During a recent lesson on enzymes, Oak Ridge science teacher Casey Rhyan stood in the back of his second period biology class acting more as coach than lecturer. Students worked with their own Samsung Galaxy tablets, engaged as they conducted research and worked at their own pace as part of Oak Ridge’s blended learning pilot year.
Four teachers across four core subjects — English, history, math and science — were selected and trained in this new method where the traditional role of teachers as knowledge gatekeepers has evolved into content facilitators with the aid of technology; 600 students are involved this pilot year before the program is introduced schoolwide.
“The technology is allowing for enhanced project-based learning in history and interactive research in English,” said Oak Ridge Principal Paul Burke. “The tablets are providing our biology classes with an opportunity to have increased technological interaction with digital scientific models and other graphical interfaces and it’s being used to provide immediate assessment feedback to students in math.”
Students use the tablets to complete homework, watch taped lessons and presentations and access selected education sites, universities, research centers, museums and online libraries to reinforce lessons or as part of their problem-solving assignments.
“You’re not limited to a single textbook,” said Rhyan. “Instead of me writing on the board for my students, for instance, they can see how molecules actually work with the interactive component. I can take them further during lessons and this is perfect timing with common core. Real science is about solving problems and not just memorizing facts. It’s a lot of changes and a lot of work, but it’s exciting.”
Freshman Cameron Stone said he likes going through Mr. Rhyan’s online slide show to look for answers versus flipping through a textbook. “It’s more specific to the topic,” he said.
Freshman Jenna Quan said, “It’s more interesting because it’s more interactive.
The 144 Samsung Galaxy tablets purchased by the Oak Ridge High School Community Foundation are the most visible change in this new mode of learning, but Vice Principal Aaron Palm said teacher training is vital.
“There’s a 0 to 2 percent increase in student achievement when you just give kids more technology,” he said. “It’s all about teacher training and how to use the technology effectively. The four teachers chosen were already doing some of these things.
“Kids have always come to teachers for the answers, but the teacher’s role has changed,” he said. “In the same way the old way of assessing was like an autopsy. With this interactive way of learning, assessments are now more like check-ups.”
Palm described how this blended, “flipped teaching,” is going in the other content areas. In math, for instance, students work in class and can watch the lesson as many times as they want at home, preventing that moment when they get stuck and have no teacher to guide them.
Staff is using turnitin.com for assessments. According to Palm, this artificial intelligence program can find theses, spelling errors and can authenticate sources. A stack of papers that used to take a month to grade now takes days, he said.
“No one else in the district is doing this,” said Burke. “The blended learning delivery model allows for a very rich, project-based learning environment in which students use the technology to deepen their learning of the content standards.”
“In the coming years, this 21st century classroom model is expected to be the norm in all classes at Oak Ridge,” said Oak Ridge school board member Phil Peacock. “But the Oak Ridge High School Community Foundation is in dire need of donations so we can help support the roll-out to the next wave of classes. Funding will be used to acquire additional electronic netbooks, enhance the learning management software and to provide tailored training for the teaching staff. Donations can be made on our Website, orhsfoundation.com.”