Sunday, April 28, 2013

PLE Week 3 - Natural Differentiation

After a fun weekend with the in-laws, I realized I never blogged my reflection about how the week went in my Personalized learning class.  I'll be keeping this post short.

First, the biggest thing that happened this week is that, for the first time, I can say that all students finally "got it".  Now, we are 3 weeks in, so they are considerably behind the 8 ball.  However, looking on the flip side - this is a group of students that other teachers typically struggle with.  If I had students who didn't want to work or otherwise were slowing things down, I'd have the entire class behind.  However, because of this model, natural differentiation occurred.

Those that can work on their own can just go with minimal input from me.  Many others in the middle will ask occasional questions, but they work with each other a lot. Then there are the students who need more support or tend to be lacking work ethic in class.  I've been able to really focus my efforts on those students while not sacrificing the rate at which the top learners want to go.  Thankfully, because of social pressure, sudden awareness, or my the occasional check in with me, those that haven't done much yet are finally picking up the pace.

We only have a little over 5 weeks left.  Some students may struggle to reach the 33 standards mastered to pass.  However, they have a clear goal - they know exactly what is expected and exactly what is needed.  The only difference is, they need to do 100% work on 66% of the items, so at least I can say that what they can done they did well. I personally feel like that is a lot better than getting 66% done on 100% of the items.

I know I need to do a better job marketing the resources, and starting up the class. I feel some students still don't realize the power of the tutorials that are available.  Others don't want to use them, so I'm fighting students who are schooled in how school has always been run.  Who would have thought they'd want to hear me drone on?

Looking ahead, I really need to solidify my incentive system.  This is a key component that could really fortify the success of this learning environment going forward.  I also want to do some group activities, but with each student working on something differently, it would have to be something that is completely worth their while.  I'm toying with the idea of using a Challenge Standard as the basis for the class activity, which by the end, all students could hopefully demonstrate mastery. This could then count towards their overall total, and therefore no students' time would be wasted.

As I read the blog back, I realize this was anything but short.  I guess when you are passionate and excited about something, the words don't want to stop.  I hope this continues to go well, that I can continue to improve it from what I've learned, and that I will have strong data that backs up the effectiveness moving forward.

Friday, April 19, 2013

PLE Week 2 - Always learning

After another exciting week, I can say I've learned a lot more about how I want to run this class.  As the previous blog post had stated, I had just begun an adventure in personalized learning with a 7th grade Computer Applications course.  It could be completed entirely online with no intervention from me, or with a strong amount of one on one student work.  Essentially, this class format is a way to "shrink" the class size into manageable portions.  Since I believe I am once again using too many words to describe this, I should go on with the recap!

Biggest improvements this week:  My Big Campus Bundle, Mini-sessions.
1.  The My Big Campus Bundle.  This is something I have been looking to create for a while, and finally completed it in time for Friday.  If you haven't used My Big Campus before, it is an online Learning Management System for schools.  If you have used Edmodo, I find them very similar.  A bundle is a place that you can group a bunch of materials and text in one single location, easily organized and assembled.  Perhaps the greatest asset of a bundle is the ability to share it easily across the board.

So why was this bundle so important?  It allowed me to match up the resources I had available with the 50 - required standards that I want students to meet.  This serves two major purposes.  First - the students who are working mostly are their own have a much more streamlined process, instead of looking through folders and watching several videos trying to find the resources that match what they want to do. I understand that trial and error is a very real world skill when learning something, but I do have to understand they are in 7th grade and haven't experienced a class among the likes of this ever.  Secondly, I envision our Computer Apps class being completely integrated across the curriculum at some point. I would hope this means I'd be involved in team teaching, but if not, there is a computer apps "crash course" that students can take to get the knowledge.

2.  Mini-sessions.  With some advice from others, and some personal musings, I started doing mini-sessions this week.  Instead of planning full on instructional sessions like I have done in the past, I offer a short 5 minute mini session each day on some of the standards.  I will go through 1-50 over the next couple of weeks, leaving the last couple of weeks for student requested mini-sessions.  Basically, I just announce I will be doing a mini session, and on what.  Then, the students who are interested simply come on back to my station and I teach a small group.

Needs improvement:  Students lagging, lack of tech to support the framework.
1.  Students lagging is becoming a slight issue.  Thankfully, at this point, it appears that each student is finally grasping the concept after two weeks and are settling in to complete standards.  However, most started with the standards they already knew, and are struggling with the new ones.  They don't like the idea of having to watch a tutorial - they want it spoon fed.  Once again, it is such a departure from business as usual for a middle schooler, so it is understandable.  However, these are good students who are struggling with that.  Those that typically lag behind I believe are having a more difficult time in this setting.  Based on the openness, some students aren't utilizing their time as well as they should be. I know I need to be more forceful and interject assignments for them just to put them in a position to be successful.

2. Lack of tech is a surprising issue. I have a computer lab. We have unfiltered access to the tools on the computer we need.  However, a big component of this class was to make screencasts. I did not anticipate the amount of students who wanted to voice over their screencasts. My simple expectation is they could just use it as a show me. The above and beyond students want to make it awesome. However, I have access to only a three or four working microphones out of a class of 26. Even if all students wanted to go this route, they couldn't, because of what I lack. I do want to continue this format in the future, and possibly expand to other courses that I teach.  Therefore, I know I need to make an investment in this area.

Overall, I am really happy with the progress.  This weekend will be a busy one, as I need to grade 40 research papers, in addition to checking through the student online portfolios to update my master spreadsheet.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to drop them in the comments!  Thank you for reading!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

First Week in a Personalized Learning Environment.

Whew!  Made it to the weekend, and finally getting an opportunity to put my thoughts together on just what transpired this week in my classroom.

If you read my previous blog post, I wrote about my re-branding of 7th Grade Computer Applications into a more personalized learning environment, using a slew of tutorials and a hefty amount of student choice in the process.  The only real requirement is that they master at least 50 different skills I have identified, and they need to provide evidence of this on a Google Site they created for an eportfolio.  If you can to check it out, all of the portfolios can be found here at this Symbaloo page: (EDIT:  Sites aren't set to be shared outside of our domain currently.  Will repost when they are available!)

So how did the week go?  Well, we spent the first three days mainly setting things up.  I needed to make sure they understood the class concept, knew how to do screencasts and screenshots, and were able to set up their eportfolios.  The most awesome thing happened during this - students asked a lot of great questions. It was not my intention to be vague. If anything, I thought I was being as clear as possible. But in my efforts for clarity, I had somehow activated their inquiry, and had an unbelievable discussion where the students questioned guided the entire conversation, and really led to a better understanding of just exactly what I wanted them to accomplish this term.

Thursday and Friday...hectic.  The only word that can really describe the experience.  Running around the classroom, attending to the needs of 26 different students working on potentially different products in 26 different ways.  Technical issues, students off task, and a student who missed the last two days of class and was several words past lost.  Needless to say, hectic is a good word to sum it all up.  We set up a system where, if students were stuck with a question and I was involved with another, they would write the question on the board under the "need to know" heading.

After the first week, some students have knocked out several standards, well others have, well, "misused" their time.  My goal is to keep encouraging them along the way and hopefully they'll come along for the ride before it is too late.   The assessment side of this will also be quite crazy as it relates to these standards.  My focus is mastery.  You either can do it or you can't.  So I need to regularly be perusing all 26 of these portfolios and be giving feedback on which standards I don't think they mastered yet.  I expect some gnashing of teeth when this occurs, but ultimately its a free redo with no recourse in the way of lost points. What a deal!

This is quite an undertaking I am finding, but I believe it is the way we need to go.  Now, schools that typically do this have a computer program to guide the students.  For this, the students have my materials, resources, instruction, support, and assessment.  If I were to do this with all my classes, I might go crazy. However, seeing the students getting into the material, excited to share and try new things, for a class like computer applications that can get very repetitive is awesome.  I am happy I took the plunge and the risk to make this happen.  Will they retain the material better? I would normally say I hope say, but according to the very famous cone of learning by Edgar Dale, students remember 90% of what they teach. And right now, that is what they are all doing.  Look back next week for more reflection on this!  Any feedback or comments would be greatly appreciated!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Blending 7th Grade Computer Applications

In my second year of teaching, I have felt a lot more comfortable making changes to courses and taking risks.  Not to leave the year without doing something really crazy, I've decided to do a complete redesign of my 7th Grade Computer Applications class, just in time for 4th term.  So what are some of the changes in store?

Generally, the content won't be changing much.  Students will still be learning the same types of skills relating to Microsoft Office, using a computer, Google Drive, and other online applications.  The biggest change will deal with how the students receive the content and demonstrate mastery.

The main focus will be on mastery.  I pulled out 50 "standards" that I would want students to demonstrate mastery in.  Students would then need to discover resources (many of which I provide in our My Big Campus page) to learn the content, and then decide how they will demonstrate the mastery.  They can do projects that connect to other classes, the school, their personal passions, or the community. Otherwise, they can use screenshots and/or screencasts to demonstrate their mastery.  We will develop a rubric as a class that determines just what mastery looks like.

My goal will be to schedule "conferences" with students once a week to see where they are at with their projects, provide assistance, and discuss their work skills (soft skills) as they relate to their work thus far.  These conferences will be part of the overall culture of the class, and a routine which I hope allows students equal time with me.  I haven't ruled out doing mini-seminars for material that students really struggle with.

For those students that are gifted, or the real go-getters, there are 25 additional standards I looked at that I thought would be important for students to achieve, but go above what I've typically had students do in my class.

Personalized learning is something I feel very strongly about.  I've struggled when I have students that need a lot of support alongside students who are ready for me.  My hope is that this new format will be a great way to differentiate learning among all students.  I truly believe that a student is better off being a master at 80% of the content, then achieving 80% on all the content.  Stay tuned for more updates and reflections about my bold move to truly blended, somewhat flipped, personalized, and standards-based learning.