The storyline of our academic game gives meaning to the students' presence in the game. It enhances the importance of the curriculum and gives students a goal to work toward. The theme our storyline is based around is a deserted island. In the game, students are elite plane crash survivors (PCSs) who must learn to live on the island after not being rescued. Throughout the levels, students are asked to build fire, build shelter, find food, filter water, and survive unexpected storms. By mastering each level, students complete the tasks and move onto the next scenario in the game.
Guided Microscope Investigations are investigations done by two students. The student pairings are usually chosen by the students or made by me as a result of the students’ progress on their current level. During these investigations, students examine slides they've created during labs. They work as a team to complete a task related to the content being covered in class. Students often record what they see in the microscope using Educreations, an app on the iPad. As a result of having a blended classroom where students progress in a self-paced way, I’m able to provide this one-on-one guided instruction without having to worry about what the rest of the class is or should be doing.
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.
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.