Disrupt your Math Classroom with Blended Learning

I am currently preparing a resource booklet for my next BER seminar, “Enhance Your Mathematics Instruction Through Blended Learning (Grades 6-12)”. As I compile research about blended learning in general, I am adapting what I find based on my experience in the secondary mathematics classroom. One really great resource for this is “The Rise of K–12 Blended Learning: Profiles of emerging models“ by Heather Staker, which can be downloaded for free at this link: christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/The-rise-of-K-12-blended-learning.emerging-models.pdf.

This publication concludes with a section titled “Steps for Success”, highlighting blended learning best practices that emerged from a research study of 40 schools from across the US that have implemented blended learning in a variety of formats. I immediately saw how each of these strategies can be effectively adapted for secondary math teachers.  Two of these steps are listed below with my recommendations for adaptation for the secondary mathematics classroom.

Beginning with Nonconsumption

According to the aforementioned text, “Blended-learning models have the greatest potential to follow a disruptive trajectory if they begin by offering online learning in brick-and-mortar settings to students who are non-consumers of mainstream schooling. When it goes head-to-head with the incumbent system by serving mainstream students first, blended learning is more likely to be crammed into the current classroom and sustain, rather than transform, the traditional classroom model.” Dropout recovery programs, alternative schools and self-blending programs for advanced students are offered as examples of this principle at work.

As math teachers, we have all dealt with varying forms of “nonconsumers” in our classrooms.  It may be the sleeper, who sits in the back of the room, totally disengaged with your teaching no matter what you try, or the super-advanced kid who is always underwhelmed by whatever new activity you introduce, as he or she is way ahead of whatever topic you are covering from the curriculum.  It could even be the teen mom/dad with a baby or a slew of younger siblings, and a job–which makes the student seem perpetually distracted or exhausted in your math class, when he she is not absent.

Whatever the case, giving students choices with regards to incorporating self-guided learning powered by technology could be an effective intervention.  Putting a student who previously checked-out of you class onto Khan Academy to “catch up” shows him or her that you really care enough to be flexible and offer them an alternative to (non-) participation in class as a way to learn.

If you want to try blended learning, consider starting with the kids that are not currently engaged in your lessons–perhaps this is just the jumpstart they need to get back on track. Additionally, as previously disengaged students get more interested in math as a result of self-blending, even your best students will be intrigued and want to try it for themselves!

Autonomous Zones

The writers present “autonomous zones” as schools within a district or charter network that are afforded greater control over things like class size and certification requirements in exchange for higher accountability around outcomes:

“Innovation stands the best chance of success if its leaders choose the right organization structure to manage it successfully. When an organization seeks to create deep changes around the economics
of its business model, the right organizational structure is an autonomous team. An autonomous team allows its participants to step away from their functional responsibilities in which agreeing with each other is difficult and become an independent team with its own set of purposes. In this new structure the team can rethink the organization’s resources, processes, and, importantly, its revenue formula. Thus, leaders at all levels seeking to transform the education system must establish autonomous spaces where they can deploy innovative models in the right context and create new funding models.”

Your classroom becomes an autonomous zone when you simply allow students make choices with regards to how they want to learn, using technology to augment your ability to differentiate based on each student’s expressed needs.  For example, setting up a rotation model where students can decide whether they want to stay with you and receive direct instruction or work with their peers (or individually) on practice problems on a computer or tablet gives students the freedom to do what they feel is best, which usually results in increased engagement.  Additionally, setting high standards for performance and behavior helps to keep students on task even when they are working on their own. My experience is that students like doing this so much, that they will stay on task to avoid having this option taken away!



Making Soap (and math) on my Last Day

On January 15, I began a new job–not in the classroom.  I am now using all of my tech skills to be the “digital engagement specialist” for my school district, i.e. web guru.  I am responsible for maintaining all our online communications outlets, including our website, social media and email newsletters to employees and the general public.  It has been a huge shift for me, waking up everyday to sit at a computer,  not surrounded by teenagers, not thinking about lesson plans, grades and the dreaded standardized test.  Although there is a lot I do not miss, I truly do miss the kids.  I miss laughing with them, nursing their wounds, seeing the “light bulb moment” when I know that I was the bridge between them and the unknown…there is definitely a lot that I do miss.  I do not miss the stress, not having time or energy for my own children because it was spent on my school kids, or spending Sunday afternoon at school trying to complete the futile task of “getting caught up”.

One thing that I am happy about is that I had the opportunity to end things on a high note.  Knowing that I was leaving,  I did one last hands-on activity with my students.

Each kid went home with a baggie full of homemade soap and a mind full of fractions, decimals and questions to ask about why they use the things they use in their homes on an everyday basis.  For me, this activity was born from the idea that I was spending too much on laundry soap!  My best friend found a recipe online titled “MAKE A YEAR’S WORTH OF LAUNDRY SOAP FOR $30.00!” and the rest, as they say, is history.

I have shared this recipe with everyone I knew because it was so easy to make, it was so inexpensive, and it was just amazing to replace something that I mindlessly spent hundreds of dollars a year on when it was unnecessary.   Here’s how I adapted it into an amazing classroom activity:

We took the recipe with ingredients of given weights in ounces.  In order to make three batches of the soap with my ingredients (for three classes) we divided each weight by three, introducing fractions into the activity, and measuring everything out. The entire class participated in this activity by physically measuring the ingredients, calculating how much to add and even performing additional operations to make up for measuring mistakes. Measurement is not only a big part of the Geometry curriculum, but it is also a major weakness for most of the students I’ve taught.  After making the soap, we engaged in a discussion where we compared the price of our soap to the price of store-bought soap. At the conclusion of the activity, I had the students write reflections on what they learned. Overwhelmingly, the students expressed that they enjoyed the activity and wished that they had the chance to do math in this way more often.   We also watched a documentary on Netflix called Chemerical, which follows a family of five who commits to ridding their home of all chemical cleaners to replace them with homemade cleaners made with simple, inexpensive ingredients like baking soda and vinegar.

Now that I am no longer in the classroom, I am still passionate about education, and soap!  I can’t wait to run out of the batch I made for my family and friends back in December so I can make a new batch and share the leftovers with my co-workers.  I figure that people always bring pastries and candy to share, so why not share my favorite treat–homemade laundry soap!

Moving Forward

As I step into my new role as a support employee for my school district,  I know that my blog will not be the same as it has been up to this point.  On my blog, I have showcased the best of my classroom experience and the great work that I have had the privilege to share with my students and fellow teachers.  The information that I’ve shared  will remain here on mrsblanchet.net as resource for anyone who wants ideas on how to spice up their math classes.

Now, I wish to use my blanchetBlog as a place for me to share it all.  My tech geekiness, my quest towards healthy living, my minimalist aspirations, my love for creating beautiful things and of course, my passion for education.

Moving forward, I will talk less and share more.  Quotes, links, pictures, videos and whatever else I find or create that inspires me will live on the new blanchetBlog.  I hope that my followers will continue to join me on the journey of learning and love that has been showcased there for the past five years.


Google Teacher Academy UK

Those of you who know me or who have been following my blog for a while know that I was invited to participate in the Google Teacher Academy (#GTAUK) held last spring in London. This news seemed to set off a whirlwind of movement and opportunity in my professional and personal life that has just begun to settle down long enough for me to blog about it all. With the next GTA coming up in a few weeks, I thought it would be a good time to share what I learned for those who are looking forward to attending or applying for the next cycle.

How I did it
At this point I have several teacher-friends who have applied to attend the academy and did not get accepted. This makes me feel honored and lucky to have been chosen. I have also been asked about my application, and the all-important video. My advice for the app is simple: answer the questions. Period. I know that this seems pretty obvious, but it can be very easy to get off topic or on your soapbox, so be sure to go back and check that you have directly addressed each question as thoroughly and succinctly as possible. I also saved my answers to a Google Doc and shared them with friends to proofread and revise. When it comes to the video, be bold, have fun, and most importantly, do something different. Lots of teachers are doing great things in their classrooms–how can you present what you do in an unforgettable way in only one minute?

What I learned
One interesting idea that I picked up from Google was their “80/20 rule”: Googlers (Google employees) are expected to spend 80% of their time at work “on-task” while they get 20% to use however they want–sleeping, playing video games, whatever. The idea is that when you give people time to do their own thing, they are more creative and ultimately more productive. I would love to see how this would play out in a classroom–I may try it this year! The best thing about the Google Teacher Academy is the networking, which I anticipated, but had no idea how awesome it would be. I was so inspired by the educators I met and attending overseas gave me the added bonus of being surrounded by teachers from around the world. I met YouTube guru James Sanders, who has an extensive library of videos that he has created for his own students. He also curates the YouTube EDU page where tons of free educational content is available for teachers and students. Hanging out with James and my team leader Jim Sill, another videographer extraordinaire, was a crash course in video inspiration. I was also enthralled by Tom Barrett, one of the first British Google Certified Teachers (GCT), who wowed us with a “transmedia” presentation, using a broad variety of Google tools to tell a story about his son. I had never seen anyone seamlessly integrate so many web tools in such a short time in a way that seemed so natural and effortless.

Everything that I learned and was inspired to do manifested itself in the math rap video I completed with my students and peers when I returned from London. Like Tom, I used a broad variety of tools to teach and entertain: Google Docs to collaboratively write the lyrics, Final Cut Pro to produce the video, Google Sketchup to create the 3D graphics, Keynote and GeoGebra for the slides and animations, and Garage Band to produce the song. I also enlisted many teachers and students to participate in this project, realizing that collaboration makes good ideas great. The video turned out to be a culmination of most of my knowledge about video production, presentation tools, collaboration and of course, teaching mathematics. It was greatly enhanced by the people I met and the things I learned at GTAUK.

This post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t tell you about how much I enjoyed my trip to London. It was a life-changing experience that I will never forget. This was my first trip out of the country with the exception of a cruise to Mexico. It was also the first time I traveled solo–no family, friends or co-workers to fly, share a room or just hang out with. If I had to do this trip all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Since I didn’t know when I would get to go to London again, I scheduled my trip several days before the Google event to give myself some time to enjoy the city. I was even able to find a relatively cheap train ticket online a few weeks before I left, so I took a day trip to Paris, too! I spent quite a bit of time taking in the great museums of London, which are all FREE! I saw the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, bringing to life something that I’d only seen in history books. I also enjoyed the Egyptian exhibit there, where I spent hours gawking at scores of beautiful, ancient sculptures. I began my visit with a photo tour that I scheduled with Photo Walks of London, owned and operated by Ian Hardy. Setting this tour up on the first day of my trip was a real treat. As a new owner of a real camera, it was well worth it to not only learn how to use it from an expert, but to also get some amazing postcard-worthy photos of two of the most beautiful cities in the world! I will leave you with a collection of videos that I made for my students while I was abroad…they include updates math, and lots of photos that I cannot believe I took myself! Enjoy!

3 easy ways to use iPads in Math class

Students do not need a whole lot of convincing to use iPads, but many teachers, including me, struggle to find meaningful ways to use them in math class. Here are 3 ways I use my iPads that really enhance my math instruction and get the kids excited about using technology. Continue reading 3 easy ways to use iPads in Math class