Thursday, March 23, 2017

So Much More Than Screen Time

There is a common misconception that blended learning means students spend most of the instructional day in front of a computer screen working in isolation. I can say that this is nothing like what our students experienced this week at Tech Camp. Independent screen-time learning was only about 30 minutes of our 3 hours together each day. The other two and a half hours consisted of collaborative learning activities and technology-rich lessons.  

Learning centers from left to right: guided reading, online learning, collaborative group project.
Photo credit: Robbie Grimes

Breakout EDU

You have probably heard of the increasingly popular breakout rooms in which participants are willingly locked in a room and must solve a series of puzzles to escape. Breakout EDU is the educational counterpart. Students work collaboratively to solve a series of nonlinear critical thinking puzzles in order to open a series of locks on a breakout box.

The best part about using breakout boxes with students is that you can create puzzles to support the learning your students have been doing in class and online. Students also engage in problem solving, teamwork, and critical thinking. Breakout EDU also has a library of breakouts you can browse, gain ideas from, or replicate.

We had two groups of students simultaneously working to solve identical puzzles in order to open their boxes. Our first breakout is The Case of the Principal’s Prize. The backstory is that our principal heard that we had some amazing technology prizes to give away during tech camp, so she locked them up for safekeeping. She left clues and puzzles that our fourth grade students would be able to solve by making inferences.

Our second breakout is The Crafty Crook Caper. A crook slipped into our building and locked up all our supplies that we need to complete our group project for the week. Students worked together and solved puzzles by applying their knowledge of main idea and details.

To be honest, our students struggled with the breakout activities. Some of our puzzles were probably a bit too challenging for their first breakout experiences. They were not used to needing to complete an activity without explicit instructions for each task, and they were challenged to persevere with difficult tasks. These skills are critical for our 21st century learners, and so I see a need to provide further opportunities for my students to grow in this way.

On a positive note, our students used teamwork and had to communicate effectively with others. Despite the challenging nature of the breakouts, our students were excited to begin each round, and they asked if we could do more.

Tech Integration

We also used technology as a tool for a collaborative project students worked on throughout the week. Students practiced the skill of identifying the main idea and supporting details while synthesizing texts by reading various current event articles. Next, teams wrote a script to convey this information in interesting news broadcasts. We published our student work on our classroom learning page so that students could watch various broadcasts, determine the main idea of the videos, and provide feedback for their peers.
Photo credit: Michele Eaton

Another skill we focused on this week was identifying the theme of fictional texts. After completing two online learning modules along with guided reading lessons with a teacher, students constructed their own fictional stories around a chosen theme using Storybird. This website is a wonderful tool to inspire student writers-and it is free for teachers! Our students chose an image from an online gallery as a starting point for their stories. Later, we had students do a gallery walk around the room where they read various stories and identified the theme their peers were trying to convey.   
Photo credit: Michele Eaton

A Piece of the Puzzle

See? Blended learning doesn’t mean that students are isolated or stuck in front of a computer screen. In fact, after seeing blended learning in action during tech camp, I would describe blended learning as a part of our day, or a piece of a larger puzzle. Our time was interactive and engaging--balanced between collaborative group work and blended learning.

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