberg says the educators need to write the playbook. They need to be at the table and in the laboratories of innovation. And if all goes according to plan, in five years the various Silicon Schools will be networking with one another, sharing ideas with schools from around the world and thinking about how to scale up and replicate best practices.

Greenberg says the fund is willing to give up to $700,000 to about 25 schools if they can demonstrate a unique idea or way to implement blended learning that pushes the conversation forward. Grantees also must have strong leadership teams, a track record of success and a financially sustainable model. The fund expects schools to be able to offer their innovations on the same budget as a traditional California public school.

The fund isn’t pushing any particular model of blended learning like RocketshipKhan Academy or the flipped classroom. Rather, they want teachers to evaluate what works and what doesn’t from those “1.0 models” and then collaborate with ed-tech entrepreneurs to develop new tools for the areas that have been neglected or don’t work well. “You start to mix those things together in a real school, with really good educators and really good kids who are bought into this vision and that’s when it starts to get exciting,” said Greenberg.

“We see creating new schools that are essentially laboratories of innovation, that are trying many different approaches, all with the idea of making education more powerful for each student and each teacher,” explained Greenberg. In five years, he envisions that the Bay Area will have somewhere close to 25 examples of how blended learning could be done. Some of those schools could be charter schools, others public, some built from the ground up and others a transformed existing schools. He wants to see it all so that lots of new ideas and ways of doing things can be tested.

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