When I embarked on this exploratory journey toward the concept of Multi-Classroom Leadership, some pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall faster into place than others.
I knew the six teachers in my pods would want support and coaching. I even learned this year how to provide feedback live while in the room with them. I also knew I needed to reach students directly. I wanted to create a structure allowing me to respond to their needs during their online learning time. That is how the math genius bar was born.
Another question was much harder to answer: How could we also expand the impact of great teaching to 800 students learning online?
This question was critical but it wasn’t just a question for me to answer. To support our Blended Learning implementation in 6th and 7th grade math, we also created two Blended Learning Teacher positions. The idea was to give these two (awesome) teachers more planning time (too little they would probably say) and support (enough I hope) so that they can find and create online content relevant to all our students’ needs while continuing to teach their 130 students every day: quite a challenge!
At the beginning of the year, the three of us started from an almost blank canvas. We knew we had a good resource in Compass Learning Odyssey. We also knew we wanted to use rotation models as we had 1 computer for every 2 students on our teams. We also liked how these models were allowing us to differentiate our instruction and work with small groups at a time. Everything else was left to build from the ground up for our two grade levels, which at Ranson IB means 800 students. It was both an exciting and daunting task.
Far from me is the idea that we have it all figured out by now. Every single day we are learning new ways we can make improvements for our students. Three tools have however become irreplaceable for us in less than six months: An ipad, a stylus and a whiteboard app.
First, what are whiteboard apps?
For those of you unfamiliar with the likes of Showme and Educreations, whiteboard apps allow teachers and students to record presentations with a touch screen and a stylus (or your finger if you write better than I do). Imagine being able to record your teaching while drawing on the screen of your tablet as if it were the whiteboard of your classroom. Imagine being able to send the link to this presentation to all of your students in a second through Edmodo or a blog. This is what these fantastic free apps allow you to do. Personally I have finally opted for Educreations for its user-friendly interface and the fact that you can also use it in a web browser (CMS teachers, let’s put those HP Revolves to work!) Now the most important question remains: What in the world do we do with these apps and how can it impact Blended Learning on such a large scale?
How do we use them in our Blended Learning models?
Teachers have been blogging for years about these whiteboard apps and their power in a flipped classroom in particular. What we have discovered this year is how these apps can help a large Blended Learning program like ours be more responsive to student needs by expanding the impact of great teaching every single day. Here are 5 key applications that have transformed the way our scholars learn as well as our collaboration process:
1. To flip from within : Through our rotations, we often want our scholars to explore new content on their own before meeting with their teachers as a small group. It enables our teachers to be more questioners than tellers and our students to move to the application stage faster. Here is a flipped lesson on scale drawings:
2. To create our own scaffolded activities: Every week, our team thoroughly evaluates existing online activities to determine the best lesson plans we can put together for our students learning online. Often, we end up creating our own activities with Educreations or Showme because we can scaffold and teach them exactly the way we want. Of course we had to model for our students how to best use these interactive activities. At first, some of them were hitting play and watching them through. Now the huge majority of our students use them at the pace that suits them. They pause them to solve problems on their own and resume watching to check that they are on the right path. Here is an example of a practice activity on solving proportions:
3. To offer differentiated instruction “a la carte”: We all know this feeling. We start teaching a new lesson and quickly realize half the group gets it and is ready to be challenged more while the other half needs more guided practice. Previously, it was hard not to ask one group to wait or the other one to rush. Now, we create video podcasts every week around key concepts of our curriculum but at different levels of scaffolding and at different paces. This way, when our students are online, we can help them choose the pace and level that is right for them at a given time. For example, here are two versions of division of fractions in 6th grade:
We also work on building a growth mindset in all our scholars so that they will keep challenging themselves and not become complacent during both their online and small group learning time. In other words, start at the level and pace that feels right now but keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
4. To share teaching methods within the team: By sharing all these resources prior to the teaching of a new concept, we can help the entire team preview what’s to come and align their expectations and teaching methods with each other. Imagine the impact it can have on a brand new teacher or somebody who has never taught math before! This leads us to our final point…
5. To better support substitute teachers: For several weeks, we had a substitute in one of our 7th grade math classes and he had no experience teaching math at this level. I was able to record an Educreations presentation for his class every day, which allowed him to become more familiar with the content before teaching it. At times, he would even play the video for the whole class if he was unsure of an answer or an explanation. Could this become a sustainable way to support our substitute teachers?
Today, after a semester of experimentation with these whiteboard apps, I can’t imagine going back to the days you always had to be near your classroom whiteboard to teach. Often, as I walk through our building now, students stop me to give me feedback on one of these online lessons: “The challenge problem yesterday was a bit too easy, make it harder next time!… You have got to work on this handwriting Mr. B.!… I loved the video today, it really helped me.” I walk away smiling, thinking that we are getting closer every day to reaching all our students through different mediums.
Then the smile grows bigger as I remember what my dad would tell me every day when I was a student in his 3rd grade class: “Romain, you must work on your handwriting…” I now officially have 800 reasons to do it.