During a Wednesday biology class at Twin Falls High School, students shifted their attention between gazing through microscopes and using computers.
Science teacher BJ Price is taking a “blended learning” approach in his classroom — combining face-to-face teaching with online resources.
“I’m more like a guide,” he said about his role in the classroom.
He spends about one or two days per week lecturing to students, while other days are spent leading labs or interactive activities. As part of Wednesday’s lab assignment, Price’s students searched online for images relevant to their lesson and pasted them into Word documents with their lab data.
Although Price has enough computers in his classroom for each student, Twin Falls High also has a new 30-computer science lab. Students can use the space to complete virtual labs or access online databases. For several years, Price has also given tests to students online.
The tech-involved work at the school is an example of things Gem State teachers are already doing that are in line with the state’s Students Come First reforms, which aim to advance classroom technology. Faced with a future that will fill their classrooms with more gadgets and tools to learn from a distance, teachers are already toeing the waters of education’s digital age.
The Idaho State Board of Education decided earlier this month to require public high school students, starting with the class of 2016, to take two online credits to graduate.
Mariah McMurtry, 15, a sophomore at Twin Falls High, took a lifetime fitness class over the summer through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy to earn elective credit.
“I didn’t like it at all,” she said.
The computer can only explain concepts one way, she said, but a teacher can provide multiple examples in person.
Idaho, with its reported slowest-in-the-nation Internet speeds, may need to overcome a few such limitations before it gets cozy with new education technology. But some teachers are already adjusting their schedules in order to teach both traditional and online classes.
Matt Harr, a biology and anatomy/physiology teacher at Twin Falls High, has been teaching for about 20 years.
Since 2002, he’s used his nights and weekends to develop and teach online classes through IDLA. Harr said he thinks it’s a good idea to require students to take online classes, but “it’s a bad idea to replace teachers with online classes.”
However, there are some benefits to online classes, he said.
Sometimes, he gets to know his online students better than those in his traditional classes, and he’s trying different ways of communicating with them.
“Two years ago, I never would have given out my (phone) number to a student,” he said. Now, though, he’s learned that “texting is an easier way to communicate.”