Saturday, April 15, 2017

Blended Learning Q & A

At our last District Instructional Support meeting, Ashley Flores (@ashnflores) and myself introduced blended learning to our Curriculum & Instruction coaches and coordinators. Here are some of the questions about blended learning from our session back channel followed by my responses.

Seems Blended Learning requires lots of planning. If teachers are always evaluating data & personalizing instruction, how do they streamline the planning process?

Good instruction no matter what model you are using requires good planning. Depending on the implementation and the resources available, planning may involve more or less content curation or creation. I am trying to focus on implementations that enable teachers using existing online tools that organize the data in easy to use reports. For certain subjects or grade levels we have this available. (math and ELA) Michelle's science did not have a specific program so we had to do a little content curation. We easily found videos on Discovery Education, youtube and BrainPop that had the content we wanted and then embedded those into tools such as Edpuzzle and Nearpod which would check understanding and give us data reports. Since we are using tools that auto-grade, we are saving time and are able to go right to the data to make decisions for the next day. Kids who get it can move on and we can provide targeted intervention for those who need it- immediately.​

There is a learning curve when it comes to planning and we are there to help teachers find a workflow that best fits them.

How will teachers be able to monitor appropriate use? Avoid having students facebooking instead of learning?

The key word is monitor- In many programs such as Edgenuity, Compass Learning and Apex Learning, active time in the program is monitored. Teachers should closely monitor students who tend to veer off task and reinforce expectations. Students who complete assigned work for the week and demonstrate mastery of concepts can choose projects to apply their learning. Choice boards can have students show what they know in a method of their choice, giving them some agency. If you have highly motivating choices, they are more likely to get their work done.

Establishing clear expectations, having specific consequences, monitoring closely, setting personal learning goals each week and providing motivational elements all help to keep students on track and minimize off task behavior. (this applies to offline activities as well!)

Will the district provide PD, practice, modeling for teachers to learn to use blended learning strategies with fidelity?

I may need some clarification on who "district" is in this question but as we all know we have a lot of ongoing initiatives in HCISD. I view the blended model as a different way of organizing strategies, tools and content that we are already using so that we can leverage to power of technology to:

  • work smarter, not harder
  • differentiate and personalize learning
  • increase student agency

We do have support from upper administration to disrupt and innovate instruction for the purpose of increasing student achievement as well as improving the overall student experience.
Our team is committed to supporting teachers who are innovating in their practice. We would love to do more PD, coaching, modeling for classroom teachers AND our Instructional Coaches to ensure success in any technology integrations! We want to be out there and impacting teaching and learning!

Are there specific programs or software that must be purchased in order for blended learning to be successful?

No, but there are some programs that we currently have that can be easily leveraged in a blended model. One of the key components of a blended model is real-time data that drives instructional decisions. Programs like Edgenuity, Think Through Math, Dreambox, Apex Learning, Compass Learning, iStation all have teacher dashboards that organize student data and allows you to determine who is getting it and who needs other interventions. Subjects that do not have data-driven programs can use a blended model by integrating digital tools that collect formative assessment data. Some great ones are Edpuzzle, NearPod, Formative, Plickers. Digital tools that engage students in deeper levels of reflection, higher order thinking and application of oral and written language include Recap, blogging, screen casting and video apps.

How is blended learning like a flipped classroom?

The flipped model is one of the blended rotational models. Other Rotation models include a station rotation (rotating at set intervals during a single period or rotating to a new station each day), Lab rotation (traditional classroom activities that are driven by data acquired from online learning in the lab a couple of times each week) and Individual rotation (students have a playlist and choose stations they want to work on each day based on the playlist activities).

Is PBL style learning the same as blended learning?
No, but utilizing a blended model helps facilitate project-based or problem-based learning. Project work can be a station within a station rotation or part of the weekly playlist in an individual rotation. Todd Nesloney (@techninjatodd) is well known for his expertise in using the flipped model in 5th grade math. This model was not an end unto itself for Todd but rather a means to allow him to focus more on project based learning in his classroom. He did not do direct instruction but instead provided the direct instruction in videos which he made and sent home with kids to watch prior to coming to class. Class time was used to work on collaborative projects that allowed students to apply their learning in real-world problem solving. Genius hour is also easily implemented when utilizing a blended model.

We hope to continue our discussions with coaches and coordinators in order to accelerate our implementation models in our district and to provide greater support to teachers wishing to disrupt current models of instruction.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Solving Educational Challenges Through Blended Learning Part 2

In my search for a teacher who embodies a growth mindset, I knew Michelle Zuniga (@QueenlaTeachaMZ) would be a willing participant. I wanted to try a blended learning model in an elementary classroom and work through the process as a practitioner. Michelle, a 3rd grade teacher at Kyle Elementary in Kyle Texas is always eager to learn new things and improve her practice. She is a Ms. Frizzle type of teacher who has a great connection with her students and goes above and beyond to meet their needs. She loves science and the contents of her room reflects that. She has plants, a mealworm farm, guinea pigs, a bearded lizard, ferrets and even a colony of Madagascar hissing cockroaches. This week she received a container with painted lady caterpillars from the Educational Service Center for students to observe and compare the life cycles with other animals.

In a conversation with Michelle, she mentioned that it is always challenging with 6 of her students who are pulled out of science each day for dyslexia services. These students miss half of their science and when they return to class each day with instruction already in progress, she needs to integrate them back into a learning activity in a way that ensures success for all students without disrupting the pace of the lesson.



To address this issue, we decided to try a blended learning model with a station rotation. Students are be divided in half and participate in 2 stations; an independent learning station utilizing Chrome Books and a Google Classroom dashboard and a direct teach station for introducing new concepts, collaborative activities, experiments, and reteaching. Additionally, we added a digital choice board for students who move through their independent content at a faster pace. Students who finish independent lessons for the week may choose a project to work on with a friend or by themselves. Students who are pulled out for dyslexia services return to class at station rotation time. Depending on the day they will go right into independent learning or join a teacher led lesson from the beginning so they experience the full lesson. This puts them on an even playing ground with their learning group and they do not feel like they are aways having to catch up.

Students use self-help cards to guide them to independence in
online learning activities.
Students track their progress through the week's independent learning with a game-board style tracking chart. Students color in the game board as they complete assignments in the Google Classroom. Independent learning activities utilizes tools such as Discovery Education video, EdPuzzle, NearPod and most recently, Flipgrid. We are able to review data from these programs to determine if students understand the concepts or need further instruction. Michelle will pull students for re-teaching or to clarify understanding based on this data.

This is a completely new model of instruction for students. To improve success as independent learners we have established specific routines for transitions, what to do when you have a problem, how to make comments in Google Classroom and how to track progress. We are still working with students on increasing their efforts and response quality when answering online questions rather than rushing through to finish. It is a work in progress but they are very motivated.


While developing our model, we have found several instructional scenarios illustrated above which will be posted in the classroom to help communicate expectations for learning to the students. These include the basic Station Rotation model, a slow rotation where students spend 1 day in a station and flip to the next station the following day, whole class instruction, an independent learning day where students work online or on projects while Michelle circulates and touches base with individuals and small groups.

We have nearly finished our current science unit using the blended model and are planning the next. Michelle has expressed an interest in trying this model for math using available online tools such as Think Through Math, Prodigy and iStation. Students are reacting very positively to the model and enjoy choices of projects and control over their own pace. Small instructional groups are allowing Michelle to interact on a more personal level with students and give a higher level of attention to those who need it. One of Michelle's team mates is very interested in what she is doing and next week we are going to get her class set up in Google Classroom. From there we will introduce her class to independent online learning in the computer lab once a week and scaffold skills for both her and students for success with blending her instruction.

It is still early days but we are feeling good about the potential for this model to help differentiate and personalize learning for elementary students!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Everyday Field Trips From Your Phone

The teachers that made the greatest impression on me and whose lessons I still remember were those who made relationships with their students a priority. Sharing appropriate personal experiences and connecting those experiences to learning and to the lives of your students can not only help establish great relationships but it can also connect the learning for students to real life situations.

Why not use a tool that you already use everyday to help you? I'm talking about your cell phone video camera. Think of the things you do every week and how you can relate it to the concepts you teach your students. Don't just tell them a story; take them with you to experience a real-life activity.

I was at Zilker Park yesterday for some exercise and as I walked, I stopped to examine some of the native plants. I am currently co-teaching science with Michelle Zuniga, a 3rd grade teacher (@QueenLaTeachaMZ) during her unit on animal and plant adaptations.  I started thinking about all of the relevant things I could show her students if they were with me on my walk. What if I could share it with them virtually? I was walking anyway and was carrying the best tool for the job- my iPhone.

I returned today, iphone in hand and ready to accomplish two tasks; walk 3 miles and show the students how plants and animals have adapted for survival in the environment around Zilker Park. It's not Nat. Geo. quality but I wasn't aiming for that. You can make a fast video on your phone as you go about the things you do in everyday life while at the same time make connections and build relationships with students. Here are some other ideas for simple videos that can help students connect school to real-life:


Reading- Going to the library- what I'm reading, what do I enjoy about reading, where do I like to read? If I just finished a book that made me laugh out-loud, why not record my experience at the moment to share that joy of reading with my students? Make it less than a minute long.

Math- "When am I ever going to use this in real life?" Show them in a video. Take them to the grocery store (yes you will look stupid but it's for the kids).  Which box of macaroni and cheese is the best deal? How much will 2 pounds of shrimp cost me? How about making a double batch of Chex mix- They will have to add fractions together to get the correct amounts. You can even invite them to try making your recipes at home with their family. Go to the movies and calculate what time your movie will get out. Other scenarios could include the gas station, sewing, gardening, or going to a baseball game.

Science- Watch the lunar eclipse, check out the Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed plant in your backyard, whip up mixtures and solutions in your kitchen. Do certain types of metal pans boil water faster than others?

This is not an exhaustive list by any means but you get the idea. Grab your phone, talk to your students and show them that the things they learn in school are connected to the real world they live in. Inviting them in to a small part of your life will create a personal bond with them while doing the things you are probably doing anyway!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

That's Genius! Solving Educational Challenges Through Blended Learning Part I

When you work in a district office rather than on a campus, you lose that day to day connection with the one thing that is central to a career in education; the love of working with kids. An opportunity came knocking recently that reconnected me with students and energized my sense of purpose. I received an email from a middle school assistant principal needing a solution for some students who had worked their up the intervention ladder and needed to fill their schedule with meaningful learning. This small group of students in an ELA intervention course and were told they could work their way out which, to the surprise of administration, they had. Now, needing to live up to her end of the bargain, the assistant principal was looking for a solution.

I suggested a blended learning model solution that would allow the students to take a high school course online and get a jump start their freshman year. The 8th graders could choose to enroll in Art I, Foundations of Fitness or Health. As an added incentive for students and my desire to try something new, I included a genius hour component. Students would work on a project of their choice on Monday's and Fridays with Tuesday-Thursday being dedicated time to work on their high school course.

My example- I'm going to do a project too and use to model the
process for students.
I gave each of the students an interest survey to start them thinking about a project and to guide me in curating resources for research. I also created a Google Slides template for them to dig a little deeper into a subject of interest. Between these 2 sets of information, I was able to create a playlist of videos and websites for them to explore their topic and start formulating some specifics for research.

I found it fascinating to read the interests of the students. Sometimes, with all of the requirements of content we have to teach, we forget these young people have things they are genuinely interested in that do not fit our school agenda. It was also notable that because kids are not used to being given the freedom of choice in learning, they were hesitant to break out of the "school" format. Many of them included on their interest survey that they could research their topic in the library or on the internet and do a PowerPoint on it. I want them to move beyond that. I want it to be authentic.

One student is very interested in soccer and wants to know how to become a good soccer player so she can get a scholarship for college. I have given her a playlist including videos of some of the top women's soccer players, tips for improving specific skills, websites for soccer camps in the area and workout routines for women players. I'm hoping I can guide her to identify some key skills she could work on improving, setting some specific goals for improvement and getting her connected with some high school players. She can use her genius hour time to work on this project and develop her skills.

Another student wants to learn about the many beautiful places in the world and is interested in helping others. He also happens to be a soccer fan. I have included in his playlist some videos on charitable groups across the globe that involve students. One of these is called Charity Ball and was started by a 14 year old boy to raise money to purchase soccer balls for kids in developing countries. I'm hoping to tap into his interests from several different angles and get him involved in some service work.

It is still early in the project but most of the students are doing well in their online courses. Although I am not with them daily, I have invited them to join a Remind group and have set them up in a Google classroom to share information and communicate with them regularly. They go to the library daily to work online and do their genius hour research. The librarian touches base with them and is set up to monitor their online work and encourage and help them if they are having difficulty.

After conducting research, students will have to create something- a product, process or event and present it in some way to a broader audience. This can be in form of their choice and may include items such as a website, a Google Hangout on Air, an event, an audience of peers or a public display.

It is very important to me that the students successfully complete their online high school course. I think this will be a great self-esteem booster and will start them off on the right track for high school. Genius hour is a means to build a love of learning through relevant and authentic exploration and as a motivator to stay on pace with their online course. If this experiment works well, I'm hoping it can lead to more conversations with administrators on how blended learning could be a solution to other educational challenges.

Tools for Powering up your Presentations

Creating presentations for professional learning requires an inventory of tools that are easy to use and engaging for participants. Below is a list of my favorite tools, what they do and how they can be used.

Post-it Plus- Post-it are a staple supply at educational workshops. They are used for brainstorming, collaboration, reflection and classifying. The problem with Post-its is they end up in the trash after
the workshop and participants can't reflect or reference the work done after the fact. Post-it plus allows you to snap a picture of a collection of notes and save, share and organize them for reference later.

Soundboard for Super Smash Bros. App
Smashing Extravaganza.



Soundboard Studio Lite- I like using rotations in training and Soundboard Lite allows me to create buttons to short play music riffs for transition times between stations. It is also great for adding fun sound affects to create aesthetic appeal to workshops.





Nearpod-this is one of my favorite apps for presenting. They keep adding fantastic new features to

the paid version of the app. My most recent favorite is the collaboration tool. This feature creates a digital collaboration board similar to Padlet (another tool that I love). The benefit of having this packaged within Nearpod is that participants do not need to leave the presentation to engage in a collaborative activity.


Decide Now- This is a paid app but can improve efficiency when you need to make random selections during a workshop. The fully customizable spinning wheel allow you to add names, numbers, and other data sets for selection purposes


Padlet- One of the fastest, device agnostic tools for brainstorming, reflecting, collaborating and checking understanding. Another advantage is it can be used during a training or asynchronously. Like Post-it Plus, it enables participants to access learning beyond the workshop. Participants can add notes that include text, images, files, links and videos. Free, Feature-filled and Fun!

Canva- This is my go to graphic design tool that I app smash with anything I want to add attractiveness to with little fuss. I use Canva to create slides for Nearpod, website graphics, posters, social media posts and banners. Export graphics as PNG, JPG and PDF.