Today’s Contributor: Laurie Beaman
My name is Laurie Beaman, and I have been an AP US History teacher at Lanier High School for the past eleven years. I am also in the midst of my third year as Campus Innovation Coach.
Last year, I focused on how BLEND could be used in my classroom to provide students innovative learning experiences and access to a home base for technology tools. However, this year I am trying to push both myself and our campus to view BLEND as not only an instructional tool but a shared commons that provides access to information for a wide variety of stakeholders.
Many people, both on our campus and in our district, cringe at the name BLEND (or even the term “BLENDed” learning) because the LMS can be cumbersome to navigate, takes a great deal of time and effort to learn (let alone master), and a significant amount of consideration in how to present it to students and support them navigating through it. While these things may be true, BLEND can revolutionize your classroom and the learning experience for students. However, I am not writing today to convince you how worthwhile the payoff can be for both BLEND (and certainly BLENDed learning). Instead, I want to emphasize the power of BLEND in its ability to streamline communication and store a repository of information for students, the campus, and the greater community.
This year on our campus, we have created a course specifically for staff development. This course provides teachers with an interactive agenda for each allotted PD time with linked resources and presentations, information aligning with campus initiatives, and opportunities to provide feedback, both for future professional development and to recognize their peers who are making amazing contributions to our campus. Having this resource forces campus leaders to think ahead and be purposeful in their professional development planning, with clear intentions about how the training will link to our campus initiatives, and what high-quality materials to provide for teachers to interact with and have access to. For example, during our recent late start we had breakout sessions centered around SEL, led by staff members on our campus and from the district level. We were able to provide a menu of options of sessions for staff to attend, and also capture materials for each of those sessions in the BLEND course as a reference. In addition, teachers were able to easily access a feedback link and post to a discussion to demonstrate their learning and view the takeaways of others. As we encourage other teachers to take on BLENDed learning in their classrooms, it is imperative that we model what that might look like on a campus level, along with the benefits of doing so.
Sample Interactive PD Agenda
Home Page with Links to Campus Initiatives and Feedback Forms
Sample PD Menu for SEL
Beyond revisioning the staff professional development experience through a BLEND classroom, we have also used the BLEND whole-campus announcement feature to promote campus events, communicate important information, and gather feedback from a variety of sources. For example, we have relayed information on whole-campus initiatives such as the Austin Public Library partnership and promoted spirit week information. We have also used it as an interactive tool to cast ballots for homecoming nominations and to run promotional videos for student council elections. Perhaps most importantly, we have used it to gather imperative input needed on a quick turnaround – such as seeking out feedback on the forthcoming name change from students and staff. The global announcement feature is revolutionary in its ability to communicate important information in a clear and concise manner, where it is easily accessed and does not overwhelm the viewer.
In my classroom, BLEND not only helps to provide personalized learning experiences, but it also serves as a way for students to track their progress, demonstrate mastery of concepts, and create a repository of their learning. This year we have started to use the module feature in order for students to follow along with where we are in class (even for non-technology activities) and to mark progression as to what they have accomplished. By setting up module prerequisites, students are able to “mark as done” or “submit” assignments and follow along with checkmarks until they complete the module. This not only holds them accountable for doing their work, but allows them to feel proud when they complete an assigned task and to easily recognize what they may have missed or still need to do. As a teacher, this forces me to stay purposeful and organized, and makes it easy to show students what they need to go back and finish or continue to work on. In addition, students recognize what they are working towards, are provided clearly-aligned reflection opportunities, and have documentation of all of the work they have completed towards mastery of a concept. Since each module is broken down by concept, each task helps provide them an organized means to reach that end. By the time that students reach the end of the module, they will have answered reflection questions to demonstrate their knowledge and created a portfolio of work aligned to that key concept.
Teacher Point of View
Teacher Check View (also Student Point of View)
Lastly, we are continuing to develop how we use BLEND to engage the greater community. At the start of the second semester, we will launch our Campus Community Course. There, we hope to encourage parents and observers to frequent BLEND not only as an access point to student assignments and classes, but also as an organized place to find information, make community connections, and engage in and further their own learning. This course will, at the very least, allow parents to have access to forms and general information, such as principal posts, counselor and registration information, and graduation or grade-appropriate material for their enrolled student. Beyond the basics, the course will also host technology information surrounding the Everyone:1 program and technology support. We also hope to engage and support parents by offering technology tutorials for basic technology skills, important lessons on digital citizenship, and how to keep students safe in terms of appropriate technology use at home. We will also be able to digitally expand popular on-campus resources such as the College & Career Center, Family Resource Center, and other community outreach programs.
BLEND is an amazing tool that allows us to change the way information is owned, stored, and shared. BLEND can provide unique and tailored learning experiences for students, staff and parents alike. In short: never hesitate to innovate, think outside the box, and be inspired by all that this tool can offer!