George Lucas Educational Foundation

Schools That Work | Practice

P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School

Grades K-12 | Gainesville, FL

Blended Learning: Making it Work in Your Classroom

At P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, integrating digital content with face-to-face learning has led to impressive gains in student achievement.
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Blended Learning: Making it Work in Your Classroom (Transcript)

Kristin: I can say that the things I've been doing the last two years have really made a difference, because my kids have scored the highest in the State on the standardized tests. So what we're doing here is working, and it's helping them be successful.

Julie: We define Blended Learning as the combination of digital content and activity with face-to-face content and activity. It sounds easy to Blend, but it really, it looks very different in every classroom. So if a teacher is using something that works really well in a face-to-face situation, they should continue to do that because it works well. If they can find something else that works better, is more efficient or more effective that's digital, then that would be implemented.

Kristin: What I have online could be completely different than what the biology teacher has online, or what the physical education teacher has online. It just depends on what you need those kids to have in order to understand what they need to learn.

Mickey: Okay, go ahead get the laptops. And actually anybody that's in a small group come over here, I need you to get a iPad. Why I wanted to go to a more Blended environment was so that I could figure out a way to differentiate instruction within the biology classroom, and I wanted a way to be able to work with students in small groups, while other students are still engaged in content learning.

There are three activities. One's assorted sentence activity, one is an online interactivity and one is small group that's going to be working with me.

Okay, slide to the apps, and open up Educreations, because we're going to fill in this chart, because this is going to get us practicing base pairing between DNA and RNA and reading our photon chart. Okay, so what goes G?

Student: C.

Mickey: C. So I'm going to put G and C together like this, right?

Shelton: I've like probably learned more today just by doing this than I have the whole week that we've been doing this.

Kristin: And we looked at the research about Blended Learning. We've defined it, and then we had to figure out what would it look like in my class. And so that's when I went, "Well, I actually want to use it more as a tool for the kids for like supplemental materials." There's always practice problems. Or you can go listen to somebody talk about the topic. But the kids started to say that, "We don't want to listen to somebody else; we want to listen to you. And we need your help, and we want to hear your voice." So I started to go, "Okay, well, how can I do that?" And so our technology person said, "Have you seen this app on the iPad?" And me, not knowing anything about technology, went, "I have no idea what you're talking about. Teach me." So we went through a process of me learning how to use the ShowMe app, and then I started making podcasts and it gives me a chance to be in their homes, wherever they are 24/7. It's Virtual Weller, is what we call it.

"That will correspond to six to nine, like it has in the rest of the problems."

Luis: The podcast like helps so much. It's like as if she's actually there, and she just go through it again, and you can like finally understand it.

Kristin: I see them, they'll plug in, I look over and they have it on their phones. They have it on their tablets, they have it on computers. They do podcasts for me during class time. I will have specific problems I want to see, just like do they understand the basics of what we talked about today?

Student: Forty, all right, 60 plus 60. Divide 40 to get C by itself. And C equals to 45.

Class: Yay! [applause] Oh, yeah!

Kristin: All right.

For me classroom time, direct instruction, investigations, discovery, that's all still part of teaching. It's not all online. A lot of the face-to-face stuff is still the most important thing to me. The online tools are there to help make understanding even better, even more rich of an experienced for the kids.

Julie: We really wanted the focus to be on the teaching and learning part, and on the digital tool as a secondary thing.

Mickey: Kids don't always get it the first time, or the second time, or the third time. And this allows different ways for those kids to get it. The pass rate for my kids the first year was 75 percent; and the second year was 93 percent. The state average is somewhere around 60 percent. So something's working for these kids.

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A Schoolwide Approach

Blended learning is a core part of P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School. Since 2010, the school has taken a schoolwide approach to integrating digital content as part of their instructional framework. Driven by changes already happening at the higher education levels and the need to prepare students for the 21st century workplace, blended learning provides the school with a variety of ways to address student needs, differentiate instruction, and provide teachers with data for instructional decision-making.

P.K. Yonge views blended learning as the combination of digital content and activity with face-to-face content and activity. It looks very different in each class at the school. When a teacher has an activity that works well face-to-face, there isn't any reason to look for a digital replacement. If they can find something digital that is more effective or efficient, then that is implemented. 

P.K. Yonge administrators knew it would be a challenge for their teachers, many of whom were averse to learning new technologies, or didn’t have the time to think about how to implement it in their classroom. Blended learning requires both the time and a willingness to learn new things. But the benefits of doing the work seem to far outweigh the challenges. Four years later, P.K. Yonge has almost 20 classes that have transitioned into a blended learning model.

Getting started on using the technology or transitioning curriculum can be intimidating for some teachers. Many teachers at P.K. Yonge recommended finding another teacher to buddy up with through the process, and to help support one another.

How It's Done

Planning a Blended Curriculum

In partnership with the University of Florida, P.K. Yonge designed a summer institute that would give teachers the time and resources to think about blended learning. At the institute, teachers had an opportunity to dig into what blended learning was and how to rebuild their course. They also had the support of graduate students from the University of Florida, who helped them to find and build content. In time, teachers learned the tools and technologies on their own. While most schools won't be able to host a summer program to plan and train teachers, the same planning principles can be used in any school.      

The institute itself was designed in a blended learning format. Teachers did different kinds of activities, sometimes meeting face to face and sometimes online. This provided the chance to experience blended learning in similar ways as their students.

Target One Grade Level at a Time

P.K. Yonge decided it would make sense to start by systematically targeting one entire grade level, rather than a smattering of teachers and students across the many different grades. They chose the ninth grade as a place to start because it is the start of high school, and they could roll up or down into the other grade levels from there.   

Set Goals for Each Class

Interested teachers were asked to fill out a proposal with the ideas they had for transitioning their curriculum. Teachers were asked to think specifically about why they wanted a blended learning environment and what gaps it could address in the classroom.

Some of the needs teachers had were to provide students with differentiated instruction, to find quick and easy ways to do formative assessment, and to give students access to content 24/7.

Teachers were then asked how those gaps could be filled, what units in their curriculum they could possibly see as blended learning units, and to propose a timeline for the project. Finally, teachers were asked to define specific deliverables for their course. All of this helped build the ownership that was necessary for teachers to really want to do this work. 

Keep it Face-to-Face or Make it Digital?

One of the key components of blended learning is to identify what is already working well in your classroom, and what might be better suited as digital content. Teachers need to know that by adding digital content, it doesn’t mean throwing out all the direct instruction in the classroom. Keep what is working well in a face-to-face mode, and add what could be more effective in a digital format. 

Deliverables differed from teacher to teacher depending on the content area. Some teachers overhauled an entire unit of their course, others focused on creating assessments for learning and putting those in place, while others took a more general approach and decided to transition all their handouts into a digital format so they were more accessible. 

It is important to start with some deliverables that are manageable, and then keep adding new components over the year, or even next few years.

Plan for Resources and Access

Two crucial things to think about before you start are what kinds of resources your school already has, and what kind of access students will have to the technology necessary for a blended learning course. P.K. Yonge has been committed to providing computers for its students, and has about 800 available on campus. However, while some teachers have 25 computers in their classroom, others only have a few Ipads. The school also extended its library hours, so that students could access it every day before school and until 5:30 pm afterschool.      


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kailey_renee3's picture

I absolutlely love the idea of the blended classroom. I love that the teacher will always come first but that the technology is used as a supplemental resource. I like that she said that sometimes a child does not learn the material on the first, second, or even sometimes the third try. The benefit of a blended classroom is that the students have the opportunity to learn the material that the teacher gave them through different mediums, so that they have a better and fuller understanding of the material.

Mike's picture

With all students from this point going forward being digital citizens growing up with technology at their finger tips, it very important that schools and classrooms keep up with the direction that we are heading in. It seems as though blended learning has a lot of positive elements that would allow students access to content all the time, give teachers a way to create quick formative assessments and differentiate instruction to meet different students' needs. The one caveat to this great idea that was touched upon in the article was the ability for teachers to take on this added work. While I do believe that it is the teacher's responsibility to consistently seek out professional development opportunities that in turn help their students become more successful, it is also true that teachers have a lot of other responsibilities. I think that for this to be put in place it needs to be planned and implemented in a way that makes it as easy as possible for teachers so that it doesn't feel like an extra thing to add to their laundry list of chores. I think that will be the key for this to go forward in more school districts. Sometimes it does not matter how great something is or appears to be, its the accessibility and how it is presented that is going to really make teachers decide if they want to move forward with this model.

EP's picture

This article is interesting because it supports what some of my colleagues and I have been discussing for the past two school years. We have been trying different ways to "flip" the classroom and integrate technology. One of our obstacles has been the availability of resources such as iPads and Chromebooks. For school districts like ours, we have been able to make good use of videos such as those made available on by Kahn Academy. A large portion of our students are signed up with accounts that we have the ability to monitor work and extra instruction outside of the classroom. For the most part, our students use personal devices not ones provided by the school district.
In addition to the research conducted on blended learning, I believe another reason why the teachers featured in the article have attained such success with students is due to motivation. Technology seems to captivate the young mind and therefore opens a different pathway to share information.

Hera's picture

In order for any new change to be successful in a school setting, the purpose of that change must be made clear and stakeholders must be given the time to effectively implement the new learning. Although the implementation of blended learning at this particular school correlated with raised test scores, I think this instructional model's purpose is much more significant than just standardized testing. At my current teaching placement in Connecticut, we offer students one-to-one MacBook Airs. Our purpose for doing so, according to our handbook, is to equip our students with the skills and knowledge necessary to properly engage in digital citizenship. Unlike P.K. Yonge, our staff (especially new teachers) are not given the time to investigate technological resources to supplement our curriculum. Everyone is required to use either Moodle or Google classrooms, and we are taught how to use these resources, but not much other professional learning time is devoted to new technological learning. Thus, a lot of times, since teachers are not equipped with the knowledge to effectively integrate the MacBooks, they consider this technology a nuisance and a distraction to learning. This is unfortunate because of the clear benefits of the blended learning model. From differentiation to task efficiency, purposeful integration of technology would greatly benefit the students at my urban school.

KN's picture

My school district's technology vision is that all learners will engage in student-centered learning communities that are grounded in technology, foster intellectual growth and provide the foundation to excel in an evolving digital world. Therefore, accessibility to technology became a priority in order to prepare students for life in the 21st century.
With the gradual rollout of Chromebooks, teachers are turning to technology to enhance teaching and learning. In fact, many classrooms are turning to a blended learning model. This article helps to reaffirm what these teachers are beginning to see inside their classrooms. The technology based activities help to differentiate instruction and motivate students. Students have access to content at any time and are more easily able to communicate with their teachers. As the article states, it was important for our teachers to start small (begin with manageable deliverables, make adjustments to one unit, or modify assessments) and add gradually over time. This allowed for them to become more comfortable with teaching using the blended model.

Heather D Flesner's picture

I love that the school used digital replacement when it was "more efficient or effective" than face to face, but kept those activities that worked well face to face. I believe that even as we move towards more blended learning we still need to have that face to face time with students. There are some really good things to think about when transitioning to a blended learning environment. The pieces about moving slowly and purposefully are great reminders that to be successful we really need to look at what we are implementing and why.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct Faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Heather, I SO agree. Finding that balance is so important for so many reasons. I always rely on the "more efficient or effective" criteria when deciding if I should even think about integrating technology. Even then I sometimes opt for hands on or other methods because I attempt to find balance between ALL of my lesson learning objectives. I rarely do a lesson with only one learning objective in mind and sometimes it is the social, emotional. or some other objective that proves to be a bit more important at the time with that particular group of students.

Zach Wyn's picture

My school is in the process of transitioning into a blended learning format and we know it isn't going to be the smoothest transition. After reading your article, I feel we are actually do a pretty good job. I think the biggest thing we have done and focused on is getting it started in one particular grade level (6th grade) and leading with them as they move into 7th and 8th and eventually into high school. I think our next biggest challenge is exactly how to incorporate our curriculum, what we put online, what we still do face-to-face, etc. It's an exciting time but at the same time, it's a struggle and a process going through this type of transition.

Tara List's picture
Tara List
Science Teacher

I teach in a blended setting. I was a regular classroom teacher for 10 years prior, but I now teach in a blended program in my district for students who are either accelerated or who are taking classes online and making up credits. There is definitely a learning curve, and it is a change for both teachers and students, but we have seen far fewer behavior problems, and success for some of our more difficult students. I think it leads to greater engagement, as well as more individualization.

Lindsay Kerven's picture

As my district is diving into blended learning I am encouraged by reading how you started the transformation and moved everyone forward knowing it's not a race to get everyone on board. One thing that really stood out to me was recognizing that when choosing face-to-face or digital teacher's choices were kept in mind. I believe this is such an important factor that can easily get overlooked.

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