The Art of Engineering Powerful Blended Learning Experiences
Adrian Neibauer, a teacher at Rolling Hills Elementary School in Aurora, Colorado, has always strived to make his classroom interactive, collaborative, and innovative. However, like many teachers, he found himself in the routine of delivering content, monitoring student progress, assessing students’ knowledge of that content, and then moving on to the next topic.
“The learning began and ended with me in the classroom,” Adrian explains. “Schoology has completely transformed not only how I deliver content, but also how my students are learning.”
Mixing Face-to-Face and Digital Learning
“In order to create an effective online course experience for my fifth grade students, I needed to take our current class format and successfully blend authentic, creative, and culturally responsive online activities,” Adrian explains.
“Schoology allows my students to effectively manage their time and learn the content, and it proves to my students’ parents that online learning is just as intense as learning face-to-face.”
He designed his Schoology course using learning activities that engage his students in different ways than what they might do in the classroom. He embeds videos and hosts discussions to give his students the time to do the work, while scheduling and planning for each lesson, just as if they were attending in class.
Engineering a Recipe for Success
When designing lessons, Adrian uses a three-stage method. First, he identifies the desired learning outcomes. Second, he creates formative and summative assessments with corresponding rubrics. Third, Adrian devises the learning activities. By starting with the outcomes and working out, he's able to ensure his activities and assessments address what he's teaching.
Over time, Adrian worked out a template for his lessons. He explains that they tend to follow this structure:
- Hook exercise to build background knowledge and get students excited about content
- Discussions for students to voice their thoughts and questions
- Embedded video content as well as instructional content (via rich-text pages)
- Outside links/resources for students to use (if necessary)
- Formative quizzes throughout
- Final discussion and/or assignment for students to showcase their content mastery
Here's what a set of Adrian's activities might look like. He says that his students must complete these activities online, while still coming to class for a face-to-face discussion and differentiation.
Finally, when it comes to designing activities for his students to learn and practice new skills, Adrian subscribes to the "Engineering-design process." He starts by identifying the problem and exploring what others have done. He then works his way through a cycle of designing the activity, creating it, testing it, and making it better (rinse and repeat).
But this methodical approach isn't limited solely to his lesson planning. Adrian also expects his students to follow a similar model in their learning. And why not? It's a proven recipe for problem solving.
Building a Social Learning Environment
Despite some arguments that digital learning is too “impersonal,” Adrian’s classroom is a very social place—one that transcends the physical boundaries of his school building. His students continue learning outside of school, at their dinner tables, with their friends and family members, and then share all of this with Adrian and their peers online.
“I pride myself on creating relationships with my students that allow them to take risks in their learning throughout the year,” he explains. “The challenge with creating an online course is how to successfully transfer the relationships we have built in class to an online environment. Schoology makes this process seamless.”
When asked how he accomplished this, Adrian says, "Lots of discussions! At the beginning of the year, I have a lot of get-to-know-you activities both in the classroom and online. I need to gradually teach students how to interact in an online environment, so my classroom tends to be more of a hybrid at first, moving toward online discussions and assignments/quizzes."
"Get to know your students both inside and outside of the classroom. This will be reflected in your in class and online class experience," he continues with a message to anyone embarking on their own blended learning journey. "Also, be available for students. Set those expectations for when you'll be online responding to discussions and questions, and stick to those guidelines."
Preparing Students for Their Future
Adrian has been an elementary-school teacher for twelve years, and has learned a great deal about himself, both as a person and an instructor.
“I dedicate myself to ensuring that all children can learn,” he says. “I believe that learning does not depend on socioeconomic status, gender, or race. I want to eliminate racial predictability and the achievement gap.”
Adrian wants to prepare his students for the 21st century and set the expectation of lifelong learning, giving them the preparation for middle school and beyond.
“I believe that students can only reach their full potential if I facilitate and inspire creativity using digital tools and resources,” he states. “Learning should not be just about test preparation.”
State mandated tests only occupy a small percentage of a student’s life, but Adrian uses Schoology to prepare his students for the global community they live in, both now and in the future, teaching skills that will be used forever.
“I never thought that this type of learning environment would be possible in an elementary school,” Adrian explains, “but Schoology has completely transformed what I thought was possible!”
Rolling Hills Elementary School
Educator of the Year Finalist
Written by Philip Charles Stephens
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