Putting Teachers at the Center of Education Technology (Slate)

Photo of teacher standing in front of class, talking to students, with projected video in the background.

Sandra Haupt, a teacher in Concord-Carlisle, Massachusetts, co-teaches with the Blossoms lesson “The Power of Exponentials, Big and Small.” (Photo by M. Scott Brauer, courtesy of MIT Blossoms)

Effective educational technology does not have to be a “disruptive force” in the classroom. This recent Slate.com article makes a compelling, and reassuring, case for the blended learning model of MIT Blossoms lessons.

Putting Teachers at the Center of Education Technology
This great program needs only a TV and VCR—no iPads necessary.
By Annie Murphy Paul

MIT Blossoms, one of the most exciting and effective uses of educational technology to help high school students learn math and science, doesn’t boast the latest in artificial intelligence or adaptive algorithms. Its secret weapon is, rather, a canny understanding of human psychology—both students’ and teachers’. Technologically speaking, its basic model could be executed with an old television and VCR.

In fact, it was. Blossoms was born a decade ago when Richard Larson, a professor of engineering systems at MIT and an early advocate of educational technology, visited a run-down school in rural central China. The classroom was lit by two bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and was so cold that students kept their coats on inside. It did have a used TV and VCR, which the teacher employed to play a video of a science lecture. She would show a few minutes of the tape, then turn it off and engage her students in a surprisingly dynamic, interactive lesson. This was followed by a few more minutes of the video, then back to interaction with the students.

Larson was intrigued by this homespun version of “blended learning.” Back in the U.S., he undertook an effort to create science and math videos that were designed to be interrupted, to be complemented by active learning sessions conducted by a classroom teacher. Larson himself starred in the first video, a lesson on triangles, random numbers, and probability that featured the professor sawing a yardstick into pieces. Today there are more than 100 lessons available free on the Blossoms website, covering topics in mathematics, engineering, physics, biology, and chemistry, all taught by experts in their fields. Read more…

MIT Blossoms is a partner with OCW in the U.S. State Department’s Open Book Project, which develops Arabic language open educational resources.

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