The project-based blended learning program at Maricopa Unified School District has been boosting students’ achievement on AzMERIT, increasing collaboration and showcasing their creativity for the past five years.
The blended learning program has grown from 50 students at Maricopa Wells Middle School in 2012 to more than 484 students today in blended learning classrooms at Maricopa Wells and Desert Wind middle schools as well as Santa Rosa Elementary School.
Blended learning students use their school laptop to learn from teacher-made lessons and online curriculum, take part in large and small group classroom instruction, then put that knowledge to use in class-time projects.
Video by Brooke Razo/ASBA: Maricopa USD’s Blended Learning Program
How boosting student engagement helps achievement
Letting students make decisions about their personalized learning has increased student engagement, said Steve Chestnut, former superintendent of the Pinal County district that serves more than 6,300 students.
Maricopa Unified’s Blended Learning program won one of Arizona School Boards Association’s Golden Bell Promise Program Awards in 2017.
Working on projects to solve real-world problems has helped students master state standards as well as develop critical thinking, collaboration, presentation and technological skills – including green screen video technology, website and app creation and 3-D printing design – that prepare them for career success, Chestnut noted.
A growing number of Arizona schools are using blended learning to increase student engagement and achievement, and data shows that it’s working.
Infographic by Lisa Irish, Click here for a larger version
For example, a significantly higher percentage of Maricopa Unified’s blended learning middle school students passed AzMerit English and math compared to other students in the district, Chestnut said.
“The blended learning scores were significantly above the district average on all six tests and equal to or above the state average on five of the six tests,” Chestnut said.
Also, the percentage of blended learning students passing Algebra I on the 2017 AZMerit was significantly higher than all Maricopa Unified middle school Algebra I students and total state percentages for middle and high school students, Chestnut said.
Increasing student collaboration and creativity
Blended learning classroom environments increase students collaboration and creativity with areas to work together with and without technology and areas where they can work on their own.
Also, the older students in the blended learning classrooms mentor the younger students in both academic and social skills, and students rely on their peers and social networks for help, which leads to more self-motivated learners.
As a result of this collaboration and creativity, Maricopa Unified’s blended learning student teams received 16 of the 34 awards at the 2017 Arizona State Regional Future City Competition, where students collaborate to imagine, research, design and build cities that showcase their solution to a sustainability issue, Chestnut said. (Link to https://futurecity.org/)
At that competition, three teams won the Walton Sustainable Community Award, and was asked to present their project to guests including Dr. Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, and Rob Walton, retired chairman of the board of Walmart, at ASU’s “Sustainability Solutions Showcase” at the Desert Botanical Gardens.
Middle school blended learning students also showcased their collaboration and creativity by earning one entrepreneur scholarship worth $1,000 and several honorable mention awards at the 2016 Shark Tank competition sponsored by Maricopa High School.
At the competition, students presented their ideas for an original business or product that solved a problem or filled a need, their marketing strategy and marketing presentation to community business leaders. Middle school blended learning students had one team place in the top five finishers and an additional three individual students placed in the top five.
Maricopa’s blended learning students also demonstrated their creativity and collaboration by submitting 27 short films and 9 screenplays to the inaugural 2017 Copa Shorts Film Festival competition for students and adults. Maricopa Unified’s curriculum department paid for the cost of each entry and three films were accepted into the festival and shown on the big screen at the Ultra Star Multi-tainment Center in Maricopa.
How to start and maintain blended learning
The Maricopa Unified School District’s Governing Board and district administrators were key to the planning and launch of the blended learning program in 2012 and have been involved every school year since then in the approval of expenditures needed for additional laptops, wireless networking, and site licenses, Chestnut said.
District office staff
created a lottery system for middle school student placement in the first year
of the program and have continued to manage that process each year.
In the 2013-2014 school year, the blended learning program was expanded to include grade five at Santa Rosa Elementary School as a result of increasing demand.
That same year, Maricopa Unified received a $560,000 grant from the Ak-Chin Indian Community to expand the wireless network to all schools in the district – before then only Maricopa High School had access to wireless.
Once the Governing
Board accepted the grant, district administrators facilitated the installation
of wireless at the eight remaining schools so that blending learning could be offered
in the future at each school, Chestnut said.
The next year, the blended learning program was added to Desert Wind Middle School, enrollment was increased to 75 students at each middle school, and a class for fourth-graders was also added at Santa Rosa Elementary School.
In the 2015-16 school year, a blended learning class was added at grade six at Santa Rosa Elementary School.
The following year, there were four middle school blended learning teachers at each school and the program doubled in size to 350 total students.
At Desert Wind Middle School, the four-pod classroom design of the school worked well for the blended learning project-based format and the school had an extra four-pod area that could be used for expansion and the Governing Board authorized some necessary minor remodeling for it.
Expansion at Maricopa
Wells Middle School was not so straight forward and the decision was made to
move the blended program into the library. The Governing Board approved expenditures
to relocate and remodel the library as well as provide new non-traditional
classroom furniture for the blended classrooms at the school.
For 2017-18, two additional sixth-grade blended learning classrooms were added at Maricopa Wells Middle School, bringing the total to six blended learning classrooms at the school. The Governing Board also approved expenditures to provide new non-traditional classroom furniture for the blended classrooms at Desert Wind Middle School.