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.