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On Pie, Teaching and Learning

2014-10-28 18.48.45I’ve been baking, well, really for the first time.  Making a pan of brownies as a bachelor doesn’t count.  I mean baking.  For some recipes all you have to do is chuck the ingredients in a bowl, mix, dump it in a pan and bake.  Simple.  For others the order and quality of the blending is more critical.  Add the salt or eggs too early or too late and the final product won’t taste quite right.  Those lumps?  Yeah, they’re a flaw.

I think the same is true with blended learning.  For some activities it’s just a matter of throwing the kids some resources (say, a video or a pdf), and turning them loose.  They’ll figure it out.  The more complicated and critical the order and quality of the steps… the more likely something is going to go wrong.  Sometimes very, very wrong…

There’s nothing so simple as face-to-face instruction.  And any classroom teacher will tell you… teaching a room of teens isn’t easy.

I do love the promise of blended/online learning.  Heck, I did my entire Master’s online without ever setting foot on campus(or even in the same state).

Sometimes teaching feels like being in the small boat waiting for the shark.

But what’s the biggest problem with blended/online learning that I’ve seen or experienced?  A lack of perseverance both from teachers and students.  As a student using an online/blended format, when things got tedious or boring the level of BS, for lack of a better descriptor, in the work done by students(myself included) skyrocketed.  Oh, another forum post.  Yawn.  But I see problems when the work or task is a higher level of complexity for my students.  The quality of work plummets.  The complains rise exponentially.  And the overall mood and morale of the class sinks.

As a teacher I find myself using the “fish or cut bait” method of being a professional.  How long will this take?  Is this app or method easy?  What are the possible problems?  If I’m spending too much time setting things up, it’s time to “cut bait” and abandon this method.  I’ve done it.  With what feels like ten thousand pulls on our time, we have to be incredibly brutal in our decision making at times.  Nope, nope nope.

What's an English teacher really need?  Desks, books, paper, and pencils.  Done.

What’s an English teacher really need? Desks, books, paper, and pencils. Done.

The old way is known.  The time involved for planning, execution and grading, the likely behavioral and learning outcomes, the possible and confirmed problems… these are known.  But with a new method?  None of these are known.

I keep looking for the new method, the new “silver bullet.”  I find I have the most success with something akin to app smashing.  I look at an app from “outside the box.”  I wonder how could this app be used in my class?  Twitter to tweet as a character from Macbeth after each scene.  Sure.  Use Storify-an app for embedding Tweets in a news article–for analyzing character tweets?  Yep.  I’m working on finding a way to have my students use Adobe Voice, Pixotale, and/or Storehouse to share/publish their work.  I’m teaching myself Basecamp, a web-based project management tool used primarily in business.  I want to use it to manage the school newspaper staff next year(which is going online) and perhaps my regular classes(I hate moodle, edmodo, etc.).  Eventually we all just run out of hours in the day…

So have I seen a good/great hybrid?  No.  Well, not one that I could adapt and use.  Too many students without computers at home plus a general lack of tenacity and willpower(GRIT), and too few computers/tablets in my classroom equal little traction for hybridizing too much.  Which side of the digital divide a kid is on shouldn’t be a factor in a his/her grade.


About Rob Sterner

English teacher, Film buff, Filmmaker, Writer, Musician, Photographer, Runner, Taoist, Thinker, List maker...


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