This piece is the 16th in a series of monthly pieces by teachers participating in the Opportunity Culture initiative, a movement launched in 2011 by education policy and consulting firm Public Impact. Pilot schools in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and Cabarrus County, N.C,; Nashville, Tenn.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Big Spring, Texas; and Indianapolis are using Public Impact’s new job models and career paths. These “Opportunity Culture” models are aimed at improving the quality of education by extending the reach of excellent teachers and their teams, to encourage teacher selectivity, increase opportunities for teachers to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom, promote on-the-job learning, and boost teacher pay -- all within regular budgets.
"After 26 years of teaching, I was the model of a traditional teacher." reports Lori Treiber, RealClearEducation.
|Biology teacher Lori Treiber uses her blended-learning in-class days partly to focus on lab time, such as this introductory gel-electrophoresis lab. |
Photo courtesy Jon'Nae Williams.
Class began with review, then new material and cooperative or independent work, then closure. But two years ago, intrigued by my district’s request that I pioneer an Opportunity Culture biology blended-learning class, extending my reach to more students (and for more pay), I took the challenge: Could I learn some new tricks?
Yes. Just not the way I expected.
For the first semester in fall 2015, I extended my reach by seeing one group of students every other day, teaching a second group on the first group’s “off” days—nearly doubling my student load for this period to 46. I planned to cover two days of material during each face-to-face day—through labs and activities with minimal lecturing—while students worked online in the classroom on off days.
To “flip” the classroom, I recorded my usual lectures that summer, using PowerPoints and animations. I embedded questions in the videos to help students stay on track, and gathered remediation and enrichment resources.
I divided my students three ways: half met with me for half the period, while half worked online next door, then switched; half met with me for the whole period, switching the next day; or all 46 met together in a large room. I could design each day to best fit students’ needs and each topic’s objectives.
I also gave students personal choice and some freedoms. I broke the assignments into 80 percent “basic work” and 20 percent “uPicks,” letting students select from an assignment list. Students got all assignments at the beginning of the topic and could set their pace. Basic work was due daily, uPicks any time before the test. Freedom, right?
I had thought through everything as best I could, but I had never taken an online course. What did I really know from the students’ perspective?
In fall 2015, I started with a semester-long honors biology course and immediately hit a big bump. Students provided their own devices, so I had to be a technology expert, trouble-shooting everything. What a nightmare.
Worse, students resisted. They complained about the workload and blamed the blending. I needed to convince them that it was hard just because it was biology—but this also made me take a step back: Was I really giving them choice and personalized learning?
After surveying my students after every topic to see what was and wasn’t working, I realized I had to change to truly personalize my spring course.