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Blend Like a PIRATE

I had been sailing on a clear course for about 13 years before I decided to drastically change course for blended learning. I've been on this blended learning course for about two and a half years now. I thought I had prepared well for my change in course, but there were many times early on in my change of course, I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I hit some pretty rough water and I had some real heart-to-heart conversations with myself. But the more I kept sailing, the more treasures I kept finding. This year's travel was full of so many treasures like Breakout EDU's, Mystery Skypes, 3D printing, G Suite tools for students and teachers, and engaged learners like never before. I realized that with all of these treasures I have collected, I have become a PIRATE. 

Blend like a PIRATE:

Purpose 

My first year of running a blended learning classroom was frustrating to say the least. Just when I was thinking I was making progress, something always seemed to come up to derail the progress I thought I had made. And while that year was full of frustration and uncertainty, it was also full of learning and adventure. (Read about my mistakes and my corrections from an early post Surf's Up: First Year Blended Learning Mistakes and Ways to Correct Them) Through all of the learning and adventures, the biggest thing I learned was understanding my purpose of running a blended learning classroom. I knew prior to starting a blended learning classroom, I needed to try something new and different for my students, but I was unclear of the purpose. My purpose for blended learning, which I discovered as a result of all the frustrations and hardships, is that blended learning is a way for students to find meaning, relevance, and themselves in their education during their time in education. So as I went through my second year of a blended learning classroom, I kept that purpose in mind all year long. By having understanding that purpose this year, I was able to focus more and piece together the puzzle pieces to create an effective and engaging blended learning environment for my students.

Imagination

When was the last time a worksheet allowed for any imagination from a student? With blended learning, imagination can come flooding back into student learning and teacher planning, especially if using G Suite for Education. Google Drawings was the perfect tool to allow imagination to come out. With Google Drawings, whatever my students could imagine, they created. All I had to do is to recognize the connections Google Drawings and other G Suite tools have to student learning, set some guidelines, then get out of my students' way. 
  
Relevance

Relevance is rarely found in textbook or in a worksheet, because relevance is updated about as quickly as a Twitter feed. For students that only know of a world with smartphones and the Internet, they are always finding new ideas to capture their interest (bottle flipping, slime, fidget spinners, etc.). Blended learning allows for relevance to connect to learning. This helped build the strongest relationships with my students I have ever had in my 15 years of teaching. Bottle flipping was the huge craze early on in the year, and many viewed it as a problem. However, I saw the problem as the solution. We were learning about absolute value and discussing how it relates to a number line in math class, so I connected those ideas to bottle flipping. Students collaborated on Google Sheets and Slides with the results of their bottle flipping absolute value. I had four students take the idea further by creating videos of their dogs and cats bottle flipping. Those students ended up collaborating on a video for a bottle flipping contest by their pets (the dog, Snickers, won). By making content relevant, students will embrace learning. 

Anytime, anywhere

The best thing I have experienced in running a blended learning classroom, is that learning does not stop when they leave my classroom, but if I want my students to see this, I first must model that for them. My post about being at Home Depot one night illustrates the idea of modeling anytime, anywhere learning. The Mouse King: Of Mice and Math. My students are now taking what they learned in my classroom, and making connections outside my classroom and sharing those connections with our class by posting their thoughts and ideas in Google Classroom. They are understanding that learning transcends any class or textbook. They are understanding they are in control of their learning. 

Teaching

Don't fear that technology will take teaching jobs away with ideas like blended learning. Rather understand the power technology can have in your classroom, and use it. Technology has made my teaching so much more meaningful. I feel inspired and energized to come to school every day knowing that I don't know what my students are going to create using tools like G Suite to demonstrate their learning. But I am not the only one teaching with technology in my classroom. As the year has gone on, I see more and more teaching from my students. I see them teaching in a collaborative Google Slide with their comments, naturally going around the room to help others who are struggling and asking for their help, or quickly becoming experts on topics and teaching their peers new ways to problem solve. 

Electric energy

There is an undeniable electric energy to my classes this year, and yes, while it there are electronic devices in my room, it is more than that. Students are energized to come into my room. They have their hands up all the time, they are asking for assignments, they are posting learning connections outside of school on Google Classroom without any prompting from me, and they are communicating and collaborating with each other so easily. 

Blended learning is a change in course, and it is not an easy one to make. But the changes that occur are ones that are worth all the frustrations and hardships. Set sail on that adventure. Rediscover your passion for teaching. Allow students to find meaning, relevance, and themselves in their education. Sure you will hit some rough water, but when you find those treasures, you won't be disappointed. Blend like a PIRATE.

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