Blended Learning: A New Foothills Approach- 2017-18

Posted by Robert Benson on 7/2/2017 5:00:00 AM

This school year has been very interesting. We have spent a great deal of time reflecting as a school about our existence. This has been done through a great effort in our accreditation process through AdvancED. We are an accredited school!


In this process we see a teeter totter of what we are. We see awesome parent, community, and staff perceptions about the purpose and direction of Foothills dealing primarily with our mission and vision (artful teaching/artful learning). We see many areas of student’s perception of school that are higher. We know that students really like the arts and they really like their teachers. They also like the feel of the school and the fact that staff get along and tend to have a family feel. Students reflect that we have a high standard and the teachers do a great job teaching and driving them in the right direction.


When looking at other data from our stakeholders, we see a need for resources for students. This is a wide topic, but the idea that our school and kids need more to learn from and they need technology, is a very common response not only at Foothills, but also in PUSD in general.


Our achievement scores are about the same as other schools in the district and valley. We have bright spots and places to improve. With that, not many schools are holding their typical scores with the new AZMERIT state test. It is a very rigorous test and reflects the rigorous standards we now teach (Arizona College and Career Ready Standards). What we do know is that 3-4 days of annual testing is NOT a reflection of the great things that happen. I am not sure many school leaders know what a high AZMERIT score is; however, most innovative leaders see an issue… an issue that is complex and needs a very different approach to learning for our 21st Century students.


Our new Superintendent, Dr. Darwin Stiffler, is a huge proponent of technology in the classroom and an approach to teaching and learning that includes the use of technology. There are many names for it. Blended Learning is one. The other we are using often is Personalized Learning.




Blended learning is an education program (formal or informal) that combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods. It requires the physical presence of both teacher and student, with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace. (


As you can imagine, Blended Learning has many models in the classroom. However, this definition does a great job explaining in the most basic and broad sense of what it is. At Foothills, we desire to create a model that involves learning through technologically driven instruction, quality instruction of the teacher, and never letting go of our mission of “artful teaching and artful learning.” The last part of the Wikipedia definition drives other, more desired, needs in school as they focus on the child.



The way humans learn is disordered and non-linear. In other words, there is no ONE WAY! In school, we have, over time, (even though most educators do not like this idea) been driven so all students in a grade level are on the same pace, in the same direction, with the same goal of “achievement” success. Though the intentions have been good, they are not realistic and todays achievement scores, on average in the state of Arizona (and across the U.S.) are wide spread as they reflect the needs of almost all children who operate at vastly different levels.


The idea of personalizing a child’s education can have many perspectives, but in the sense of technology (Blended Learning), learning the basics that are needed in the next week of instruction or the next grade level, can be achieved through an on-line program. These programs tailor to the child’s need.. not the class as a whole. The worst-case scenario is the child who does not do well in a subject. Each unit of study for a general grade level only adds to the snowball of failure if kids are behind. It is also frustrating for a child who is ahead! Students become frustrated and then become increasingly despaired in their learning. However, what if a child could grow in a way that addresses their need? In addition, even though a child is “lower” or even “higher” in what is deemed “grade level” curriculum, they too can grow and certainly feel better about their success. Inevitably, the child will be able to address other learning modalities such as cooperative work that deepens understanding of skills and even activities that allow the child to use what they know as a means to apply and creatively solve a problem.




Author Clayton Christensen wrote a book called Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. The author points out the “job” of many things. In school, based on research, the job of school should be two things. The first is, “fun.” Students desire to have fun at school and in their learning environments. The other “knowing where I am at.” Students desire to know where they are at in the success of school. They want that information NOW and not in a week or two when a project is graded.  


Blended/Personalized learning offers these qualities. Technology offers a new way to track a student’s success and challenges them based on where they are. The teacher too knows this data and can help a student who is still struggling. Because a teacher does not have to plan for the lower level skill development (because it is done for them by the technology) they have time and energy to guide students to deepen understandings, offers creative ways to use knowledge, and have very specific data and intervention available on a standard or skill a student struggles with.


Blended learning is a direction we are driven for, as we believe it opens the door for more arts based learning in the physical classroom that is outlined in our art-learning model. It also paves a pathway for higher achievement tests success. We will be starting these concepts the 2017-18 school year with a three-year plan for implementing, not just technology, but a wider environment that develops the best 21st Century creative learner.


In further blogs, I will address specifics of our plan and research based ideas that will paint a clearer picture for our Foothills Community.