On June 15, 2016, I had the pleasure of attending the “Wild” Side of Blended Learning Conference with Marcia Kish. Marcia consults with teachers and districts in Ohio, as well as surrounding states, a they begin to transition into utilizing blended learning. Her company is called DSD Professional Development (www.dsdprofessionaldevelopment.com). Her knowledge was impressive and her enthusiasm was infectious!
This was my first blended learning conference of my career! I very much enjoyed that Marcia organized the conference in the same manner that a skilled blended learning teacher might organize their room. Prior to attending this conference, I had no idea that there were even levels of progression as you work to organize and develop a blended learning experience in your classroom. I had developed the misconception of blended learning as something you just jumped into and did. Hearing Marcia describe the 3 phases of blended learning made this teaching shift seem more clear and much less daunting.
I teach kindergarten, so I have less contact time with my students and they tend to be much less independent than other grades. Seeing that the 3 phases of Blended Learning allows teachers to go slowly and gradually release responsibility to the students makes perfect sense for my young learners. I was also happy to hear that she suggests a minimum of a year in phase one learning , in one subject area, before progressing to greater differentiation in phase two and eventually total student self- paced learning in phase three.
I was also amazed at the plethora of free web-based programs that were shared with us during this workshop. I really thought I was going to hear about things my district was using, but that was far from the case. I plan to focus on phase one of blended learning in math during the coming school year. I will be using Dreambox next year with my class. However, I am also very interested in seeing how the free web applications Frontrow, Sumdog, Prodigy, Kahoot and Pear Deck might be used to compliment and add to the Dreambox program. I am thinking that one program might be exclusively used at school while others might be used at school as well as for practice at home. I think I will be able to figure this out as the year evolves and I get to know my students.
Other than the phases of learning and free web resources, the organization and use of student data binders seemed to be another major topic that was covered. It is clear that one of the major benefits of using web-based programs with students is that teachers are able to gather a great deal of data about what children know and don’t know. However, if you don’t come up with a plan for organizing the student data all this benefit will be lost. The goal of the data binders is to move away from the information only being utilized by teachers and to put it into a format that will also allow teachers, students and parents to self-monitor progress toward grade-level expected learning goals. I was not able to see an example of a grade K data binder at the conference so I will continue to try to find examples on my own.
As I left the conference, I found myself excited and with lots of information to share with peers. I also found that I had a new list of questions to ponder and research. I have always been a risk-taker in the way I organize my language arts instruction with young learners. Math takes me out of my comfort zone, so I have never been much of a risk-taker in this area. I believe that the blended learning model will allow me to differentiate my instruction in math like I do in language arts. I look forward to improving my math instruction through utilizing the early phases of the blended learning model during the 2016/17 school year.
Krista Hyme is a kindergarten teacher in the Olentangy School District located just outside of Columbus, Ohio. Krista is new to blended learning and is an advocate for using high-quality, personalized, technology-rich instruction with primary age children.