2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Practicing What I Preach

“This is the time to experiment; this is the time to fail,” I tell my student teachers.  “Try something different.  Take a chance.  The worst thing that could happen is that you fail a lesson.  Then you will reflect on it and learn from it.”  Yeah.  This is stellar advice; it’s too bad that I have such a hard time following it myself.


When I previously thought about failure, I only thought about small increments of lessons, minutes of time where I felt that the students weren’t getting it or that I was off-focus.  I pride myself on being flexible during those lessons; I can change horses mid-stream, and you may not even realize it.  Don’t get me wrong; I take risks, lots of them.  I just never fail.  NEVER.


Until now. “Let’s do a wiki,” I said to my students.  “This will be a great way to collaborate and create a really useful finished project.  You’ll love this.”  God bless my Rhetoric and Composition students; they look at me with those trusting eyes, believing that I know what the hell I’m preaching.  Half of them were in my Sophomore Language Arts class, and they knew what they were getting when they chose me for their senior year.  They knew that I’d make it work, whatever “it” was, and then they convinced the other half of the class that this was so.


[caption id="attachment_39" align="alignnone" width="223"] Take a chance! What can possibly go wrong?[/caption]


Two weeks later, I took stock of our class wiki.  It was awful.  Disorganized.  Cluttered.  Ugly.  I looked at the rubric I had naively created two weeks before I had ever seen a wiki, and I realized that it had NOTHING to do with our wiki and that I had no way of measuring learning or growth.  Our wiki, MY wiki, was an epic fail.  Whose fault was it?  Mine.  When I confessed my sins to my class, the kinder souls pointed out some technical problems that were not in my control, but I knew better.  I wasn’t able to pull through on this one.  Now what?


I’m not going to lie; I have a huge ego.  Wait, are you laughing?  I’ve had many sleepless nights over this damned wiki.  I asked myself, “What will I do differently?  How can I make this meaningful next time?”  More importantly, I asked myself, “How can I pull a success out of this right now?”  It was with real relief that I graded my students’ video presentations (created from information gathered from the evil wiki), and I saw that the students really did learn.  They learned how to research and present in an organized manner; however, that presentation was not part of the wiki.  I failed, but my students didn’t fail.  I failed, and my students didn’t even care; they just went on with the lesson, which ultimately was very relevant to them.  I failed, and I need to get over it.

We all need one of these.



When my esteemed Blended Learning colleagues (Shannon and Christina) share their problems with me, I am the voice of reason.  I am the first to point out what the children have learned from this experience. I am the first to remind these young ones that they need to forgive themselves for the courageous risks they take.  I am the first to celebrate the silver lining.  I am the last to do this for myself.

Stephani Itibrout

English Teacher

Monday, December 17, 2012

When Blended Learning Becomes Calvinball

So, it took me a while to write this because I was waiting for the right words to come to me. I’ve had the topic for a while – it was just the vocabulary that was not coming. This past weekend, the authors of this blog were featured on the State of Tech podcast (you can download it from iTunes or online at thestateoftech.org) and it was listening to my colleagues that finally brought the words to me for this post. So with that, I begin with the end in mind.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

One of the biggest, unforeseen challenges that we have faced on our blended journey was teaching the students to learn in a blended space. How do I define a blended space?

  •  A classroom where students are accountable for their learning and time

  •  A place where students have to formulate questions then discover and evaluate answers in order to learn

  • An atmosphere where collaboration is essential to success

  • A setting where learning occurs in any space and any time

  • An environment where mastery is shown through authentic projects or presentations

Haven’t you, even for a moment, dreamed of a classroom like this? We all did, which is why we embarked on this blended learning journey. The problem is that we thought our students were dreaming of this classroom, too. We designed high quality classes and marketed them to high achieving, good students. And that’s when we hit our first bump in the road.

High achieving, good students were defined as high achieving and good based on an antiquated classroom model. They were high achieving and good students because they came to class Monday through Thursday, listened to the lectures, took copious notes, on average raised their hands twice a week, and on Friday were fully prepared to regurgitate everything that they had observed back to us on an exam. But this definition of the high achieving, good student does not fit with the blended learning spaces that we were designing. In fact, our high achieving, good students struggled (at first) to fit into their blended learning space. In fact, a few even longed for the face-to-face lectures and weekly quizzes because that is what years of schooling had taught them to expect. They were good at the game of school and then along came a few teachers who started playing Calvinball with the rules and the students simply were not ready.

We had to take a few steps back and realize that we had to teach students to unlearn the game of school and really learn to think. I’m not trying to holistically denounce the game of school, because it got many of us to where we are today. It’s just that the world has changed around us, so it is time that we change the definition of what a high achieving, good student is. More importantly, we have to change what the high achieving, good student expects in the typical classroom. All students deserve to learn in a blended space (as defined above) but just like we taught them how to play school so many years ago, now we must reteach them how to excel in our classroom of the future.

So, that brings me to where I was inspired this weekend. I was asked on The State of Tech podcast, what innovation in education did I feel could make the greatest positive impact. I immediately knew the answer: “Teachers with open minds – ones willing to step outside what they are used to doing and make a difference for kids.” Our blended teachers are creating blended spaces for students to learn and everyday impact the lives of over 100 students. They are really making the difference. They are teaching students to stretch beyond what they thought was possible, to see learning in a new light, to contribute to their world and to challenge the status quo. In the words of Margaret Mead, our blended teachers are thoughtful, committed citizens who are not only changing the world; they are teaching their students to do the same.

By: Stacy Hawthorne

@Medina Tech on Twitter