Sunday, April 1, 2012

Getting Excited Over Blended Learning

Blended Learning is what they're calling it this week.  In my brain, I call it one to one.  All we really mean by it is students with computers. And it's happening in my district next year!

I'm so excited!

Kids in grades 6-12 will get laptops.  So, instead of scheduling lab time for my kiddos, I can rely on having access to that technology for them every day in my classroom.

I've been working from a blended learning mindset for a while now.  The things we are blending are meatspace and cyberspace. The kids still come to me and see me and interact with me and with each other in real time and space, but a lot of what we do is additionally available online in some format: a resource list in a classroom website, an online option to turn in work via moodle or google docs, a recommended application for i-devices of one sort or another.

There are a lot of nay-sayers around. People who spend a lot of time and energy focused on what can go wrong and how kids can abuse it. 

I'm becoming a zealot for it.

I don't think this is just because I love technology so much myself. I think it's just a recognition of how people work with information in the twenty-first century.

Once upon a time, I had to memorize a lot of data. Now what matters is what I do with that data, and if I can organize it in helpful ways.  Can I find what I need to know when I need it and apply it? Of course, memory is still part of that . . .and some things do need to be able to be done without research or reference in order to be efficient. But that's another topic altogether.

And, yes, kids will try to use it to be lazy and to cheat. Some kids will try that no matter what format you present the learning material in. They are not invested in our system.  That's a different struggle entirely--getting buy-in from the disenfranchised. If I could solve that one for every child, I'd be Teacher of the Universe!  All I can do is try to win them over, one child at a time.

And when I look at blended learning through that lens, all I see are possiblities.

Differentiation, for example. Differentiation is a big buzzword in education these days. Basically, it has to do without providing different ways to access information and interact with it based on the strengths and abilities of the kids.  That might mean providing materials in a language other than English, or written in a lower-reading-level of English or not as written words at all, but as a video or audio file. It means that kids are allowed to show what they know in a variety of ways.

I struggle with managing this in the classroom. There are so many varying needs and abilities in any one middle school class (I teach 6th, 7th and 8th grade Spanish). 

But in a blended learning environment, I can keep a variety of materials "on hand" digitally and share different ones with different kids with a couple of clicks. I can change my mind in the middle of class and give a kid different materials.  I can give quick assessments for a big picture of class comprehension or a small picture of one student's comprehension.

So bring on the blender.  Let's see what we can make with this baby!

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