Teaching & Learning
How Rural Teachers Can Use Technology to Upgrade Their Classrooms
- By Tina Barrera-Melde
When it comes to rural schools, there are many challenges that educators face. Some of them — lower salaries, high turnover, and lack of resources — have no easy answer. However, new technology is making it easier than ever for teachers to combat one of the most prevalent challenges of teaching in a rural environment: the multitude of roles and responsibilities educators need to juggle.
Around half of America's school boards are in rural areas — these schools also serve a greater proportion of students below the poverty line, yet most states provide less funding to the schools and districts that are in the most need of support. For teachers trying to harness their entrepreneurial spirits and broaden the horizons for both themselves and their students, they need look no further than blended learning for a solution.
When teachers are responsible for multiple subjects, or a new subject every year, it can be hard to attain expert status. This is an especially vital issue when it comes to higher levels of education — honors and Advanced Placement classes, for instance, that are designed to promote college readiness and a more in-depth curriculum. Only approximately half of rural school districts in the U.S. have students enrolled in college-level AP courses, according to a report by University of New Hampshire researchers. In addition to lower access, these students also see lower levels of AP success than their urban and suburban peers.
This was the predicament I myself was faced with when my school, London Independent School District in Corpus Christi, TX, handed me the reins on our AP World Geography class. Despite this being my first year teaching the course, I had six students — ranging from freshmen to juniors — take the AP World Geography Exam at the end of the school year. Five of them walked out with perfect scores of 5, with the other earned a similarly impressive 4.
My secret to success? Blended learning.
Thanks to the utilization of blended learning in my classroom, I was able to combine the in-depth rigor of the program activities and lecture series (provided by Edgenuity) with a traditional classroom instructional approach. Instead of relying on one textbook to help my students absorb the information, this blended learning approach allowed our classroom to explore multiple sources and approach the curriculum from countless angles. That kind of deeper understanding that I encouraged my students to find in the curriculum wouldn't have been possible if I wasn't able to utilize Edgenuity's solutions to expand my own knowledge about the subject I was teaching.
When it comes to AP courses — or any course where you want students to be able to take a below-the-surface dive into a subject — it's important to be well prepared to answer insightful questions, facilitate open discussions and connect students with as many resources as possible. There is a difference between comprehension and true mastery of a subject, and the blended learning model was what bridged that gap for both my students and myself.
Instead of replacing my role in the classroom, I was able to modernize my role as a facilitator of the curriculum and learn alongside my students, while keeping close track of their strongest and weakest areas to interact with them in meaningful, mutually educational ways. And, because my students were rolling up their sleeves and interacting with the material instead of it being fed to them, they were able to holistically master the curriculum — and then some! — before the exam rolled around.
Blended learning gives us teachers the chance to create a bigger world for our students, giving them a deep dive into the subjects they're learning about. The most important lesson for educators is to avoid falling into the trap of the "same old" methods that aren't working anymore — 'tried and true' may work sometimes, but the world is changing quickly and so is the way students are consuming their information.
By incorporating blended learning into classrooms, rural teachers can make even small corners of the world feel vast. Instead of scrambling to get a surface-level understanding of many subjects, blended learning can also help teachers professionally develop and add new skills and subject masteries to their toolbelt.
Tina Barrera-Melde is a teacher in London Independent School District in Texas.