Recently I have heard teachers say, "It doesn't matter if we have technology or not, my students still don't care." - and I agree, the technology doesn't matter – but relevance does!
In education, the term relevance typically refers to learning experiences that are either directly applicable to the personal aspirations, interests, or cultural experiences of students (personal relevance) or that are connected in some way to real-world issues, problems, and contexts (life relevance). Source: edglossary.org/relevance/
New technology, while wonderful, is temporary. If you are counting on a device to supply continuous engagement, you are selling yourself and your students short.
Device technology isn't the thing – good pedagogy and relevance is!
So, how do we go about attracting and keeping the attention of our students as we design to bridge the blended learning gap?
First, while I am a big proponent of backward design and the power of the "enduring understanding," I understand that we can't get there without a hook. Just like the short riff or phrase at the beginning of a song that keeps you from changing the station, our lessons need something that signals to our students that this is new, different or worth hanging around for.
Breakouts (modeled after Escape Room experiences) offer an engaging classroom version of the Escape Room experience in which students work through a series of content related problems to get to a prize locked in a box with multiple locks. The scenarios turn learning on its head and students are asking questions of the teacher that they never would have asked in a traditional setting because they "want to get into that box."
In my experiences working with teachers using Breakouts I have witnessed: improved questioning strategies, vigorous rounds of trial and error, team work, communication, perseverance, applying past knowledge, managing impulsivity, and the stigma of failure in front of others melt away-all while pursuing an academic task. In short, the Habits of Mind were well represented!
Don't worry about students possessing all the requisite skills to complete a difficult task – give them the task and they will seek out the requisite skills. They will ask each other, they will ask you or they will figure it out. It's a win, win, win!
Dave Burgess of Teach Like A Pirate fame offers a great resource for teachers trying to find that illusive experience to "hook" their students into learning. Teach Like A Pirate Hooks offers seven categories of hooks, each with multiple examples to get your students prepared, active and engaged in the learning process. Warning: It may require you to make a fool of yourself on occasion, but you will be a fool for engaged learning!
When connecting your classroom to the larger world and worrying about the technology, your students, and the experience – there is tension. By facilitating and modeling the process for teachers and staying in the room for troubleshooting, teachers have started to venture out on their own into the world of Skype.
This semester alone, teachers have connected locally (classroom to classroom), with Holocaust survivors at the National Holocaust Memorial Museum, world renowned authors, internationally with engineering students in Europe, and with me at the local WalMart (we needed wifi)!.
Finally, these relevance and engagement strategies don't have to be new. I love starting the school year with some "Orchestrated Chaos" by placing students in a real-world simulation on the first day of school. While the rest of my colleagues were handing out books and covering "the rules and procedures," I was handing out envelopes to my students containing items that made our classroom represent the world in terms of education, hunger, homelessness, and wealth. From day one, while sitting on the floor and watching others eat and count money, they knew this class was going to be different – and guess whose classroom they talked about at home on that first night.
Do you have a special talent that you can share with your students? I played my guitar and sang a song for my students. The song was content related and I let them know upfront that we would be singing the song again soon, only they would be writing new lyrics and singing based on what they had learned. The dread was palpable – but the message was clear and they never disappointed.
As we travel this path of digital learning design, there will always be remnants of the past, but we cannot cling to that past with so many possibilities in front of us. The resources of the world are already available to our students and we have a major role in making them accessible and teaching students how to construct their own learning with those resources. Whether the setting is traditional, technological, blended, or well-worn – it will still need a hook!
Today's post comes to us from Mr. Tim Arnold. Tim is in his first year as an eLearning Specialist with the Richmond Community schools. Prior to that, he spent 26 years as a social studies teacher, coach, and educational leader at Nettle Creek Schools in Hagerstown. Tim curates a nationally recognized technology and learning blog and was selected as a top ten educator in the State of Indiana in 2008. Tim and his wife Julie, a “rock-star” 6th grade science teacher, are graduates of Indiana University (BS ‘90) and Ball State University (MA ‘97) and have two college age children, Kelsie and Nick.
I have a confession. By looking at my classroom desk or my classroom, one may not realize this dark secret about me. My carefree, go with the flow attitude hides the beast within. Here goes… I am a perfectionist when it comes to the lessons I teach. I have them timed down to the very last second. Sure, I will deviate when a teachable moment arises, but when I have started my lesson flow, nothing can stop me. When I know the administrators are doing walk-throughs or observations, I go into panic mode. I get multiple opinions on my lessons. I drive my husband insane when I talk about what kind of hook I am going to use for the day or how I am going to determine my students got the point of my lesson. (Part of his annoyance may be because I am asking these questions at 2:00 a.m.). In my mind, I have to be perfect.
Participating in the Next Gen Cadre has been both exciting and terrifying. Part of the reason I joined is because I wanted a head start for next school year when all the teachers are using it. I wanted to be able to take the summer and make everything “perfect”. I didn’t realize that by joining, I was going to enter a learning curve like no other. I had to rethink my lessons and consider the fact that they weren’t as perfect as I thought they were when technology was added to the mix. I had to face the realization that one of the reasons I taught some of the lessons I did was because I had taught them forever and thought they were perfect.
One Monday I went into school ready to do something new in Canvas. I spent the whole weekend making sure everything was just right. As my students entered and we started working through the lesson, my classroom door opened and my administrator strolled in armed with her observation laptop. Immediately I went into a panic. I was not doing one of my “old” lessons that I knew would do well in an observational setting. This was all new. I didn’t know how my students would do with it, but I was excited that we were going to have a Padlet discussion over a story they were reading. The lesson was going well until the big Padlet unveiling. My students were given there prompt and started to type, immediately I knew something was wrong. Padlet was not working the way I had envisioned. At that point I had two choices, 1) Run out of the room in hysterics or 2) Admit that I was still learning about Canvas and what I can do with it and that sometimes things don’t go as planned. I chose choice #2. I was open with my students that things weren’t going as I had hoped and we adjusted. All of this while being formally observed. My administrator left. My stomach was in knots. I did not deliver perfection.
Two days later I met with my administrator and had one of the best observations ever. She was proud of me for stepping out of my comfort zone. I was taking risks and part of taking risks is that sometimes things don’t go as planned. I went back into my Canvas, realized my mistake, and I had my students go back and have a Padlet discussion. This time it was a success. My students even thanked me for letting go back and retry it. I realized it is ok to not be perfect, especially when taking on something new in Canvas. I am fortunate that I have administrators that encourage me to try new things even if they don’t always go as planned.
My point of this whole blog is that stepping out of your comfort zone is a scary thing. We get into this profession wanting to do our best for our students. It took being in the Next Gen cadre and rethinking my lessons for the 21st century student to realize that sometimes being perfect is not always what our students need. They need us to advocate for them and become risk takers so we can teach them the way they deserve.
Today's post comes to us from the wonderful Brittany Stewart. Brittany is a 5th grade teacher at Dennis Intermediate School. In her 15 years of teaching she has also spent time as a 3rd grade teacher, 6th grade teacher, and Intermediate Literacy Coach. She and her husband, Mike are the parents of 3 beautiful children, AJ, Emilee, and Edmund. In her spare time, Brittany likes to read and relax outdoors. She and her family love camping and visiting their favorite place, Great Wolf Lodge.
I have always been a strong believer that relationships are the number one key to a student’s success. With all the integration these days of technology in the classroom, and more and more schools moving to a one-to-one initiative with devices, does this mean that relationships will become less and less important in the classrooms of the near future?
Most of my teachers welcome technology into their classrooms, and they can’t wait to incorporate new ideas, new strategies, and/or new tools. However, one fear I have heard from more than one teacher with the technology push is: “So, my students are just going to be staring at a screen all day?” Although the activities we can and will have our students do on their devices will be beneficial and amazing, that will never replace the importance of the relationship between a teacher and his/her students. Teachers…have no fear. Just because we want to move to more technology-driven classrooms…it doesn’t mean that you have to give up talking and interacting with your students. The classrooms we will see in the near future are Blended classrooms. Classrooms that have a mix between technology and the interaction with a real, live teacher. A teacher who knows the background of the students. A teacher who knows what makes little Johnny tick, what sets little Johnny off, and what he/she needs to do to calm little Johnny down when he gets frustrated. The teacher that knows why little Sally is late to school every day, and why at the end of each day she cries because she doesn’t want to go home. These teachers still need to exist. The positive relationships these teachers build with their students will always be important and will always be the number one key to the students’ success.
We want our students to be more independent learners, especially in a more blended-learning classroom where students will be moving at their own pace with some of their learning. The relationship the teacher has with their students can be a building block in helping mold the students’ independence. In Teaching With Poverty in Mind, Eric Jensen writes, “Adults who build trusting, supportive relationships with low-SES students help foster the students’ independence and self-esteem…” (Jensen, p. 94). So just because we will be seeing more devices in our classrooms doesn’t mean that we may be interacting any less with our students. The relationships we create with are students will always be vital because students don’t learn from someone they hate, or from someone they think hates them. Students learn from teachers who support them, who praise them, and who show they genuinely care for them. Relationships matter!
I remember it like it was a bad teaching dream. It was my first year teaching and my “system” for having students turn in work was simply to have them leave it on my desk. By the end of the day I had a cartoonishly large pile of papers on my desk with little pieces of paper “fringe” from poorly perforated notebook paper scatter around my desk. That “fringe” always reminded me of snow and this truly was the start of my long grading winter. It was a good day if I kept track of every paper and each grade made it to the grade book. In the midst of this proverbial warzone of papers, though, I usually didn’t make it out unscathed by the judging or tearful eyes of a student whose paper had gone missing.
Even though I felt like my system worked, it was actually terrible. I eventually learned that all of the upfront work of setting up systems and routines in my classroom paid off in the end. Most of this growth happened because I saw and learned from those around me. In a similar way, growing in my knowledge of blended learning has come through the knowledge and help of others. With that in mind, here are my top three words of wisdom for new blended learners:
Today's reflections come to us from Mr. Kris Heiderich. Kris is in his first year teaching English at Richmond High School. He has previously taught in Uganda, Africa and Indianapolis, Indiana while also spending three years as an Area Director for a non-profit ministry called Young Life. He is married to Karli, and is attempting to raise two humans who are named Teagan (3 years old) and Nolan (8 months old)
This year started the same as most years. Teachers were making lesson plans, copies, getting books ready, etc. in anticipation of a new year with new students. What we didn't expect was the vast changes that were about to take place as Canvas and the concept of blended learning were introduced into our schools.
At the beginning, when Canvas was first introduced there was a lot of skepticism and hesitancy to use it. For example, our first round of district wide testing was offered on Canvas and very few teachers participated. As the year progressed more and more teachers began to accept and use Canvas. By the end all of our teachers administered our district wide testing on Canvas and many were using it in their classrooms.
Our building went from a more traditional school culture with teachers hesitant of change to a culture open for trying new things (Canvas & blended learning). Part of this new culture is knowing that it’s ok when things don’t go as planned.
How did our building’s culture evolve? There were five teachers that participated in the Next Gen Cadre where they learned Canvas and brought it back to staff and used it in their classes. They started sharing their experiences which got others interested. Collaboration among staff allowed for more and more teachers to try out and learn Canvas. We also allotted at least one professional development Tuesday a month for staff to learn the workings of Canvas. Throughout the year it was always emphasized that there will be glitches and to not be afraid of them. Collaboration of staff from our building and from our eLearning team allowed for teachers to experience Canvas and work through the glitches.
Culture is always changing. It is important to learn from our mistakes and give new ideas a chance. It has been thrilling to see teachers grow professionally and sharing their experiences and excitement with others!
Today's thoughts come to us from Ms. Sara Lynch. Sarah has worked in education for 12 years teaching high school math, high school alternative classes, 5th & 6th grade math intervention and currently as s 5th – 8th grade Instructional Coach. She received her Bachelors from Indiana University East and Masters from Ball State University. Sarah is married and has two college aged boys. She enjoys time with her family and photography.
We hear the term "blended learning" regularly these days. The idea of integrating technology into the classroom to improve teaching and learning is an idea that almost everyone can support. When you find an idea in education that nearly everyone supports, you have a real find. You need to run with that idea quickly before someone remembers that agreeing is not the norm.
As often is the case, agreeing in theory is the easy part; making a real difference in the classroom is much more challenging. People are fine with change- until they realize they will be expected to change as well. Stephen J. Valentine and Dr. Reshan Richards in their book Blending Leadership- Six Simple Beliefs for Leading Online and Off state, "People...being asked to adapt to a new feature or a new tool often begin with resistance..." (148). Why do people immediately default to resistance? Is it a fear of the unknown? What drives these insecurities?
While we may never fully answer any of those questions, there is hope. In the very next paragraph, Valentine and Richards continue with, "Over time, if the new tools are truly better than the old tools, these same people will develop some buy-in that may even be marked by enthusiasm" (148). Huh? How did we go from resistance to enthusiasm so quickly? Is it possible to sway a stance so quickly? I believe it is.
Blended leadership is the key to that change. I believe blended leadership is not only a blended approach, but a blended movement as well. Let's take a look at both facets.
If we agree that instruction should be blended, should we not be blending our leadership approach as well? Raise your hand if you have sat through a meeting that could have been resolved via email instead. Easy...you did not stretch, and that is how muscles get pulled! Now, how many of you have driven to a meeting/conference that could have been attended via Skype/Lync instead of you spending half of your day driving to and from that meeting? I think that has happened to too many of us too often. If we expect our teachers to change, we have to change as well. We must make a concerted effort to value people's time and maximize our efficiency through the use of technology. Tools such as email, collaborative documents, group discussion boards, and social media give us the opportunity to harness the power of others without demanding their physical presence. If we want to knock down the walls of the classroom, we must first knock down the walls of the lecture hall. Utilizing the appropriate tools to improve teaching and learning is the approach we are working towards with blended learning.
Now that we know what we need to do, who is going to do it? Administration? Yes, they must set the example. Administrators should show the teachers, through their own leadership approach, what they expect to see in the classroom. What about those teachers? Yes, they must participate in the blended approach fostered by their administrators, and they must lead their classes in a similar fashion. Teachers should value the student's time. Is there a more efficient way to show mastery? What is the goal of homework? Are we preparing students for the world they are entering, or are we using the same approach our teachers used for us decades ago? What about those students? Is this being done to them? Blended learning should be done with, not to, the students. In a truly blended setting, both the teachers and the students develop the curriculum, the educational approach, and the assessment of the standards and skills in the classroom. When we have all three groups (administration, teachers, and students) working together towards blended learning, we now have a blended movement.
If we want blended learning to become the norm, we must combine a blended approach with a blended movement to move our building from resistance to enthusiasm.
Jeremy Hill has worked at Richmond Community Schools for 19 years- he taught English for 18 years, was English Department Chair for 8 years, and became the eLearning Specialist this year. He is also the AD for the RCS intermediate schools, and the assistant AD at Richmond High School. He earned his Bachelors from Indiana University East and his Masters from Earlham College. Jeremy is married to Tiffany Hill and they have a daughter, Sophia. Jeremy enjoys spending time with his friends and family, fishing, and attending sporting events when he is not at school.