High school English teacher Catlin Tucker pretty much wrote the book on blended learning (actually, she’s written several). But before she became a pioneer for teachers looking to combine online and face-to-face learning, she was just an English teacher looking to foster better connections with her students.
Here’s how she went from a traditional classroom to one that integrates technology, and how it’s made all the difference in her instruction.
Blended learning for the individual teacher
Catlin’s dilemma was that there was very little information available about creating a blended classroom on your own. Most of the resources she found were designed for whole school districts, not one teacher looking to make a change. So Catlin needed to come up with methods that would work just in her classroom.
What ended up inspiring her was what some teachers might consider a disadvantage — Catlin had very few computers in her classroom. “I don’t have actually any hardware in my classroom save the computer on my desk and the devices that come in the door with my actual students themselves.” But she knew that those devices coming in with students could help her close her technology gap.
Low-tech classroom; high tech learning
Here’s a quick rundown of the four main changes Catlin implemented that let her create a blended learning classroom on her own:
1. BYOD (Bring Your Own Device): Catlin encouraged students to bring their phones, tablets, and other electronics to class. This lets her use apps (like Animoto’s iOS and Android apps) or online tools like No Red Ink in class. Her students can create Animoto videos explaining vocabulary words, make an infographic, or do online research for projects just using their cell phones. They can even use their devices outside the classroom (as in the video Catlin created below while aboard the USS Hornet).
Style: Retro Wheel
Song: “Heartlite” by the Soulphonics, ft. Ruby Velle
2. Flipping out: Catlin started following a flipped model. She records short instructional videos for her classes and lets students engage in online discussions outside of class, getting the information they’ll need for the next day. Catlin shared, “Class is where we really work collaboratively to apply that information.”
The biggest surprise for Catlin was how effective online discussions were. “The first night I published my first online discussion question, the first three kids to respond were kids who never talked in my class, and so for me it was definitely my wakeup call. These kids want a voice, but for whatever reason, they’re just not comfortable in class, and so that kind of opened the doors for everything that came after in terms of my blended journey.”
3. Station rotation: The advantage of covering lecture in online videos was when it came time for class, she can have students get straight to work. Often, that work involves what Catlin calls station rotation. “Because not every student has a device, we do the station rotation model where I will design, say, four different stations in the classroom and one or two of them might be online learning stations using the kids’ devices.” It also lets Catlin work with students in small groups to reinforce the learning students do outside of class.
4. Blended learning with parents: Her blended learning classroom can take a bit of adjustment — for parents as well as teachers. So she starts the year with a flipped classroom back-to-school night, including an Animoto video showing students in action. “My English class is definitely not your norm, and I want parents to see the kinds of things we’re doing in class. Parents get this visual, which I love and they absolutely love too.”
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the ways Catlin uses technology to keep in touch:
- Email: Catlin sends back-to-school night info to parents, so they can view it later. After back-to-school night, she maintains a monthly digital newsletter that keeps parents informed.
- Social media pages: Important updates for class go up on Facebook and Twitter for parents and students.
- YouTube channel: Catlin’s page includes instructional videos which students must view as part of class. Parents can access them as well to keep their children on task.
- Class webpage: Her webpage includes class information along with a few Animoto videos so parents can see what students are up to.
Ultimately, Catlin sticks with a blended classroom because she believes the changes she’s made make her a better teacher. “I feel like I learn so much more about what my kids are capable of because they’re not relegated to pen and paper for every type of assessment. They can create things, and I love that because I see all of these different sides to them that I wasn’t privy to when I was just kind of assessing them via one strategy. It’s about giving them a chance to shine in whatever way they feel like they can shine.”
Are you adding blended learning to your classroom? Let us know what how you’re incorporating digital learning in the comments below.
Catlin Tucker is a Google Certified Teacher, bestselling author, international trainer, and frequent Edtech speaker, who currently teaches in Sonoma County, where she was named Teacher of the Year in 2010. Catlin’s written several books, including the bestseller, Blended Learning in Grades 4-12. She also writes the “Techy Teacher” column for Educational Leadership. She’s active on Twitter and writes an internationally ranked education blog at CatlinTucker.com.