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!