Building a Blended Culture in a Secondary Science Classroom

building a blended culture

The following blog post is adopted from a talk I gave at MACUL 2017 titled, “Building a Blended Culture in a Secondary Science Classroom.” A copy of the original slides can be found in the Supporting Information at the conclusion of this post.

During my first year of teaching (in Indianapolis, IN), I was inspired by some research I had read as well as some other teachers in the Indy area who were flipping their classes. I was at a small parochial school where parental and administrative support for technology inclusion was present. My principal outfitted me with the tools I needed to “flip” my classes and record tutorial videos. Things went pretty well. It was a learning curve for many but I also had good feedback from students and parents.

When I moved to Michigan and began teaching in my current district, I was met with pushback from parents and students alike. Some of the reasons included:

  • Not enough money for paper copies;
  • Restricted or no tech/internet access at home; and,
  • Students not used to watching videos for homework.

As a result of pushback, I abandoned my flipping preparation during my second semester. However, I saw the value in this type of pedagogy and decided to re-instate the practice the next school year. I gradually began creating a library of tutorial videos using the Touchscreen PC in my classroom, HoverCam, and Google HOA. I was also able to purchase Camtasia 8, using a district foundation grant, and a WACOM Intuos tablet. Not all students utilized the videos; typically, the most motivated students would access the tutorials.

Beginning in the 2015-16 school year, I had the privilege of participating in my district’s High School Blended Learning Pilot. Each staff participant received an Acer Chromebook as well as a Chromebook cart (Lenovo machines) for their classroom use. Then, beginning in the 2016-17 school year, every district educator received a DELL Chromebook. I also had the opportunity to participate in a middle school science grant pilot called “Gizmos.” I was the only high school science teacher in the pilot.

Notice the change in terminology above: flipping versus blended. When I started out, “flipping” was the buzzword. You give students tutorial videos to watch for homework and tackle the assignments in class where you are able to assist students and differentiate where needed. Great concept. Blended learning is much more broad such that we are utilizing face to face and online methods for a more effective strategy. Flipped classroom is just a “small” learning tool that can be utilized within the blended pedagogy. My approach in the classroom combines face to face (lecture, problem solving) with online (Gizmos, PhET), tutorial videos (flipped lessons), and hands-on (labs).

A lot of the things I shared above relate, in part, to how I have traveled the blended journey. Now to share about building the culture. I don’t have a ton of answers on how to build a strong culture. I am still working on it with the help of some of my blended colleagues. And, I think I will have an “easier” time with it this upcoming school year since I am teaching more upper level courses with students who may be more motivated to learn than they were as freshmen. However, here are some roadblocks and concerns I have discovered in the last couple of years that can make blending a challenge:

  • Student responsibility - students must choose if they will watch the videos, attempt the assignments, and seek assistance willingly.
  • Helicopter parents
  • My school doesn’t have a “whole school” culture - not all staff use a Google Site effectively or utilize their Google Classroom, perhaps clinging to tradition with a fear of change or apathy toward change.
  • Assessment data is easier to obtain but requires initial input and development
  • District-wide or building-wide training is available but few teachers in our building can coach, let alone taking the time for training isn’t easy because...
  • Training is ANOTHER thing to do

So, here are some questions for you. Feel free to comment on them in the comments below.

  1. What are some challenges that you’ve encountered in building a blended learning culture?
  2. What are some of your anxieties related to building a blended learning culture?
  3. What are some successes that you’ve encountered in building a blended learning culture?

Editor’s Note: This post was submitted for the 2017 ChemEd X Call for Contributions: Creating a Classroom Culture.

Supporting Information: