Saturday, October 28, 2017

Creating Learning Centers in a Blended Literacy Classroom

Written with Shaelynn Farnsworth, post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

There has been no greater impact on differentiation and student achievement in recent years than the effective integration of technology in the classroom. Traditionally, literacy educators spent long hours gathering resources, developing tasks and extensions, and reading and analyzing assessment to determine if the instruction was meeting the needs of students. Now imagine doing this same routine 3 or 4 times over to cover all Lexile levels in one classroom; exhausting. Technology has not only provided text access at students’ differing instructional levels, but has streamlined formative assessment, and has given back precious time to teachers to work with small groups and individuals.

The most effective blended learning model that literacy classrooms can utilize to meet the needs of all readers is the “Rotation Model” in which online engagement is embedded within a range of face-to-face forms of instruction. While this blended environment could look many different ways, we believe that the workshop framework provides the instructional vehicle that makes differentiation most successful. Technology or a blended model is not a component of the workshop framework, but utilized by a skilled workshop teacher, platforms such a ThinkCERCA, and an understanding of each student as a reader is when achievement is maximized.

In a workshop framework, there are 3 main components: Mini-lesson, Independent Practice, and the Share. The mini-lesson is whole group instruction. The teacher targets a learning objective, models it with a mentor text, actively engages the students in similar work, and then sends them on their way to apply the new learning to their own independent books. It is during the independent time that teachers experience the greatest challenges as well as the largest gains made by their young readers in the form of conferring. At the end of the time, the whole class is once again gathered to partner share or large group share out the important work they did during the day.

The question we often receive is centered around the Independent Practice. Teachers witness the benefits of small group instruction but are less certain about the learning taking place by the rest of the class. While there are many different ways to implement and manage independent routines, it is here where technology can best support young readers. During the independent time, centers are one way to keep students learning, not just completing busy work. Literacy Centers, infused with a blended environment is an example of rotation model at it’s best.

  1. Student-centered, active inquiry, open-ended
  2. Purpose is to learn, offering opportunities for a variety of levels
  3. Center should be applicable to what you are teaching and what students are learning
  4. Established routines, organized materials, and dedicated space

Managing independent time in the literacy classroom is an area that teachers must address directly. Independent time, centers, or stations should not be busy work or only used sporadically. It does not have to be an either/or in regards to technology, instead, it is BOTH and supports students with all types of reading and writing they will consume and create in their lifetime.  It is a time for students to take ownership in their own learning. Integrating technology into independent time routines or centers is advantageous for both students and teachers and help to move all readers forward.

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

Blended Learning Models (Friesen, 2012)
Guided Reading, Fountas & Pinnell

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in the Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth

Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

8 Math and Science Simulation Resources For Any Classroom

"Science is fun. Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It's posing questions and coming up with a method. It's delving in." -Sally Ride

I was a Middle School Science and Math teacher. When I started in college I didn't set out to teach those subjects but found myself there after discovering my love for both. Science and Math form the foundation of our known knowledge about how the universe works, what happens in nature and why most of what we do every day is the way it is. 

Ask many students and they have a love/hate relationship with Math and Science. My third grade daughter is one of these. She loves math. In her spare time she will sit for hours and hours making up word problems and solving them or looking for math in her world. But sit her in a science classroom and she looses all interest. I tried to teach my students the relationships between science and math and help cultivate, at the very least, an appreciation for them both. 

Math and Science are very concrete subjects, set in laws and theorems and proofs that have stood the test of time. Examining formulas or problems on a page is an important part of the learning process. However, if we want to make science and math more real for our students we need better ways to help visualize science and math in the real world and physical spaces. 

Simulations are a great way to help students conceptualize math and science. The great thing is no matter how old students are there are tons and tons of great sites, apps and resources to choose from to help complex math and science more understandable, and frankly, more fun. 

8 Math and Science Simulation Resources For Any Classroom

PHET Interactive Simulations -The mother of all simulators. There is something here for every science and math content area. On the surface it might look like it's only middle and high school but they have an elementary section that is perfect for our little learners. They also have apps for Apple and Android. 

CK-12 Flexbooks- -One of my favorite resources on this list, these are open source, editable textbooks that come with tons and tons of simulations. You can create your own textbooks and resources or use what they have as a framework. And it's all completely free. 

Molecular Workbench- This is an installed program that is more for the upper high school student but still valuable as a demonstration for lower levels as well. Lots to choose from here. 

Google Sky- -Ever wonder what the stars are in the sky? Or have you wanted to see the planets up close? Google Sky is the place to do it. You can even tour the moon and see the original landing sites of the Apollo missions. Take even Google Sky further but using it inside Google Earth. 

Gizmos- -Another one of my favorites, there are over 400 simulations for math and science at all grade levels. Some are available for free while others due require a paid account. Definitely worth it. 

Virtual Chemistry Simulations- -Looking to see how chemical reactions happen and work without the threat of burning down your classroom? Then this is the place!

NASA Simulations- -This is a collection of apps from NASA for all things science and astronomy. A wonderful collection. 

Visual Fractions- -This site won't win any design awards but does have lots of great simulations and activities for Elementary and Middle School students on all things fractions.