Thinking Teaching Creating

Thoughts, Tips, Ideas, and Projects from a Creative Teacher Mama

Plans for Blended Learning

I want to implement some blended learning in my classroom this year.  I thought about trying to flip the classroom for just one subject (math), but I’m nervous about the potential problems that will occur when a few kids don’t watch the videos for homework (whether it was because they were busy, they decided not to, or lack a reliable internet connection, the result is the same).  I also don’t know that I’ll have time to create a video for every lesson I teach, even in a single subject, so I’m hesitant to commit myself to a true flip.

What I do have in mind is more of an in class flip for differentiation, and I plan to test drive it in math.

Now, bear in mind that I teach a self-contained class of gifted kids, so very few students are working below grade level, while I might have 6 or more students who can ace all the unit tests on day one.  I have a 90 minute block for math, and I’m expected to have about half of that time as instruction, and the other half as a student workshop of sorts.

math unit mind map

The mind map linked above takes into account that my district (and honestly, good teaching practices) requires that students who earn below a C on assessments are given remediation and the opportunity to retest once, with the highest possible score on a retest of 80%.  It also essentially breaks the class into three groups; those ready to learn the grade level material at the usual pace, those who need the unit compacted, and those who need the next level.

I know you’re thinking, great, but where does the blended learning part come in?

Remember how I said I planned to use it to differentiate?  Well, my plan is to have the lessons for the second half of the unit in video format,  using Blendspace to create lessons that include a video, guided practice, some independent practice, and possible a video going over the answers to the independent practice (although I think the answer key video will be the beginning of the next day’s lesson, and won’t be available until after the independent practice should be complete…just to make it easier for them to stay honest about it).  I also plan to have the lessons for the advanced group, working on next year’s content on the same topic, set up on Blendspace, although they won’t be allowed to work on it until they have completed the unit project.

The unit projects will be real-world examples using the main skills that the unit teaches.  For example, our unit on area and perimeter has students determine the cost of redecorating a room based on their choices of wall covering and carpet.  They are tasks that would take just a few class periods to complete if they have an hour or so of work time.  The plan is to have them start these projects when they finish early as soon as they have the skills to do so, and give just a few days at the end of the unit before the test to complete the projects.  I plan to give tasks that are somewhat open-ended, but not so much that they’re ridiculously difficult to grade.

Here’s what I’m looking at for my typical daily schedule:

You see that my first order of business with each group is to check their most recent independent practice and answer questions on that lesson.  I figure that most questions will be addressed while explaining how to find the correct answers, but I’m also planning to have a place each group can post their questions each day, and I can answer any we don’t hit naturally.  I want all the questions to be visible to everyone in an effort to minimize repeats, but I’m on the fence about having chart paper and sticky notes in the room vs. having it on Google Classroom, Padlet, Today’s Meet, or any other digital tool.  In the classroom is accessible to everyone, especially if our classroom technology is being used for Blendspace lessons, but digital question boards will also be accessible at home if someone comes up with a question while completing an assignment for homework.  I obviously could do both, but would rather only have to check in one place.

And with this model, students are still getting 45-50  minutes of face-time with me, and yet they have 40-45 minutes to accomplish their work.  Because I’ll be working with groups the entire time, I won’t be able to answer questions without taking from someone’s group time.  We’re going to have to set up clear expectations about asking classmates for help, the difference between telling the answer and coaching someone to find the answer, and logistics about things like bathroom breaks.  I know that’s true anytime we use a workshop model, but it’s worth mentioning so I remember to include it in my beginning of year plans.

The hard part is going to be having so much ready up front.  I tend to procrastinate, and would rather stay up until 3am finishing something the night before it’s due than get it done a week early when I have some spare time.  The deadline motivates me, so I need to shift my thinking about when that deadline actually is.  To start each unit properly, I’ll need: a mid-unit quiz to use as a pretest, a unit test to act as a second pretest to separate those compacting the unit with those skipping the unit, at least the first few videos for the second half of the unit ready to use (for the compacting group), a unit project (to be completed by every group, but the advanced unit needs to complete it to move on to advanced content), and the first couple of smartboards ready for the on target group.  Ideally, the entire first unit will be ready to use on the day of the pretest, and I can create the second unit’s materials while students complete unit one.

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Summer Learning Plans

One thing I really love about being a teacher is that each new year on the job allows me to revamp things.  What other job out there gives a natural break that allows you the time to relax and reflect on the past year, deciding what to do the same, and what to change for the coming year?  Yes, of course I reflect and make changes throughout the school year too if something isn’t working quite how I want it to, but the easiest time to make big changes is the beginning of a new school year.  When you get a new crop of kids (and their parents), comments and questions about something you did last year that you plan to change can be swept aside with, “Oh, I’m going to change how I do that this year; I’ll be talking about that at curriculum night.”

On the last workdays before school ended, my team met and did a group reflection, making notes about what we want to do differently, and what we really thought worked well.  My only concern is that we’re having a change in leadership at my school, and we left for the summer without knowing what grade we would be teaching next year, nor the room we would be assigned.  In light of that, I’ve been trying to keep my reflections general enough that they could be applied to nearly any grade.

Some things I want to accomplish or learn more about (in between relaxing) this summer, are:

  • how to incorporate blended learning; I think this would be a great way to differentiate more effectively
  • close reading; I have the gist of it, but want to get to the point that I don’t need a pre-made set of close reading materials to feel confident implementing it
  • creating rubrics blending Lucy Calkins units with 6 Trait writing and common core standards…but I really need to know what grade I’m teaching next year (I’ve wanted to do this for awhile, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.)
  • read The Leader in Me

If you know of a great blog or article that would help with any of these goals, I’d love for you to leave links to them in the comments!

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