Showing posts with label blended learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label blended learning. Show all posts

Friday, 18 September 2015

Greenwood’s First Summer Institute for Teachers - Collaborating to Develop Personalized Education

The teachers at Greenwood strive to create a personalized program for students through the use of technology-rich resources (blended learning) and innovative programming. The development of forward-thinking approaches to education takes collaboration, time, and support for teachers. To achieve this goal, we recently launched our week-long Summer Institute.

Science teachers Julie Way, Nancy Clarke and Vanessa Floras
developed technology-rich lab activities for students during the
2015 Summer Institute.
Teachers were enthusiastic about this initiative: we received 18 proposals from 30 teachers, which accounts for half of our teaching staff. Nine of these proposals were selected and 19 teachers participated in the Institute, using devoted time to collaborate with colleagues and develop curriculum to support personalized and visionary education

Listed below are the projects teachers worked on:

  • Developing a curriculum that integrates Grade 12 English (ENG4U) and AP English (ENG4UO) using a team-teaching approach within one learning space.
  • Developing blended learning materials for Grade 11 Biology (SBI3U) to provide a student-centred learning approach.
  • Designing the WWII unit in Grade 10 History (CHC2D) to integrate blended learning, community service, and experiential learning opportunities.
  • Generation of teacher expertise with Vernier Lab Equipment. Expert teachers spent time developing technology-rich lab activities for students and training modules for teachers.
  • Redesign of the Grade 10 Core French (FSF2D) course to integrate project-based assessment and more personalized learning activities.
  • Development of blended learning materials for Grade 10 Careers (GLC2O) to allow for personalization of the curriculum.
  • Development of integrated, cross-curricular projects for students in Grade 7 & 8.
  • Visionary investigation and planning for an enhanced Grade 7 & 8 program. Teachers looked at the new classroom spaces that will be ready in September 2016 and how these can be used to provide Grade 7 & 8 students with age-appropriate and integrated learning opportunities.

Having a week to work together and to focus exclusively on curriculum development was greatly appreciated by all participants. The school is fortunate to have the resources to provide these teachers some additional compensation for their efforts. This work also provided teachers with an excellent, job-embedded professional learning opportunity.

This work will support the transition in the fall of 2016 to the new learning spaces in our expanded campus and advance our ongoing, personalized learning initiatives.

Throughout this school year, teachers who participated in our Summer Institute will use this blog to illustrate the impact of these new teaching approaches on student learning.

Allan Hardy

Heather Thomas
Vice-Principal, Student Learning

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Blended Learning in Media Arts

Teachers Johanna Liburd and Amy Adkins discuss how personalizing learning for their Media Arts course helps students to acquire not only technical skills but also confidence in their learning capabilities.

What is Media Arts?
Media Arts provides an avenue for students to experience new technologies and the ways in which those technologies interact with and build on the traditional arts. Students explore such areas as photography, image manipulation, sound recording and editing, video recording and editing, digital animation and web design. Students acquire communications skills that are transferable beyond the media arts classroom and develop and an understanding of responsible practices related to the creative process. Students will also develop the skills necessary to create and interpret media art works.

The Traditional Media Arts Class
There are many ways to personalize student learning in the arts. One of the more traditional methods is personalizing by student interest. This year, the course has been further developed to incorporate even greater opportunities for personalizing learning based on readiness. For instance, in each unit students are given a variety of options for how they go about learning course concepts, skills and the ways in which they express their knowledge and understanding. With a focus on choice, students are able to use their interests and strengths to navigate their own learning through each project.
When personalizing for readiness, the teachers get to know each student and create lessons and projects that build upon their unique interests, strengths, prior learning and academic needs. We identify when a student needs a push or challenge and gear their choices and projects in a more challenging direction.

How Will This New Course Benefit Student Learning?

Blended Delivery: Students will be given a variety of ways to learn material based on their specific needs and/or learning preferences. By delivering course content in a variety of ways, students will learn the same material, but in the manner that suits them best. Students will also be encouraged to consider when, and if, they need to revisit prior learning. With the guidance and support of their teacher, students will be given opportunities to push themselves and will be challenged to develop strong and effective work habits.

Greater Teacher Support: The course Groodle page will contain resources presented in a variety of formats, such as videos and written tutorials, as well as one-on-one demonstrations provided by the teacher. With a greater focus on online learning, it is our hope that students will further develop their independent learning skills. This also allows the teacher to circulate around the room and provide support based on individual need.

Student Choice: The last unit of the course is an Independent Study unit. This unit provides students with the opportunity to propose a project that revisits and expands upon prior learning in the course. After submitting a proposal, students will be challenged to further develop their independent and collaborative learning skills. Regular check-ins with their teacher will ensure that the student stays on track while exploring the topic of their choice.

Collaborative Learning: Our goal is to give students a realistic sense of what it is like to work in a creative field. To that end, we aim to create and support an environment of collaboration, teamwork and leadership. Lessons will begin with warm-up activities that energize, challenge and promote community within the class. Students will not only gain a broad set of technical skills during the year, but they will also develop their interpersonal and collaborative skills, as well as their emotional intelligence.

In conclusion, it is our hope that students are able to experience greater success in Media Arts because of blended delivery, greater teacher support, student choice and collaborative learning. We aim to increase our students' ability to learn in a self-directed manner, to build their creative thinking skills and to foster a love of the arts. As we prepare our students for the future, our focus is not only on equipping them with competitive skills, but also instilling confidence in their own ability to learn.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Minerva: The University of the Future?

Critics of contemporary North American education often claim that it’s driven by flavor-of- the-month thinking. Not surprisingly, personalized learning has been described by these same critics as the latest educational fad. As followers or occasional readers of this blog realize, we take exception to such criticism, as personalized learning is at the heart of our educational approach here at Greenwood.

Consequently, it was refreshing to read this month’s cover story in The Atlantic, “The Future of College?” and learn that other educators are not content with the preservation of the status quo. The article by Graeme Wood, a graduate of Harvard, focuses on Minerva, a small for-profit university that has established itself in San Francisco. What makes Minerva unique is its use of an online learning platform, which uses technology to re-imagine the traditional university lectures and seminar.

The strength of the online platform is that it forces students to engage actively and be accountable for their learning. By using this technology, professors can simultaneously communicate with each student. Unlike the traditional seminar, there is no opportunity to sit back and let others do the work, nor is there the typical stand-and-deliver lecture in which the professor does almost all the work. Professors use the online platform to group students to debate topics and gauge learning through pop quizzes. After experiencing one of these 45-minute seminars, which Wood describes as “good, but exhausting,” he observes that Minerva’s seminar platform “will challenge professors to stop thinking they’re using technology just because they lecture with PowerPoint.”

One other benefit of this approach is that it forces professors to think more carefully about how they teach. Rather than seeing teaching as an art and a science, the leaders of Minerva believe teaching is “a science and a science.” In other words, effective teaching is dependent upon student learning. Lesson design is rooted in research related to retention and engagement. Ongoing assessment, which is a key element of personalized learning, is used to group students effectively and to support remediation.

Though Minerva makes no claims about personalizing education, their efforts at reinventing the traditional university model bear some similarities. Rather than educating large numbers of students in a cost-effective manner (which is why lecture halls exist at universities), they instead are focused intently on individual learning. The entrepreneurs of Minerva are also leveraging technology to make this possible.

It is reassuring to know that our use of blended learning and other aspects of personalized learning at Greenwood are preparing our students to be able adapt successfully to the inevitable changes that are happening or will soon take place in the world of higher education.

Allan Hardy

Monday, 9 June 2014

Thinking Differently to Meet Students' Needs

Two years ago, I posted “Reinventing the High School Experience,” which reflected upon one educator’s claim about the need for high schools to “revolutionize” themselves. As the postings on this blog over the past two years demonstrate, Greenwood has made great strides in this direction.

Here are some of the highlights:
  • 15 high school courses, ranging from Grade 9 to 12, are now delivered using a blended learning model. Using this approach has allowed students to learn at their own pace and freed up class time for more individualized and small group learning. 
  • Non-blended courses continue to leverage new types of learning technology, such as Oxford Next and The Academic Zone, which enable students to customize their learning. 
  • 6 Grade 7-10 subjects are now scheduled in a block format, which enables flexible grouping based on readiness or interest within a grade cohort. 
  • Our Grade 7-8 Arts program has introduced a major/minor approach where students can specialize in one or two of our four arts electives. 
  • 75% of our teachers now use Hapara on a regular basis. Use of this Google tool allows teachers an overall snapshot of individual student learning. 
  • We have re-modeled two classrooms to create one flexible learning space, equipped with state-of-the art technology and furniture.

Ann Marie Kee, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Independent Schools, recently observed that independent schools are often reluctant innovators. I am proud to be leading a team of educators that have the expertise and courage to think differently about high school and how it can be improved to better meet the needs of our students.

Allan Hardy

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Greenwood English Department Moves to Oxford Next

This week, English teacher Heather Wright explains how technology enriches the study of Shakespeare for Greenwood students.

This year during our Hamlet unit Grade 12 English students enjoyed using new software, Oxford Next, to support their learning. In the past, the English department has taught Shakespeare plays using a more traditional, teacher-led approach; however, Oxford Next allows for much greater personalization.

Oxford Next Screenshot
Oxford Next allows students to view Shakespeare
scenes, and to check their understanding with
short quizzes.
Using various online tools, students can work at their own pace, watch various film versions of each scene, and take self-check quizzes to assess their understanding of the material.  Scene summaries, definitions, and a study guide are also available for when students run into difficulty. With the great variety of learning tools at their disposal, students can use the resources that best meet their needs and learning styles.

Current Grade 12 students are in a unique position; they were taught Macbeth in Grade 10 without the use of Oxford Next, so they have been able to experience both approaches to learning Shakespeare. The feedback from students has been very positive, with each student using and appreciating different aspects of the software:

“I enjoyed Oxford Next very much. I specifically liked that there was a media center so that I could watch the films and understand the language more effectively. I also enjoyed being able to hover over words and see their definitions in modern English.” - Noah Flatt

“I really enjoyed having quizzes.  It was helpful to test my understanding and to ensure that I did not miss a major event in the story.” - Madeline Chisholm

“Compared to reading from the physical text, finding quotes was simple.  I liked having the ability to copy directly to an online notebook. Compiling a list of important quotes was easy.” -Thomas Cole

Given the positive feedback, the Oxford Next approach to Shakespeare has also been implemented at the Grade 10 and Grade 8 levels for the study of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Video: What are some of the fears associated with blended learning?

We know that teaching is relational, and the relationship between teacher and student is critical. In this video, our blended learning experts address fears that blended learning aims to replace teachers with technology. In fact, blended learning, when done well, enhances the teacher-student relationship.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Video: How do we know blended learning works?

It's a common question: how do we know blended learning makes a difference for students? Our three panelists share their evidence that this approach positively impacts student learning and engagement.


Thursday, 24 April 2014

Video: Does blended learning work for all students?

It doesn't take a certain type of student to succeed in a blended environment. This approach increases student learning and engagement for students with a wide variety of strengths and needs. Our blended learning panelists share their views on this subject in the video below.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Video: What are the advantages of blended learning?

How does blended learning benefit students, both at the middle/high school and postsecondary levels? Our three Blended Learning panelists discuss the advantages of this learning approach.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Video: What does blended learning look like at different institutions?

Blended learning looks slightly different at every school and in every class, but there are many common features. Three experts share what this approach looks like at their institution.

Greenwood hosted a Blended Learning Panel Discussion on February 4, 2014, featuring speakers from both the postsecondary and middle/high school levels:
  • Dr. Brenda Ravenscroft, Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Arts and Science, Queen's University
  • Paul Gries, Senior Lecturer, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto
  • Heather Thomas, Vice-Principal, Student Learning, Greenwood College School
Over the next several weeks, we'll post video excerpts of the evening's discussions, broken up by topic. Each video provides not only insight from these experts on where blended learning is going, but concrete examples of what students can expect in a blended classroom at college and university.

Watch the first video below, and check back next week for the next installment!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Blended Chemistry: Resources Make the Difference

How do you know you've got a good resource? Your students recommend it to their peers. Science teacher Liz Greflund discusses how Greenwood's chemistry resources bring the best of the new and the traditional to the science classroom.

Flash Video Still
Visual reinforcement, through materials like
this flash animation, promotes understanding
rather than memorization.
Blended learning in chemistry has evolved over the past few years at Greenwood. As a team, the chemistry teachers have been determining how to use course resources to best enhance student learning. Our aim is to increase student perseverance while providing a supported education in chemistry. 

The class time is run in a traditional manner:
  • The teacher runs a lesson and coordinates activities.
  • The Moodle page contains many resources that students can use to solidify their understanding.
  • We make an effort to build community in class, often beginning with a starter to get the students engaged and working efficiently. We then move on to a lesson which ends with students practicing the material.
This approach is quite straightforward, and is practiced in many chemistry classrooms across the country. The difference in the blended learning chemistry classes comes with the resources, including:
  • Completed class notes: These are posted for student reference, as well as a variety of activities, videos and interesting links.
  • Visual learning: The image included here comes from a flash animation developed for the Grade 11 Chemistry course. For some, it is the visual reinforcement that allows students to understand the problem as opposed to memorizing the process.
  • Online problems: Students complete a series of problems, and check each answer before moving to the next problem. Prompting is given if the answer is incorrect.

What do students think?

Students respond well to these resources. I often hear students say “you should watch the video - it was really useful." We constantly evaluate the effectiveness of the resources, and we think we have found a nice balance. The students enjoy the demos, lab and lessons that run during class and are able to access the material at home as they wish. We think this blend is the best of both worlds.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure: Canadian History Style

This week's post comes from Charles Jennings, History, Law and Politics Teacher.

"You mean we get to choose?!"

If you had the choice, which would you choose to learn about: Prohibition, the Women’s Movement or the Economic Boom in the 1920s? Students in Grade 10 Canadian History were surprised to learn that they had this very choice at the beginning of the Roaring '20s Unit. This is one way in which we personalize the teaching of history at Greenwood. The results of this interest-based approach showed outstanding student success, and greater student engagement and excitement.

Here is why it was so successful:

  1. Student Choice: Our first unit provided built-in opportunities for students to explore themes within the broader study of World War One. This prepared students to view history through different lenses, readying them to study the Roaring '20s unit under one central theme. Students jumped at the opportunity to independently select from Prohibition, the Women’s Movement or the Economic Boom, and were grouped accordingly.                                                                                                
  2. Blended Delivery: Online materials developed in-house by Greenwood history teachers provided rich content tailored to each theme. These, in combination with the work done in class, create a blended learning environment that helps students work to their interests. Navigation is easy through clear and simple organization and delivery in Moodle and Google Docs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  3. Self-Paced Learning: Students appreciated being able to independently work through the unit at a pace appropriate to their learning needs. This allowed for more opportunities to extend learning and access support. Assessments dispersed throughout the unit provided students with timely feedback and greater preparation for their final task, and provided teachers with immediate and concrete evidence of learning to better gauge progress.                                                                                                              
  4. Greater Teacher Support: During each class, teachers worked with each theme grouping to clarify understanding, ensure progress and extend learning through engaging activities. Teachers acted as learning coaches to ensure students progressed successfully through the unit, providing one-on-one and small group support.                                                                                                                       
  5. Collaborative Learning: Engaging whole-class activities challenged students to share their learning, deepen their historical understanding, and make sophisticated connections between each theme. A lively debate highlighted the importance of each theme, and brought history to life.  

It is clear that students ‘do’ history best when they are engaged with content and can find meaningful ways to connect it to themselves and the world around them, Students responded to this new approach with enthusiasm, interest and Roaring results!

Monday, 16 December 2013

235 Years Old and Still Innovating

Throughout the past several months, a number of our classroom teachers have used this personalized learning blog to share examples of Greenwood’s progressive approach to teaching and learning. There are several common threads within these examples of personalized learning:
  1. Teachers use student readiness and interests to develop learning activities.
  2. Technology is used as a tool to facilitate and enhance learning.
  3. As much as possible, learning is linked with real-life applications.
I was pleased to read recently that the oldest and one of the most prestigious prep schools in the US—Phillips Academy Andover—has adopted a similar approach to educational innovation. Throughout its long history, Andover has spearheaded the implementation of initiatives such as Outward Bound, Advanced Placement Testing, and community outreach. More recently they have introduced Connected Learning as a way of engaging teachers in the development of new pedagogy.

As described on the Andover website, Connected Learning is a research-based model of learning that maintains successful traditional standards and introduces new ways of doing things that tap into the potential created by globalization and technology.” As in Greenwood’s introduction of blended learning, Andover also faced concerns about technology replacing teachers in the classroom and that all teaching would be done using technology.

However, John Palfrey, Head of School at Andover, believes that programs like Connected Learning will help teachers shift from the traditional role of dispensing information, to guiding students to turn information into knowledge and apply it to real-life situations. In a manner similar to that being used at Greenwood, Andover is using its year-long professional development program to have teachers work together to develop examples of Connected Learning. Andover is also exploring the online approach to learning used by the Khan Academy to see how it may influence their approach to Connected Learning.

Palfrey’s hope is that Andover will be a centre of excellence that serves as model for other educational institutions and leads the way in the transformation of education. We have similar aspirations at Greenwood and look forward to sharing more examples of personalized learning with readers in the months ahead.

Allan Hardy

Many postsecondary institutions, such as Queen's University and U of T, have also recognized the value of personalized learning - and specifically, blended learning - for enhancing student learning and engagement. An increasing number are making this approach a part of their postsecondary program. On February 4, Greenwood will host a panel discussion, featuring blended learning experts, on what this approach looks like at the postsecondary level. Click here to learn more and to RSVP.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Strategies for Personalization at the Intermediate Level

Last year, one of my goals was to provide more personalization within my intermediate science classes. However, personalization at the intermediate level presents a few additional challenges. How do we offer choice and individual experience to a younger group of students who also need structure and clear expectations? In addition, the study of science at this level provides an introduction to the different disciplines within science, so students are not yet ready to follow their own individual interests.

In Grade 7, my students used the blended learning model to work through part of the Heat and Energy Transfer Unit. I set up a series of online learning activities that students could complete independently, covering the concepts of conduction, convection and radiation. Once they felt that they had mastered a particular concept, they would answer an ‘entrance card’ that would allow them to begin the associated lab activity. This allowed them to personalize their experience by moving on when they felt they were ready.

At the beginning of the mini-unit, the students were arranged into two main groups with two different suggested pathways, generally alternating between a class spent learning content, and a class performing a lab activity. 

There was one day set aside partway through the unit where we all came back together to perform a series of teacher-led demonstrations, ensuring that everyone was again at the same spot in their learning journey. For students who worked through the content quickly, extension activities were available at the end of the unit allowing them to deepen their exploration of radiation.

By removing myself from the active teaching of content, I was able to spend more time in conversation with the students ensuring that they had a good understanding of the material and its applications.

The students enjoyed the feeling of a higher level of academic freedom – they felt trusted in their abilities to self-pace and to decide for themselves the best way to spend their time. By removing myself from the active teaching of content, I was able to spend more time in conversation with the students ensuring that they had a good understanding of the material and its applications. The series of entrance and exit cards allowed me to keep track of the students, and to have a good sense of their individual progress.

Using technology-rich resources, I was able to guide my Grade 7 students through a series of lessons at their own, personalized pace with reinforcement and extension if needed.

Samantha Moser
Science Teacher

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Building a Truly Student-Centred Program

I am delighted to kick off another year of blogging here on First-Person Plural. Our aim this year is to accentuate the title of this blog by having a number of our classroom teachers do some blogging about their experiences with personalized learning. This approach will provide followers of this blog with a real sense of this year’s personalized learning initiatives at Greenwood. Specifically, we are focusing on the following four areas:
  • More Blended Learning Courses: Aside from our existing blended learning courses in Grades 11 and 12, we have are now using this approach in Grade 9 Geography, Grade 10 Canadian History, Civics, Grade 11 and 12 Computer Science, Grade 12 Chemistry, and Grades 11 and 12 Physics. This approach will ensure that all Greenwood students have some exposure to this hybrid approach to learning.
  • Block Scheduling: We are piloting the use of a larger learning space, which will allow for more flexible grouping and interactive learning. We have planned our timetable so that students enrolled in Grade 7 English and mathematics use the same block of time. A similar approach is being used with Grade 9 Geography and Grade 10 History and Civics.
  • Major-Minor Choice in Grade 7 and 8 Arts: This year students in Grades 7 and 8 will choose to focus more of their time on Instrumental Music, Visual Arts or Dramatic Arts (“the major”), and study the other two mediums in a “minor” format. Next year, Grade 8 students will choose one art form as a minor and one other as a major.
  • Student Adviser: We are continuing to focus our advising program on individual advising rather than the traditional group approach used in most advising programs. Teachers acting as advisers have their teaching loads reduced so that they have the necessary time to meet with advisees. We are also continuing to augment our adviser program with the use of Hapara, a Google tool which enables advisers to use a digital dashboard to support student learning.
All of these initiatives are the result of careful research and planning over the past several years. Our hope, as it has been since Greenwood’s inception, is to continue to build a program that is truly student-centered.

Allan Hardy

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Examples of Blended Learning at Greenwood College School

I recently gave a presentation on the progress we have made in developing blended learning courses at Greenwood College School. As I created this presentation, I began to reflect on how far we have come with using this approach to personalize the experience for students. During this current school year alone, many teachers at Greenwood have developed lessons and units that they have already implemented and many full courses that will be implemented next year, all using blended learning tools.

What struck me as I sorted through all of the many blended learning tools teachers are using or have created at Greenwood was how well these teachers understand the needs of their students.

To follow are some examples of the blended learning tools that teachers have used or developed this year.

Grade 9 geography will be implemented as a blended learning course next year. The teachers developing this course recognize that this will be the first blended learning experience for many students, so they have planned to start each class with a teacher-directed lesson, similar to what would be found in a traditional class. They will then use technology to check for student understanding and to send students down one of two paths, either to a task that will reinforce the concepts just covered or to a task that has students apply and go deeper with what they have learned. The teachers are using technology to facilitate the pathways for students. They recognize that not all students will understand all concepts the first time they are exposed to them.

The teachers in Grade 12 English this year have used an online Hamlet text to enrich the learning of their students and to create more classroom discussion about the text. Often, when studying a Shakespearean text, the students spend a good deal of class time reading together as a group. Rather than doing that this year, the Grade 12 English teachers had the students read scenes along with the online resource at home. This resource reads the text with or to the students, while highlighting the words as it reads. Students could also choose to watch the scenes from a variety of different movie or theatrical productions. The resource gave students assistance with the language and its meaning. When students came to class after actively reading/listening/watching the assigned scenes, they were put into discussion groups based on need: do they need help understanding the scenes, do they need to talk about character or do they need to discuss bigger themes of the text? Using technology in this way allowed students to spend class time in meaningful dialogue about the content that they needed to understand most.

Another example of technology helping to guide students’ learning was found in the Grade 11 and 12 blended learning mathematics classes. Students in these classes can move through the material at their own pace. Technology is used to assess students throughout the unit. If they achieve a mastery grade on an assessment, the moodle platform releases the next few lessons for them to work through. If they do not receive a mastery grade on an assessment, moodle will not give them access to the subsequent lessons. In this case, the teacher is alerted that the student needs concept clarification. The teacher then reinforces the concept with the student and provides more practice. The student is then able to attempt a similar assessment and once a mastery grade is achieved, they are given access to the next few lessons. Students have found that technology used in this way has forced them to stay true to their learning and not assume that they understand a concept. Teachers working with the students in these courses have found that the technology has helped them to more easily determine when students need help.

The blended learning tools described in this blog post are creative tools that teachers have found or developed to help personalize their courses. There are many more examples of blended learning being used at Greenwood College School. As teachers develop these resources, they are keeping student needs in mind and varying how the tools are used in different grade levels and subject areas.

Heather Thomas
Director of Personalized Learning

Monday, 15 April 2013

U.S. Department of Education Focuses on Personalized Learning

It was interesting to read that the U.S. Dept. of Education selected personalized learning as the focus of this year’s Race to the Top grants. The department is giving the district winners $400 million in federal grants to help spur the redesign of the classroom experience for students. As Michele McNeil notes in Education Week (March 27, 2013), “many of these districts are embracing the philosophy that learning isn’t defined by time spent in the classroom, but by mastery of a particular subject or lesson.”

Districts applying for the grants had to define how they would use the funds to create a more personalized learning environment using “21st-century learning tools to customize instruction to the needs of individual students.” According to Michael Horn, co-author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, the Race to the Top grants will “elevate student-centric learning onto the radar.”

Several of the approved projects are similar to things being done here at Greenwood. $20 million was awarded to a New York State district to support the transition to blended learning. The development of e-portfolios and programs to track personalized learning appeared in several of the selected projects, as did the use of individualized goal setting and digital learning platforms and dashboards, tools which are currently being deployed in our redesigned student adviser program. 

Several of the district coordinators who were interviewed note that the ultimate goal of these personalized learning initiatives is to have students truly own and be responsible for their own learning and to have teachers rethink the way instruction happens within the classroom.

Allan Hardy

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Blended Learning Beyond Greenwood

As an alumna of Queen’s University, I recently received their annual appeal in the mail.  Each year the appeal tells alumni about an initiative that needs support in hopes of generating interest and thus donations from its alumni.  The appeal this year described the blended learning initiative that has begun in undergraduate courses at Queen’s.

As I read the appeal, I was pleased to see that Queen’s approach to blended learning is similar to ours at Greenwood.  Their  focus is to use technology to enrich the classroom experience.  They emphasize that redesigning courses into the blended learning model is not meant to be a cost-saving measure, but a way of using resources more effectively.  This will allow more contact with the instructor even in high-demand courses.

The reasons given by Queen’s University for moving some courses to a blended learning approach reinforces that we are moving in the right direction with our academic program at Greenwood.  Similar to Greenwood, Queen’s is using a blended approach  to increase student engagement and create a learning environment that is interactive and dynamic.  Additionally, we both recognize that a blended approach is the future direction of teaching and learning.

Heather Thomas
Director of Personalized Learning

Friday, 1 February 2013

Next Year, More Personalized Learning

Blended learning is the combination of classroom learning with technology-based lessons and activities. At Greenwood, blended learning is used as one way in which we personalize instruction for students. Currently we run a handful of blended learning courses at the Grade 11 and 12 levels. In 2013-2014 we will run a few Grade 9 and 10 blended learning courses as well. We are increasing the number of courses using this approach because we have seen how it benefits student learning.

We have seen that learning time becomes more flexible for both the student and the teacher. Students who struggle with a concept can watch the video lesson, complete a different activity or conference with the teacher in order to consolidate the concept. Students who understand a concept quickly can move ahead to the next lesson or move beyond the regular content to complete some enrichment activities. Within a blended learning environment, technology helps students maneuver through the various available pathways without waiting for their peers or the teacher. The teacher can also guide the student to an appropriate pathway based on assessment results.

During the 2013-2014 school year, students in Grades 9 and 10 will experience a blended approach in a small portion of their courses (geography in Grade 9, history and civics in Grade 10). These courses will be more teacher-guided than their Grade 11 and 12 counterparts and self-pacing will occur within one lesson or within a small group of 2-4 lessons, rather than within a whole unit or within the entire course. We are exposing our students starting in Grade 9 to this approach for two main reasons: 
  1. We want to support students as they acquire the skills needed to be successful in a technology-rich course in the future. Students in these courses will have teacher support while developing their organization, self-monitoring and self-advocacy skills. This will help prepare students for the blended learning courses offered in the senior grades and in postsecondary.
  2. This type of course utilizes technology to help the teacher personalize and meet the needs of every student. At Greenwood, we have seen that using technology allows teachers to customize the programs and pathways for students and enhance student learning. As we move forward, we are continuously evaluating our programs and making certain that we use tools, such as blended learning, to support our learners.

Heather Thomas
Director of Personalized Learning

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Preparing Students for Postsecondary Learning

One of our key goals here at Greenwood is to ensure our graduates make an effective transition to learning in the postsecondary environment. I read my alumni magazine from the University of Toronto (U of T Magazine) with this point in mind.

I was pleased to see in the most recent issue (Winter 2013), that Coursera has arrived at U of T. If you are not familiar with Coursera, here is some background. As they note on their website, Coursera is a social entrepreneurship company that partners with top universities in the world—to date 33 universities have signed on—to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free. Like our blended learning approach at Greenwood, Coursera uses online lectures and multimedia resources that enable students to master key concepts at their own pace.

According to the article in U of T Magazine, U of T is Canada’s first university to partner with Coursera. At present, U of T offers five courses through Coursera. 82,000 students from around the world are enrolled in an introductory programming course in computer studies, with 350 of these students being from U of T. Though the Coursera courses are non-credit, the resources offered in their program provide the U of T students with online modules they can use at home, and come to class better prepared. This approach, according to Professor Paul Gries, “frees up class time for more creative and interactive learning and allows for the best possible experience.” In effect, this approach being used at U of T resembles our approach to blended learning here at Greenwood.

Aside from recognizing the value of online learning, officials at U of T are also working to design programs that allow their students smaller, hands-on experiences. The Winter issue describes New College’s ONE program, which “gets students into small classes and out of the lecture hall.” The ONE program is a collection of interdisciplinary courses that focus primarily on hands-on learning and the development of writing and critical thinking skills. By limiting enrolment in these courses, the hope is that first-year students will have an opportunity to develop relationships with peers and professors, thus making the transition from high school to university a bit easier.

All in all, it is good to see that one of the world’s leading universities sees the merit in a small, hands-on learning environment where teachers adapt to meet the needs of students and the importance of online, self-paced learning, all of which are vital components of personalized learning here at Greenwood.

Allan Hardy