Prepare the learning environment

Sections

Introduction

Learning objectives

By the end of this lesson, you should:

  • Understand the features of an effective blending learning lesson plan.

  • Understand how to establish effective communication channels for students and parents.

  • Understand how to create or select resources and use them in a fair and ethical manner.

Setting up the environment

To start, think about one of your best lesson plans in the past. It does not have to have any technology. What made it so good? What are the features of a good lesson plan?

Whether you are crafting a blended lesson plan or not, some features of a good lesson plan include:

Approaches to teaching The International Baccalaureate (IB) outlines six approaches to teaching that underpin all IB programmes. These are:

  1. based on inquiry

  2. focused on conceptual understanding

  3. developed in local and global contexts

  4. focused on effective teamwork and collaboration

  5. differentiated to meet the needs of all learners

  6. informed by assessment

Taking any one or combination of these approaches will put you on track for an effective lesson.

Cognitive activators This is about setting the scene, engaging the students in the topic, and preparing them to learn. For example, you can:

  • Use concepts to connect the lesson topic to previous learning or to a previous topic.

  • Start with a thought-provoking question.

  • Use an image or some sort of visual media to engage students and get them on the right track.

  • Set the scene and get students thinking with an image or video, or even a marked piece of student work, and ask them ‘What is going on here?’.

    • For example, The New York Times has a weekly feature titled ‘What’s going on in this graph?’. Using these graphs can inspire many interesting discussions.

Clear learning objectives or targets For unit plans, these should be the big, overarching goals focused on subject aims, assessment objectives, and/or key conceptual understandings. Although these should surface within the individual lessons, daily learning objectives can also be more targeted to the content or skill development.

Image: Spratt, Annie. Unsplash, 2017.

Effective classroom routines Effective classroom teachers know the importance of establishing routine to maximize efficiency and effectiveness within the classroom. These can include simple things like having a dedicated landing page for students to start their online work. Some effective classroom routines to stimulate critical thinking can be found in Harvard’s Project Zero Thinking Routine Toolbox.

Student-driven Effective lesson planning centers on student engagement and activity. The use of cognitive activators can provide a good start, but a good lesson requires active inquiry and student participation throughout. In addition, consider how you will differentiate the activity so that all students are appropriately challenged. For example, using ‘low-floor high-ceiling' tasks can be an effective way to engage all learners in mathematics or other subjects. ‘Low floor’ meaning that students find the issue interesting, compelling and accessible (e.g., by starting with a visual or provocative scenario), but the high ceiling means that the task is open enough for students to explore their interests, apply sophisticated techniques/strategies, and develop their problem-solving skills, rather than just applying a simple procedure.

Flexibility Finally, and perhaps most importantly when dealing in the world of children and adolescence, is to include some flexibility in your lesson plans. On any given day, things happen, and being able to make adjustments are often necessary. Some days, energy levels are high, while other days, students seem exhausted. This is where the art of teaching comes into play. Being able to make the right adjustments, slowing, speeding up, or changing the activity to match the needs of your students, is something every teacher strives towards. Involving students in the lesson planning process can be an effective way to meet their specific needs. For example, having students complete a short reflection or problem at the end of the lesson as an exit survey can be an effective way to gather feedback to inform your future planning. Simply giving students a voice and more choice within the classroom can lead to more agency, where learning becomes something students do for themselves rather than it being done to them.

As you develop your blended learning lesson plan (i.e., complete step 3 within the UbD framework, which is planning learning experiences and instruction), there are a number of questions for you to consider. You may have already covered some of these at the unit planning level (Unit 2).

  • What technology (hardware and software) is available for your students for this lesson?

  • Which blended learning model will best help you achieve the learning outcomes for your lesson? Recall the various models we covered in Unit 2.

  • How much time will your students need to achieve the desired learning outcomes?

  • How can you differentiate your lesson to meet the needs of your individual students?

  • What activities would work best during individual work versus group time?

Some ideas to help you answer these questions are:

  • Consider the home environment and personal situation of your students. Will they have the time and resources needed to complete tasks at home?

  • With the help of your school team, create a list of hardware and software programs that are available.

  • Set up classroom routines and procedures so that students know what they are expected to do. Using one of the blended learning models described in Unit 1 can help with this.

  • Whenever possible, create spaces in your lesson for inquiry and student-centered learning. For example, start with a provocation or have students generate a list of questions on a topic that they want to learn.

Communication channels

Communicating with Students

First and foremost, you will need to establish clear communication channels with your students when starting any new initiative. Although most students are quite comfortable with technology, they might not always be skilled at using technology to learn and/or communicate. As discussed in unit 2, parents can play a large part in helping students be successful in a blended learning environment.

It will be important for you to establish a culture of collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork so that parents can support their child in their academic, social and emotional development. The best way to accomplish this is by establishing clear and open communication channels.

Image: Rosewell, Jason. Unsplash, 2016.

Keep it simple. There are many technologies available to enhance communication, but perhaps the best advice is to keep it simple. In most cases, having fewer reliable options is better than having many unreliable options. For example, a teacher may want to set up a landing page for students and parents to stay up-to-date on classroom events and announcements. This can help reduce email traffic and ensure parents and students know where to go to get the latest information.

Build on existing practices. Use the tools that are already available to you. For example, if your school is using a learning management system, then use the communication tools (email, chat, conferencing) that are already built into the system.

Clear expectations. Make clear the expectations and communication protocols that you plan to use. Consider setting office hours so that you can maintain a healthy work-life balance. Let students and parents know that you need a reasonable amount of time to respond (e.g., within 24 hours).

Focus on skill development. One important part of blended learning includes students taking a much more active role in the learning process and developing their communication and self-advocacy skills. One effective way to do this is to have students share the work they completed in class with their parent(s) for homework.

Student agency. Remind the students that one reason to implement blended learning is to empower students to take charge of their own learning. Therefore, it is recommended to include students in most (if not all) communications with parents.

Selecting resources

Okay, you should now have a good idea of what your blended learning lesson will look like, but you may need resources to help finalize your lesson. Check with your teaching team, school, district, or region as they may already have curated a list of resources to help you teach your curriculum. In many cases, textbooks or district/region purchased resources already come with rich resources for online teaching.

If you do not have access to sufficient resources through your teaching team, school, district or region, then reach out to other educators through social media or other collaborative technologies. For example, Twitter has many educational chats including #edchat. The Teacher Center on the Google for Education is another example of a supportive community rich with ‘how-to’ videos and tutorials. Speaking of Google, when in doubt just use the search bar in your browser to find the specific support you need.

The important thing to remember is that there are many experts out there that are willing and able to help. Using these external experts and resources can help save you time and help you provide the best information to your students.

Create your own

In some situations, you may want to create multimedia resources yourself. Doing this will allow you to:

  • avoid any copyright issues

  • create more personal material so that you can make important connections with your students

  • prepare fit-for-purpose material to meet the needs of your individual students

Although creating your own teaching material usually takes more time, the results can be worth it. In addition, there are a number of tools available to you to create rich and engaging multimedia. It is easy to become overwhelmed, so remember to start with tools that you already use. In addition, platforms like Managebac or G Suite (including Google Classroom) and a learning management system like Canvas or Seesaw may provide all of the tools you need.

Examples of available resources and tools

Purpose

Tool/link

Video creation and animation

Video conferencing

Presentation tools

Discussion tools

Website creation

Communication with students and parents

Lesson content creation

Podcasts

Ready-to-use content

Creating Your Own Videos

You may want to create your own videos as you explain specific concepts. Or you may want to walk your students through a step-by-step process and demonstrate how to access a specific assignment online while away from the school.

Pamoja education created a guide that highlights the main points that every teacher should consider prior to shooting a video or recording a screencast.

Download the guide here.

Copyrights and ethical use

Of course, using external resources brings up the issue of copyright and ethical use. This is an important skill that becomes even more important as we transition into a more public, digital environment.

All educators will want to model fair and ethical use of information for our students.

In most school situations, external sources will allow you to use images, videos, music, etc. for internal educational purposes. However, this is not always the case and it is your responsibility to make sure of this whenever you are using external sources. In addition, if your school organization can be categorized as a commercial, for-profit school or you plan on publishing material to the public then you face further restrictions.

Even if the external source allows free use, you will always want to provide credit to the original source. This means providing all information available like the author’s name, the title of work, URL, data published and accessed immediately after using the resource.

Here is an example of how to use an external image in a fair and ethical way:

Image made available through Unsplash by Anna Hunk on 26 September 2019

Citations

Here are some resources to help you create citations and find freely-licensed material include:

Filter by usage rights

Note that most search engines (Google included) allow you to search by usage rights.