After five years of traditional teaching, I broke away from direct instruction and moved into a self-paced, blended-gamified classroom. My students flexibly move through the curriculum while self-directing and managing their learning. This is done through the use of Classcraft, an online education gaming software, and our classroom game “Isle of Nosredna.” The addition of game elements into my classroom has helped my students stay on track and motivated as they progress through the science curriculum.
Number of Students: ~20 students/period
Number of Adults: one teacher
Length of Class Period/Learning Time: 51 minutes
Digital Content/Ed Tech Tools Used on a Regular Basis: Haiku Learning (LMS); Classcraft; Google Classroom; Doctopus (Add-on in Google Sheets connected to Google Classroom); Educreations; Flipboard; Symbaloo; Kidblog; ThingLink; Socrative; Kahoot!
Hardware Used on a Regular Basis: iPads (1:1); SMARTboard; Apple TV
Key Features: competency-based; student agency; project-based; gamification; innovative use of space
A blended teacher’s personal mindsets shape her decisions as an educator. These mindsets influence general pedagogies, instructional approaches, and short-term decision making, alike. Check out how Jessi’s mindsets have helped to shape her blended instruction.
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.
Music is used to transition students at the beginning and end of the class period. Students spend the first four minutes of class logging into their learning management system Haiku and Classcraft account (gamification platform). We have established as a class that all iPads (we are 1:1) should be charged and open during this period of time. This length of time is indicated by a 4:34 minute clip of music. During this time, I take attendance, fill out advanced make-ups, and talk to students who have been absent or have questions.The last three minutes in our class are indicated by transition music. This music lasts 2 minutes. It indicates that students can log out of Haiku, close their apps and their iPads. If students are in the middle of an activity, they wrap-up what they are working on either by saving it as a draft or submitting their assignment. If students close their iPads before the music sounds and have stopped working, they are deducted health points (HP) on Classcraft. I do this because I want students to use every minute for learning as I would if I was using direct instruction in my class.
It is my goal to help parents and students feel like they are a connected entity in our classroom. To help parents feel connected, I have created a series of videos on our classroom YouTube channel to help parents understand our classroom. The videos describe the procedures in our classroom, what blended learning is, and how we gamify our classroom. Parents also have their own parent portal in Haiku where they can access this information, as well as their students' online course material.
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 her school. Check out how Jessi communicates and collaborates with both her colleagues at school and her students' families and how her methods of communication and collaboration have evolved over time.
I use a variety of tools to help my students authenticate their learning. From blogging to social media and connecting with other classes across the country via Google Hangouts, my students use digital technology to reach learners just like them. To enhance our Genius Hour projects this year, we connnected with classrooms in Toronto. My students shared every aspect of their projects via Edublogs, as well as learned about and critiqued their virtual partners' projects. We also have a class Twitter page where we share our Instagram and Vine posts, as well as Tweets about what is happening in our classroom. To give the world a first-person view of our classroom, we also have a Google Glass blog that students document learning on via video and pictures from Glass.
Doctopus is a widget you can use in Google to distribute documents. I use Doctopus because it's the only tool that I know of that will allow me to distribute a copy of a document to each student in view only mode (Google Classroom at this point only allows for edit only mode). I use Doctopus to distribute the Quest Contracts to students so that each student has access to the document (please see my "Model Overview" to learn about Quest Contracts). I have viewing and editing privileges, whereas each student only has viewing privileges. This widget allows me to update my students' Quest Contracts on my iPad after they have mastered an activity. The student can then go into the same document and view what they have completed and what they still need to complete. Doctopus also works with Google Classroom to allow me to important Google Classroom rosters.
ThingLink is an online software used to make images interactive. This year, I've used it during a project/problem-based learning (PBL) activity, in which students did a series of tasks to collect data on a soil site of their choice (please see my "Model Overview" to learn about how I use Levels in my classroom). They collected this data and saved it for the final activity, the Soil Report, which asked the students to compile all the information they learned about their soil site and to post it on a ThingLink. This ThingLink was then used to make a target on the larger map of Paracini Ponds (the field site we visited), which was also its own ThingLink. The insight I was looking to gain from the completion of this activity was whether students could take scientific data from a field exercise, analyze it, and make a decision about how the land should be used.
QR codes are simple and easy to make codes that allow classroom resources, like videos, websites, and assignments to be accessed with little effort. These codes can be made easily using the Chrome extension goo.gl URL shortener or a website like qrstuff.com. They can be displayed on an interactive whiteboard, printed on an assignment, or printed and taped to a wall at a station or on a lab desk. QR codes take away the barrier of typing in long URLs or shortened website links, and get students to resources quickly.
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.
There are an infinite number of digital content providers and tech tools and education programs a blended teacher can choose to use in her classroom. Check out how and why Jessi uses specific digital content and ed tech tools!
The Treasure Map is a strategy I use to help my students progress through levels in a self-paced environment without setting deadlines for them. My students record when they start a level and when they end a level. If they complete the level in a given amount of time, they receive a piece of the Treasure Map. When my students complete four levels within the given time, they earn a free A (like contracting for an A). This strategy would also work with other forms of rewards, not just awards linked to a grade or extra credit.
Classcraft is team-based, role-play gamification tool that I use for classroom management. It focuses students to self-manage their learning, stay on task, and positively collaborate with their peers. When students are seen positively collaborating, working hard, or helping another student, they earn "experience points" (XP), which allow them to "level-up" and gain "powers" (ability to buy privileges in class). However, if they are distracting other students, not following classroom rules, or negatively impacting the learning of themselves or peers they are deducted health points (HP). If they lose all of their HP, they "fail in battle," which means that a random student-generated consequence is then assigned to the student. The fall in battle causes each student on that individual's team to lose HP and face greater risk of also falling in battle. The sequence continues until either all teammates fall to battle or someone on the team has enough HP to survive. Besides HP, students earn 4 action points (AP) every day. Action points allow students to purchase privileges if they have "learned" a power. The AP allow students to ask the Game Master if a question is correct on a quiz, to automatically advance within a level, or to "teleport" to their locker or the bathroom. AP, HP, and XP can all be impacted by the "Daily Event." The Daily Event is a random event that impacts the game in a positive or negative manner. For instance, the event may give the person with the least experience points 200 XP in the game or it may deduct 15 HP from a random player. We never know what will happen, which is what makes the game so interesting to most students. After using the game for nearly two school years, I have seen my students interacting more positively with one another and accomplishing more in class. It has been an awesome addition to our classroom culture and very easy to implement!
Gamification is the process of adding game elements to an environment that is not traditionally a game. I use Gamification as a strategy in my blended learning classroom to motivate my ninth grade students to engage in the curriculum and to buy in to my social and behavioral expectations--all while keeping learning fun! We have two games going on in our classroom---our academic game and our behavioral game. Our academic game is based around the storyline of the Isle of Nosredna and features an island-based theme with a leaderboard ranking based on students' engagement in our self-paced learning environment. Our behavioral game, using the Classcraft online tool, is based on health points, experience points, battles, and powers. Students work as teams to keep each other "alive" and progressing in both games.
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.
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.
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 the video below to see how Jessi’s culture impacts student achievement!
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 Jessi plans for instruction in her blended classroom.
Experience Based Lab Introductions is a strategy I use to get students to start thinking about their prior knowledge and how it can be applied to a problem or challenge. For example, I use the story about Who Polluted the Clark Fork to set the stage for our water filter lab. The story allows students to use their knowledge-base to answer simple questions throughout the story. As the activity continues, I see students' perspectives change as more elements and variables are added to the story. The stories peak students' interest and bring a call to action into a classroom activity. This strategy is embedded in the Conceptual Change Model, where I'm trying to expose students' beliefs, confront and accommodate those beliefs, and then extend the concept to help students move beyond their misconceptions.
Small Group Sessions are used for student sharing or to conduct small-group direct instruction. Students within these groups are usually working on the same content in the level or are struggling with the same topic/skill and need further instruction from me. Small Group Sessions allow me to gauge a student's understanding of content and promote the importance of sharing and talking about learning. During Small Group Sessions, I actively listen to students talk about the content we are discussing. I also use this time as an opportunity to question their thinking and formatively assess their understanding of the material. In the days after a Small Group Session is over, I work one-on-one with students who have yet to master the material.
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.
Partner Labs are investigatons that require more than one student in the group. These labs require my students to work together to come up with a solution to a problem or to conduct an experiment. Some of my favorite activities to do with my students are The Virtual Thinking Project (PBL), and the Solar Oven and Cooler design projects. These projects require students to work collaboratively together, often in the lab, to engineer solutions to problems or to perform experiments.
Genius Hour is an ongoing project in which my students identify and explore their scientific interests and passions. Developed every Friday for an entire semester during class, the project provides an opportunity for students to cultivate their research and critical thinking skills while engaging in a topic that is of interest to them. As part of the Genius Hour project, my students connect with "virtual partners" from outside our state in a collaborative effort to authenticate their projects even more. Genius Hour culminates in a demonstration of students' research findings in a format of the students' choosing. This year, I have included the use of Flipboard, an application that allows students to search for a variety of web-based resources and to curate these resources in a visually compelling and user-friendly way.
Battling the Boss is a formative assessment strategy I use at the end of almost every level in our academic game. It's a process that allows students to prove that they understand the material covered in each level. Battling the Boss usually consists of me asking the student who has indicated that s/he is ready to "battle" one or two questions that require the student to demonstrate the skills I'm looking for them to develop in the level. If students prove that they understand the material, I let them move onto the next level. The students then put their names on the next level's poster, which is a public demonstration of each student's progress in the course. If students are not successful, they have the opportunity to do additional preparation and Battle the Boss when they have mastered the content.
Socrative is a Digital Assessment tool I use to conduct formative assessments. For example, during a recent activity I used socrative to assess students' misconceptions or misunderstandings about porosity and permeability when discussing groundwater. The students took the four question quiz and the results were displayed on the board for students and myself to view. From the data I was able to make decisions about my teaching in the next 40 minutes based on the results of the quiz. As a blended learning teacher, I particularly like Socrative as a formative assessment tool because it lets me choose how I my students will be assessed. I can choose to have them do it self-paced, to give instant feedback, or to guide the entire quiz myself. I love the flexibility in this tool and the instant data I receive from it.
I formatively assess students through digital technology like Plickers, Kahoot, and Poll Everywhere. Plickers (Paper clickers) is a free software tool designed like QR codes to collect students’ answers to questions. I create questions on the Plickers website (www.plickers.com) and assign each student a card number. I will read and display the question on the SmartBoard and scan the room to determine students’ answers. The answers are displayed on my device in two colors (incorrect/correct) and in graphical form. This gives me a good visual of where students excel in the curriculum and where they struggle. I also use Kahoot (www.getkahoot.com) as a whole group assessment of students’ understanding. Kahoot allows me to write questions, allows for an allotted amount of time for each question to be answered, and for students to be ranked on time and the correctness of their answer. The students are fully engaged in this activity because it’s over material they’ve all covered, there is music that is aligned with the timer, and they get instant feedback. I also get a report showing their answers to the questions at the end of the game. I use this report, which uses conditional formatting, to show me which answers are correct and which are incorrect. I love how the visual gives me feedback on what students still need to master. I’ve also found Poll Everywhere (polleverywhere.com) to be a great way to formally assess my students. For instance, I asked my students to give me an example of something that is within the hydrosphere. They messaged their answers to our classroom code. It was then displayed on our SmartBoard as a word cloud. I’ve also used Poll Everywhere in conjunction with small group discussion groups with a checklist of skills and standards students need to achieve. For instance, I first used Poll Everywhere to check to see if students understood what objects would be in the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere. I wanted to see if they understood the definitions before we moved onto more complex tasks. The word cloud created a list of all the objects in each sphere. I then had students take words from the word cloud and create drawings showing how the four spheres would interact. The students then shared their drawings via Apple TV and the SmartBoard in small groups. I gave verbal feedback in front of the group as well as asked probing questions if I needed to.
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 need to develop capacity to sift through multiple sources of data and synthesizes quickly into action. Check out how Jessi utilizes Assessment and Data here.
Instant Feedback, my method for conferencing with students on a daily basis, is one of the strategies I use each day to help my students progress through the content in my largely self-paced course. I also use Instant Feedback to gauge my students' understanding of the material we are covering. As I walk around the room, I'm constantly looking at what students have written and am asking them to explain their thinking. If I need to learn more about their thinking, I ask additional questions until I identify the source of their confusion or misconceptions or until I am convinced that they are on the right track. This year I have begun to experiment with a protocol called "SE2R" (Summarize, Explain, Redirect, Resubmit) to structure some of my Instant Feedback to my students and to help them identify their next steps.
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.
In order to track students' progress, along with goal sheets, I make one sweep of the classroom at the beginning of class to check to make sure students know what they are working during the class period. Sometimes I write it on an online spreadsheet. Other times, I track it using a paper spreadsheet and clipboard to make sure they have started working on what they need to be working on. This gives me a chance to talk to all of my students and help motivate those students who are slowly getting to work. I particularly like rounds because it helps me gauge students' emotions for the day. This gives me an idea of how far I can push them academically during the period.