The Art of Finding Your Groove in Blended Learning
Any new tool takes a little time to learn, but once you get the hang of it, you start to see the true nature (and power) of the tool you’re using.
Justin Kattan, the Business Education Teacher at Whitehall Yearling High School in Whitehall, Ohio, had this experience with Schoology. He started slowly, and over time, he began to see real transformation happening in his classroom, his students, and himself.
Walking Before He Ran
When Justin was first approached by the Director of Technology at his former school back in 2012 to implement Schoology, he did his best with what he looks back on as this “new thing [he] wasn’t even sure how to pronounce at the time.”
It was his first experience with an LMS, and in just four weeks he put together a new high school finance course that could blend various class formats to create something new tailored to summer students.
“At the time, I put together what I thought was a solid and engaging course for finance students that summer,” Justin says. “Looking back on that boring, text heavy course, I could not have been more mistaken!”
Here’s what he learned from this experience:
- "Whether we as educators like it or not, students do not want to sit at a computer and read the screen. We need to have our hands-on version of class, kind of like a lab for science except using technology instead of lab equipment. I like to use as many other resources as I can for students to utilize in class. Examples of this include: "These are all projects that give students the freedom to choose, to a certain degree, which enables them to take ownership of their learning."
- Animated cartoons to show understanding using Powtoon
- Website design using Weebly
- Online commercials using Viddyad
- "Student accountability: this for most students is a new way of learning. It takes time to show them and teach them how to learn this way. The best way I have found to make them accountable is quizzes and discussions in my units. After a video lecture, my students will take a quiz or have to post to an online discussion to show me they learned the material in the video."
- "Keep embedded videos and lectures to about 5 minutes or less. You can get the same information across in three 5 minute videos as you can in one 15 minute video. Students will learn more if you break up the material."
- "Daily announcements: every day in the morning I post an announcement to each class. It will include what is going on that day, what is due, what may be upcoming, etc. To get them to pay attention to it, I will often post either a poll question or a funny picture or the day."
"This also helps with students that are absent or have missing work. They can always log in and see the announcement for any day of the entire semester."
- "How-to videos: I keep a folder of how-to videos that I have made available in the course the entire time. If a student is working on something when I am not there, they can always check that folder for a video on how to do something. The topics of these videos include how to turn in an assignment, check grades, understand the gradebook, and link Google Docs."
- "Make it personal: online learning and computers can sometimes be a bit impersonal. I have created a folder with information about me in there—my family life, all my favorite things page, educational background, hobbies and interests, etc. It lets the kids get to know me a little bit better than just 'Mr. Kattan.'"
Kicking it Into Full Gear
Fortunately, a lot can change in just a few years. Although Justin immediately took to Schoology for his course load, it wasn’t until he embedded the learning management system into his daily strategy that things really started to improve.
All of Justin’s full semester length classes have been fully integrated with Schoology—video lectures, course updates, quizzes, assignments, and discussions are all conducted online. Now, Justin can let advanced students work ahead while giving extra time and attention to those who are struggling with a particular topic in his curriculum.
“Personal choice and having students working on projects as opposed to just reading text is key for me,” explains Justin. “In the beginning, I thought you could just do exactly what you did in your standard brick and mortar class and transfer it online and it would work. That could not be further from the truth. It is totally different in so many ways!”
Justin also points out how fortunate he has been to have “an administration and technology department that has supported my use of Schoology and other tech tools in the classroom.” This has allowed him to try new strategies, grow as an educator, and ultimately find success in blended learning.
The Educational Ripple Effect
Justin’s comprehensive use of Schoology has made his job a little bit easier, but the benefits don’t stop there. He noticed a change in his students as well.
Even though the digitally based learning style is different from their other classes, the students “have adapted to Schoology extremely well,” Justin says. Engagement has skyrocketed, leading to improvement across the board.
“Overall grades are up, the number of assignments being turned in are up, quiz scores are up, and more students look forward to coming to class each day,” explains Justin with excitement in his voice. Every day, his students are learning something new and becoming open to new ideas that will help prepare them for life after high school.
Without a doubt, for Justin, this is his path. “I have been on the Schoology bandwagon since 2012 and cannot imagine going back.”
Business Education Teacher
Whitehall Yearling High School
Educator of the Year Finalist
Written by Matt Essert
The Art of Schoology: Tell Us Your Story
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