What is the ideal blended learning environment? I have had a lot of noneducators talk to me about technology in the classroom. Most don’t have informed opinions (so I’m happy to share mine with them). Many ask me what the best device is for learning. Sadly, I’ve even had educators argue this point with me in favor of one particular device. Good teaching and sound student-directed learning is device-agnostic. High-quality learning can happen on laptops, Chromebooks, tablets, and cell phones. It’s not the device that makes the difference. Just like there are definitely instances where the best learning occurs with no device.
In addition to the type of technology, I often hear that blended learning can only happen in a 1:1 environment. While 1:1 is fantastic, not all school systems have the infrastructure and/or finances in place to make this a reality.
So instead, I ask if you only had six laptops in your classroom, how would you best utilize those as learning resources? I’ve worked with several districts where this was the technology implementation model they chose to employ. Some teachers get hung up on the fact that they only have a small group of devices and can’t visualize how to use them for true learning. Sadly, that means they often don’t get used at all. Others are so excited to finally have something in addition to their interactive whiteboards that they jump right into the integration. Overall, do you know the grade levels that seem to take off the easiest with this model? The primary grades.
The reason that it’s generally easier for them to see how this model could work for their students is because they are already accustomed to using learning stations in their daily instruction.
In one K-8 district that uses this small-group model, I saw all of the following ideas implemented in classrooms via learning stations: Hour of Code activities, math practice through game-based learning (DreamBox), digital projects that show evidence of student-driven learning (Piktochart, Google Slides, iMovie), reading fluency and comprehension practice (ReadWorks digital, SeeSaw, ReadTheory), virtual field trips (Google Earth, Nearpod), and formative assessments (Formative, Google Forms, Socrative).
One very fun kindergarten teacher utilized every bit of technology she had access to. One learning center was at her interactive whiteboard where a group of students played a game working on letter sound recognition and identification. Another center had the classroom’s six laptops to work on English-language learning skills. A third center used three iPads that the teacher has gotten through Donors Choose. The fourth center was a writing station which is integral for emergent literacy practice and fine motor development. This teacher is not limited by a fixed mindset. Her classroom is a lively and engaged place for learning across many platforms.
Another questions frequently asked is, how does digital learning work with electives? An art teacher I am working with has students bring laptops from a STEM lab with them to art class. Her goal is to divide her class into two groups. She would use direct teaching methods to instruct on practical/visual arts to one half, while the other half applies art theory via digital design. Each half would get time to create using multiple mediums. I was in her classroom for the first time that she pulled laptops into her instruction. These sixth grade students had experience working with a 3D printer from their STEM lab, so she built on that background knowledge. Using her document camera and an iPad, the teacher demonstrated how to take a 2D image that one student had previously drawn, and alter it to become a 3D image ready to be printed. Her challenge for the students was to find and/or create an image to be made into Christmas ornaments for the class tree. It was fantastic to observe these preteens completely engaged in the work, while having the freedom to choose the medium for creation. They worked in small groups of four, and while the project itself was individual in nature, good collaborative conversations were happening throughout the process. The result was a fantastic art project that built on work the students had done previously in and outside of art class.
When I work with teachers who teach upper elementary, middle and high school, I often recommend a station rotation model to make the best use of a small group of digital devices. I like this framework for any grade level, but I think it is easier to visualize for higher grade teachers than typical primary learning centers are. I recommend a small group station where the teacher can direct-teach (or reteach), an independent station (this is where I would put the six laptops), and a collaborative station where students work collaboratively with their peers on a performance task. This is a great way to structure a class period while meeting with every student and allowing students to work digitally every day. Rotating through these different stations keeps students engaged in their own learning, while giving them the need and space to take control of it, as well. The focus is taken off of the teacher delivering content and placed on the students.
People will always be able to find the roadblocks. The best teachers find a way around them or a way to remove those obstacles altogether, but putting student-driven learning at the front of the equation. Impactful learning isn’t limited by grade level, subject-area or the resources available, but only by the mindsets in the room.