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?

From Makerspace to Maker-classroom

My school created a large makerspace in our media center and technology lab 2 years ago. This year I decided to create my own mini makerspace in my classroom. I decided to have a makerspace because this year, I decided to shift my instruction to include more inquiry. We have done multiple PBLs (read more about that here) that include a build and STEM challenges. Our morning work is open-ended and includes our makerspace materials. My students have open access to our makerspace unless it is limited by the PBL build or STEM challenge.

A makerspace doesn’t need to be expensive and can include anything you can get your hands on. Our makerspace includes:

  • cardboard
  • paper towel/toilet paper tubes
  • tape
  • popsicle sticks
  • tooth picks
  • paper
  • tape
  • pipecleaners
  • reusable food containers (boxes, plastic containers, lids, etc)
  • legos
  • tape
  • magnetic connecting toys
  • playdough
  • dowels
  • k’nex
  • tape

A lot of what is in my makerspace was donated by families. At the beginning of the year, I put out a list of items that I wanted and asked for donations. I also mentioned that I would be happy to take some old toys they were ready to part with. One great way to build up your lego collection is to ask each student to bring in 5 bricks each year as part of their school supplies. They won’t miss just 5 bricks and if everyone does it, you easily end up with about 100 bricks a year.

The only thing in my makerspace that I have spent my own money on is playdough. It dries out quickly because we use it a lot. I know I can make my own, but I’m a little lazy. I would love for my students to spend a Genius Hour learning how to make it, but I haven’t had any takers yet.

Below is the makerspace shelf I set up at the beginning of this year. The book collection at the top (which has now grown) is there to inspire making, building, and problem solving. We re-read this books frequently. It is hard to keep this shelf organized and clean. I have some students who are really good at it and I try to remind them to tidy it and train their friends to help keep it clean.

I said at the beginning that I was building a mini makerspace this year. My makerspace has grown a mind of its own and now there are things stashed all over the classroom. I have a cabinet full of materials, a big box full of small boxes, a shelf full of supplies and games, our math manipulatives were added to our makerspace, and kids bring things from home to use for our makerspace. My whole room is now a makerspace. The decision to bring making into my classroom has inspired my students to be creative as they build. They come up with new ways to combine materials and are always asking questions. Which is EXACTLY what I wanted for them.

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Do you have a makerspace in your classroom? How do you organize it? How do you stock it? How has it changed your classroom culture?