A Time to Reflect

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

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This year my department rolled out a fully blended learning program for both World and U.S. History. Each member of my department was given an iPad cart to use with our students. We met over the summer to design our courses using Haiku Learning as our learning management system. The conversation flowed as we threw out ideas about how to make learning more student-centered while staying true to our philosophy of providing a rigorous learning environment with student choice. Integrating technology at this level with varying degrees of techxpertise (thanks @MisterCoyle for the nomenclature) was certainly something that kept us on our toes all.year.long. It forced our department to take collaboration to the next level. On a regular basis (i.e., daily, before school, in between classes), we discussed how technology could help our students practice historical thinking, reading, and writing skills. Luckily, we are all veteran teachers who know the value of flexibility and having an open-mind. Because in the end it’s the students who benefit from all of this work…we’re just the care-takers of the process.

Top 10 Things We Learned This Year

  1. BaiBoard is a awesome app for collaboration – to make it easier to follow along (and hold students accountable), have students fill in a Google Form with their BaiBoard name + password; use the desktop app to monitor progress
  2. Google My Maps though it has great potential in the history classroom, the UI on the iPads is still severely lacking – it’s a bummer to have students create slideshows on a pin only to have it show up on some iPads but not others #csuftcs
  3. Padlet is an easy way for students to display their work – to prevent cheating or stealing of ideas, we found that it was better to require students to post their work first in a discussion forum in Haiku Learning to time/date stamp the entry and then post the assignment in Padlet
  4. District’s default password for GAFE accounts needs to be changed right away – birthdays are a big deal at the middle school level…hence it’s pretty easy to figure out the default GAFE password (mmddyyyy) #duh
  5. Haiku Learning is an easy way to create a blended learning environment for students – use a linear format (e.g, Task 1, Task 2) because it helps students know what to do next and they can progress through the tasks at their own pace
  6. Memes are a fun way for students to practice critical thinking skills – students not only used memes for historical writing but also to demonstrate their creative side; middle schoolers speak memes #truestory #funnestprojecttograde
  7. Student choice is one way to personalize the learning process – using a revised version of Marzano’s learning scales, students were able to chose their learning path: Level 3 (describe/define), Level 4 (analysis), Level 5 (synthesis, evaluation) #leveledlearning #studentchoice
  8. Collaboration is key – having an open-mind is just as important
  9. Technology will work when it wants to, not when you want it to #murphyslaw
  10. Middle schoolers are inherently curious and to a large extent fearless – give them a challenge and they will rise to the occasion…how do you think we’ve learned various tips and tricks of the apps that we use?


Easing Back into the Fray

Monday morning back from a holiday is just as hard on the teachers as it is on the students.  As a veteran teacher, I know that it’s best to ease back into the routine.  We started a new unit today which was a perfect introduction back into a schedule ruled by bells.  The task for today was for students to analyze a secondary source and compile notes utilizing the Thinking Tools:  details and unanswered questions.  Today’s task focused on giving students the choice to work together or independently (my morning classes were half asleep) as they used their analysis skills and background knowledge to make inferences about life on the manor in feudal Europe.
I usually tweet this…but today I really should have done it…I really should have recorded their conversations because they were so interesting, thought-provoking, and in some cases, downright hysterical.  In analyzing a picture of manor life, most students struggled with an object that looked like an elephant (not likely in Europe), a rock (not a significant factor for describing a place), or a person taking off their clothes (to which they wondered…why is someone taking their clothes off in the middle of the manor?!?!).  Then there was an object in quadrant two…is it a guy doing pull-ups (seriously?), committing suicide (well, we did just finish our study on the Bushido Code), or was someone hanged for a crime (what kind of crime required hanging as a punishment? how long did they leave the guy hanging? what is that hanging thing called?!).  One of these days, I’m going to record their conversations because the pictures on Instagram only told half the story.  When students verbalize their thinking, it is truly something to behold…

Personalized Learning…It’s Possible.

About eight years ago, my district eliminated advanced classes for history.  This meant that gifted students were placed in the general education population which posed a problem because the question now became…how do I differentiate for all the various academic levels in the same class?

[Enter technology]

When I started my master’s program in 2008 little did I know that technology was going to be part of the solution to help differentiate learning in my classroom.  I was creating lessons that utilized a variety of technology tools that I could incorporate into my lessons that would allow me to create a learning environment that was closer to what I defined to as personalized learning.

[Flash forward to 2011]

I was graciously given a class set of iPads by my principal because through our conversations I was able to convince her that technology was going to enable me to provide learning opportunities that would help all levels of students in my mixed ability classes.

It’s a work in progress and it is by no means near completion…

But we’re happy with the results thus far.


Our district brought in Robert Marzano as a guest speaker.  From there we were encouraged to utilize his idea of learning scales.  My department (true to form) took the idea and ran with it.  We created learning scales for all of our units:  world and US.  That was in 2011.

[Flash forward to today]

Each member in my department now has their own set of iPads.  Our principal purchased licenses for Haiku Learning.  We’ve changed our units so that we are offering our students opportunities to work in a blended learning environment.  With that, we’re able to create tasks that are required and optional.


Level 3 tasks which fall under the describe/define category of Bloom’s are required.  It’s the bare basic concept attainment for our respective curricular areas.  Level 4 tasks are analysis and Level 5 tasks focus on evaluation and/or creation.  Levels 4 & 5 are optional. Students who complete Level 3 tasks will earn the equivalent of a C for that unit.  Students who complete Level 4 tasks have the potential to earn the equivalent of a B for that unit.  Likewise, students who complete Level 5 tasks have the potential to earn the equivalent of an A for the unit.  Level 4 does not count if students do not demonstrate mastery of Level 3.  Level 5 does not count if students do not demonstrate mastery of Levels 3 and 4.  Students choose their level of learning.  It’s just one part of the personalized learning that occurs in our classes.

[Flash forward to today]

In Haiku Learning, we’re able to create leveled tasks for students.  Not only do they have a choice in their learning level, but they also have a choice in how they want to demonstrate their learning.  Students who are interpersonal can choose to work with a partner.  Students who are artistic can choose to use creation apps like Paper 53 or Notability.  Students who are musically inclined can use Garageband or Songify.  The point being…the integration of technology into our classes has given us the means to offer our students a personalized learning experience.  We can create differentiated lessons and activities, but students also have a choice in their learning.  It’s been a crazy first month of school and I’m totally pooped but it’s been fun.  I love watching my students get excited when looking at the various options that they can choose from.  I don’t think that students often get a choice in how they learn but we’re trying our best to make that happen in our classes.  And for that…we’re super thankful that our administration believes in our vision because we’re not done yet.  =)