Grade Contracts are a strategy I use to assess my students' progress towards mastery of defined sets of content and skill objectives and to provide feedback on their development at the end of each level in my blended learning class. Students review the mastery requirements for each level and decide whether they will pursue an "A," "B," "C," or "D" contract; in so doing, they understand and commit to what they must know and be able to do in order to earn the letter grade of the contracts they have chosen. Grade Contracts eliminate the superficiality of number grades on individual assignments and focus my students' attention on authentic demonstrations of mastery over time. This strategy also empowers my students to challenge themselves and to monitor and take responsibility for their own learning, which is an essential mindset shift in my largely self-paced class.
The leaderboard is a display of both academic and behavioral progress for my students. The results are tabulated separately in the academic and behavioral games. In the academic game, the focus is on the experience points earned by students in academic activities. Experience points in the academic game are only awarded to students once they have mastered an activity. Once they have mastered the activity, points are added to the leaderboard. We review the academic leaderboard and recognize individuals who have made it to the top or who have made significant progress in the class. For the leaderboard in the behavior game, I use Classcraft to display students' points. This display can be sorted by experience points, health points, or action points depending on what is the required view. From my experience, the two leaderboards help steer a cooperative sense of competition among a lot of my students. It also motivates them to continue learning and sharing. Although much of this is external motivation at the beginning of the year, I see a shift towards internal motivation in regards to behavior and academic progress as the year continues. Students are much more willing to learn for learning's sake instead of a prize or written/verbal recognition as they become more accustomed to these behavior and academic qualities. The academic leaderboard displays the rankings of students in all three of my earth science classes. The behavior game on Classcraft is solely based on the students in that particular period.
Voxer is an application I use in my classroom to incorporate verbal collaboration. Voxer is a walkie-talkie type app where teachers can assign students to groups, pose questions, and have students verbally discuss the questions with a virtual audience. When Voxer is being used by students, they are switching between verbal and written communication. Most groups will verbally respond to questions and other students' will type their answers. Voxer is a great application for connecting students virtually with students their own age with limited bandwidth use.
My classroom space is broken into five distinct areas based on students’ needs. The areas are named in accordance with the storyline in our academic game: (1) presentation area (also known as the shelter), (2) lounge area (the beach), (3) counter area (the lookout), (4) teacher area (crash site), and the (5) table area (the jungle). Each area was set up with a distinct vision in mind. The shelter was set-up with two futons and a coffee table all located around the SmartBoard at the front of the classroom. I envisioned this area as a place where student groups could share their learning and present content using their iPads and our Apple TV. The beach area was created to help those students who do better lounging on a couch or in a non-traditional chair while working. I wanted my room to represent the traditional as well as the “non-traditional” student. The lookout area was specifically set-up for students who enjoy to look outside and see nature as they work. It also works well for those who use scenery as a reset in an environment that is often controlled chaos. The crash site was created as a result of the storyline where all students became Plane Crash Survivors (PCSs). The name makes it okay to have a messy desk! It’s also used as a space to separate distracting students from the attention of others in the classroom. Finally, the table area was made for the more traditional student who likes to work at a table or desk or likes to have a hard surface to work on. Throughout class, students can be seen moving throughout the room in accordance with their needs as a learner at that particular moment. I feel the incorporation of the different areas of the classroom helps to build a culture of learning acceptance and risk. It opens up the classroom to being more than just a sit and get environment. It helps to personalize and shape students’ learning. See also Jessi's Overview Model.