6 weeks of blended learning with eight year olds. 6 weeks of blended learning with eight year olds. SIX WEEKS OF BLENDED LEARNING WITH EIGHT YEAR OLDS.
If that doesn't scare you, you probably haven't experienced it yet. At this point, my third grade class has been a blended learning environment for six weeks and it has, quite honestly, been the most thrilling, nerve-wrecking and challenging experience of my entire life (like...crazier than that time I decided to study abroad for a semester in West Africa and missed every flight from the U.S. to the African continent). Let's see how it's been going:
Successes (and yes, there have been many)!
1. Open House
This year for Open House, students participated in their first Project-Based Learning opportunity. Given the driving question, "Using Google Slides, can we design a classroom tour for our families that highlights the most important and exciting parts of our class?" As preparation for this project, and in an effort to integrate curriculum content into this project, we celebrated Freedom Week by going on virtual tours of both the 9/11 Memorial and Pentagon. We charted, discussed, discussed some more and discussed lots more the components of a tour, aka, "How can we show our families evidence of all of the awesome learning we've been doing?" In the end, we developed a class tour framework and success rubric and they were off! "How scary," thought their teacher...."I'm not going to say one word on Open House..." *breathes into paper bag* As I opened my door for Open House I was met by not one...not two...but about six excited kiddo's who practically ran me over to get their Chromebooks and take their parents on the classroom tour they had developed. Parents loved it. Students loved it. Teacher loved it. #PerfectWorld #StudentOwnership
Take a look!
Student Uno: https://goo.gl/sj0OQq
Student Dos: https://goo.gl/hv7axT
2. Google Classroom LMS
What can I say, Google Classroom has won my heart. While there are many phenomenal LMS' floating around out there on the interwebs, when introducing third graders with Chromebooks to the concept of a LMS for the very first time, it doesn't get better than a system that integrates EVERYTHING they use! In a blended environment, students are expected to develop BOTH deep content knowledge AND 21st century skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. As a GAFE district, our access to other Google Apps such as Google Slides and Docs is extremely helpful in this process as students are easily able to digitally co-create and collaborate on a variety of content-based deeper learning challenges. Then Google Classroom wraps everything up for them in an easy-to-navigate package with an accessibility-for-all bow on top! #GAFEAddict
3. Culture, Happiness, Culture, Student-Engagement, Culture, Relationships, Culture.
"But Ms. Roberts, this class is HARD."
--Anonymous Student, Week 2 of Blended Learning
One of the greatest realities I've had in the past few weeks has been the importance of shifting student mindsets, behaviors and actions in preparation for the self-driven work required to be successful in a blended environment. By creating Character Exploration Hyperdocs and engrossing students in the Class SMART Goal Development Process, it's been exciting to see them become more accustomed to, and take ownership over, the process of turning in quality work and re-submitting it if/when it doesn't meet our class SMART goal. #kidgoals
But, as with any new project, the past six weeks have also had their challenges. The single-greatest challenge I have experienced is explained below: (keep reading if you're wondering, "Will my students ever be able to independently complete quality work?!")
Education's most magical unicorn!
If you asked me two weeks ago if I genuinely believed student agency was possible with third graders who had never experienced a self-driven classroom or environment, I might have uttered a doubtful, "Yes," knowing that's the "Innovator's Mindset." Yet, in the back of my mind, I also would have been furiously grappling with an internal cloud of doubt. In order for my blended learning model to be successful, it is imperative that my students are able to work independently for a minimum of 20mins and complete assignments it in a timely manner so they are able to receive feedback. Despite this, as I've worked with my students and seen them grow, I've learned that, if we genuinely expect this of our younger students (and probably any students), we have to be willing to take the time and scaffold, design, model, support and reinforce this notion in everything we do. From tasks as simple as putting students in charge of checking in their own library books to greater ones like following written instructions, this concept will not be fully developed in one day, week or even a year (I know, for us Type-A folks, this is challenging to accept, trust me). Rather, it must be developed, refined and personalized to meet the needs of all students which...will...be...tedious...and...challenging BUT by gathering a strong team of thinkers and doers, your kiddos too can become more self-directed agents of action who are passionately and fervently on a mission to achieve a rigorous goal! #staystrong