8th-Grade Blended Learning: An Independent Study Model

Eighth grade is an incredibly stimulating year for Burke’s girls, filled with both excitement and challenges. During the first trimester, the 8th-grade girls are engaged in the high-school admissions process in which they are pulled in many different directions. 
Classes are missed due to high-school visits, and both students and teachers feel pressure to meet and make up for lost time in the classroom. This predicament sparked 7th- and 8th-grade history teacher Howard McCoy and Upper School Makery Facilitator Marilyn Schaumburg to get together and explore how they could make the first-trimester experience more manageable for both 8th-grade students and teachers in the midst of the high-school admissions process.

McCoy and Schaumburg collaborated over the summer to implement an independent study program for the 8th-grade students during the 2014-2015 school year. This program spanned most of the first trimester and encouraged students to pursue a creative interest (within the parameters of American history from 1700-1800) that they would otherwise not experience in Burke’s academic program. This independent study program also dovetails with and supports one of the priorities of Burke’s Four-Year Strategic Plan: the goal to build an innovative and transformative educational environment so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community and fulfill their potential. "To that end, we must offer a vibrant and innovative learning environment that develops curiosity and creativity along with the collaboration, communication and critical-thinking skills needed to succeed in a complex world,” McCoy said.
The goal of this independent study program was to have students utilize the skills they learned while working on their 7th-grade Cultural Heritage Projects in the 2013-2014 school year (such as interpreting and analyzing primary and secondary sources, researching, thinking critically, writing, collaborating and communicating) and take them a step further. Part of the project included producing a "product" that incorporated the Makery and its many possibilities. For these reasons, McCoy and Schaumburg chose to use aspects of the Blended Learning model in which students learn in part through online delivery of content and instruction, with students having some element of control over their time, place, path and pace. Using Schoology, an online platform that enables organization, communication and a safe community for students, face-to-face classroom methods are combined with computer-mediated activities to allow student work to be supervised both during and outside of class time. 

“When students are able to learn what they want, they are rewarded through the act of gaining knowledge and demonstrating that knowledge.” -Howard McCoy

While each student created an individual product, McCoy placed them in small support teams of no more than six students to provide a forum for group collaboration and sharing. Students worked on different projects, but they shared the same resources. Once each student determined the project she wished to pursue, she wrote a proposal and pitched her idea to the rest of the class for feedback and guidance. Using Schoology, each student was responsible for documenting her daily and weekly goals and progress, and each was required to write a blog post to document her learning and progress — as well as any challenges they faced. Members of each independent study support team would comment on each member’s post as a means to hold one other accountable of achieving their goals and to offer suggestions and pose questions. At the end of the trimester, each student presented her "product" to fellow classmates, teachers and the greater Burke’s community.
From the implementation of this project, students took ownership of their learning and produced impressive work ranging from handwritten books and papers to models and dioramas.
Burke's mission is to educate, encourage and empower girls. Our school combines academic excellence with an appreciation for childhood so that students thrive as learners, develop a strong sense of self, contribute to community, and fulfill their potential, now and throughout life.


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7070 California Street, San Francisco, CA 94121
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