Monday, November 18, 2013

Blended Learning in Action- The Next Generation of Education!

This past week, I had the pleasure to formally observe one of our terrific high school teachers, Rebecca Cohen, using blended learning in the classroom (thanks to our BOLD, blended online day schools grant).  Rebecca full utilized a rotational model embedded in our blended learning classroom.  Students were divided into three major groups.  One group worked on the computers utilizing gradpoint to pinpoint information on enzymatic reactions.  Another group worked on a lab on enzymes.  An additional group worked with the teacher to fine tune areas of weakness and/or focus on more challenging material.  It was a pleasure to watch a double block period go by so quickly with students so engaged!

Utilizing a computer to diagnose key areas of strength or weakness in a student and to deliver lower level Bloom's Taxonomy material was particularly exciting.  The teacher then used her analysis of the information to specifically target areas in need for each student.  While we are newly embarking on blended learning and their have been some bumps in the road, I was blown away by the amount of material covered in such a short time and the depth to which it could be covered in.

Rebecca utilized a playlist for the students giving them a checklist almost of what needed to be accomplished for the week.  While all students had to accomplish similar tasks, her pull out group and the order in which students chose to accomplish the tasks provided for choice, innovation, and self direction in the curriculum.  Students really took ownership over their own learning and exercised good judgment in terms of timing and structuring their day.  We really appreciated our visit to Yeshivat He'Atid to speak with Rabbi Gralla, Revi Glasser, and Amanda Pransky about how they accomplish this.

While I realize we are the first high school to ever effectively use the rotational model in the classroom, this presents us with challenges never before encountered by schools at our level.  How do we effectively manage the students and provide for proper differentiation in the non-computer station?  How do we create meaningful lessons that are enhanced by the rotational model?  Where do students fit in "discussion?"  Where do students get the "content" and is that the basis for them being able to do the other rotations?  These are great questions.

For the initial issues, we have relied on great teachers who have excellent classroom management skills, a piece of software that goes on our teachers' computers that allows them to see the kids computers and what they are doing, and specific rules and regulations clearly posted on the walls of the blended learning classrooms.  We make our kids sign a contract when they get a laptop about how they will take care of it and what it can be used for.    The differentiation is largely created by the computer generated responses to assessments and teachers checking to see areas of students strengths and weaknesses while grading offline assignments.  Students can then be placed into roles in the group project rotation (or lab) or in specific homogeneous groups to work on a specific skill.

The concern about creating meaningful lessons that are enhanced and utilize the rotational model is a challenge in the beginning.  However, we have created our own understanding by design based unit plan template complete with a detailed section 3, activity section that purposely is divided up by day and what happens in each station.  Teachers utilize this as almost a checklist to make sure all areas are covered daily and that each area augments a great objective.

One way we have been working on the content acquisition is combining the blended learning rotational model with flipped education.  This has been especially effective in math where we have a teacher, Matya, who has been doing flipped education for over a year.  Since much of high school math is dependent on learning how to do problems and then applying that knowledge to new problems, students get those simple instruction for homework rather than coming into class to hear them.  This amounts to a short 5-14 minute video.  They answer brief questions on the video and come into class ready to work in the 3 groups.  Students can then do higher order Bloom's Taxonomy activities and be more engaged in material they are actively doing rather than using class as a passive experience.  This allows teachers, like Matya, to teach material needed to be covered on the regents, without sacrificing the model or our skill based focus.  To see her videos click on one here:

Stay tuned for more updates shortly.