Friday, September 16, 2011

Blended Learning Reflections

Well, I can firmly say that the adventure is established with two schools and two curriculum areas.  I've been teaching at West Delaware during the day (physical/earth science, physics, and astronomy) and teaching through blended learning at Oelwein, with an evening class once per week for the kids (chemistry).  I'm using blended, project-based learning for both, running a series of blogs for WD and a Moodle for Oelwein.

What have I learned thus far, 4 weeks in?

  • Being FLEXIBLE is the number one thing to consider.  In the Oelwein class, I've had to adjust class times because of kid's schedules.  Next week, for example, I need to meet three nights instead of two.  Kids can come when their schedule permits, and with play practice, volleyball, football, cross country, and church night to consider, that means advance planning for me.  I'm using Skype.  I've set office hours at home where kids can call me.   I'm meeting at Mickey Ds for a study session on a Sunday night because that's when the kids have time.
  • Kids create their own solutions when given a chance. We've always had kids who are sick and need makeup, but now I've replaced the WD paradigm by setting group norms for each table, exchanging contact info, and setting a communication standard.  If kids are gone, the group leaders communicate with them and tell them what they are doing.  Because we are in teams, I can pull kids out during the class day.  We've even had a procedure developed by the groups for slackers (they get warned, then they have a group conference with me, and then the slacker gets a contract, and if it continues, the slacker becomes a group of one)!
  • The traditional day seat time model is obsolete.  The kids I have in the West Delaware classes are wonderful, but much of the time, I am just their facilitator.   I give them a series of tasks, and a week to complete them.  They are divided into teams and work things through.  Really, my role as their teacher is to communicate with them as needed (I rotate through each of the groups several times each period) and then GET OUT OF THE WAY.   They let me know if they need something.   They let me understand their needs.   I could just as easily manage most of their needs via txt, phone, or online communication.   I'm finding that I need to be a resource for them, and I need a 15 minute per day class meeting to check progress, and introduce new concerns.   The rest of the time I am the person who helps with individual differentiation.    It's almost as if I am back at Scout Camp and people are coming to me to learn a specific knot-tying, woodcraft, or nature skill during exploration time.
  • Reflection by students is just as important as the work that we do.   It's only when we reflect that we realize what we do, and don't know.   It's my goal to try to make this metacognition the tool kids use to check for their own understanding.   They need me when they don't get it, and if they do, I am just the cheering person on the side who is shifting their ideas.
  • My paradigm shift, personally, is in the way that I am planning.  No longer am I trying to lockstep kids through a time frame.   NOW, I am trying to cover important concepts in a way that excites and engages what they know and have available to them. It's as if I'm the CEO and the product is getting ready to roll.   I have to trust my students (employees) to do their stuff. 
  • STEM:  We're making kid-friendly products in chemistry and engineering edible race cars.   We're designing insulation structures to keep a house cool.  We're looking at thermal mass.   My goal is to START with the relevance and rigor, and move backwards.   
  • The technology is a tool to help make Productivity and Chaos different.   Productivity may be messy, but there is an organizational structure.   These kids are productive.  They are contacting me by email, and attaching assignments if the Moodle fails.   They send me a tweet or a text if they have a concern.   I'm just as likely to get a picture message or a URL as a paper product.  If an assignment will be late, they contact me. 
  • The assessments flow naturally.   My quizzes are now almost daily, 1 or 2 questions. I had a student tell me of a grueling 8 page unit test in another class, and I find myself wondering what that proved. My projects are complex, and if I offer a test, it's 25 questions (a max of 3 pages) and online.  I'm offering an online test on three different dates to meet kid needs.   It's about the learning.  Rinse.  Repeat.   It's about the learning, not about the points!   Because we're not lockstep, I can take the time to ask for a resubmit.  My job is to teach the content, and to support the styles the kids are working on.
 Is it worth it?   I think so.  This is scary, exciting, and I still have kinks to work out.   I'll talk about those next time.   But so far, I'm empowered, the kids are excited, and this grand new adventure is like a journey into the real world for me and for my students.  This has the potential to TRANSFORM small schools, and offer FLEXIBLE options for bigger buildings.   How exciting is that?

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