Good Stuff

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Today I facilitated my 7th grade science class in constructing a social contract. I always love hearing what they have to say and it is very eye-opening at times. If you’ll let them, students will remind you of what is really important. They should have a stake in their classroom from lesson design to classroom environment. Above are the common themes share by each table. We discussed that these were probably more for me to know as their teacher and they agreed. But, don’t you just love them! I would want to be in that class! As educators we need to constantly reflect and ask ourselves, “Would we want to be in our class?”

Check out this video of their products from group collaboration. This is what they came up with in small groups as what they wanted to their class to be like. There is a lot of good stuff here! 

Our final product:

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If we honor this contract, the learning will take place! I hope that you too allow your students voice and choice in the classroom and honor their needs and wants as best as you can this year! I’d love to hear your great activities. Share in the comments section. 

Can You Blend?

I was recently asked to write a guest blog for TASA’s (Texas Association of School AdministratorsVision in Practice blog. I really enjoyed this activity as it helped me further organize my thoughts in a more specific manner factoring in my growth as an educator and experiences learned.

Here are my thoughts: 

Blended learning is most definitely a moving target. It is an intangible that can look very different as it is molded to fit specific educational programs. This also makes it very hard for parents, students and even educators to understand. The basic definition of blended learning is instruction that is part face to face and part online; leveraging technology for the benefit of the learner.

Blending can be overwhelming for even the veteran blended educator. For most, the visual of students being left in a room with a computer and without a teacher comes to mind and it’s often said by the student that that the teacher “doesn’t teach me.” This happens to be one of the best qualities of blended learning.  The fact that the educator moves into a facilitator role as the students drive their own learning is a hard change for all stakeholders; but one that needs to take place to transform education. Reasons for blended?

Why?

  1. Learning becomes personalized, differentiated for each student.
  2. Preparation of students to be successful in our ever-changing world.
  3. Students becoming the owner of their education.
  4. It is best for learners.

Blended learning allows students to take ownership of their education while personalizing through differentiation for each individual student. This personalization and ownership is gained by facilitating opportunity for students to have voice and choice in their own learning; which in turn empowers each individual allowing students to not only to gain understanding of content, but to develop the soft skills of time-management, balance of coursework and the ability to make choices. Educators have always had a tremendous job. Imagine, however, today’s learner. Information is at their fingertips and our world is changing due to developments in technology. Educators today must prepare students for careers that do not currently exist. Talk about a moving target!

Where?

  1. Within the classroom
  2. In the hallways
  3. Learning labs (additional room designated with personnel for working online)
  4. Home, think snow days

Many times educators feel the pressure to have a specific space like a learning lab with personnel for student management to be able to blend their learning. That is a best-case scenario; but rarely available due to budget costs and space. Blended learning can truly take place anywhere. Blended educators typically call this organized chaos. It can seem overwhelming to think of each student working at their own pace and choosing different paths to get to the same goal. It can look like stations in a way, collaborative groups, it can be all students plugged in and working individually or a little of every type of instruction. To add to the room space leverage the hallways surrounding your classroom where you can allow students to spread out; while maintaining student observation. Another major plus to blending is the fact that your use of technology (see how below) allows students to access their learning anywhere; when sick, when missing school due to UIL activities, snow/ice days, etc.

How?

  1. With BYOD (bring your own device), cart checkouts, computer lab checkouts and 1:1 devices
  2. Learning management systems (Schoology, Edmodo, Blackboard, Canvas, etc.)
  3. iTunes U, Google Classroom
  4. A multitude of Apps and web-based tools

Once again like the space, some educators think you can’t blend learning unless you are a 1:1 classroom, school, etc. This is not the case. Blending can take place with BYOD to cart/lab check outs to 1:1 devices. If all you can do is use student’s devices in BYOD, use it! They can do a lot on their phone or other devices. Think group work, jigsawing activities, stations, etc. With cart checkouts and computer lab checkouts, educators can plan for one to two to three days a week, depending on availability, for students to work independently and their own pace. While students are working independently, the educator is free to facilitate learning and activities giving more time one-to-one interaction; which brings us the the differentiation blending allows. With the leveraging of technology resources to allow students to work individually or in small groups, educators can incorporate workshops, small group support and individual support. Whether you are using another space, the hallway or every nook in your classroom, designing your blended instruction allows the educator to differentiate for learners in need of more support or more challenge. While students are working independently, students can be called into a small group session with the teacher. Data from formative assessments can be used to group learners according to need for further reteaching or deeper challenging. In addition, workshops can be designed to allow for learner choice in attending according to their need.

When?

  1. The time for innovation in education is now

We as educators and stakeholders are at a crossroads in education. Now is the time to innovate and transform education for today’s students. We are no longer in need of traditional education at its whole. We are in need of a redesign in which we do not discard all practices, but are creative with the time and resources we have. Do students need a fifty minute lecture? No. Might they need a ten minute direct teach? Yes. For example in a fifty minute classroom:

Traditional Instruction:

  1. Warm-up on overhead to get students focused 5-7 minutes
  2. Teacher lectures and works math problems on the overhead/board 30 minutes
  3. Students practice what they have observed 10-15 minutes
  4. Close class/assign problems as homework

Blended Instruction:

  1. Warm-up/Formative Assessment for focus 5-7 minutes, could be overhead, Google form, Socrative, Gizmos, challenge problem, etc.
  2. Teacher give direct instruction 10 minutes
  3. Students work individually in the learning lab or collaboratively work on problems, differentiated small groups are created with data from the formative assessment 20-30 minutes
  4. Teacher possibly gives a workshop open to any student who needs/wants further examples modeled 5-10 mixed within the full classroom time
  5. Close class/assign a few practice problems or 3-5 minute video of further instruction

Blended learning is the combination of best educational practices while leveraging technology to empower students to guide their own learning and strengthen their personal skills. Transforming our instruction will prepare students for a future of their own in a world that will require connecting to and collaborating with a  global community; while maintaining a competitive edge.

 

What experiences have you had with blended? I’d love to hear from you!

On the Floor with the Rabbit

One of my favorite learning moments came many years into my teaching. I had a class pet, Captain Jack, a California Angora short-haired rabbit. He was litter boxed trained thanks to my niece who raised rabbits. I had read that training rabbits was possible and a rabbit fit my “clean,” not stinky animal requirements. I wanted a class pet for the longest time, but didn’t want a stinky hamster, guinea pig, etc. So, a rabbit it was. He was named Capt. Jack, as all of her rabbits were named after the Pirates of the Caribbean.

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Capt. Jack joined us and became a beloved member of our classroom (and school.) Once he acclimated to the many predators- Ha! –  and felt safe, he hopped around the room checking out everyone and their backpacks! As I taught Biology, he was a great addition to class; which brought some great questions and discussion.

I had a few students bond with Capt. Jack more than others. In particular, I had one boy who in my class was very quiet and meek. He loved Capt. Jack and Capt. Jack loved him. He was the only one that could dress Capt. Jack in his festive outfits.

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One day I had five guests walk in my room to observe my class with my curriculum director. At this point in my career, this didn’t bother me at all. I had/have observers all the time. Well, in the moment I saw them come in I thought, “Oh, people.” The next moment, as I had a discussion on the characteristics of life with my learners, I had an uh-oh pass through my thoughts, “G is on the floor with the rabbit.” I wondered what my guests would think. I wondered if I cared. A few more moments into the discussion, I posed a question and guess who’s hand flew up from the floor. That’s right, G’s hand went up. I called on him and he added his viewpoint. I also noticed in that moment that two of the onlookers didn’t even know he was down there and started looking around the table to see where that voice had come from! Win!

Even if he hadn’t participated in that very moment, I knew then that learning doesn’t only take place in a desk while you are sitting upright. I think as educators anytime a guest comes into your room, you do a once-over and check to see “how things look.” What’s more important is the learner. I found out later that G had an emotional disorder. (I had not been privy to that info.) Least to say, I was shocked to find out that he had outbursts in other classes in which he cursed his teacher and classmates. I had a totally different kid in my class; which was thanks to Capt. Jack and G being allowed the freedom to move about the room and learn in the way that best fits him. In the next couple of years, G would return often to visit Capt. Jack. He quietly came in and left the same way. I believe he needed a moment or a “time out” in his day.

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https://itunes.apple.com/us/course/biology/id690050073

My iTunes U Course is Complete!

I am sitting here tired, but excited. I have finally finished my iTunes U Course, Biology. This has been a process that began the summer before this school year and is now complete. This was a new challenge for me. It really forced me to evaluate my learning activities coupled with the 1:1 iPad integration at my school. I have always evaluated my learning design, always challenging myself to analyze the required objectives and the quality and connection of my lessons. With this course design, I was able to challenge myself as to the best use technology making it a seamless tool that would bring depth of knowledge to my classroom while breaking down the walls of my classroom. I designed each unit in the 5E Lesson design, thinking with the end in mind and working backwards. In reality, I know that my course is not finalized as no learning design should ever be finalized and used over and over, year after year. This course will be molded and redefined as each school year comes and goes. Please check out my course at the link above! I would love some feedback!