Experiences Related to Blended Learning
Without realizing it, I have had a wide range of blended learning opportunities throughout my teaching career. I have always used technology in some form to aid my teaching. Ever since I began my teaching career I have used the LMS platform Google Classroom. Not only did I use it to deliver activities and assignments to students, I used it as a virtual grade book and to give feedback to students. When I moved into lower elementary grades in a distance learning setting I used Seesaw to engage and track student progress and communicate with parents. I also frequently use a variety of technology apps to engage students like; YouTube, Plickers, Kahoot, Quizziz, Gimkit, and Mathletics. As well as Zoom and Google Meet for virtual calls or workshops.
Perceptions Related to Blended Learning
Prior to our EC&I834 class, I viewed blended learning as a simple blend of both asynchronous and synchronous learning with technology aiding the delivery of the asynchronous portion. I also thought that blended learning was something new and current. However, after analyzing Tony Bates continuum of online learning I quickly learned that blended learning could in fact be as simple as technology being used as a classroom aid such as; Kahoot, Powerpoint, etc. When thinking of the continuum in its simplest form, many teachers have been teaching a blended learning style for a very long time but probably hadn’t considered it to be that.
When diving into blended learning further with The Landscape of Merging Modalities article I begin to understand that it is a complicated topic. With technological advances blended learning can look very different depending on your access to technology. Terminology associated with learning outside of the traditional classroom is astounding and quite overwhelming. I understand classification helps keep order in an ever-evolving world, but sometimes less is more. Even within my own school and teaching circle, there are a variety of definitions for what blended learning is. Throughout this week I have asked a few of my colleagues what their perception of blended learning is. One colleague laughed and said, “Can you tell me what your definition is first?” The second one said “A blend of online and in-person learning”, while the third said, “It’s what I do in my math class. I teach a portion face-to-face then I lean on technology to do the rest”. No one seems to be on the same page, and/or can not keep up with the ever-changing models, but many are interested in learning more.
Challenges & Opportunities I’ve Experienced With Blended Learning
Challenge #1: I have always had a keen interest in trying new apps and platforms. However, sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by “what’s new” and “must try” tech-related resources. Through trial and error, I’ve learned to stick to quality not quantity as I assume that if I am overwhelmed with all that is available, I imagine my students might be too. My current teaching role has 1:1 Chromebooks. I sometimes feel a sense of pressure to use technology every day because some schools and students do not have the same privilege.
Challenge #2: Throughout my 11 years of teaching I have rarely taught the same grade or subject level. Although this has made me a very adaptable teacher and I have gained a lot of general knowledge and strategies, it has not helped me develop and reuse my material. Building an in-depth blended learning classroom is time-consuming, especially when you are starting from scratch each year. Just when I get into the groove of things, I get switched to a different subject or grade level impacting my countless hours of time and preparation.
Opportunity #1: When COVID-19 hit, I was teaching abroad at an international school in Guatemala (Interamericano). I was already planning on moving home in June of that year, and with permission from my school, I was released early and able to teach at a distance from home in Canada. This created a unique opportunity for me and my students. I was teaching grade 6 math to 6 sections (120 students). Thankfully I had already been using Google Classroom with students before the pandemic and all students had access to technology at home. The expectation for each day was that I meet with each section of students synchronously through a scheduled Google Meet (similar to Zoom) call to check in with students and their progress, clarify questions, and have a class discussion on the current math topic. Once our meeting was over students would then head over to Google Classroom and complete the day’s lesson asynchronously. My Google Classroom lessons were created using Google Slides and Screencastiy. I recorded myself teaching the lesson of the day, with a digital follow-up activity that I would review at the end of each week. My school had a paid subscription to Khan Academy which I also utilized for formative assessment and instant feedback for students. Within the first week of distance learning, I sensed a bit of disconnect and boredom with our new way of learning. I began to realize that the personal aspect of teaching was missing, so I started to get creative with our situation. I started to introduce my math lesson each day by taking my students on a virtual field trip. Since many of them had never been to Canada, I started to take advantage of my location and incorporate it into my teaching. These short videos brought laughter, and excitement back into my synchronous Google Meet calls and sparked curiosity about what was coming next. This simple added element brought an unexpected motivation to my math class that I seemed to be missing. I will forever be grateful for the experience we shared during that time. If it wasn’t for my access to technology and our blended learning scenario, I wouldn’t have been able to show my students that part of my life.
Opportunity #2 – This year I am teaching a grade 6/7 split, and utilizing technology has been my saving grace. Teaching in a split classroom is already a challenge in itself, however thanks to technology I can better balance my learning. The Modern Classroom Project is a model that my grade 7 colleagues have been developing for math, over the past 3 years. If you are unaware of what it is, it is a Google site designed for students to navigate independently at their own pace. Each lesson contains 5 steps; video (made by the teacher), notes, practice, digital check-in, and an exit ticket which they physically hand in to the teacher. Although it takes time for students to get used to, it has proven to be the most efficient and effective way to teach a split class. While I am giving direct instruction to my grade 6 students, my grade 7 students are simultaneously working on their class content independently. It offers a realistic balance for teaching two grade levels at once.