It has taken a lot of time and effort but we are ready and prepared to start our blended learning project. The wiring of the building which was supposed to have been completed over winter break took longer than expected. It involved the cooperation of the company that did the physical wiring with the company that handles our network. Weather delays also caused some complications with this. Our devices took a little longer than expected to arrive and the “white glove service” still required some work and attention when connecting it to the network.
Most of our students have logged onto ALEKS and completed their initial assessment for the program despite not having had any experience yet with the blended learning in the classroom. Last week we had an orientation session for the eighth graders. A short video was shown to explain blended learning. The PowerPoint presented how blended learning will change the organization of time and space within the class. We had a discussion of how the Chromebooks work and the need for the students to access their school email accounts. They were told that the email accounts are purely for school communication. They can be used between students and teachers but they cannot be used, at this point, for communication between students.
Previously, we had generated a Technology User Agreement for the students and parents. This guide explains in detail acceptable behaviors when using technology. We sent the guide to the Evergreen group to get their insights and they did provide us with some helpful comments. Two copies of the guides were given to each student; one for them to read with their parents, sign and return to the school. The other was given for them to keep as a reference.
The students were told that they cannot use a device without the signed technology user agreement returned. Many students returned them the next day.
The next “big event” is the parent orientation which will take place tomorrow night. They will also see a video, but a different one from the students. We will also be explaining our process to them in greater detail which we did not share with the students. It is important to reassure the parents that a lot of thought and planning went into this and their child’s education will be enhanced, not suffer, due to the use of technology in the classroom.
I also spent the past three days at the iJed conference in Long Island. It was inspirational and motivating meeting with so many like-minded educators. I gained valuable insight and exposure to great ideas, websites and programs that can be introduced to our school. It gave me an opportunity to discuss so many ideas, thoughts and concerns with others who share the same and to get advice from others. It has also inspired me to think about ways to improve pd within our school, particularly around blended learning.
One session in particular was of a very practical nature for me. Michael Ribalt presented a session on LMS. Since that is the next element of blended learning that we need to implement, and one which we are already exploring, this was of great interest to me. I was struck by his comment, “Before you can pick an LMS, you must understand the culture of your school.” He was able to provide us with great questions to ask and answer before choosing an LMS. I will definitely be thinking more clearly about what to look for now that I have had an opportunity to discuss it with someone who is so knowledgeable about it.
Our teachers have been working hard gathering video links to share with others for lessons that align with our curriculum. They have been exploring the features of ALEKS which at times can be difficult. ALEKS has arranged to provide our teachers with free professional development to help them better understand and use the many features it has. We will be having that next Thursday due to the early dismissal. Evergreen is also providing us with once a week webex sessions to address any questions or concerns the teachers have about implementation. The first one will take place tomorrow morning.
Last Friday we were privileged to have Harry and Rosemary Wong present our teachers with a professional development session. They are firm believers in the importance of establishing correct procedures in the classroom. With the right procedures, every classroom can run flawlessly, every student knows what is expected and this can create a greater learning environment. With the advent of blended learning in our school. our teachers now need to design, implement and establish new procedures within their classes. This will take time to evolve as we become more comfortable and familiar with what those procedures need to be. We will be meeting for our webex sessions and will also take time to discuss our struggles and successes in this and all areas of blended learning.
We are exceptionally excited to start the blended learning this week with our students. This has been a tremendous growth experience for all of us.