Nine years ago, I had a very interesting freshman class in a small charter school with approximately 100 high schoolers. 30 kids in the class, 7 desk top computers, prescribed online lessons through a reputable program I liked, a nice textbook… and free reign to do what I damned well pleased. It was heaven, except for 2 things… or people to be exact. “Don” was suffering from a medical condition that had his doctors perplexed. He was in the hospital 3 weeks of of 4 every month. “Jaleen” tested into a Associates degree program at the local community college and was gone 4 days out of 5 every week.
The teachers for all the classes were told to figure out how to keep them caught up and functioning academically. My task was to make sure they learned Biology, even though they were never there. They had access to the prescribed lessons, same as the other 28 students, but they were missing out on my amazing lectures, the exciting labs and inquiry investigations, and the wild discussions we had in the classroom. We started with making sure they knew where we were in the book, but that wasn’t enough for me. Don’s guardian, his grandmother, sacrificed all and bought him a laptop computer and set up an email address for him. Jaleen had access to computers at the college. We’d create a Moodle site for them and each teacher began to put lessons, activities, and videos there for the two of them. When either or both of them were in class, they were able to participate in the lessons and actually had a better grasp on what was going on than the students in the classroom. We didn’t know it at the time, but we’d created a blended learning environment for them.
That seems like a million years ago, but that was the beginning of my love for all thing education technology. I had no idea what Edtech was or how to apply it in the classroom. It was all blind leading the blind. I loved it. The idea of sitting in a classroom (the brick) and doing activities, labs and projects and saving the lecturing for the computer (the click) was great.
Blended learning has become the way learning for students, regardless of age and/or location, take ownership of their educations. Some fear it will make the teacher obsolete, but no, all students still need that “voice” to guide and prod the knowledge out of us. Done correctly, a blended learning space can help learners improve their higher thinking skills and become creators of knowledge instead of simply being consumers of knowledge. It allows for differentiation, creating an environment for ALL students to learn at their own pace, in their own way, all the things they want and need to learn.
I’m in the 2nd to last week of a 10 week online course on designing blended learning spaces. In it, I’m learning to transform my traditional units of study into a hybrid of face to face and online education. Some of this, because I’ve been teaching myself all these years, has come easily. Other parts of it have been hard, causing me to reflect on how I want to present lessons and what I hope to have students learn above and beyond the objectives set before them. In other words, how do I use my lessons to turn my consumers into creators? I have learned a lot this summer about me, what I do, and how I do it.
Don and Jaleen never missed a beat. My class was part of a pilot of a new state assessment that year. I was panicked about it all, having no sample questions or anything to make sure I was preparing my students. All 30 took the test, 2 of them passed it with flying colors. Yes, Don and Jaleen. The two students who were NEVER at school, passed the test! That was my cue… blended learning was/is how we make it all stick.
This fall, I will add more blended learning to my teaching repertoire, using my flipped lesson videos more, adding simulations and other activities to apply learning, working with teachers in other content areas to reinforce reading, writing and math skills and requiring, as proof of understanding, product from my creators. We will discuss online, where it is safe for my quiet ones to speak their mind, and debate loudly in class. We are going to learn. I can’t wait.
What do you know about blended learning and how do you use it in your classroom?
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