Jeff Astor

Jeff Astor
HS Chemistry
27 Strategies
Cindy and Bill Simon Technology Academy High School
Los Angeles, CA
Student Environment:
Urban
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Blended Learning Model Overviews

Jeff's Model Overview

Jeff's Model Overview

I would describe my classroom model as a tweak on a flex model of instruction. I start each class period by giving students a problem I want them to solve, such as “How would you use the gas laws to explain how popcorn pops?” Students then have the opportunity to create their own learning paths by accessing a variety of curated online and offline resources and activities. I determine if a student has achieved mastery on a given concept by evaluating the online and offline work products they have produced during class and by administering more traditional assessments. However, if a student fails an assessment, he or she can always go back and re-take it. My classroom is 1:1 with a mix of MacBooks and iPads, which have become the vehicle for my students to move at their own pace through difficult chemistry content.

Number of Students: ~ 36 students/period

Number of Adults: one teacher

Length of Class Period/Learning Time: 120 minutes (M, T, Th, F); 45 minutes (W)

Digital Content/Ed Tech Tools Used on a Regular Basis: CK-12 BrainGenie; Google Apps for Education; eduCanon; Formative; YouTube; Screencast-O-Matic; Wikispaces; Weebly; Versal; Common Curriculum

Hardware Used on a Regular Basis: MacBook computers (1:1); 2nd Generation iPads; SMARTboard; Surface Pro 3 (for teacher)

Key Features: competency-based; content in multiple formats; problem-based; gamification; student agency

Stakeholder Collaboration

Jeff's Approach to Collaboration & Communication

Jeff's Approach to Collaboration & Communication

Communicating and collaborating with both colleagues and students' families is crucial in a blended environment. This is especially true if a teacher is doing something that looks very different from other teachers at his school. Check out how Jeff communicates and collaborates with both his colleagues at school and his students' families and how his methods of communication and collaboration have evolved over time.

Learning Apps

Jeff's Digital Content and Tech Tools

Jeff's Digital Content and Tech Tools

There are an infinite number of digital content providers and tech tools and education programs a blended teacher can choose to use in his classroom. Check out how and why Jeff uses specific digital content and ed tech tools!

Academic Culture

Connect STEM with Social Issues

Connect STEM with Social Issues

Students want to feel that the work they are doing is meaningful, and in some way connected to their lives. I motivate my students to invest in my class by using Social Issue Openings to tie the day’s content to current events, social justice issues, or health related chemistry. For example, during our unit on Gas Laws, we talk about how the same principles that help bread rise and make popcorn pop contribute to air pollution and global warming. I’ve found that focusing on issues in science regarding race, class, and gender – subjects my students care deeply about – adds meaning to the work, and frames learning and achieving as part of a larger movement. This year, the conversation has largely revolved around increasing female representation in the STEM career fields, and I hope to continue using real-world examples to drive investment in my class.

Routines and Procedures

Meet and Greet/Class Meeting

Meet and Greet/Class Meeting

As a blended learning practitioner, I have learned that it's critically important to develop a classroom culture infused with respect and a collaborative spirit. Cultivating and nurturing this culture is especially important in my classroom where so much of the learning is self-paced and the content is largely accessed digitally. The Meet and Greet is a strategy I use to start each day in order to model positive student-teacher interaction, to assess individual student's state of mind quickly, and to motivate my students to engage with the content right away. Our weekly Class Meeting is another strategy that promotes a positive and collaborative classroom culture. In first part of each Class Meeting, my students are nominated for "shout-outs" by their classmates for specific effort and achievement they have demonstrated in the previous week. In the second part of the Class Meeting (please see the "Class Forum" strategy video), my students identify ways in which the class can improve and they suggest potential solutions to difficulties they are experiencing. The Meet and Greet and the Class Meeting are strategies that allow me to express my respect for my students and their experience of learning. Implementing these strategies has resulted in higher degrees of student ownership, responsibility, and engagement.

Instructional Openings

The Catalyst

The Catalyst

Chemistry is a combination of the comprehension of scientific content and the application of mathematics to those concepts. My students have to be prepared to think deeply about difficult concepts the minute they step into my room. Starting the class with a relevant "Catalyst" helps them initiate their own thinking processes in preparation for a productive day in the same way that biological enzymes catalyze chemical reactions. During The Catalyst, I model my thinking process for how to approach a mathematical problem by having my students identify the key steps in the calculation and establish a foundation that students who struggle with math can fall back on when they're confused.  

Instructional Openings

Demo Discussion

Demo Discussion

The Demo Discussion is a strategy I use to provide an interesting and memorable in-class demonstration of complex concepts that my students will learn about in class on a given day, using a variety of digital resources. The Demo Discussion is an excellent way to promote student curiosity about scientific phenomena. The "demos" provide access points for my students to witness and wonder about complicated chemical processes that they will eventually explore and understand at a much deeper level. By leveraging additional physical and digital tools, I can facilitate in-depth analysis and support the development of models to explain the science behind the demo. This strategy also allows me to surface my students' questions and interests about the day's Learning Targets (please see the "Learning Targets" strategy video), to which I can refer and make connections throughout our exploration of that content.

Collaborative Student Groups

Critical Friends: Share Out

Critical Friends: Share Out

Peer-review is an integral part of each learning cycle, and I spend much of the first three units teaching my students to engage in a critical analysis of each other’s work. Having another set of eyes examine work samples and offer feedback on how to address weak points in their arguments adds a valuable teamwork element to class structure. At the end of each unit, students complete a culminating lab where I pose a guiding question, and groups develop an experiment that will hopefully answer the question. To encourage deeper analytical thinking and avoid students submitting rushed work, I use Critical Friends Share Out periods to facilitate group reviews before final drafts are assessed. Students present their digital portfolios to another group by laying out the argument, evidence, and reasoning that they’ve compiled using Google Apps for Ed, Youtube, and Wikispaces (see “Lab Documentation” strategy). Just walking their classmates through their portfolio causes students to evaluate their own work and fix holes in their arguments. During this time, the other group takes notes and prepares for a critical review period. I want all students to be able to contribute positively to these discussions and give each group member a chance to support their classmates.

Instructional Closings

Quick Write Summary

Quick Write Summary

Truly understanding science requires my students to think in ways they might not have experienced before. Conceptualizing something that our eyes can't always see is difficult, and so it's valuable to provide graphic organizers, visual models, and other support tools as resources that my students can access while diving into content. One of the richest ways to get students to build their own methods and approaches to solving problems is to allow them to think on paper. Lessons involving direct instruction are always broken into small segments with short, casual writing periods built into the end of each one. These Quick Write Summaries are meant to focus on content construction and are free of structural analysis. I don't grade them, but I'll always help students put together their thoughts and present them with questions that guide them to the answer. Writing-to-learn strategies like the Quick Write Summary help visual learners with long-term comprehension of scientific terminology and sets the stage for students demonstrating their knowledge through writing in future assessments. 

Assessment & Data

Student Lab Development Rubric

Student Lab Development Rubric

By allowing my students to assess other students' work and then providing them with a Student Lab Development Rubric to evaluate their own work, they learn to design and refine high-quality experimental procedures. The Student Lab Development Rubric is one of the tools I use to help students build the experiments they've created and then display results and lab analyses. When students are the ones dictating how they will conduct their experiments, they invest more fully in the activity and come to realize that science involves constant critical analysis and reiteration. I like to move conversations away from "right" and "wrong" and more towards how we can improve each component of our lab activities. Initially, some students feel uncomfortable identifying that their work isn't up to the high standards of the rubric, but over time most come to realize that this process helps them improve their final products and understand the underlying purpose behind labs.

Assessment & Data

Simon Tech Science Fair

Simon Tech Science Fair

The freedom to design, implement, and showcase science labs can be a daunting task for high school sophomores. We end each year in my class with a month of self-paced group projects aimed at constructing an experiment that will test hypothesis around a subject of students' choice. Anything from crime scene investigation, to the chemistry of ice cream preparation, to the reactions involved in instant hand warmers is fair game during this unit. Students collect data that answers their hypothesis and create a website to display their findings. Having a publicly visible product makes sharing the results of student findings easy, and helps them contribute to the scientific community at large. At the same time, it helps hold them accountable to a higher quality of work, knowing anyone, anywhere, can see the incredible things they've created.


Assessment & Data

Jeff's Use of Assessments and Data

Jeff's Use of Assessments and Data

Assessment and data play a crucial role in a blended teacher’s classroom. Blended learning gives teachers an opportunity to assess consistently throughout a class, in a way that drives instruction, impacts grouping, and assignments. Blended educators have to develop capacity to sift through multiple sources of data and synthesizes quickly into action. Check out how Jeff utilizes Assessment and Data here.

Feedback Systems

Class Forum

Class Forum

The Class Forum is a 2-5 minute portion of the Class Meeting (please see the "Meet and Greet/Class Meeting" strategy video) at the beginning of each week in which my students propose solutions to learning barriers that they have experienced or may see arising in class. This strategy ensures that my students' voices will be heard and empowers them to be change agents in shaping the class environment. While it is important to offer other avenues for individualized contact between myself and my students, having a space for a public discussion emphasizes the collaborative atmosphere that I want my students to work in every day. As a blended learning teacher, my practice is evolving from day to day and week to week. The Class Forum creates a safe and regular channel for my students to give me feedback about their needs and experiences. My commitment and responsiveness to my students' suggestions motivates them to be more invested in their learning and to our classroom community, which is critical to their success in my self-paced blended learning model.

Feedback Systems

Critical Friends: Wreck-It

Critical Friends: Wreck-It

My first college lab report really humbled me when it was handed back covered in red ink – my professor was asking for a lot of revisions. However, this feedback was crucial to my development as a scientist, and I want to expose my students to the feedback and revision loops I experienced before they had off to more advanced schooling. Students learn to give and receive feedback during the Critical Friends review period that occurs at the end of big labs. At this stage in the class each group presents their lab results to another group using Wikispaces digital portfolios, and then makes an argument as to how their results answer the lab’s guiding question. Classmates then offer targeted feedback during the Wreck-It portion of Critical Friends, before each group reconvenes to make necessary edits to their work. Students love when they get to play devil’s advocate and present critical “wreck-it” counter-points to other groups' arguments. It’s important to remind students to also offer advice on how to improve the other groups’ portfolio and help them build a more cohesive argument. Each group then reconvenes and makes the necessary edits to their work. Adding more critical eyes to student work makes my job as a teacher more manageable, and guarantees improved overall lab report quality. My goal is that by the time my students take college chemistry or organic chemistry, they will have already had experience assessing the validity of lab analyses and improving experimental design, data collection, and other crucial lab components.

Mindsets

Jeff's Mindsets

Jeff's Mindsets

A blended teacher’s personal mindsets shape his decisions as an educator. These mindsets influence general pedagogies, instructional approaches, and short-term decision making, alike. Check out how Jeff’s mindsets have helped to shape his blended instruction.

Learning Apps

Self-Paced Lab Documentation

Self-Paced Lab Documentation

Organizing labs that span over a number of classes requires a substantial amount of pre-planning. The benefits of proper Lab Documentation are potentially enormous for students. Lab Documentation ensures that I can follow students through every step of the lab process even when groups are completing different segments within varying timeframes. Students develop lab procedures on Google Docs, create charts/tables/graphs on Google Sheets, and compile lab portfolios on wikispaces. By hosting their work on Google Apps for Education, my students can easily collaborate with group mates and me on a lab activity over the course of a week or more. During this time, I can ask probing questions, offer insight on effective lab methods and tactics, work directly on their documents, and help students record their labs with media-capture tools. Being able to analyze video of the lab procedure next to the results it produced provides my students a great means to produce high-quality lab reports, which they can publish to the web and their group wikispace pages.

Academic Culture

Station Expectations

Station Expectations

Students in my self-paced blended classroom work in groups every day to complete a series of activities we call "Learning Stations." Learning Stations provide multiple ways in which my students can demonstrate mastery and build a digital portfolio of content to draw on throughout the year. By creating groups in which my students are paired up according to their supported reading and lexile levels, I foster a collaborative culture in which students don't feel singled out and high quality products can be produced by all groups. To alleviate the stress that sometimes accompanies engagement with highly targeted, rigorous activities, I allow my students to choose Station activities that most appropriately address the Learning Targets (please see the "Learning Targets" strategy video) they might struggle with or want to improve in. Reinforcing Station Expectations with explicit instructions at the beginning of each class is a strategy that ensures that my students understand what is expected of them during the period.

Academic Culture

Jeff's Classroom Culture

Jeff's Classroom Culture

A positive classroom culture promotes student engagement, efficiency, and academic growth. Culture influences how and why students learn and ties the students to the teacher on a personal level. Check out the video below to see how Jeff’s culture impacts student achievement!

Instructional Planning

Jeff's Approach to Planning

Jeff's Approach to Planning

Planning is an essential part of a blended teacher’s practice. In blended environments, where students can be at different points in a course on various modalities, blended teachers need to be very intentional about how they plan. Check out the video below to see how Jeff plans for instruction in his blended classroom.


Instructional Openings

Learning Targets

Learning Targets

Learning Targets are specific skill goals that align the work we do each day with the long-term goals my students and I have set at the beginning of the year. This strategy is a part of the larger mastery system in place in my self-paced blended learning classroom. By dissecting large skills into smaller Learning Targets, my students are more effectively able to self-assess their progress towards mastery in each of these skills. By emphasizing assessment for learning and achievement at high levels on specific Learning Targets, we take the focus off of assessment for the sole purpose of grading and gradually replace it with student ownership of their learning.

Collaborative Student Groups

Critical Friends: Portfolio Preparation

Critical Friends: Portfolio Preparation

Getting high school students to collaborate effectively can be tricky, though certain digital tools do a great job of making teamwork more seamless. Groups in my class keep document their lab activities using video recording, Youtube, and Google Apps for Ed, and compile Wikispaces digital portfolios with their work (see “Lab Documentation” strategy). Before submitting final drafts students engage in a Critical Friends review period where groups present their portfolios and offer critical feedback. First, each group gets Portfolio Preparation planning time where they can revisit the data they’ve collected, make sure all charts, tables, graphs, images, and videos are accurate, and pair them with solid written analyses. Labs are power learning activities, but oftentimes students are too busy trying to “complete work” instead of reflecting on the meaning of their results. Groups exhibit better teamwork when they have time allotted specifically to prepare portfolios, ultimately leading to more polished lab reports and focused class time.

Independent Student Learning

Mastery Checklists

Mastery Checklists

I’ve been interested in the power of checklists ever since I read Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto. His book highlights how simple checklists have revolutionized industries like architecture, aviation, and surgery. When students are regulating their own work pace, I offer them structure in the form of Mastery Checklists that provide guidance around individualized learning paths. Students start each day by looking at data from previous assessments, and adjusting action plans with learning goals for the day. Then they work through their checklists and update their Trello boards with finished work samples. By pairing Mastery Checklists with a visual organization tool like Trello, it’s easy for me to keep my finger on the pulse of each student’s activity, and guide them in the right direction.


Instructional Closings

Closing Time

Closing Time

Science can be messy and my students are often in such a rush to take care of the priorities for the next class that they forget to clean up their work and physical area appropriately. Closing Time reminds my students of their obligations for the end of a class period and standardizes a system that promotes personal responsibility for all class materials. During this time, I list all of the upcoming class assignments and events on the board, so that my students can begin thinking about future activities when they've finished cleaning up and closing down. Coupling this strategy with a tool like Remind 101 keeps my students aware of what is expected of them outside of class time.

Assessment & Data

Chemistry Hunger Games

Chemistry Hunger Games

Synthesizing a year's worth of content is difficult for any student, so I always look for innovative new ways to keep my students engaged attempt to conquer all of the learning objectives in chemistry. During the 3 weeks leading up to the final exam, my classroom temporarily turns into a Chemistry Hunger Games war zone where students battle to "kill" off districts - each representing a different unit from the year. Using the chemistryhungergames.com website I designed, my students pour over videos, screencasts, text, images, simulators, and practice problems that prepare them for district assessments. Each student is allowed to take the district assessment as many times as needed to master the district’s content, and I rotate enough questions to make about 5 assessment versions for each district. Point values are assigned according to the proficiency level they achieve on their assessments - all of which are tracked online using a conditionally formatted google sheet to help monitor progress. This gamified twist to the learning process keeps students focused on the ultimate task, mastery of content, while also helping to reinforce that with enough practice and guidance, they have the ability to master anything.

Assessment & Data

Real-Time Data

Real-Time Data

10 years ago, great teachers would hastily grade free-response questions overnight in an effort to provide feedback to students in a timely manner. However, the days of using data as taillights are behind us. Tools like Educanon, Formative, and Google Docs make it easy to collect actionable data and make informed, instantaneous decisions around dynamic grouping, individual competencies, and even customized learning paths. For example, Formative allows me to upload a document, designate areas for student input (multiple choice, free response, and even drawing), and then assign the activity to students. As students fill in the doc at their own pace, the teacher interface is updated in real-time so that I know which students need my help and when. I can pair struggling students with those who are just figuring it out, gather students for small group instruction, or re-teach concepts when there is a trend of misconceptions. Beyond that, catching student miscues as they happen makes it easier for me to help students polish unfinished work, fill in gaps in knowledge before summative assessments, and learn how to correct their own mistakes.


Feedback Systems

Teamwork Evaluation Rubric

Teamwork Evaluation Rubric

At the end of any collaborative activity, each student makes a copy of this Teamwork Evaluation Rubric and fills out the boxes with his/her thoughts on the overall quality of their group's teamwork. The rubric includes multiple indicators of high-quality teamwork and encoruages discussion about how to improve future iterations. Indicators include noise level (framed as concern for other group's ability to work effectively), quality of work produced, overall teamwork, and level of grit. Students assess their own contributions to their collaborative assignment as well as their teammates' contributions. Students can insert glows and grows where they explicitly discuss their feelings regarding their own work and the work of their peers. I frame this activity as a team-building exercise. Evaluating collaborative assignments can be complicated. The Teamwork Evaluation Rubric allows me to collect a good deal of data about individual student's contributions from multiple perspectives, which is both a fair and thorough way to assess individuals and the team as a whole.

Feedback Systems

Group Interventions

Group Interventions

A huge benefit to operating in a blended learning setting is the ability to instantly generate data and make decisions based on the outcomes. As the class progresses, I can stay up to date with collaborative assignments on google docs/sheets/slides, while simultaneously checking how students respond to multiple choice questions I’ve assigned through socrative and CFUs embedded in video lessons through eduCanon. When formative assessment is ingrained as part of the learning process, students become more accustomed to feedback and get better at revising work to produce higher-quality finished products. Group interventions also establishes a collaborative environment between students and teacher where both parties are trying to accomplish the same goal - master difficult chemistry content. There’s nothing as powerful as targeted feedback, and in person check ups with each group serve to give students the support they need, exactly when they need it. Having a direct communication avenue between students and teacher enables students who feel unsure about their work to direct questions to me geared at clearing up misconceptions.

 
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