Modern Classrooms Project - a cool example of blended learning

This model is very appealing, particularly for high schools that have attendance challenges. The website has a free PD course on it which I started this week. What are the opportunities and challenges afforded by a model like this?


This is awesome Ben! This is exactly what I feel like the modern classroom should look like. I do wonder about student buy-in and motivation. One of the big struggles we have as an ALC is that our students lack the intrinsic motivation to continue working on assignments when they are self paced/independent. I wonder how these teachers keep their students motivated and off of their cell phones? I signed up for the free version of the class to learn more and I would be interested in what anyone else who goes through the training thinks.

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Rob, my questions are also about classroom management as well as academic stamina. It appears from a few things I noticed in the video (visuals & reminders on student desks, no phones visible) that he’s got really clear, robust structures in place to help students be successful. In looking at one of his units, I see that his content is also very rich and culturally relevant. This helps students stay engaged with the work, I bet.

I also wonder, in general, how teachers navigate circulating the room and doing teaching, reteaching, answering student questions, and classroom management all at once. Anyone who has taught a self-paced class or done project based learning has experienced this challenge. He used the term “controlled chaos.” I hope to learn more about this on the PD on the website.

Thanks for sharing this, Ben. I will sign on to the PD to see what we can learn from them. What I notice with some of our self-paced classes is similar to what both you and Rob said. Students in the ALCs sometimes lack the intrinsic motivation and the stamina to work independently. I noticed some grouping in the videos, and I wondered if that was organic or pre-planned. I love what I saw in the video and think it would be a great way to help students stay on track when absences occur.

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Thanks for posting this, Ben! I have similar concerns, but I think one strength of this teacher is knowing where his students are. We know that part of classroom management and facilitating motivation, is knowing where students are and being able to engage them in their learning. This teacher knows where every student is (posted in slide on board) this allows him to really facilitate and conference. There is also a specific exit ticket dependent on what lesson the students are on, which I think allows for the accountability. The cell phones must not be allowed in classrooms, because there are none in sight. Very impressive!

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I’ve been getting email newsletters from Modern Classrooms Project, and this one I addresses an issue that I know I have experienced. That is, attempting to create a more student-centered classroom, and having some of the students push-back against that concept. I’m sharing this email in it’s entirety:

"As teachers, we always want to do what’s best for our students. When I was teaching math at a Title I high school in Washington, DC, I knew that a blended, self-paced, mastery-based approach would help my students learn.

The problem was that my students, at least initially, didn’t always agree. Nearly every day I heard statements like:

  • “I just can’t learn from a computer.”

- “I preferred when you lectured.”

- “Why don’t you just teach like other teachers?”

At first, these questions really frustrated me. Couldn’t my students see that our new approach was better for all of them? Eventually, though, I realized: my students were rebelling against what they didn’t understand. My Modern Classroom model was new and unfamiliar… and it put the responsibility for learning in my students’ hands. For many students, this felt like too much. For students like these, I built in extra supports, like teacher-guided mini-lessons, or optional lectures during lunch. But with time, and constant support, I noticed that I heard these complaints less and less. My students were getting it – and learning more as a result.

I felt vindicated, therefore, when I read earlier this year a Harvard study about learning. The study, which looked at the attitudes and learning outcomes of students in a college physics class, concluded that, t hough students felt as if they learned more through traditional lectures, they actually learned more when taking part in classrooms that employed so-called active-learning strategies.

Of course, your students may be different from mine, or the college students in this study. But the general point holds: Change can be hard, but it’s also necessary. So keep on pushing! Your students will realize what’s best for them."

Author: Robert Barnett, Lead Instructor, Building Modern Classrooms

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I took a small look at the embedded research article that Barnett references in his article and there was one interesting speculation as to why students might see lecturing as better for learning than active learning. They propose that:

students who are unfamiliar with intense active learning in the college classroom may not appreciate that the increased cognitive struggle accompanying active learning is actually a sign that the learning is effective.

It does make we wonder if we teach cognitive struggle or struggle in general as evidence that learning is taking place. I can easily see it perceived by students as failing to learn…or unnecessary shame while learning.


That’s a great point, Na’im. I think it’s easy for students to equate learning with the act of listening, or “following along”. Listening is a big part of learning, of course, but the ‘productive struggle’ within one’s Zone of Proximal Development may be an understanding that is far less ubiquitous in schools and among students, especially.

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I appreciate this thread so much. I just enrolled in the online PD. I’d be interested in checking in with others about things that are coming up as we navigate this new uncharted territory with lenses of empathy, equity and innovation!


I’m in the same boat! I am working through the material this week and sharing with colleagues.