How Opening the Door To Blended Learning Changed the Game for One Former Virtual School

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Creating a space for project-based learning, tutoring and discussion to supplement the rigorous curriculum provided by Fuel Education has helped students at Springs Studio for Academic Excellence achieve more.

How Opening the Door To Blended Learning Changed the Game for One Former Virtual School

Rachel Quetti · January 7, 2016

Springs Studio for Academic Excellence doesn’t operate like most K-12 schools. Formerly known as Falcon Virtual Academy, Springs Studio, located in Colorado Springs, transitioned from a fully virtual school into a school that provides various innovative and engaging blended learning opportunities, from one-on-one tutoring sessions to project-based activities.

With the help of Fuel Education, a blended learning curriculum that provides digital learning solutions for pre–K through 12th grade, Springs Studio took the leap into the blended learning world in an effort to set itself apart from competing virtual schools in the state and more importantly, introduce a new world of learning to its students.

“The goal was to bring back enrollments, but that’s just not the case anymore. We’ve done that 10 fold and we could expand exponentially but our true goal was to get really good at what we do and not just round up a ton of enrollments,” says Dave Knoche, principal of Springs Studio for Academic Excellence.

With only about 100 students enrolled in Springs Studio at the beginning of the re-brand, the school first introduced blended learning once a week through what the school called “iLearning” days.

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Students participate in blended learning activities at Springs Studio to supplement Fuel Education’s curriculum.

“We didn’t want to promote isolation so we were giving one day in the building for every level. What we did was build really high level, engaging stuff to do with kids to get them in and work on those 21st century skills,” says Knoche. “It was about collaboration, having fun, engagement and getting together and experiencing what life in a school and in a virtual school could be like and we had phenomenal results. We couldn’t get our kids out of the building.”

Shortly after introducing iLearning days, the school noticed a 30% increase in achievement in students who were leveraging both Fuel Education and the iLearning days.  At this time, 85% of Springs Studio’s students were still fully virtual, with only 15% participating in the iLearning days. In an effort to turn that number around, the school had to define blended learning, in contrast to fully virtual learning, to prospective students.

“All of our families and students coming here wanted that blended model; they didn’t want the virtual model as much. Some people who were not from virtual worlds saw Falcon Virtual and the word virtual and thought ‘I don’t want my kids staring at a screen all day.’ So if you are going to move in a direction of bringing blended learning to the masses, you have to break down the perception of what a virtual school is,” says Knoche.

Springs Studio has now grown to about 522 students, with about 85% of K-5 students, 100% of middle school students and 80% of high school students participating in blended learning.

It is important to note that part of what has led to the success of Springs Studio is not only the learning opportunities provided in the building, but also the learning opportunities provided by Fuel Education.

“Fuel Education is rigorous in terms of the expectations of kids and the amount of repetition it provides students, especially in math. That was necessary,” says Knoche. “Having the ability to pull [the curriculum] apart and be able to add and subtract from it based on the standards here in Colorado and the goals and focus we have in our school was also necessary.”

Students in grades six through twelve leverage Fuel Education for their core curriculum at Springs Studio. Springs Studio teachers act as content specific experts who guide students through the Fuel Education curriculum and help to enhance their learning experience, but do not deliver any form of instruction in the building.  Students instead rely on Fuel Education’s highly qualified and state certified teachers to deliver instruction online. As a result of its advanced curriculum and highly qualified teachers, Fuel Education provides Springs Studio with the flexibility of allowing some students to be fully virtual and do not require them to participate in blended learning activities.

Fuel Education has also provided Studio Springs with support and tips on how to succeed using the curriculum, which has helped minimize challenges and setbacks.

“We are more and more trying to build professional development and/or quick hit tips and tricks into our systems and our content so if folks need help, they can access it in real time instead of having to sit down for a face to face training or log in for a 30 minute online training,” says Gregg Levin, general manager of Fuel Education.

“The training is really strong and whenever we need any support we really get it fairly quickly,” adds Knoche.

The biggest challenge Springs Studio faced had little to do with the curriculum, and much more to do with learning how to manage devices in a blended learning environment.

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Students participate in tutoring sessions and project-based learning at Springs Studio as a part of their blended learning experience.

Springs Studio ran into technical issues when students brought their school-provided devices back into the building after utilizing them at home. In an effort to minimize these problems, Springs Studio tried out BYOD, however ran into issues with web-browsers, Flash and Java not being updated on several computers.

In order to solve these issues, the school chose to keep laptops for use in the building, but students must access the online curriculum on their own computers at home. Information is also stored in Google Drive, so students can access content both at home and in Springs Studio’s building if needed.

For other schools looking to implement a blended learning model, it is important they take a look the goals they are looking to accomplish with blended learning.

“At a macro level, it is important for the district in partnership with a solution like Fuel Education to think through what goals they are trying to achieve and what the key objectives are that they want to meet in implementing blended learning. They need some sort of strategic framework as to what they’re trying to accomplish, how they want to do it, and what the multi-year ramp is to how they want to think about doing it,” says Levin. “They don’t have to have it all figured out, but just sitting down and thinking about it for a half a day makes the initial implementation a lot more successful.”

Furthermore, schools must ensure that the curriculum they use is standards aligned. Springs Studio operates in Colorado, which is a very “online learning-friendly” state that focuses on student growth as well as achievement. This has provided Springs Studio with more flexibility in regards to the curriculum they chose to implement.

“I’m the only principal in this country who gets hate mail on snow days.”—David Knoche, principal, Springs Studio for Academic Excellence

With Springs Studio’s implementation of blended learning, they have nearly outgrown their current building due to increased enrollment.  Implementing Fuel Education and creating an active and exciting learning environment that supplements that curriculum has increased student achievement and maintained students’ interest in learning.

“We want the engagement level and the social aspect of our building to attract kids to want to come in. I think that’s what’s been so successful. We have built and environment where kids want to come in,” says Knoche. “I’m the only principal in this country who gets hate mail on snow days.”

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