Blending Learning All the Ways

Blended learning doesn’t have to mean a combination of hands on and technology based learning. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To me blended learning balances all the things! I believe blended learning means educators are spending time providing students with hands on, emotional, self guided, outdoor, projects, technology, physical movement, and creative learning throughout the day. I give my students a lot of choice and agency during the regular school day. At the beginning of the year, I spend a lot of time talking to kids about how to make choices.

True blended learning provides and equitable learning experience for kids because you are taking care of the whole child. Educators should be getting to know their students on a personal level and providing opportunities for students based on their interests. During remote learning, I discovered on a phone call with one of my students that she has been watching “old Disney movies” a lot and one of her favorites to watch over and over is Alice in Wonderland. Because of that, I made sure that my time lesson included a white rabbit with a clock. She recognized the connection right away and even asked me if it was there for her! This tells me that my kids KNOW to look for ways the lessons I plan for them specifically connect to themselves or their friends.

Hands On

It’s no surprise that kids learn best from hands on experiences. We all use manipulatives on a daily basis. It is important for kids to build concrete understanding through manipulating hands on materials like magnetic letters or letter tiles, counters, legos, playdough, etc. These materials are always available to my students in my classroom to use throughout their day.

Emotional

In my classroom we begin each day with a morning meeting. We sit in a circle and greet each other, check in to see how we are feeling, take time to share important artifacts or stories, go over the plan for our day (especially when things vary from the ordinary), and move! I also set aside time for a a weekly community building circle in which we focus on something that came up that week or a specific topic so we can get to know each other better. We use talking pieces to take turns and have a centerpiece in our circle with important community building artifacts to remind us of past conversations or shared experiences. You can see our centerpiece below.

Self Guided

Providing students choice and agency over their learning is important to me (and them). Students already have agency but they need opportunities to practice it in a safe environment. I provide those opportunities though flexible seating, genius hour, and allowing students to choose how they respond to learning (worksheet, technology, creation). Response to learning choices aren’t always possible, but when they are I provide them.

Outdoor

I get my kids outside whenever possible! Obviously, outdoor recess is a daily occurance (weather permitting). In addition to that I take kids outside to read or to practice word work or math using sidewalk chalk. We go outside to observe our shadow, organisms, earth materials, and to collect samples. We are fortunate to have a school garden so every spring, my students take over one of the beds and plant seeds to care for.

Projects

Projects and Project Based Learning (PBL) are a great way to get student buy in to learning. PBL is multidisciplinary and allows kids to connect their learning across subjects. They practice skills and gain knowledge through real world, rigorous tasks. Kids take ownership over their work and and learning is sticky. You can check out some of the projects I’ve done with kids here.

Technology

Typically when people think about blended learning they are referring to the use of technology in the classroom. I’ve shared about my technology integration here.

Physical Movement

I incorporate movement regularly during our day through movement breaks using both guided movements and fun dances on Go Noodle. Some my favorite and quickest movements that I get kids doing are crossing the midline movements. I direct kids through touching their opposite knee and elbow. This is great because there is a lot of brain research behind having kids cross the midline. I also add yoga poses into lesson activities. This is a photo of a “scoot” activity. In a scoot activity, I put problems or tasks around the room and kids start at one and “scoot” around the room until they’ve completed all of them. They carry a recording sheet around with them on a clipboard. This is a math scoot activity where students were solving story problems that are all about fruit trees. I taught them tree pose and had several stops around the room where students needed to hold tree pose while they counted by tens to a certain number.

Creative

Allowing kids time to create is also important to their learning and development. In my classroom, I have a makerspace to allow kids to build and create during projects, centers, and soft starts (the beginning of our day).

School should be a balance of all the ways kids learn best. If there is too much of one thing, the day can be monotonous and you run the risk of not reaching all learners. Changing things up keeps the classroom fun and interesting and helps to reach every child and grow the whole child.

What else do you think is important to blend into the school day?

Blended Learning with Littles

A blended learning environment is one in which technology and “offline” teaching are seamlessly intertwined throughout the day. Blended learning environments allow for student agency, passions, and mastery to grow.

21st Century Learning

In the 21st Century Framework, students use digital tools, collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking (The 4 Cs), and other career readiness skills to curriculum standards. In the 21st Century Framework, teachers design lessons, and experiences that pull in multiple skills listed above. Teachers must model risk-taking and perseverance. Teachers must also look for ways to include a global perspective in their curriculum. A blended learning environment provides teachers with tools to use to teach the skills and perspectives outlined by the 21st Century Framework. In a blended learning environment, students can use devices to share their learning with the world through Twitter, Instagram, a Seesaw blog, or other tools. Students can complete work in a way that makes sense to them. They can use a digital tool like Seesaw, Flipgrid, or Google Classroom to collaborate and communicate with one another. They can use their creativity to respond to assignments or teacher prompts using tools like pic collage, Seesaw, Chatterpix, and more. Students can apply critical thinking by considering their digital footprint prior to sharing with the world, solving problems with a team, or deciding which digital tool works best for them when given a choice.img_0862default

The 4Cs

Blending technology into your lessons allows for opportunities for students to experience the 4Cs. Blended learning can consist of student choices in response to learning. Students need to think Critically (1) about the task at hand and the best way to Communicate (2) their learning with others. I have given students choices for Letterland phonics sorts to use either Seesaw or paper and pencil. My kindergarteners figured out which way worked best for them and stuck with that method. In my kindergarten and first grade classrooms, we use #BookSnaps to reflect on text reading. Students have a choice in how they respond to that text and are very Creative (3) in their text annotating using labels, drawing, and emojis to annotate the text. I encourage students to Collaborate (4) and work together on one device. You know the saying 2 heads are better than one. Well, it still holds true when kids are creating content using technology. They aren’t only sharing their learning but they are learning ways to work on a team. Because a blended learning environment encourages collaboration, we don’t need to be 1:1 with students to devices in order to have a blended environment. There are times in my classroom where we use 1:1 and times where only 4 devices get used and the kids work together.

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Access to multiple types of devices grows flexibility

I’ve heard people say they don’t like technology in the classroom because technology changes frequently and just when you get used to something there is something new out there. I love that technology changes all the time. It forces us to be flexible, a super important executive functioning skill. In my classroom (not by choice) I have 2 desktop computers, one laptop, 5 iPad 2s, 1 newer iPad, my teacher laptop, my old iPhone 6, and 2 of my personal devices I let kids use occasionally (a chromebook and an iPhone 8 plus), and because of BYOD we have various models of iPads and iPand minis. Soon, we are getting new chromebooks from the district. The variety of devices that my students have access too requires them to transfer skills to different types of operating systems and to problem solve when something doesn’t work. I have kids who prefer the desktop computers for one task, an iPad for another, and my old phone for another. We have that flexibility for them to find what works best for them.

Learning first Technology Second

It is important to remember that the learning always needs to come first. Technology should support the learning. It never comes first in my planning process. I start by looking at my standards and unpacking what that means for students. My next step is to decide how we will approach the standard and how it should break down for student learning. Sometimes technology fits in and amplifies the learning, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes my devices sit without being touched all day and sometimes we use them in every block. Sometimes I don’t plan for technology but my students find a way to amplify their own learning and voices during a lesson or learning experience using technology and clearly I have to allow it! Like I said at the top, a blended learning environment includes both technology AND “offline” learning. It is important to know your standards, know your kids, and plan appropriately.

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Learning through Genius Hour

Full Disclosure:

I tried Genius Hour in an effort to prove it couldn’t be done in kindergarten. That was 2 and a half years ago. I was wrong.

How I got into Genius Hour

I first heard about Genius Hour from my former principal, Dr. Sandy Chambers. She encouraged teachers to be innovative and to try Genius Hour in their classrooms. No strings attached. No expectations. No pressure. No risk. No reward. I did very little research on Genius Hour prior to my first attempt. All I knew is what Sandy told us – students choose their topics, they spend time researching their topic, they create something to share what they learned. So, I went with it so I could prove that it couldn’t be done in kindergarten.

My First Genius Hour

My first Genius Hour was chaotic. It was loud. It was confusing. The kids froze. I froze. But we didn’t stop. It was such a mess that I really don’t remember details. I just remember how excited they were each week and how proud they were of their final project. I couldn’t even tell you what their topics of choice were and I can guarantee that multiple kids changed topics every week. The process was there. The kids picked a topic. I taught them how to use Wonderopolis and Brain Pop Jr. to research. I got books from the library on their topics. The students spent some time with each resource and then they had the option to share their learning through a video on Seesaw or making a poster to share. Then they shared with the class. Start to finish the whole thing took about 3 weeks and we spent a few days each week working. Some days we worked for a half hour and somedays we worked for nearly 2 hours. As messy as it was, it was fun. I felt energized. But, I knew there had to be a better way. I also knew I was wrong. Genius Hour CAN be done in kindergarten.

Genius Hour Pase 2

The following year, we did 2 rounds of Genius Hour. One during the third quarter and one during the fourth quarter of the school year. I was more intentional about planning some mini-lessons prior to Genius Hour sessions. We had Genius Hour about once every 6 days because of our rotating schedule. I launched each round of Genius Hour with a mini-lesson about asking and writing questions. We identified the difference between right there questions and questions that lead to learning. Then students wrote a question on a sticky note and posted it on our wonder wall. The next session, we revisited those questions and students selected their topics and got into groups based on their topic. For the next few sessions, students used library books, Wonderopolis, Brain Pop Jr., Pebble Go, and Youtube Kids to complete their research. Then they made a video or poster to share their learning.

I was not intentional about taking notes as I worked with students. I did not teach them how to document their learning through research. And, I did not give them many choices for sharing. I did do more research on Genius Hour. I read blog posts, I participated in Twitter Chats, and I attended EdCamps. I spent time connecting with other teachers who used Genius Hour in their classroom. I also knew I had a lot of room for growth and could make this even better for my students.

First Grade Genius Hour

This is my third year exploring Genius Hour. I’m not an expert and I don’t think I’ll ever be. Each round of Genius Hour, I pick 1 think I want to improve on for myself as a facilitator and I focus my own research and work with students on that. The first round of Genius Hour this year, I was intentional about my mini-lessons and the order in which I taught tools, documenting, and sharing. The second round of Genius Hour, I focused on my own note-taking. I wrote anecdotal notes as I worked with students and groups. I looked for evidence of growth, standards they were hitting, and misunderstandings I could address. I’m in my third round of Genius Hour right now and I’m working on clearly connecting my students’ work and research to the curriculum and telling them how this big work is important to the work they must do at school. My next round of Genius Hour this year, I plan to focus on better ways for my students to share their work with the world and not just our classmates.

Why I’ll Always Set Aside Time for Student Interest Inquiries

I’m pretty sure the joy on their faces is all I need to remind me why I need to always have interest based inquiry in my classroom. These girls researched different slime recipes and created their own. It didn’t work, but one of them took it home and figured out how to fix it so it wasn’t so sticky. She’s my chemist.

I will always have interest based inquiry because it helps me build relationships with my students. I get to know them for more than their academic data. We have fun working together. I learn new things as I guide them through their own work. I get to model lifelong learning and curiosity for them and we get to practice learning and curiosity together.

And to throw some teacher jargon in the mix, I’ll always have interest based inquiry because:

  • 4Cs
  • 21st-century learning
  • blended learning
  • life skills
  • problem-solving
  • digital citizenship
  • student voice and choice
  • passion