When I embarked on this exploratory journey toward the concept of Multi-Classroom Leadership, some pieces of the puzzle seemed to fall faster into place than others. I knew I had to coach six teachers in my pod while also reaching students directly. I wanted to create a structure allowing me to respond to their needs during their online learning time. That is how the math genius bar was born.
Another question was much harder to answer: How could we also expand the impact of great teaching to 800 students learning online?
At the beginning of the year, myself, along with two of our (awesome) blended learning teachers, started from an almost blank canvas. We had a good resource in Compass Learning Odyssey. We also wanted to use rotation models because we had 1 computer for every 2 students on our teams. We also liked how these models were allowing us to differentiate our instruction and work with small groups at a time.
Everything else was left to build from the ground up for our two grade levels, or 800 students. It was both an exciting and daunting task. For more on how all these pieces fit together, read "How To Teach 800 Middle Schoolers."
Now, while we are constantly learning new ways we can improve for our students, three tools have become irreplaceable to us: An iPad, a stylus, and a whiteboard app.
The Power of The Whiteboard App
Teachers have been blogging for years about whiteboard apps, such as Showme and Educreations, and their power in a flipped classroom in particular. What we have discovered this year is how these apps can help a large Blended Learning program like ours be more responsive to student needs by expanding the impact of great teaching every single day. Here are 5 key applications that have transformed the way our scholars learn as well as our collaboration process:
1. To flip from within: Through our rotations, we often want our scholars to explore new content on their own before meeting with their teachers as a small group. It enables our teachers to be more questioners than tellers and our students to move to the application stage faster. Basically, students can now discover the foundations of a new topic at their own pace before coming to class. Class now starts with the teacher asking students questions about this flipped activity as opposed to starting with the teacher telling them what to do. The learning is centered right away on them and their challenges.
2. To create our own scaffolded activities: Every week, our team thoroughly evaluates the online activities our students engage in throughout the week to determine where students need scaffolding or help. Often, we end up creating our own activities with Educreations or Showme because we can scaffold and teach them exactly the way we want. At first, some of them were hitting play and watching them through. Now the huge majority of our students use them at the pace that suits them. They pause them to solve problems on their own and resume watching to check that they are on the right path.
3. To offer differentiated instruction “a la carte”: We all know this feeling. We start teaching a new lesson and quickly realize half the group gets it and is ready to be challenged more while the other half needs more guided practice. Previously, it was hard not to ask one group to wait or the other one to rush. Now, we create video podcasts every week around key concepts of our curriculum but at different levels of scaffolding and at different paces. This way, when our students are online, we can help them choose the pace and level that is right for them at a given time. For instance, we will create two different types of videos on fractions at different levels.
We also work on building a growth mindset in all our scholars so that they will keep challenging themselves and not become complacent during both their online and small group learning time. In other words, start at the level and pace that feels right now but keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to try harder videos.
4. To share teaching methods within the team: By sharing all these resources prior to the teaching of a new concept, we can help the entire team preview what’s to come and align their expectations and teaching methods with each other. Imagine the impact it can have on a brand new teacher or somebody who has never taught math before! This leads us to our final point…
5. To better support substitute teachers: For several weeks, we had a substitute in one of our 7th grade math classes and he had no experience teaching math at this level. I was able to record an Educreations presentation for his class every day, which allowed him to become more familiar with the content before teaching it. At times, he would even play the video for the whole class if he was unsure of an answer or an explanation. Could this become a sustainable way to support our substitute teachers?
Today, after a semester of experimentation with these whiteboard apps, I can’t imagine going back to the days you always had to be near your classroom whiteboard to teach. Often, as I walk through our building now, students stop me to give me feedback on one of these online lessons: “The challenge problem yesterday was a bit too easy, make it harder next time!… You have got to work on this handwriting Mr. B.!… I loved the video today, it really helped me.” I walk away smiling, thinking that we are getting closer every day to reaching all our students through different mediums.
Then the smile grows bigger as I remember what my dad would tell me every day when I was a student in his 3rd grade class: “Romain, you must work on your handwriting…” I now officially have 800 reasons to do it.