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Why I am all for a Blended Learning Environment

Why make a change?

My experiment in the flipped classroom began three years ago, when the College Board changed the AP Biology syllabus to make the flipped classroom a requirement for more inquiry-based laboratories.

After looking over the new changes, I felt like they were for the better—the old labs seemed a little cookbook-ish, and inquiry-based labs really get the students to problem solve and use higher order thinking skills.

The problem that soon became apparent, though, was this: how was I going to have enough class time for all this laboratory work?!  While exploring on the internet how I might make this happen, I ran across a webinar on a flipped classroom environment.  After putting some serious work into writing up a proposal, I secured a set of Chromebooks for my AP students to use in a 1-1 environment and also several sets of the biology probeware packages from Vernier.  

 

What is a flipped classroom?

A flipped classroom takes the teacher as a “sage on the stage” delivering content to having the content delivered outside of school so class time can be used for independent practice and laboratory work.  I use a learning management system (LMS) to compile content videos from Crash Course, Bozeman, and others from Youtube.  

 

That might have been one of the hardest parts for me—letting go of complete control of the exact content that is presented to the students. I also found that my AP textbook publisher (McGraw-Hill) has an excellent online resource base for the biology textbook.  It includes their LearnSmart online, adaptive learning homework and online testing. I also post my old teaching PowerPoints and chapter outlines on the LMS as well.  

 

I have found that different students like using various resources to study the chapters.  Now into my third year of the flipped classroom for AP Biology, I am becoming more comfortable with the flipped environment.  I have since moved to a different LMS (Schoology) and continue to build resources for the students.

Our learners are changing...

Since the original flip, I have enjoyed interacting with the students so much on a one-to-one level during class time that, over the last year, I have begun incorporating digital elements and other aspects of the flipped classroom back down into my Biology I and Biology II classes. I have found that it is getting harder and harder to get students to sit quietly while I deliver content for 20-30 minutes.  Our students are now “plugged in” almost 24/7 and are demanding these type of digital experiences.  I have begun making my own content videos, using TechSmith’s Camtasia, for my Biology I students.  

Some days I really struggle to keep them engaged for a full period of content delivery, but put that same content into a video and they are glued to their screens! I enjoy incorporating more discovery activities (labs) in the now freed up class time.  I find that I can build better relationships with the students walking around the room during these activities and interacting at a more personal level.

 

You must be willing to keep learning!

I am by no means an expert on blended learning or flipped classrooms—when dealing with coworkers I find myself being told, “I don’t have that much time to find and build all these digital tools.” I try to get them to understand how they could alleviate a lot of in class frustration and save a whole lot of time as the LMS grades their tests (at least the objective questions).  

My experience at OETC really opened up eyes to the sheer amount of tools out there to help create digital content—the amount of digital tools out there to create engaging lessons is almost limitless!  It does take a lot of time (and work) to stay on top of current trends in digital education.  I have found it helpful to begin building a professional learning network (PLN) to help organize all the resources I come across on Twitter or other online searches. Technology changes at lightning speed, but I think that also makes it exciting to try to stay on top of the changes! I am definitely excited for what the future may hold.



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