The Fog Lifts: The Way to Blended Learning

Saturday was the 8th coldest day on record in Syracuse. At 20 below zero, I could see my breath turn into snow. Conveniently, this weather lands on the beginning of midwinter break for the Syracuse City School District. So, naturally come Monday morning rather than begin working, I finished a Netflix movie I fell asleep to the night before. The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez, is about a man who finds himself travelling the Camino de Santiago. Also known as the way of St. James, the Camino is a pilgrimage across France and Spain. The main character, played by Martin Sheen, doesn’t fully identify his purpose for travelling the Camino until he arrives at his destination. While I don’t claim to be on a sacred journey, I find his spiritual discernment resonates with my own recent professional reflection.

The last week has been overwhelming. For 2 days, I attended the SyraFuse (amalgamation of Syracuse + Fuse Fellowship) Blended Learning (BL) bootcamp, facilitated by the Highlander Institute. It really felt just like that: Bootcamp. The first cohort of “Lighthouse” teachers were recruited to become ‘blended learning experts’ and examples to other teachers in the Syracuse City School District district. The first part of our training was an immersion into the BL world with the unlimited expanse of the digital world at out fingertips. While I anticipated to attend this training, I felt like Martin Sheen’s character as he arrives at the beginning of his 500+ mile journey not having opened the guidebook once.

Inundated with instructional resources, new apps, and innovative pedagogy, I felt excited at the challenge to grow professionally. However I also felt overwhelmed, just like our students when faced with an authentic open-ended task. A week later, I am still navigating a maze of ideas and reflections from the Bootcamp! And, while we were thankfully provided a roadmap (actually a Bingo Board & Blendspace playlist), we were not given a fixed destination. Each teacher’s students, resources and classroom looks different, so were given the freedom and CHOICE to create a PERSONALIZED plan. This past week, I have gathered and curated digital resources and apps, evaluated instructional tool for their effectiveness and utility in the classroom. I have mulled over different iterations for what blended learning could look like and how students should experience it in my classroom.

I feel only slightly closer to defining this vision with certainty, but as I reflect on the immersive approach of the Bootcamp I am reminded of the quote, “the journey is the destination.” I may not have a clear focus of the end goal, but I can begin to work towards professional learning goals. Along the way things may change and I may have to redirect my efforts as I clarify my vision. It is still overwhelming to envision the end-goal, but I can begin with small actions. Like this blog posting; while this blog many not be the best and ultimate platform for my own personal reflections, but it is a beginning on the way.

The symbol of the Camino is a yellow scallop shell. Signs and pilgrim hostels (also called albergues) are marked with the scallop to guide the pilgrim on their way. The shell also acts as a metaphor for the journey. The many grooves in the shell represent the various routes pilgrims travel on their way to Santiago. While my exact journey may be unknown, my goals for a blended learning classroom and the landmarks on the way:

1) My goal is to develop authentic real world learning experiences that allow students choice and freedom to personalize their learning. In order to do this, I plan to fully embed EDpuzzle, Padlet, and TBD peer communication & collaboration tools. Student-centered projects will require students to communicate, think critically & problem solve, demonstrate proficiency of performance skills, and practice digital literacy.*

*This is the meat of students’ work. I expect students to develop, master and demonstrate NGSS-defined Scientific Practices, Common Core reading and writing skills, and Career Ready Practices

2) In order to achieve this goal: I will regularly incorporate TBD digital assessment tools to provide students with immediate feedback and collect student data to inform lesson planning. This will allow me to differentiate instruction to meet individual students at their zone of proximal development (I know I need help here). I will encourage self-reflection (TBD format) and peer coaching.

3) On this journey, I will chronicle my professional and personal growth. I will write regularly (at least once a month) about my teaching practice, challenges and successes. I will work to build a professional learning network, locally and digitally. I will curate a digital portfolio of my classroom (to include Twitter and a ‘blogging’ presence on a TBD platform, along with student work and curriculum.)

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