What Do We Do Now That We’re Here?

I’m spending a few days at Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools (OESIS) in Cambridge, MA. I’m presenting on the question of how to best use face to face time in blended classes. It’s a topic that I think gets less attention than it deserves. I won’t be surprised if in a time not so far away, teachers and schools will be asked (by parents, legislatures, society) to justify face to face time. That’s why I think it’s important to start these conversations now.

Here’s the description for the session….

f-3 (9:20-10:15)
What Do We Do Now That We’re Here? Maximizing Classroom Time in a Blended Learning Class
Meredith Stewart, Teacher and Department Chair, Cary Academy (NC)

Much energy has been focused on how to maximize student learning and engagement in the online component of a blended course. This session will explore the less discussed, but equally important question of how to most effectively use the reduced classroom time in a blended course. We’ll consider how to best use face-to-face time in blended courses to complement online instruction, rather than simply replicating traditional classroom instruction. Led by a teacher with four years of blended classroom experience in an independent school, participants will experience a mini-simulation of classroom activity and then
discuss how such activities can work in tandem with online instruction to enhance student learning

Here’s a link to the video we watched during the presentation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXRZgVm11pA

What value do you see, if any, in face to face classroom interactions?

NCSS 2012 Blended Learning

Below is the information I’m sharing at the National Council of Social Studies meeting in Seattle. It was a poster session, so the PowerPoint is more text heavy than it would have been otherwise. Diana Laufenberg and I wrote the proposal together, but she couldn’t make it, so I included her information in the presentation as well. She’s also been a huge help to me in designing the course and a resource for materials.


Links to US History Blended Learning Online Spaces 




It’s Not Because They’re Mean

I want to reflect on this (and the other reflections from students who taught the class) in a future post, but for now I just wanted to share…

I learned that teachers actually have a really difficult job that they make look really easy because they do it all the time. I realized that they create lesson plans every night, and then teach class the next day. They always have to grade assignments and evaluate student participation. I think that by being able to teach a class you have to know ridiculous amounts about your area of study, and this is why people go to college to be teachers, so that they are able to teach classes on a certain subject. I’ve learned why teachers get so stressed about things being late, and it’s not just because they’re mean, it’s because they have so much to do and little time to do it.

Here’s to all of you who do it every day.

Hope Realized

As a teacher, you have aspirations, values, and ideas. You try to infuse your teaching with these things, but I sometimes wonder, Do they see it? Are they getting it? Not just the content. Truth is I care about other things much more than that. I want them to love learning. I want them to be curious and to care. I want them to trust their voices and to be good listeners.

Occasionally, a teacher has the opportunity to see her hopes realized. Today was that kind of day.

This afternoon, four students from my US History blended learning class loaded into a school van and headed to Raleigh to present at the NCAIS Innovate conference. I offered the students no guidance other than to suggest that they should explain the basics of the classes and discuss some of the work we’d done in the class. I also offered to put together some slides once they’d chosen what they would talk about. As we were walking into the conference this afternoon, I realized that I had little more than a general sense of what they would say.

So when they started speaking, I was blown away. Throughout the hour of presentation and question and answer the students thoughtfully articulated the goal and experience of the class. I kept thinking to myself, I had hoped, but I had no idea. One of the things that was most gratifying was that the students spoke honestly, willing to name both the good and the challenges of the class. I also heard them speaking truth to power (albeit the benevolent, well-meaning power) by saying things like “Just because we’re students doesn’t mean we can’t develop an educated opinion of what we’re studying…” and “That’s not usually the way history teachers run their classes,” with the hastily added, “Sorry if there are any history teachers in the room.” 🙂

One of the students began her section of the presentation by saying, “So I’m not going to lie, history’s not my thing…” She went on to tell how the class had changed her view of history, one assignment leaving her so excited that she read her paper aloud to both her parents. Another said, “I don’t think I hate history, just the way we’ve always learned it…”

Matt Scully (one of my teaching heroes) asked the students if a different way of viewing class changed the way students viewed the world. I thought it was a great question, but I expected that the answer would be no. I mean it’s a class, right? I was just hoping it helped them feel more engaged in history and learning. Instead, each of the students offered some way that the class had affected the way she viewed or read the world.

While I’ve loved teaching this class, there have also been so many moments where I’ve felt doubtful about what we were accomplishing (or not) because so much of it is so new, with so many variables. Yet more reason that today I felt overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.

Inviting Students to Work Alongside Us

When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors invited a law student and I to be co-authors of some entries he was writing for the Dictionary of American History. I’m sure he easily could have cranked out the entries himself, probably requiring less time than meeting with us to draft them did. However, I suspect that he invited us into the writing process because he knew it would offer us a first foray into having our work published and a window into the world of the life of an academic. On Friday, several of the students in my blended learning class will be attending NCAIS Innovate conference with me to present on the class. It takes a bit more effort to include students in one’s professional activities- permission forms to complete, schedules to coordinate, etc.- but I think such experiences can be powerful for both students and teachers. Students have the opportunity to get a glimpse at the work that teachers do outside the classroom and also to share the work they do in the classroom with a larger audience. Teachers have the opportunity to hear student voices, which might differ in emphasis or content from the perspective of a teacher sharing about the work of the classroom.

I’ve also taken a cue from my professor and asked a student to co-author an article I’m currently working on about the class. I quote students in articles and my blog posts frequently, but this is the first time I’ve asked a student to co-author. While I don’t necessarily expect that she’ll become a teacher or writer, I hope the opportunity will be a beneficial one. I’m also excited about having her input on the article.

Lessons From the Lessons

We’re two weeks into the lessons for the shift project in my US History class. So far, students have taught classes on shifts in alcohol, drugs, transportation, race in sports, and social entertainment.

I’ve been impressed with the way the students have really owned the content that they’re teaching and cared about whether others are engaging with it. They’ve come up with interesting preparation materials (readings, videos, timelines, etc.) and questions that have sparked good discussion.

This is a good group of students, but I think the combination of a lack of strong adult presence and the sense of some senioritis setting in has proved a bit problematic. Nothing dramatic, but things like side conversations and lack of focus, which can be disheartening when you’re the person trying to teach. If this were a pedagogy class then I would have spent more time with students discussing strategies for managing a classroom. However, I’m more focused on whether students have learned the historical information and can convey it/invite participation in discussion on it than whether they can control the class. So I am trying to honor my commitment to act as a student and not intervene during class, but still address the issues. I’ve had some out of class conversations via email and face to face with students who I felt like weren’t respecting the leader for the day.

Shifting roles has been challenging not only for the students, but also for me. I thought I’d done a pretty good job of this, so I grit my teeth when I read what one student wrote on my participant evaluation for the class she led:

I like that she kept the conversations going and raised some good questions. However, she did ask questions I was going to ask so it seemed like she was still teaching.

I’m trying hard to listen first and then speak, a challenge for both me as a teacher and a super type-A student.

Having students complete teacher reflection, student evaluation, and teacher feedback forms has been an incredibly important piece of the process. Knowing that they’ll be evaluated and be doing an evaluation has kept participants on their toes, including me. I care deeply about the content and quality of the class, but I’m also competitive, so I want to get good grades and feedback 🙂 I’ve been impressed with the ability of those who’ve led so far to give feedback on specific behaviors and comments of participants in reflecting on whether participants “got” the day’s lesson.

After the trimester break, we’ll have classes on shifts in women’s roles, labor, children and work, baseball, healthcare, food, race and education, and dance.