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At the end of the day you’re another day older…

and another day better when it comes to blended learning!

cue “Les Miserables” music

I am now finished my summary of learning. It can be found here. It is actually just a little bit too long, so I totally don’t blame you if you don’t want to watch it. See the bullet points below:

  1. I have been teaching in a blended classroom long enough to get jaded about blended learning (especially after COVID-19)
  2. I needed this class more than anything to remind myself about how amazing an open mind can be
  3. I definitely had some instances where I was down on a few things (my #1 example is Jamboard)
  4. I found creating my course prototype to be the perfect medicine for this sour attitude of mine
  5. At the end of this class, I feel rejuvenated. I feel excited. I feel like I needed the reminder of why I enjoy teaching in a blended classroom to begin with

That basically sums it all up. Deep down, I love the opportunity that my division has given me to teach in a blended classroom with devices for all my students. But I think that there have been a lot of moments in the last 5 years that have sort of gotten me to be critical of a lot of aspects of theory vs. practice in a blended classroom. This was exacerbated by the reality of teaching through the pandemic and the rules and restrictions placed on teachers during the virtual period. All in all, this course reminded me of the things that I can do in my own classroom with my students. It took me back to a feeling that I had when I first started in my blended classroom.

Thank you to everyone in EC&I 834. Good luck to all!

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com
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The unit is complete…

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” 

Elie Wiesel
This quote is the motivation behind this unit

Now that my course prototype has been completed, and I am finished all the units, I am excited to go back to where I started and see how everything came to fruition. I definitely had some parts that I improved on, some parts that I kept, some parts that changed and evolved quite a bit, and some parts that I got rid of altogether. All in all, I think that the journey to where it is at right now has truly made me a more open blended educator (I even used Jamboard, so I must be more open…)

If you want to watch the video, do it below, or find it on YouTube by clicking here. If you don’t want to watch it, I won’t be offended.

But before I get into the main things that changed from my initial course profile, here is a breakdown of my course:

An introductory unit (lovingly titled “Social Justice FTW”)

I wanted this unit to focus on collaboration in a blended environment in an effort to get students thinking about social justice issues. I came up with two ways to do so (hopefully at least one works well).

It is here that you will find Jamboard. When thinking about how I wanted students to interact with each other in a collaborative brainstorming activity, Jamboard popped into my head immediately. Was that the Mr. Miyagi purpose of doing the tool reviews earlier in the semester? Either way, I actually really enjoy the way that this task turned out with the unlearn posters.

I also decided (maybe against my better judgement) to use forums. In an effort to try and make the forums more meaningful, I decided to give them eight questions and they get to choose which ones they want to answer. In this way, even though I am forcing them to answer and respond, I am hoping that the choice allows for a little deeper connection to the topics.

A multimedia persuasive presentation

By allowing choice in presentation style I am hoping that students will explore as many different ways to present as possible. They can do a slideshow, make an infographic, make a video, make a poster or pamphlet, record a song, do a combination. Really, whatever they want to do, I feel like we can make it work. By creating a rubric that also allows them to choose which indicators they want to be marked on, I feel like it also gives the opportunity to work at the project without the fear of how they will be marked. Lastly, I actively ask students to meet with me to discuss the rubric so that I can also support them with anything they will need (for example, if a student needs to use speech to text support, or something similar).

This is also the section where I went ham with hyperlinking webpages. I absolutely love that feature, and I definitely used it to try and make it easier on students who need support with the project.

An expository letter

The last task is all done individually (almost), and it is designed to encourage activism. They will be writing a letter to someone that they feel would be able to enact some sort of change. While each student will be writing their own letter, I also created a similar task to what we did in EC&I 834 when we peer-reviewed each other’s courses. In this aspect, it creates another level of collaboration. Students share their letters over Office 365, and they complete a checklist for each other.

The last part of the unit, after the letter has been submitted (possibly even sent), is to complete a reflection journal. This will lead to a class discussion that will take place in class, but can also be accessed through Microsoft Teams. My goal here was to create a flexible classroom for students that might not be able to make it into class.

And that’s the course…

Back to the original course profile, there are definitely some changes/omissions. Here are a few of my personal favourites:

No more “non-traditional artifact” – This is a glaring omission from my final course, but not necessarily something that I was sad to see go. As I was creating the multimedia presentation task, I realized that the task itself could possibly be a non-traditional artifact. In other words, I didn’t want to have students repeat assignments.

Students with accommodations – This was one of the biggest things that evolved for me along the way, and one of those things that I think shows my growth throughout the semester. As I was designing the tasks, I started recognizing that the idea of a rubric where students choose how they will be marked allows me to actually work with them and support them how they need to be supported. In other words, it gives me the opportunity to individualize the support that I give. Even with the peer review portion of the letter, I feel like having a checklist (as opposed to just feedback space) also allows all students to partake in this at the same level.

Traditional mixed with the blended – I feel like I balanced this super well… I am someone who has always valued in-class teaching a little more, and I think that my unit still shows that. However, I definitely expanded myself a little more and made an actual effort to create collaborative blended opportunities. If I am most proud of anything with this unit, that is the one.

Sorry for the longer post…

Good luck to everyone!

Some quality feedback

I loved this task… it really goes to show how great it can be to have peers review your work and offer some tips and tricks and suggestions. But also, it gives me the opportunity to take what other people did and use some stuff for my own course. In fact, I feel like I didn’t think about this before, but I definitely want to do something similar to this task in my mini unit that I am developing. Why not have my students offer feedback for each other?

I sort of already had a vision with what I want to do, and I want to acknowledge my own personal starting point advantage that I have in the fact that I can simply build this right into my own current course without having to learn a new system. I admire all my peers that are starting from scratch, building a new unit within an LMS that is also new to them. It will definitely create an amazing situation for growth, which, at the end of the day, is what we are all here for.

The feedback I received was all very helpful – I like to know especially if it is easy to use or not, and whether or not there will be some foresight into any potential issues that students would have. From what I gather, it all looks pretty easy to follow (I think my previous experience using Moodle with my classes has helped me sort of troubleshoot this ahead of time). But there is one thing that definitely lingers in my head…

Some of the feedback that came up was how does my course address students that may not have access to technology from home, or do not have a stable internet connection, or maybe do not use technology, etc. Aye! There’s the rub…

Long story short: It really doesn’t…

Now the next part is to decide how I want to move forward. In my head, my immediate answer is to just not really care too much. Because of the way this course is built, it shouldn’t be too hard to turn all of the tasks into paper copies. So if they need, they can do the work on paper if they want (isn’t it great to be able to offer choice?) In terms of the research aspect of the unit, the internet and online databases make it much easier to do the assignment, but there is still the old fashioned way: the library. For this specific topic, that asks students to address modern social issues, it may be harder to find books in a library to address it, but I’m sure we can find ways around it.

But there is a bigger issue. I have built online discussions in the course (including Jamboard and Forums), and those might make for a difficult go. These discussions are all sort of based around the starting point of the task where students brainstorm and get ideas, and not being a part of those might be tougher for students that can’t be access the course. It is definitely something for me to think about.

So while I did say my immediate thought is to not care, a little deeper thinking does show that this could potentially be an issue…

All in all, I am happy with where I am at right now, and looking forward to finishing this unit up.

Everyone else’s courses look great, by the way!

Collaboration and discussion for the students who miss out

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

If last year showed me anything it is the importance of collaboration and interactive in an ELA course. Moving to the virtual learning was one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do as a teacher (and I also think that I am pretty good with technology). The big thing for me was how we were going to be able to cover my final units when students struggled to be engaged (or did I struggle at engaging them???). I truly think that my strength as a teacher is my ability to facilitate classroom discussion and encourage collaborative learning, so when we went online this was definitely a bit of an underwhelming situation for me.

If I could go back in time, there are many things that I would like to do differently. I say “I would like…” because I think that what teachers were asked to do did not necessarily line up with the things that we wanted to do. I also want to add that we were not prepared for how quickly that transition went so we were definitely flying by the seat of our pants a little. With that said, I didn’t even really try to incorporate these elements of collaboration and discussion. And what I did learn is that the students were fully content to just sit quietly behind their screens (or not – if I’m being honest, sometimes I didn’t even know) quietly and just work through their own assignments. No wonder most of my students HATED online learning.

Taking a look at those three core principles definitely made me extremely critical of my own teaching in that environment:

  • idea generating: this is literally brainstorming, to collect the divergent thinking within a group;
  • idea organising: this is where learners compare, analyse and categorise the different ideas previously generated, again through discussion and argument;
  • intellectual convergence: the aim here is to reach a level of intellectual synthesis, understanding and consensus (including agreeing to disagree), usually through the joint construction of some artefact or piece of work, such as an essay or assignment.

Now these are very simple things, and I do it all the time in my face to face classrooms, even though I maybe have never phrased them as such. A great example would be giving each group a different news article, and then having them discuss the articles through different critical lenses. This is very typical for a high school ELA course. But not in the virtual world.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And here is where I know that past Rob would want to improve. Why not do this? This works so well in the classroom, why can’t it work in the digital world as well. This is a perfect and awesome lesson that you could do in breakout rooms, or in a forum (of course, keeping note of the points for how to develop meaningful online discussion…

So here is my plan…

In my course, I want to implement blended classroom discussions. This year still has not been a fully normal year. I have students who are still staying home and trying to just complete assignments by logging into the course page, finding the assignments, and completing them. This definitely shouts out to me as a correspondence course more than anything. I have this idea…

I want to get these students that are still at home involved in some meaningful discussion with the class. After fiddling around a bit with Jamboard, I thought that I might not have much use for it. But, I wonder if I could maybe do something where students can read articles from home and post some ideas about it. Then some people in class can respond to it. There might even be a Flipgrid possibility here where they can present their ideas, and other students can respond to it. I feel like there are some cool tidbits that we can explore. That examining of news articles through critical lenses thing I was talking about before could easily transfer here. In my head, this sounds like a pretty nifty idea, but I might have to troubleshoot it a bit.

I am building my course in Moodle, and there is definitely a forum function in it, but I am definitely hesitant to do those forums (fully aware of my negative bias against forums here). I also wonder, if this could also be a discussion with the students to see what they would want to do.

We shall see…..

A little jam session

So I just tried Jamboard out – something that other people have used in presentations, and I have interacted with. I have always thought it is pretty nifty, and something that I think I would use in my class. Now was a great time to try it out.

It’s…. not bad. I like it. I do. But it absolutely is not a game changer for me. I think there is a lot of potential for it. If I was someone who had embraced Jamboard right from the beginning of the school year and actively found ways to do everything through it, then I might have more use for it.

I ended up sharing my Jam with one of my colleagues and having them kind of try to do stuff in it. This person often describes themselves as “technologically incompetent” and they did just fine with it (with some of my guidance). This is good news, I suppose. The big problem for me is that I found that Jamboard sort of just serves as a substitution for things that I already use. In other words, I don’t necessarily think Jamboard is bad, and I do encourage people to use it if they are looking for some interesting ways to spur student collaboration. But for me, it didn’t offer me any sort of game-changer. I think it will be a pass.

Some ideas that I worked with:

Brainstorming – gathering and colour-coding ideas is pretty simple here

Graphic Organizers – with collaborative projects, I think you can definitely organize some things with your group quite easily (I instantly thought about using it to breakdown character traits)

Visual Graphics– you can definitely create some good visual aids to help with some concepts (maybe something like mindmaps)

I definitely did not spend as much time on it as I could have, and I am certain that there are way more things that you can do with it. With that said, I don’t think that Jamboard has as much as it could have.  I just wish there were a few more things to manipulate and a little more variety when it comes to customizing the board.

If you have tried it and like it, please let me know how I am wrong!

A new assignment, a new opportunity

I did not have to spend a lot of time figuring out what I was going to be doing for my course development. I always am looking for ways to help my students become better citizens of our world. This is a perfect opportunity

The thing is, I already truly believe that technology offers so many opportunities for young people, as long as they can learn to navigate the crappy parts of it (I don’t want to name anything specific here for fear of being divisive).

Regardless, I think that when we combine the idea of making the world a better place with technology that can easily spread a message, we have the potential to make a really big difference. My idea for development here is to take my grade 9 ELA class and develop an inquiry unit based around social justice. I think this is a good approach as it allows students to attack the inequalities that they see around them. It includes writing a letter (or e-mail, or blog, etc.), creating a multimedia presentation (or video doc, etc.) and a non-traditional artifact (something they want to do) in order to share the knowledge that they discover.

You can find the course profile here. I am excited to develop more about this.

When we see the value in things, we are willing to put the time in…

If we don’t see the value, we won’t.

For the last 4 years of my teaching career I have been a part of the Connected Educator program with Regina Catholic School Divisions, meaning I have a class set of laptops. Because of this, I have been trying to always push myself a little more when it comes to using technology. This isn’t always easy, but I do think it is important. I think of how much I have grown as a teacher and how I use my devices in my own classroom. In my experience, I have found there to be

THREE Major Challenges for Blended Educators

  1. Growth opportunities for teachers
  2. Rapid advancement in technology
  3. Fighting the current system

Growth Opportunities

As I’m sure most teachers have already heard, simply using devices is not enough, and students and teachers alike must learn how “meaningful” (that ironic word that usually means nothing) technology use can lead to deeper levels of understanding, and in turn, a more successful educational experience. But the thing is, this is hard. Teachers spend four years, along with multiple internships, to learn how to effectively do their job. Yet, the current expectation seems to be that teachers just implement digital media in their class with little to no training. It truly can be a daunting task. This leads to a lot of teachers not even wanting to try it out. This pandemic can be a tremendous learning experience. Just look at how many people were able to become very proficient with technology. This, of course is a combination of things. First of all, the time and effort was put in my divisions to help teachers prepare, because divisions saw the value in it. But also, teachers saw that value in it, as well. And because everyone was willing to value it, so it became valued. Both divisions and teachers need to be willing to put the time and effort into this, or else what is the point?

Rapid Advancement in Technology

Now the next issue. It seems like every year there is something new to learn, and that makes it difficult as well. It seems like I just put in so much time to learn one thing, only for a new thing to replace it. From colleagues, I hear this complaint quite often, and I think I have only recently come to a solution. For me, this was something that I sort of just came to terms with. There will always be something new, and I will not be able to be the expert of it all. But why can’t I keep doing me? And others can keep doing them. In this way, I think I was able to make a huge step forward. This not only benefitted me, and my class, but also my colleagues. By everyone being able to be the master of their own domain (not in the Seinfeld way…), it also created a community where sharing what we know became a byproduct. I have led sessions on what I do, and I have listened to others share what they do. Even though I said that this is one of the common challenges of blended learning, with the right conditions, this is ACTUALLY a strength. Collaborate with your colleagues, collaborate with your students, collaborate with your division, and you will have an effective way to overcome the issue of rapidly developing technological advancements.

Fighting the current system

Here is the big one. Why are we teaching? Ask that question to a hundred different teachers and you’re going to get a lot of different answers. If I’m being honest, as a high school teacher, the answer that is suggested (maybe not specifically said out loud) is to get kids their high school diplomas). As long as grad rates are up, we’re good.

Because of this, a lot of people see spending a lot of time trying to teach yourself and your students how to be proficient with technology a colossal waste of time. This is where I want to reference the title of this blog. When we see the value in things, we are willing to put the time in. In other words, there may need to be a shift in the way that teachers are shown the benefits of such implementations; without this shift, it will remain difficult to develop a rationale for putting in the extra work to do so. Consequently, teachers will continue to use a supplementary approach to implementing digital media as opposed to embracing a shift toward a learner-centered classroom. And that is kind of the goal with a blended learning approach.

What do you think?

That’s a Wrap

Cheers, Beverage, Drink Booze, Root Beer

You can see the initial idea for this project here.

WOW – I can’t believe that I am finally finished my curriculum support document. Please take a look at the guide that I made: DIGITAL MEDIA IN SECONDARY ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS. And reading the initial idea of this project, I feel like I kept it pretty similar to the original conception. While it evolved a little, it is nothing compared to the wandering journey that some of my classmates took. I’m happy about that – I knew this was something that I felt was important and I’m glad it stuck.

The idea for this project seems like it came to me years ago. But in only four months I was able to pull this together. What is really interesting is as I was doing my final edit, I couldn’t help but notice how much little sprinkles from each class topic just happened to make their way into the final product. There are mentions of generational gaps, and digital citizenship, and fake news, and moral and ethical implications. The most surprising thing about this is that I feel like it wasn’t intentional, and it just sort of happened. I guess that’s how a course like this goes.

Questions, Demand, Doubts, Psychology
I don’t know how… it just works!

Summary:

The goal of this document is to support secondary English Language Arts teachers in assessing and using technological tools and digital media within their own classes.

The document is organized as such:

  1. Essential Skills for 21st Century Education
  2. Frameworks for Assessing Technological Integration and Pedagogy
  3. Connections to Curriculum
  4. Resource Suggestions

This document takes an assumption that many educators are already comfortable with their curricular area, but may not be comfortable with how digital media can enhance it. The hope is that by developing a thorough understanding of the essential skills for 21st century education, and different frameworks for assessing ones own practice, an understanding for how technology and curriculum can work hand in hand to enhance an educational experience will begin to develop. Who knows, they might even begin to value digital media….

Throughout the development, there was one moment that sticks out as an integral moment in terms of how my project became the final product that it became. As stated in this blog post, I knew that I wanted to emphasize choice in frameworks and choice in activities. I think I was very successful in doing so.

The whole process of making this document was very humbling. As I was creating my suggestions for teachers, I kept thinking to myself how I only have this idea because someone else supported me along the way. I would not be where I am today if it were not for the colleagues and other professionals that I have had the amazing fortune of collaborating with. But hey, that’s what teachers do. We share with each other so that we can better share with our students. And that is my end goal with this document. I hope this document supports you in the way that you need.

PS – If any of you are not ELA teachers, this document might have a few gems for you to pull out.

Teaching in a Dangerous Time

(Sung to the tune of Bruce Cockburn)

As teachers, we face constant disruptions and annoyances. While we no longer deal with the usual annoyances, the huge disruption caused by this global pandemic is unlike anything that we have ever seen. As of this writing, nearly 190 countries have closed schools and we have no clue how long this is going to last. And in the frantic rush to provide distance education for all of our students, we find that there is a new annoyance that hits us. While I am not trying to say that copyright and privacy laws should be completely ignored, I have found that it is something that is annoying me more than ever these days. While I am working super hard to provide my students with quality learning opportunities, I keep finding that I am constantly questioning if my procedures are as ethical as they need to be given the circumstances. And it has got me a bit annoyed… mostly because I feel like I just want to do what I feel is the best way to handle this situation, and it may not be the case. One of those “more ya know, less ya know” type of things…

Education - Creative Commons | When using this photo, please… | Flickr
Look how much fun we can have…

My first question was whether or not my platform for delivery was a good choice. Interesting side note – I use Moodle on a daily basis within a blended learning environment, but it took me until this pandemic to actually do some research into the privacy of this platform. Through my research, I have found a lot of information that both supports AND brings into question the security of Moodle. However, my school division does a good job of updating and securing the information. At the end of the day, while I did come across some aspects of ways that Moodle can get hacked, I think that for a learning platform, it does a great job of supporting student privacy and educational data.

By the way, I did come across a pretty awesome list of distance learning options published by UNESCO. There are so many options out there, and that also brings to light another issue. How do you know which one to choose? Are you going to research all of them? If you do, you might find some issues like with Google or Class Dojo. And while these companies all have privacy policies, I guess it begs the question why they need the info to begin with. At the end of the day, I learned a lot about these platforms that we use, and their consequences. But I don’t have any answers for what is best. Sorry. It’s just definitely worth the discussion. No solution is going to be perfect, and it is super important for educators to use their best judgment. That includes being well-educated on the topic. For me, it is important to consider what is best for out students when planning for equitable and accessible education during these times.

Who knows?

That takes me to my next new annoying thing – although I think I am doing a good job of it, it’s one of those things I never had to worry about in my blended classroom. The issue of copyright and using works within my online format. It was so easy, pulling out my class set of anthologies, and reading stories out of there. Am I allowed to make a PDF copy of a short story available for my students? (Spoiler alert: YES!!… I think…) I even did a long search on the internet to see if it was okay for me to tell my students to watch a movie of their choice for an assignment. (I never did get a solid answer, but my common sense says yes).

But that is where I get annoyed with the copyright things. Sometimes my common sense is actually incorrect. I know that these laws are important – it also gives me a perfect opportunity to set a precedent for my students in terms of digital citizenship. But sometimes being a good citizen is hard (I know I’m complaining and ranting here – poor me!) In this situation, I have spent way more time looking things up to make sure that I am following the right rules than ever before. Like I said, this has became one of those “more ya know, less ya know” things.

Ha! I put this here just to make you smile 🙂

On the bright side, this whole situation has given me so much to work with in terms of my major project. I feel super fortunate that I happened to be taking this class during the most unprecedented educational situation of my life. Quite the fortunate stroke of serendipity.

How have you been handling the transition into digital platforms? Do you share some of the things I talk (complain) about?

PS Thanks to Curtis for sharing that Copyright Matters document!

Digital Literacy: Keeping Us Sane in Insane Times

So here we are – a time that I have never seen or even thought would be possible in my lifetime. I have been in my home, leaving only to get groceries for myself, my mother, and my grandfather, for the last five days. I have cleaned every single room in my house (I am too scared to start the garage) and all I want to do is to go out with my friends and have a nice cold beer. But I can’t…

As someone who has always been a control freak, I am not sure if I have ever felt such a lack of control in my entire life. The pandemic has really made me take a step back and allow the world to just tell me what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. The first week was super stressful and frustrating; but now, I am starting to appreciate the chill out. This is completely unprecedented – so why am I trying to control things as if I knew any sort of possible outcome?

And, in all honesty, I think this is one of those situations where I am seeing so much lemonade being made out of the lemons that we are being given. The speed in which this disease spread and escalated was crazy. As a country, we have shut down and that can potentially lead to some negative aspects. However, one thing that I learned through this situation is how much my own digital literacy has kept me sane through it all.

The rollout…

I am an extrovert. Plain and simple, I am someone who not only loves to be around others, but I crave it as well. Full disclosure: I also used to be the type of person who thought that creating a Google Hangouts room to “hangout” was dumb. Why would we set up a Twitch stream to play Jackbox games when we can just go over to somebody’s house? (As an additional benefit, I learn more about the media I use: I have recently found out that Mixer is actually a better stream than Twitch – less latency.) I have never connected more with people – friends, family, former coworkers – than I have in the last week. All of this is possible because of my own digital literacy. I have even been teaching my friends how easy some of these things are. And I will be the first to admit that I would be going INSANE if these were not options for me.

Here’s the point: This virus has been a horrifying thing to happen to us, but it has also shown us a lot about our own society. Things we do well. Things we don’t. Things we NEED to do better. And while I will not comment on what I think about the Sask Government’s approach to education through this pandemic, I will say that our society is very much equipped to do a lot in a time like this. I see it in our options, but I also see this in the way that so many people are willing to help out any way that they can (just check out any social media platform). Our digital world has given people a huge amount of freedom during a time like this that didn’t exist even fifteen years ago. One of the best parts is that people who were originally closed off from learning these things are more open to learning them now.

Source – I love this image. Are we going to go back to the way we were, or learn for the future?

So moving forward, we can go back to the way we were, or we can learn from this situation. Even though I would say that I was relatively digitally literate before, my appreciation has grown; I have learned new things and have been way more open to trying more. I also look at this situation as a prime example for those who didn’t want to learn about digital media. How much better was your time spent in quarantine after learning some of these tools? The English teacher in me wants this blog to serve as a symbol for all the things that our society should be able to learn from an event like this. But I guess we can just end it at our digital mindsets…