Category Archives: Blended Learning

A day in the life

Since the beginning of the school year Envision Academy has been piloting the use of Chromebooks in the classroom. We decided that we wanted all of the incoming 9th graders to have access to Chromebooks in every class. We wanted to instill a stong academic identity and sense of scholarship to start off their high school experience with a unique and transformative experience. As a result of these conditions we have noticed a couple of interesting things.

Firstly, the students have become fluent in accessing their emails, google docs, google sites, etc. They remember their passwords and use them both inside and outside of school hours. This is a big change from how other 9th graders perform who do not have access to these resources in all of their classes.

Secondly, the teacher’s practices, routines, and curriculum have changed to incorporate and integrate the technology in ways that support more diverse learning.

Following is a day in the life of a typical 9th grade student

1st Period – Math

I always use my Chromebook in math class. My teacher usually starts off the lesson with a warm up that is on the board, then she will teach a short lesson. This lesson usually relates to the Unit we are learning and could be one of the skills I am working on in class. Then we open our Khan Academy accounts and get to work. We each have a plan of the modules we need to complete and we work on this in small groups. I can get help from the people sitting at my table, or ask my teacher to check over my work. My teacher spends time with each table throughout the class and teaches us something that will help us understand the lessons on Khan Academy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Break

2nd Period – Academic Literacy

This class is fun because we are using our Chromebooks to work on our websites. We had to interview family members and turn these into narratives. Our teacher also has us do lots of research on the Internet, we have learned how to evaluate sources to make sure that they are reliable. Also my teacher often has me take short quizzes on Google forms. I think he likes to see if I have learned the lesson or not because sometimes he will reteach something that I was a little confused about.

3rd Period – Digital Literacy

This is the one class inwhich I rarely use a Chromebook because I am in the lab, here we work on imacs. This class is fun because I learn how to use all the programs on the computer like imovie, Keynote, and Photoshop. I also often have to work on projects that relate to what is happening in my other classes. For example, we learned how to make a good website so that our website in Academic Literacy were well designed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lunch

4th Period – Science

In my science class we built small gravity powered cars and used Google templates to open a spreadsheet to record our data and calculate the velocity or acceleration of our cars. This was a fun project because we got to incorporate many different skills. Our teacher also had us use the Chromebooks to create small visuals that compare and contrast different Physics concepts; for example the difference between elastic and inelastic collisions or showing different forms of heat transfer.

Also my teacher always gives us our Science quizzes on the Chromebooks.

5th Period – Language Arts

It is finally my last class of the day. My teacher has had us writing essay using Google docs, but luckily that is over for now. We will be watching short clips on Youtube that relate to the book we are reading. Then our teacher wants us to create a presentation using Google presentations or Prezi that shows the main themes of the book and specific pieces of evidence from the story that show the themes. This should be a good break from essay writing, but we still have to write our blogs of course.

Tools of the day

In the spirit of open source collaborative design-based experimentation in the service of learning, I want to share the tools I encountered today.

I watched a Webinar about differentiation that discussed how technology can support the need for more individualized approaches, and more specifically what. The presentation was given by two teachers so the suggestions that they make are really practical and you know that they will work.

Some ideas that I have been tossing around recently are using Voicethread for students to create digital stories. This could work well as an alternative assignment in any class. I have most often seen this used with Language Arts, but I also think it can be very powerful in Science and Math.

Googlelittrips has kmz files that can be overlaid into google earth and show the highlights of major works of literature. This seems like a great activity to support the reading of one of the books. Could also be applicable to historical analysis.

Educreations is great for making videos of your lesson, or encouraging students to create videos of their own. This can be used in any classroom and even outside.

animaps is a great way to create interactive informative maps. I love this idea. I have not had a chance to use this much yet and would love to hear how others have used this.

Google search stories is also a fun way for students to engage in a short project that captures the essence of any lesson, story, process. Could be a great way to teach the story arch and have students apply this knowledge.

I also recently found this interactive whiteboard site that is free to use. Although I have yet to really test it.

In the interest of sharing, I would love to hear from others who have used these resources. Also, if there are other tools that people have come across that are useful and you have had success with please feel free to share these as well.

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Envision Academy gets recognized

Last week I was approached by a journalist who was writing a short piece about blended learning and upside down academy. He was curious how the project had gone and wanted to hear about our take aways.

As part of this process I worked with 3 students to answer all of his questions, convey the essence of what we do at Envision Schools and what Upside Down Exhibition was all about. I was so blown away by the articulate nature of these students. They were so clear about what they had learned, why it was important, what they would do differently now as a result of this process, and what other students and teachers should know about making math videos. These students saw this project not only as an exercise in math, but as a forum for exploring creative video production and filming techniques, and a platform for showing the world their thoughts and capabilities. One student even reflected on the process of getting public feedback. She had re-filmed her video and in the end found that this critique made her work stronger.

I can’t say enough about how powerful this process was, and in general how amazing it is to see youth empowered by learning. Please take a moment to read about this mindshift and hear of the ripples this project made across the country.

Exhibition Post Script

On Thursday evening last week, Envision Academy was a whirl of excitement and nerves as the community gathered to participate in a demonstration of learning. For the last 5 weeks, the 9th grade students have embarked on an exploration of themselves as teachers and learners. The essential questions: What teaching strategies and methods best support my understanding of algebraic concepts? driving their inquiry

As parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends filled the seats, our students prepared their lessons, and assessments. The students began by sharing what self-knowledge about their learning style and their educational biography informed their instructional choices and as a result their teaching artifact. They then shared their video tutorials with the audience. Lastly, they gave short assessments and provided face-to-face support and scaffolding as the audience completed the quizzes.

It was interesting to see the students truly embody their inner educator as they assisted the audience members. Many parents struggled to remember, or had never learned, the algebra and geometry concepts that the students were teaching. It was exciting to see how students provided assistance to the important people in their lives who were there to support them, and to strangers alike. This made me feel that they took the job seriously and felt responsible for ensuring that their lesson was successful.

Some students even went off script and provided extra instruction while classmates translated the presentation into Spanish. This video captures a couple of these magic moments.

In the post exhibition reflection overwhelmingly students reported that they were thoughtful about their learning style while creating their videos. In response to the question “When you were making your video did you think about ways to make your video for someone who learns like you?” 68% of the students responded positively.

We also asked the students consider the “strategies that you saw your classmates use that you think worked really well?” This elicited some very interesting responses including the below:

“Because I am also a kinesthetic learner, which means hands on learning, and I felt that it worked because different people are different things (meaning different types of learners). For example, my mom is a kinesthetic learner because she mostly understood my friend who had a different teaching method and another lady was a visual learner because she learned best with my method of teaching (visual).

To examine the students lessons in more detail check out: upsidedownacademy.org

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Travels with Kiera: an educator on the road

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of taking my work on the road. My first stop was The California Charter School’s Association held its annual conference in Sacramento and I lucky enough to get a last minute invitation. Looking over the Conference schedule the night before it was striking how much emphasis was placed on Blended Learning by the programming board. Perhaps this reflects the demand of their constituency, perhaps this is a local representation or perhaps this is demonstrative of a national wave in digital learning.

I had the pleasure of being a part of many interesting discussions and got an in depth view into some specific examples of blended learning approaches. What is fascinating is to realize how broadly the field of education is defining blended learning approaches. For example, there are charter schools that have built their buildings to accommodate a large learning lab. A new elementary school in rural California, Grimmway Academy, has lab space for up to 70 students or so. A team of learning specialists monitor the students progress through a handful of different software programs, pull small groups off the computers to reinforce or re-teach certain concepts, and this team communicates regularly with the classroom teachers to both share data on the students progress and plan upcoming curriculum. This fledgling school approached its design with an idea of blended learning as a pillar around which other decisions were made. Their model cited the previous example of a similar model, Rocketship Education.

Other schools have embraced different aspects of blended learning. For example, Greendot has pulled together a variety of resources that they use to techno-phy the existing curricular structure. Some examples of these are Google apps for education, edmodo, and dropbox. This is similar to the approach that we are exploring at Envision Schools. When I think of the blended learning that we are working to establish it is one that incorporates the affordances of certain new media into an existing physical and curricular structure. Each approach has pros and cons, and is a response to different condition sets.

There were also a plethora of companies and institutions approaching blended learning from a more historical perspective. From what I know the term ‘blended learning’ was first coined to describe distance learning or online learning opportunities that were primarily computer based. Under this particular umbrella there are a wide variety of programs that offer different levels of curriculum, programs that are designed on different approaches to learning, different levels of scaffolding, different levels of technological support. Making educated decisions about which of these are the right fit for your school can be overwhelming. In fact there was a very interesting presentation that touched on the important areas to consider when constructing a rubric and protocol for making these types of decisions for your school community.

Lastly, even the exhibition hall was all a flutter with the accouterments of blending learning environments. Many booths were holding raffles for free ipads, kindles, laptops etc. All of the poster sessions were organized around blended learning. Overall the conference had some interesting points to ponder and exposed me to many companies and organizations that are building and selling blended learning.

Imagine K12 Educator Day

Later in the same week I was invited to attend a bi-yearly event held in Palo Alto. Imagine K12 is an opportunity for new EdTech companies to partner with educators so that the creators and the stakeholders can co-contribute to the development and refinement of new venture. This was an exciting and interesting experience for me.

Firstly, the event was held in a manner similar to a TED Talk. They were punchy and well prepared and got right to the heart of each product. In most cases the person presenting on behalf of the products were the founders or co-founders. This resulted in a really inspired and heartfelt pitch.

Secondly, there was a wide variety of new products and platforms so there was something there for everyone. Prior to the event I had spent sometime on the phone with the founder of Hapara. This New Zealand based company has designed a platform that organizes and manages google apps for education. Really a great product for administrators to look at if the school is using google apps consistently. There were other companies that presented more data management tools that seem really comprehensive and smart, but that I was less drawn to because they were not directly applicable to my current position. I was able to meet and chat with the creators of educreations. This is an exciting tool that one of our math teachers is using to create short videos of his classroom for students to access after class. I have been using educreations to take notes in my statistics class. I can write what the teacher is saying and record the lecture at the same time! Genius.

Lastly, there were two new resources that I feel everyone should spend sometime looking at, so I want to introduce them here. The first is BrainGenie. This site provides instructional tutorials and practice in a variety of Math and Science topics. It is nicely divided into grade levels and is being aligned with Common Core standards. I had a long conversation with the co-founder and he indicated that while he realizes that their platform is very much like Khan Academy, they hope to develop into a tool that is differentiated by the feedback that teachers can provide. So use the site and let them know what you think. The second resource that I saw a lot of potential in is a search engine tool call InstaGrok. This tool can be used to scaffold web-based research in a number of ways. The site organizes information by identifying key vocabulary, by providing a relationship chart for said vocabulary and concepts, by providing images and audio-visual resources, and the most interesting feature is you can adjust the reading level of the resources provided. I can see this search engine being particularly helpful in late elementary and middle school, but I also see how it can be useful even for adults.

All in all both of these experiences have given me many ideas to take back to my schools. I was reminded that it is important to get outside of the classroom every once in a while, to interact and brainstorm with other educators. This process of rejuvenation is essential to being sustainable in ones role, and I believe it is essential to ensuring that the innovations of blended learning approaches continue to cross pollinate and breed.

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Voice of the masses

Last week I had the pleasure of spending time with some student from EA. I stopped by the campus to check in on the project and found that they were in the middle of taking on of our network wide benchmark assessments, serious business. I was able to talk to a couple of students who had already finished their tests and who were interested in giving me the update on how Upside Down Exhibition was going.

I began the conversation by reminding them of who I am:

me: My name is Kiera, I have been working with your teachers to design your upcoming Exhibition.

girl: Cool

me: So what can you tell me about you upcoming Exhibition?

boy: Its going to be all about Math. I think I am teaching graphing. Anyways I think it is going to be easier than the last Exhibition because we wont have to stand up on stage. I get nervous presenting on stage.

girl: Yeah. I picked something that, I can’t remember what it is right now, but I kinda know it. I think I will be able to teach it.

me: So your going to be teaching lessons in Math…

girl: Well we also learned about our learning styles, like I am a visual learner. We took some surveys in John’s class and I learned that.

boy: Yeah. I am a Kinesthetic learner.

me: So are you going to teach your lesson using Kinesthetic strategies.

boy: I don’t know. That would be hard, but I could do something outside on the playground.

girl: I want to use visual strategies. Like when my teachers use their hands a lot to describe things that is really helpful for me.

me: So have you started making your videos yet?

girl: No

boy: We are supposed to write our story-boards over break and then we will film when we get back.

me: I am looking forward to seeing your work.

It seems that the project has been rolled out and the students are beginning to make progress with some of the concepts. They are excited to make their videos as it gives them a sense of agency and engages them in their own learning. I am hoping that this process of building instruction will help students reflect on the cycle of teaching and learning and teaching in a way that deepens their understanding of content.

What Khan and Khan’t

About 10 days ago Mathalicious published an interesting post that asked readers to take a critical look at Khan Academy. This is not the first pundit publication that asks those who have consumed the Khan kool-aid to step back and look at the larger picture.

One aspect of this post that I really enjoyed was the reference to some of the collective knowledge that we have accumulated over the years on exactly these issues. For example, the writer cited the work of:

researcher S.H. Erlwanger [that] studied the effectiveness of the Individually Prescribed Instruction, a step-by-step curriculum in which students “proceed through sequences of objectives that are arranged in hierarchical order” (i.e. first this, then this). According to his description,

Because a large segment of the material in IPI is presented in programmed form, the questions often require filling in blanks or selecting a correct answer. Therefore, this mode of instruction places and emphasis on answers rather than on the mathematical processes involved.

In other words, students who used IPI may have identified that 1 + 1 = 2 on a multiple choice test, even without understanding the concept of addition.

This provides a nice foundation upon which to make the claim that Khan khan’t be pronounced the fix all in our current math crisis. There is one small flaw in this claim, however, and that is the distinction between what IPI referred to as ‘Instruction’ and what appears in Khan Academy as ‘Practice’. The argument that student’s khan’t learn through procedure alone is heavily support by research in the field (Arcavi 1994, Kooji 2002, Mayer 2010,).

Khan Academy’s video tutorials, as I have mentioned in previous posts, do not serve as instruction. In the context I am testing this, an urban high school, the students have indicated that they need a teacher or a peer to explain the problem and procedure to them in order for them to be able to ‘Practice’ independently.

Khan Academy khan provide practice. The question remains whether students get more practice on Khan Academy than they would in a paper and pencil environment? Practice is an important part of becoming proficient. Indeed the process of learning to play an instrument, Judo, writing an essay, reading, playing scrabble, all require practice. I can safely say that there is little objection to the motto “practice makes perfect.”

The Mathalicious author proceeded with the claim that the mere presence of Khan Academy was making it impossible for other options to be funded, developed, and consequently used. Because of Khan, we khan’t get anything else. I don’t want to stick my foot in my mouth but this seems like a stretch. I know Khan has received a lot of funding, and probably will continue to get funding, but in all fairness much of the work Sal Khan did on the videos and his ideas occurred prior to significant funding. As is usually the case with entrepreneurial work, a project may or may not get to the point where it can pick up funding and in the meantime one just figures it out.

While we are sitting around waiting for computer programmers to create the next thing that is going to convince us that it is going to fix all our problems in math education, let us save our pennies so we can purchase this future panacea. This is something we khan do. Our students khan access free software on the terribly slow computer at the local library. Our students khan be assigned to complete a module for homework rather than a page in the textbook. We khan assign specific tutorials and modules to struggling students and those students who advance quickly. We khan even completely individualized our classroom so that students are working to their own pace. We khan do all these things because Khan Academy is  cost-effective, requires limited tech support, and utilizes common technology.

Let us address one of the other thoughts that has been raised in response to this article. I have a personal commitment to better understanding why America, one of the most advanced countries on the globe by some measures, performs in a less than advanced fashion on mathematics assessments. There are other curriculum that seem to provide better foundations for mathematical constructs so that their students can progress in ways that further reenforce a deep understanding of math concepts. Curriculum such as the Dutch Realistic Mathematic Education (RME) and the consequent Mathematics in Context (MiC) are specifically designed to develop algebraic understanding using applied problem solving strategies and approaches. The results of these experiments have been positive. Why then are we not integrating and capitalizing on all that the world knows about how to best teach mathematics?
I regret to state the obvious but it is not because Khan Academy has taken all the funding for other viable options. My best guess, and I am by no means an expert in the matter, is that curriculum and resource producing companies and school districts are in business. Not always the business of teaching and learning, but business none the less.
What Khan Academy khan provide is an alternative to the costly partnership, which in the long run will dissolve the rigid alliance that currently dictates what we khan and khan’t do.

Thank You Karim and Mathalicious for instigating a thoughtful and exciting conversation. I have really appreciated the food for the brain.

I want to leave you with these questions, I can’t take credit for them, but I do feel inspired to engage in further conversations that seek to address them.

3 emergent questions:

1. What are we trying to achieve in these environments? How do we measure that success?

2. What tools seem to be working? Which ones may seem glamorous but aren’t effective?

3. What kind of support do teachers and students need–not just professional development, but functionality built into the tools themselves–to create a promising flipped or blended program?

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