This summer, the DigitalJLearning Network enjoyed the distinct pleasure of taking 16 educators, from 16 different schools, to the 2014 ISTE Conference in Atlanta, GA. We asked each participant to share what they learned with you, our readers, here on our blog. Rabbi Shimon Wiggins, Principal of Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael, has the honor of being the first installment in this new blog series.
I came to the ISTE conference with the goal of collecting new ideas, strategies and inspiration to pilot a blended learning class at Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael, a boy’s high school in Atlanta. Amid an overwhelming explosion of information, I was somehow able to navigate the various venues and presentations and reach my goal. I quickly discovered that one never knows from where a useful nugget of information will come. I learned from new acquaintances while waiting for a presentation to begin and from old acquaintances with whom I rarely have time to discuss innovation in education.
During a pre-keynote program, I discovered a useful catchphrase for an overarching principle regarding the use of technology in education: “Led by instruction. Powered by technology.” Although it was said in relation to a one-to-one initiative, I believe this tagline encapsulates the role of technology in general. It is meant to serve education and not the reverse. This is a key principle we must communicate to all stakeholders when introducing new educational programs that utilize technology.
In thinking about blended learning in particular, I gleaned an essential question that teachers need to constantly ask themselves: What is the best use of face-to-face time? We live in an information era where almost anyone can learn anything, anywhere, anytime. So to put it more bluntly, if a student can learn independently the content that is being taught, is the teacher obsolete? I think not, so long as we approach education differently going forward. If students can learn basic content on their own, the teacher is able to work with students toward deeper levels of learning and understanding. Whether powered by technology or traditional methods, teachers need to determine what students can learn independently so that the most engaging and challenging learning can take place during face-to-face time. I plan to make this essential question the focus of discussions with teachers and hope that it will generate a fresh perspective on how to engage students in learning.
At one session, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a science teacher who flipped his classroom after many years of traditional teaching. In addition to sharing his story and inspiration, this teacher has created a checklist for flipping a classroom. I felt like I had finally found a down-to-earth and practical presentation of this approach. A key point that he stressed is that there are different ways to flip and that a teacher has to determine the best match for his students. I heard a similar idea from the innovators of the flipped classroom, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, at their ISTE presentation. They moved away from a narrow flipped classroom model to a broader flipped learning model. The new approach encompasses various types of independent learning experiences, whether done at home or at school. The type of independent learning will determine whether the classroom experience is used for clarifications, applications, extensions, or group projects.
Taking back what I learned at ISTE to Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael, I’ve begun thinking about one math teacher at our school who is eager to pilot a blended learning class. He has already taught some blended learning classes, and feels confident in the potential for this kind of class to help students learn much more. In the past, his request was not acted on because of the length of our school day (there is an evening program that ends at 8:30 PM) and the fact that our technological infrastructure consists of one traditional computer lab. However, now, fueled with new ideas and resources, I am confident that we can develop the right fit for our school setting. I look forward to sharing our experience trying to make this work in the upcoming academic year.