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Government Leaders from Singapore Visit Mission Dolores Academy to Learn about Blended Learning

August 14, 2014

A delegation from Singapore’s Ministry of Education recently visited Mission Dolores Academy as part of a fact-finding trip to the Bay Area to learn how some American schools are applying technology in education. The only San Francisco school visited by the delegation, Mission Dolores Academy is a pioneer of what’s commonly known as “blended learning.” The Singapore delegation was drawn to Mission Dolores Academy because of the school’s extensive experience as a blended learning innovator. The term “blended learning” is used to describe a combination of teacher-led and technology-based instruction in the classroom.

The key academic benefit of blended learning is customized instruction. When students sign on to their computers, the software tracks progress and delivers tailored instruction for each student. Students who are behind get questions that help them get caught up; students who are ahead get more-challenging questions. The software also gives teachers regular feedback on each student, so teachers spend less time grading and more time planning and running small-group instruction. With more schools exploring various models and methods of technology integration, many have turned to Mission Dolores Academy to learn how blended learning works and how implementing a similar model can improve student learning. In addition to the visitors from Singapore, the independent K-8 Catholic school has also welcomed education leaders from cities across the United States, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and San Jose.

"We’re finding that other schools are coming to us because we are one of the few schools where blended learning is fully implemented in the curriculum across all grade levels,” said Mission Dolores Academy Principal, Dan Storz. He added that the school’s two and a half years using blended learning have led to promising results. For example, last year’s seventh graders started the year slightly behind grade level in math but ended the year testing at tenth grade levels, while the school’s per-pupil costs dropped 5% compared to the previous year.

Principal Storz led the visitors on a school tour and classroom observation, and briefed them on the key components of the Academy’s blended learning model. Mission Dolores Academy uses what’s known as a rotational blended learning model, where each classroom is divided into two groups during instruction—one half works independently using educational software on computers while the other half receives teacher-led, small group instruction. After 20-30 minutes, the groups rotate.

Singapore Senior Minister of State for Education Indranee Rajah took notice of the teachers’ classroom management, and the role MDA’s blended learning model plays in that. “What was very interesting was the breaking up of classes into sections, the teacher’s ability to make sure there’s a good lesson plan, the use of technology, and fact that it doesn’t supplant the role of the teacher, but augments the student - teacher relationship, “ she said.

Mr. Adrin Lim, deputy director of English language and literature, said they wanted to see how teachers are using this approach, and how students are adapting to it. “We could see that the kids are really engaged, and teachers have developed their craft well to use computers in the classroom. I think it’s an ingredient for a very good school.” Ms. Kwai Yin Loh, head of department in the School of Science & Technology, commented on how Mission Dolores Academy’s blended learning approach is very consistent across K-8. “Also impressive is the teachers’ pedagogy, how they organize the students, and how students are being engaged in learning independently, as well as in the group discussion with teachers and their peers.”

Principal Storz was happy to welcome the visitors to the Academy. “Blended learning is new, and we’re still discovering what works and what doesn’t, which is why we’re happy to share with other schools.” Clearly, it isn’t a one way street. “Each time we have visitors to the school, it enriches our understanding of education and where it’s headed. We learn from them as well while they are learning from us,” Storz said. “We want to add to the collective knowledge and keep people talking and learning how to improve education for our kids.”

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