Teachers Trump Tools

Playing Cards
We need to stop giving tools the credit for engaging our students and put the focus back on teachers.
Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest

Playing Cards

“What does it take to run a blended classroom?” The question came from across the room during a recent PD session that I was leading. I paused, taking time to think of a thoughtful response. Deep down, I knew what this teacher was asking but I took advantage of his vagueness and said,

“Well, I think you always start with content and pedagogy. What are your learning objectives and what is it that you want students to do to master those objectives?”

He clarified, “No, I mean all the kids are going to need a computer in front of them to do the kind of things you’re talking about right? We don’t have a one-to-one school. We have labs.”

I got it. Others do too.

Chris Stanley (@StanleyTeach), a high school English and 21st Century Literacy Teacher at Fraser Public Schools, recently visited our office in Lansing and it was awesome to pick his brain about online and blended learning. In Chris’s leadership role with his school, he promotes good, sound blended learning practices among his colleagues. He’s an advocate of the hybrid classroom, and does a wonderful job of sharing his experiences of implementing blended learning in his own teaching.

Fraser also happens to be a 1:1 iPad district and to say that this had zero impact on Chris developing of his blended classroom would be ridiculous. Heck yeah, having enough devices for every single student to use and keep with them at all times opens up a world of possibilities for blended learning. But I hate that so many think having devices for every student is the start and endpoint of building a blended learning environment.

When I talk with Chris or Mary Wever (@WeverWorld) or any of a number of the blended learning standouts in our state, we talk teaching and learning. Once, I observed Mary’s class and the only direct technology use I saw in the classroom was a small group of students watching a video that the rest of the students had watched the night before. Why? Because Mary had a tactile geometry lesson planned for that day. Physical shapes were desired over simulating them on a screen. Would a PhET style simulation still be of value? I bet Mary might consider it to support absent students or as an extension, extra practice or review activity. But see … now we’re talking teaching and learning again.

I firmly believe that these 1:1 initiatives empower leaders like Chris and Mary immediately, but a district’s belief that buying things will empower every teacher is foolish. Chris and Mary would be outstanding teachers in 1920. They know how to set objectives and construct learning environments to support their students in reaching those goals.

In a balanced and thorough article entitled What it actually takes for schools to ‘go digital’, Margaret Ramirez (@margwriter) describes several districts that have implemented wide sweeping 1:1 adoptions. It’s a fantastic look at the fiscal commitment that schools are making to these initiatives and the mixed bag of successes and failures that have resulted.

Unlike a lot of articles on this topic, Ramirez shares stories from the classroom. I so want to visit some of these classrooms where teachers are clearly TPACK literate even if they’ve never heard the term before. One quote, from someone who is clearly a great blended teacher, hit me pretty hard:

“This is the first time in my 12 years of teaching that students said writing the research paper was their favorite assignment … and I know it was due to the laptops.”

We need to stop giving tools the credit for engaging our students in positive ways and put the focus back on teachers and students doing great things by any means. Unfortunately, a big side effect of 1:1 initiatives is that it develops a sense of powerlessness. Teachers who don’t have 1:1 feel that they don’t have the power to try blended learning because they can’t guarantee that their students will have 24/7 access to the internet. So we’ve created this situation where we either throw up our hands, starting sentences with “If we only had enough laptops for every student we could …” or where administrators point to million dollar technology purchases as success itself. Educators who feel they lack the tools to implement blended learning need to know that intermittent internet access is normal and far from paralyzing, and that blended learning strategies are flexible to learners’ realities.

There are many models of blended learning and even more tools that could prove useful to teachers in creating their blended learning course. We need to do a better job of promoting tenacity in our teachers and students to utilize the technologies they have. Excuses, no matter their legitimacy, should never keep us from implementing best practices. Teachers trump tools every single time.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff is passionate about helping teachers enhance learning for students by way of strategic technology integration. This fuels his work as an instructional design coach. Prior to his time at Michigan Virtual, Jeff was a social studies teacher for six school years and he earned a master’s degree from Michigan State University in educational technology. Away from the education world he enjoys spending time at the ice rink, at home with his young family and head nodding to hip-hop music.

The Digital Backpack

Get our latest articles sent straight to your inbox every Thursday!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Limited Course Capacity

We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.