Blended Learning – more than just laptops or iPads on a cart.

image credit: ruthcatchen.wordpress.com

I’ll take educational buzz-phrases for $200, Alex!

Wikipedia refers to blended learning as “an education that combines face-to-face classroom methods with computer-mediated activities. According to its proponents, the strategy creates a more integrated approach for both instructors and students.”

What?! Simplicity please. Blended learning is what is says it is… it’s a blending of ways of learning that syncs with differentiation. If done properly, blended learning will reach all learners in a classroom, and on the level that they truly are learning (not the one-size-fits-all motion).

So many out there believe that blended learning is simply rolling in the cart of laptops / iPads, having their ‘computers’ special like art or PE, or just using technology. :: insert buzzer sound here::

Some brief background first; the research among many scholarly articles & websites points to teachers spending most of their time teaching to the middle of a diverse classroom {Ironically, have you looked at how some states will be measuring student growth vis-a-vie looking at only the median of a class?! what kind of message does that send?!?}. Your best and brightest, along with those that will do a modicum of work at best, are left out in the cold. Blended learning, if implemented effectively, will alleviate this.

Blending learning

  • requires a clear plan, effective design, strong implementation, and consistent support. If these four elements are not researched and not implemented in strong, meaningful manner, you’re sunk.

  • Blended learning also requires

  • academic goals to be set.

  • While this sounds like this should already be in place via vision / mission statement, you’d be surprised how many schools don’t have goals (as in real, attainable goals).

  • With academic goals set, coupled with successful integration of digital content, you can achieve true differentiation can be achieved by supporting different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Despite all of the buzzwords and edu-babble that is running amok, Bloom’s is still a staple, and regardless of year of teaching you’re in, you can (or should) be able to relate to it.

Successful blended learning models can include lab rotations, class rotations, flex models, and mini-learning stations.Successful blended learning also requires consistent instructional time (length wise) and a rock-star I/T staff to troubleshoot as needed.

  • A true blended learning classroom should have differentiated instruction, individualized learning, be student centered (see graphic below), and possess high fidelity data to help the educator see who needs help and where.

Do you or your teachers have a few of these or all of these in your / their classroom? If you do, you’re well on your way to TRUE blended learning. If anything, just don’t call computer time or the laptop cart ‘blended learning’!

image credit: of ruthcatchen.wordpress.com

Mr. / Madam (BOE) President, Tear Down this (fire) Wall!!

I just had one of the coolest experiences in my educational career.  Seriously.

We’ve heard all of this edu-jargon being s tossed around pertaining to ’21st century’ and how we’re all / need to start using it.  I just participated in a homework debate by students in New Jersey and Pennsylvania via google hangout.  I was a judge with other educators and administrators from NJ, PA, and even Iowa.

Students presented their arguments for and against homework.   Each side had a few minutes to makes points and respond.  The format was fantastic.

There was one sad glitch. One school teacher had to use her own hotspot instead of school wifi because the school blocked streaming. There was a little bit of cutting out, but that didn’t anger me.  The fact that her school, layered in scads of red tape, has things like google hangout blocked angers me.  Should I be not be angry and just assume that schools all over are like this?  I can’t help but not be.

This profession is like no other; you are dealing with educating young minds and preparing them for the real world. If you are not on your A-game every day, and if you aren’t making a steady effort to have every tool available to your teachers, then it’s time to find another job or retire.

Before some central office or IT folks get defensive – I do understand that there are legal / policy and infrastructural hurdles in some places. In others though, it’s just blatant opinion by someone who is nowhere near a classroom.

In 2007, I inquired to a mid-level academic manager about unblocking YouTube for some brief history video clips.  His response, “What?! There’s nothing but bad things on there. I would never allow it.”  Sigh. As a K-12 Social Studies Supervisor, I am proud that my District has  opened up streaming video for educational purposes   Yes, kids are still going be kids and find things that aren’t academic.  Let’s be real for a second — if they aren’t looking it up on the school computer, they are looking it up on their phones instead. It comes down to trusting your teachers to be good teachers and effective classroom management.

The Common Core Standards require that more collaborative, technology based activities like today’s on-line debate start happening frequently.  I hope the powers-that-be in some districts understand this. If not, who are you hurting in the end?

I look forward to seeing what we as educators can do in the future.  Today was just scratching the surface.  I hope my excitement is contagious and you will implement something like this soon in your school or district.

5 EASY ways to deal with ‘Standardized Testing Season’

shared via @ToddWhitaker

NEWSFLASH: I, along with 99% of educators & administrators, can’t stand state testing.  I will be the first to admit that I get dragged down with the amount of planning, fear mongering, data interpretation, blah blah blah… and all for what? Frustrated students? Angry parents? Shoddy data at best?  As a teacher who’s subject was never state-tested before in NJ, and as an administrator seeing all of the stress from parents, staff, and students, I’ve come to thoroughly dislike it.  Now that’s that all out, I know it’s not going anywhere – quite the opposite actually.  New Jersey switching to the PARCC in 2015, a new online assessment that circumvents around the Common Core curricula.

So, how do we in schools deal with the testing tomfoolery? Everyone has their own tricks — here are my five ways:

1. Make post-testing times one of relaxation or entertainment.  If your students don’t go home after testing, the last thing students or staff want to do is go at it in a full-fledged lesson. This is an optimal time to schedule assemblies, grade-level activities, pep rallies, or something extra curricular.  Down time is essential.

2. Leave the fear mongering alone.  We’re peppered with constant negativity and harshness if we don’t do well on these tests.   Everyone knows ‘what’s at stake’ besides bragging rights at the soccer game or in aisle 5… money.  Simple encouragement of telling everyone to do their best is sufficient for me, my teachers, and my students.  If your district needs money that bad, turn to grant writing.  There’s plenty of grants out there.

3. FOOD FOOD FOOD!!!  Kids having food before testing has been proven to increase test scores.  If your school is not offering food before testing, why not?!  Some districts go as far as offering a catered breakfast each morning before testing.  Food is great for teachers too; put dirt on a plate in a teachers room, and it will be eaten.  Whether it’s a fresh pot of coffee brewing, or snacks after testing, food makes everyone happier.  Just remember to be mindful of your allergies among staff & students.

4.  Take breaks in between test prep.  I’ve seen too many classrooms where all day, every day it’s strictly kill-n-drill.  Do people really wonder why standardized testing is hated so much?  How would you feel if all you did was prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and…well you get it.  Break up the day; break up the units; break up the lessons, and please, please PLEASE… if you have been instructed / are instructing kill-n-drill, DIFFERENTIATE.  Try to recall what it was like for YOU to take the test…  kinda like this: 

5. Remember why we’re all here in the first place.  I have a couple knickknacks hanging around my office.  One of them is a plaque that a student gave me my first year teaching that reads “I am not a teacher, I am an awakener.”  I have a homework pass from a former student who earned it after trying SO hard in class and reaching his goal (this was his reward). I’ll even admit I have a picture of Mr. Belding, a Principal  from the TV show ‘Saved By The Bell’ in my office… reminding me that he always had his students in his best interest and did what was right and best.   Don’t let a few days ruin your time in school.  This too shall pass, and we’ll all be back to a normal school day in no time.

#WEtech13 = WE-learn, yet again.

Yes, kids, it has arrived, and it looks as if the movement is here to stay.

The 2013 West Essex Technology Symposium (AKA ‘WeTech”) occurred this past weekend in the West Essex school district.  Like other ed-camps / un-conferences, the format is simple: start with an excellent keynote, offer a plethora of workshops, and make sure you have free food 🙂  Two hundred educators from all over the state gathered, collaborated, and yes, learned a thing or ten. While I was also a fan of the variety of workshops, the keynote address given by Scott Rocco (Superintendent of Spotswood schools in NJ) had an excellent message and set the tone for the day; if you want progress, you need to ENGAGE.

If you haven’t attended one of these conferences, I’m sure you’ve heard of them.  The concept is simple – teachers, administrators, and all those in between to learn or share how technology has helped move their schools forward into this technology infused 21st century.

The nice part?  To many to list.  My favorites:

  • You pick what you want to go to, and if you don’t like it, you simply get up and leave.  No hard feelings, no egos squashed.
  • You meet up with old friends and new during lunch and get to share ideas and topics you liked or disliked.
  • You get exposed to a variety of classroom ideas, the thinkers, and technology that is helping our students become excellent learners.
  • You leave feeling good about yourself and your profession, knowing that there are others like you that want to utilize new ideas and technologies in the classroom.

I had the opportunity to co-broadcast video podcasts with Jeff Bradburry, the creator of TeacherCast.net. Several interviews with presenters, administrators, and teachers have been made available through http://www.teachercast.net or by searching for ‘wetech13’ on youtube.  Perhaps clicking on an interview or two may further explain the benefits of these conferences.

It’s just a matter of time before all PD ends up going this route.  Jump on the wave now – I certainly don’t want to see you left behind.