The Blended Learning Classroom
During a series of interviews right out of my teacher preparation program, I was asked several times about my experience in a blended learning classroom. What I knew to be true was that blended learning included technology, but I was not sure exactly how it would be manifested in a classroom. My experience in the classroom up to that point had been traditional public schools with a single-shared computer lab. I had not experienced classrooms who were actively using technology in a daily basis. There are many education buzzwords and blended learning is one of them. As I accepted my position at a blended learning school, I encountered many questions about creating a productive learning environment. I was apprehensive about what the expectations would be for me as a teacher but I was excited about the challenge.
My students have 1-to-1 iPad ratio, along with a set of laptops for the class. The opportunities seemed never-ending but a new host of challenges also arose as I began to realize the implications technology would create. It is a daunting task to find reliable and engaging online resources to incorporate in the classroom. Many times, I find myself searching the web for resources that I can incorporate into my digital classroom. After years of blended learning I have found many resources that I rely on.
In my classroom, we use PowerSchool Learning (previously Haiku Learning) in order to manage the online aspect of my classroom. I have found that for my age group, middle schoolers using a digital platform like Haiku, allows students to follow the digital agenda with ease, rather than using a open site like weebly. There are several important behaviors that a blended learning classroom needs to curb off-task behavior, and a learning management system allows a teacher the flexibility of using a variety of online sources while managing student activities. It took me several months to fully integrate using Haiku, but because of our push for technology in the classroom, students were able to have enough practice as time went on that they became experts. The biggest struggle is digital citizenship. For younger students, they believe the computers are not traceable or that their digital footprint is anonymous. On Haiku, a teacher can modify the site settings to ensure that students only post on discussions and other comments can be easily approved, moderated, or disabled to minimize issues of anonymity.
Creating valuable learning experiences in the blended learning classroom relies significantly on great online resources. Sites like ck12.org and its partner, braingenie and quizziz.com, allow for interactive online activities that supplement learning in the classroom. As a blended-classroom teacher, I record notes and vocabulary in a video for students to access in an independent, learning station. Students can practice concepts on sites like braingenie and ck12.org, and now the classroom has expanded to other locations. The world wide web is considered the great equalizer of education because the amount of knowledge available at our fingertips is endless. The obligation and concern for the blended-learning teacher is reeling in students’ curiosity for information that is not relevant in class and still utilizing these educational tools to enhance educational experiences.
Over the years, becoming more comfortable with technology being my partner in the classroom, I have created an arsenal of effective and reliable tools. Blended learning has allowed my inner-city students the ability to reach different parts of the world to learn. Every classroom is different, but the struggles for teachers is the same. How do we keep our students focused while utilizing these learning tools effectively?