Stories from the Field

Lessons Learned: Blended Learning for Special Needs

Lessons Learned: Blended Learning for Special Needs

Elsie O’Bryan is a paraeducator at Teeland Middle School in Wasilla, Alaska. She recently received an NEA Foundation Student Achievement grant to measure and improve students’ math progress with individualized learning. Here’s what she had to say about her project and its impact.

Tell us a little about your project.

Mitch Steele, an intensive resource special education teacher at Teeland Middle School, learned about the concept of “blended learning” through continuing education classes. He immediately thought that his students could benefit by having Chromebooks in the classroom so that they could have access to them on a daily basis.  

The computer programs allow Mr. Steele and me to evaluate specific areas in which individual students need personal help, thus allowing him to use traditional teaching methods to work with them in their areas of struggle.

Our $5,000.00 Student Achievement Grant from the NEA Foundation allowed us to purchase 22 Chromebooks and accessories.

How does this project help your students?

The project of “Chromebooks in the Classroom” helps our students because it gives consistent access to individualized computer math programs. The students have increased confidence as they progressively experience more success and academic advancement. They transfer that confidence to the regular education electives they participate in as well as our class.

Because our students no longer compete with the other 750 students in the building for computer lab time, the entire student body benefits from the NEA Foundation Student Achievement Grant we were awarded.

In addition, each student has been assigned a specific unit and has been given the responsibility of returning it to the appropriate place and assuring that it is plugged in for charging, thus enhancing their employability skill of accountability for equipment.

The computer program “MobyMax” generates reports for each student, showing the beginning grade level and any changes.  In early March 2017, he reported that 100% the 24 students using the Chromebooks had improved the level at which they were functioning in math–at a rate of improvement ranging from 0.2 to 2.4 grade levels.

What do your students say about the project?

The students like having consistent access to the Chromebooks and like working in their own classroom.  Some have commented that the computer labs were noisy and because other classes sometimes shared the same time slot, there were too many distractions.

What inspires you most about your work?

I am inspired by the opportunity to make a difference and to be a stabilizing presence to middle school students who are in the natural emotional and physical state of turmoil that is a part of their age. I have the privilege of having the same students for all three middle school years and I enjoy watching them mature physically, emotionally and socially.

I also enjoy the ability to assist Mr. Steele with data collection to document student achievement.

What is your passion – in or outside the classroom?

My passion is helping middle-school age children find their strengths and helping them set goals and work toward achievement of those goals. Advocating for people of all ages who struggle with economic and/or social issues is very important to me.

I am a 72 year old woman and am on my 4th career. The first three careers were in administration in small-town local government and non-profit corporations.  I have been able to transfer the skills I learned and used in those careers to education.

The school district that I am privileged to work for is located less than 50 miles from Anchorage, in a rapidly growing area of Alaska. The school population reflects the economic, ethnic and cultural diversity of the region.

Teeland Middle School is a STEM school. Our special needs students are taking elective classes with an amazing level of utilization of technology and expectations. The increased exposure our project has given them in the daily use of technology in the classroom has been very beneficial as they take that ability to other settings.

A very high percentage of students at Teeland Middle School reflect the culture of high expectations of courtesy and respect to their peers and adults.

There’s still time to apply for an NEA Foundation grant of your very own! The application deadlines for Student Achievement and Learning & Leadership grants are February 1, June 1, and October 15. For help developing your proposal, be sure to check out our grant-writing tutorial.