Getting Started with Blended Learning
By Rachelle Dene Poth
There has been a lot of discussion about how to implement blended learning or how to “flip your classroom.” For some educators, the questions about blended and flipped learning seem to be mostly focused on defining blended learning and implementing it in the classroom. With so many diverse digital tools available, it can be challenging to figure out exactly where to start.
Fortunately, there are many resources and easy ways to educate yourself on this topic. Some of these resources include a diverse selection of books and blogs (such as the book Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker, Blended Learning in Action by Catlin R. Tucker, Jason T. Green and Tiffany Wycoff, and regular posts on Getting Smart, Edutopia and Teach Thought). Educators can also connect through members of their PLN, get involved in Twitter chats or by attending local and state edtech conferences, edcamps and other professional development experiences.
By taking some time and focusing on one of these resources, it becomes easier to figure out how to start by reading the examples, vignettes and taking advantage of the different templates, suggested tools and resources available. It is good to first understand the concept of blended learning and the options available for getting started, but I have found that sometimes it is more valuable to take a risk and try something on your own. We know that because all teachers, classrooms, and students are different, the outcome of any particular method or tool, will not always have the same benefits for each teacher, classroom or student, but it’s at least worth a try.
Some Choices for Getting Started
There are different models for implementing blended learning, and the method you ultimately decide to go with will vary depending on your classroom, content, and students. My recommendation is to try one method or one new tool and then take time to speak with students and reflect on your own. If you notice some positive changes, if these methods or tools are opening up new ways for you and the students to collaborate in class and lead to higher student engagement, then keep going and add on another step. If not, then use it as an opportunity to develop those relationships and learn more about your students and their needs. We need to make time to reflect, especially when getting started with something new.
3 Ideas for Blended or Flipped Learning
I have tried a variety of methods and tools to “blend” or “flip” my classroom, and here are a few which have worked very well in my experience. Some of these involved digital tools which have been used in creative or innovative ways sometimes thought up by the students. Each of these offers the benefit of opening up the time available and the spaces for where, when and how the learning occurs.
1. Interactive Video Lessons
Years ago, when I first heard about “flipped classrooms” I thought that meant assigning a video for students to watch outside of the classroom and then come back in to talk about it. It can be, as it was originally considered the traditional way of flipping the classroom, but we know there has to be some accountability for students and data for teachers, so it has to be more than just simply assigning the video. What tools can help us to understand if the students watched and what did they learn?
The benefits of having students watch videos or complete these video lessons outside of class are that we save the in-class time for discussions and peer collaboration, and the teacher can become more of a facilitator. A few tools which work well are EDpuzzle and PlayPosit, through which students interact with the video, and even using Nearpod with videos followed by questions and quizzes.
By having students respond to the questions placed in EDPuzzle or Playposit, they are held accountable for the content and can show what they have learned. Teachers now have instant feedback which provides a better understanding of student learning, and creates a way to provide even more personalized instruction. Even with Nearpod, as a student-paced lesson, teachers can see what the students do after viewing the video and can use this data to plan the next steps.
These tools have provided more engaging and authentic ways for students to learn. It enables students to move from learners to leaders, and from consumers to creators in the classroom. The purpose has been to find ways to empower students, to push them to drive their learning. When students have these leadership opportunities, to create and lead, they will feel more valued because of the meaningful work that they are doing.
Getting started is easy, as EDPuzzle, Nearpod and Playposit have free sample lessons to try first and then decide where to go from there.
2. Game-Based Learning
The different game-based learning tools available today open new ways to engage students in class but also to create some opportunities for students to learn at their own pace. So if you want students to simply play a game you create and practice beyond the school day, then try one of these familiar tools: Kahoot, Quizizz and Quizlet Live. Creating a game with any of these three apps is simple. Because there are already so many public Kahoot and Quizizz games, and Quizlet flashcards available to choose from, it is easy to simply create an account and try one that is ready to go. Another idea is to have students create something with one of these tools to share with the class. These are simple ways to differentiate homework by having students create something more personalized and beneficial for their own learning, which can then be shared with other students and classes.
Using these tools creates another opportunity to understand student needs and to expand the learning space of the classroom so that students can learn and practice the content whenever and wherever they want.
3. Keeping the discussion going after the bell rings
Have you ever wished the class period was a little bit longer, or you had more time or different ways to get students engaged in discussions? Fortunately, there are many digital tools available for having students brainstorm, discuss topics or even write reflections which can be accessed at any time and from any place. One versatile tool for this is Padlet, which is a “virtual wall” where teachers can post discussion questions and students can brainstorm ideas, curate project links and more. It can even be space for teachers to post steps in a flipped lesson, all in one centralized and easily accessible location. Students can even ask questions if needed, by commenting to each post. Audio is another new feature to Padlet, which is quite helpful for enhancing communication. It is a quick and easy way to connect students and expand where and when learning occurs.
Flipgrid is fun for having students discuss a topic, collaborate with other students from around the world, engage in some reflections or even speak with experts in different fields of work. Flipgrid has helped students to build confidence in speaking and in collaborating with their peers, both in the virtual and physical learning space.
Technology can offer so many benefits for students and teachers, especially those which are interactive and help to engage students, expand and “flatten the walls” of the classroom, offering students the opportunity to do more than just sit and learn. Using some of these tools to mix the traditional classroom with the online components, help students to become more actively involved, give them a voice and choice, and experience more authentic learning.
When we offer different learning opportunities, whether it is the “blended” form or a “hybrid” model, pushes students to do more than consume. They will begin to create, design and think critically, and develop the knowledge they need to be successful. One other goal is to support students as they learn to better self-assess and reflect, critical skills they will need for their future.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dene Poth has been teaching at Riverview High School in Pennsylvania for the past 21 years. Rachelle currently teaches Spanish and a STEAM course What’s nExT? In Emerging Technology. Rachelle is an attorney and has a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology. She was President-Elect of the Teacher Education Network and Communications Chair for the Mobile Learning Network and was selected as one of “20 to watch” by the NSBA and received the PAECT Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2017. At ISTE 2017 San Antonio, Rachelle received the Presidential Silver Award for Volunteer Service to Education. She is a regular blogger for Getting Smart and Kidblog. Find Rachelle regularly on Twitter @Rdene915.