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!