Flipped or Blended Classrooms

With the advent of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), the installation of institution-wide WiFi, and the proliferation of Smartphones, the idea of the “flipped” or “blended” classroom is becoming more mainstream.

I’ve seen it work recently, in one of my son’s business courses.  In the absence of the professor, videos of lectures where uploaded to be watched at the student’s leisure.  If questions arose from the lectures or the readings, then attending the tutorial time was recommended.

This system of learning can be successful in a post-secondary setting but what about elementary, middle, and high school?  I can see that, in the right setting, students can review material on-line outside of school hours, then use in-class time for more creative, hands-on, applications of the information.  This “flipping” of a classroom, changes the expectations for students and teachers.  Teachers have to be prepared ahead of time, with appropriate materials to be accessed from home.  Students are expected to have reviewed that material and come to school prepared to put it into action.  Teachers would be assuming that students are motivated to do the reading or listen to the lecture in their own time.  Are we also adding time, out-of-school, to children, who, through high school, are the busiest children in history? I haven’t seen this learning process in action enough to have an opinion.  The jury is still out.

Which Apps Work Best

tinkerboxWe have a iPad cart here at the Doucette Library that is loaded with education apps for elementary and secondary students.  Although I used some apps with students in my elementary school job, it is only since I have been at the Doucette that I am learning what a great app does.  When testing out apps to be loaded for teachers in training, I found that the one use, reward based, apps were the least attractive over the long term. In experimenting with apps, I found the creative apps like Book Creator or TinkerBoxHD allow students to create content on their iPad with very little training.  This creativity and presentation of content is key to a good app.  TinkerBoxHD allows students to learn simple physics principles though puzzle solving, then leads them to invent using these principles.

bookcreatorapp Book Creator allows students to load various kinds of content, created by their own hand or downloaded, into e-book form.  How exciting for students to be writing, illustrating, and creating their own books.  In loading a classroom iPad, play with each app to plan how students can use them creatively within the classroom.  Oh, and one other thing I learned, listen to your students. Sometimes they know about apps you can only imagine but would be wonderful additions to your creative bag of tricks.

Learning to Learn

Say “makerspace” and very quickly a conversation takes hold.  Makerspaces have captured the imagination of many educators at all levels. The innovative and engaging nature of “making” has taken the library and education worlds by storm.  There are articles about the advantages of having maker-faires at post-secondary institutions and having younger children participate in making as an after school activity.  The inclusion of makerspaces as part of any school environment would encourage creativity and push students to deeper learning.  Because information is readily available, the opportunity for students to design and pursue their own learning experiences is very exciting.  Teachers become facilitators and mentors during the time set for making.  Now, some of the success depends on how students learn.  Do students know how to question, make assumptions, draw conclusions, maneuver their way through problems? “Learning to learn” has made the top ten list of innovations in the Innovations in Pedagogy 2014 report and is expected to have a profound influence on education.  I feel like the stars are aligning for exciting changes in education.


University of Calgary STEM Community

I recently joined about fifty other interested people at the second meeting of the STEM Community formed within the University of Calgary.  The name implies two foundation ideas that infuse these educators’ thinking.  The interest in STEM comes from the need to educate a Canadian workforce to meet the jobs that are emerging in industry.  We need to educate university students today to meet the employer needs of tomorrow but also to educate our educators to prepare students as young as 5 to participate in a world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  The second word, “community,” is no less important.  As we introduced ourselves, it became obvious that our varied backgrounds made us a motley crew of specialties and interests.  This community, however, is united in its interest in making our programs and, therefore, our students, stand-outs among the larger university community.  The notion is new and exciting:  to come together and create something innovative and engaging to those generating new STEM possibilities and those experiencing the teaching outcomes of this unique group.  Keep your eye out for related STEM information, apps, websites and ways to integrate STEM teaching in your practice.

One Device or Many?

Do you have a laptop? Smartphone? Tablet? E-Reader? All of the above? Although our lives seem jam-packed with technology, I can’t imagine being without any of them.

In the same way, bringing the best of all technology into the classroom is a must.  Tablets full of creative and imaginative apps help students mind map, plan, and present information that becomes the foundation learning that leads to their creativity.  They are challenged then, to present information in a myriad of ways using apps that lend themselves to showcasing information.

Smartphones, in this day of BYOD, can provide a variety of ways to contact and remind students of their learning. Most Smartphones provide decent cameras to document learning and apps for chat spaces to collaborate with other students.

The trusty laptop seems to be a permanent fixture to any student no matter the age.  What is on your laptop? Answer: My Life! Laptops facilitate knowledge mining, mind mapping, writing, and documenting. It is a portfolio of all our learning.

We read books and magazines on our e-readers.  Back lit for reading in the dark.  We are taking a break with another screen in our hands.

Embrace these technologies. They will be in and out of the classroom and they will facilitate the creative learning of you and your students.  Each has their strengths and weaknesses and all are necessary in our classrooms.

Makerspaces for Innovative Teaching

One of the most interesting new learning philosophies I have been investigating is a makerspace.  Haven’t heard of it? You are not alone but I think this sort of learning space is one of the most interesting ideas for inquiry learning that you will come across.  Makerspaces contain technology, materials and tools to make, invent, and design things.  What better way to learn than hands-on experiences, trial and error, problem-solving?  And they are not limited to schools.  Many public libraries and university libraries are creating makerspaces within their buildings.  A Calgary High School was designed with a makerspace in mind.

Sylvia Martinez’s book, “Invent to Learn” is in the Doucette Library.  She is a wonderful resource, capturing the essence of what a good makerspace looks like and includes.  I am developing a Lib Guide for students that contains makerspace philosophy and some practical material reviews.

The movement towards the experience of learning mimics what many students will encounter in the work force later in life.  It is easy to “google” an answer but how do you design, make or invent something to do the task you need to do? This is learning at its best.  The creativity among students can be celebrated and cultivated in such a space and the inventors of tomorrow will have an outlet today.

There are many tools that can be part of a makerspace but some essentials seem to be a 3D printer, Raspberry Pi or Arduino computer components and various other “found” objects.  Sounds like fun! If engagement is the name of the game, makerspaces may be a big part of the answer.

Lifelong Learning and Technology

Lifelong learning is especially important when it comes to technology.  To know the basics of hardware set up and laptop or tablet use is one thing but technology changes faster than a speeding bullet.  In each classroom, a variety of approaches to learning with available technology is essential.  Use everything you know about to create a diverse and engaging learning environment. I am following two blogs that increase my awareness of what is out there.  One is http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com and the other is http://vanmeterlibraryvoice.blogspot.ca.  Lisa Nielson of the Innovative Educator advocates for cell phones in the classroom as a BYOD and Shannon M. Miller of the Library Voice has students experimenting consistently with new software that will challenge their curriculum learning.  She is not out to challenge their technology learning.  She is successfully embedding the technology in the curriculum.  Herein lies the challenge: making the learning engaging through technology not learning technology.  Are you with me?  If I wanted to find out where my own kids were I had to learn to text.  I learned to text only to get to the real information.  Continue your technology learning to create opportunities for students to learn and grow in knowledge.