This week, we were tasked with reflecting on the feedback from our peers and I was looking forward to hearing some ideas and opinions on how to improve my course. As I am actually teaching this course right now, I have a very specific set of students in mind which may have prompted some of the inefficiencies in my course profile and my course shell. There is also the email login conundrum that has caused some frustration among us all while attempting to “become the student” and evaluate each other’s courses. In order to really take the feedback from my peers: Dean, Sapna and Michael (thank you by the way for the awesome and positive feedback!), I feel like it is appropriate to address some their questions here, as well as provide more insight into how I am running this course. We all do that thing where we think we include information or it is completely obvious to us, and think it, but do not disclose the information that others are wondering about, so without further ado, here is a little more information about my blended learning course, AP Calculus!
I started teaching this course at the beginning of Semester 2 this year. I taught the same students in the first semester, teaching them Calculus 30. I have built relationships, trust, and communication with all of them and I currently have a class of 14 students. We establish on the first day of semester two, the expectations for the course and what THEY will have to do in order to be successful. We talk about the exam date (May 14th, 2019), and decide on practice exam dates as well, which this year will take place on April 17th and May 7th. We also discuss that we have 61 hours of class time until the exam which of course, terrifies them and myself!
One of the comments I received for feedback was: The “timelines of the course (for all AP courses) would be a concern – there is a lot of topics to cover in a short period of time.” You are not wrong! And this is why I decided that a blended learning atmosphere would be the best idea for my students to be successful. I see them every day, for one hour and it does lighten the load that half of the material has already been covered in Calculus. I now, go back through concepts they have already learned and add more insight, clarification, and more complex theorems and ideas to the units we have already looked at. It is a lot of material to cover, and a lot of the work, assessments, and practice needs to take place outside of my classroom hours. For example, both practice exams are written after school hours and much of the homework assigned needs to be done on their own. This is why I thought the blended learning model would work so well; if I could flip it and give them lessons to watch and focus on the questions the need answered in class, they would be more successful than my first bunch! I already see a difference!! It’s working and my students are less overwhelmed by homework and material they need to study.
Another great question from my peers was: “Are there ways students can connect with each online to review content?” I never thought of this! Students can post questions and ideas on the stream on google classroom, and I am thinking of including a Padlet on the stream where students would be able to post their questions, pictures of work, as well as communicate with one another about the topics. Does anyone have any other suggestions for student communication for outside of the classroom? Again, a reason I never considered this need was because I do see these students in class every day, and because it is so implicit for me, my students also communicate with me through Remind 101. I have many that will ask me questions after hours, and I can send out reminders for quizzes and homework problems I want completed. We also frequently break into groups in class to discuss problem areas with questions which allows them to solve each other’s problems and they have come to expect this, so they do not frequently ask questions outside of class because they understand this routine.
I think it is also important to note that this course is not asynchronous, and so the online platform is there to support student learning, and provide more insight, but it is not a substitution for being in class. This is very different than other courses I evaluated last week, because many ran like an online course. There were no gaps, and everything was accessible through the online shell. This is not what I wanted for my course, and I think this is the difference between some of the feedback I received compared to other courses. There will be gaps in my model and not everything will be available online because I see my students every day in class, and I want it to be blended in this manner. I do not want my students to be able to complete everything online and have no need to come to class anymore. Certain pieces need to be done face-to-face. I am actually struggling with this concept in my ELA B30 courses, where I have an established blended learning environment with Google Classroom. Everything can be done and handed in online, so sometimes, students don’t feel the need to attend class, which can be both a blessing for them and a frustration for me. I see it as a double-edged sword, and I do not want this to happen in my AP course so the gaps will remain for now!
Another consideration from my peer-assessors was that “there doesn’t appear to be any consideration for student access and accessibility for this course.” I also did not address “common concerns like low bandwidth, student access to devices, EAL learners, cultural considerations, socioeconomic status” in my course profile. I did address these issues in my profile to some extent, but it is not explicit for those who do not know my students. That is my fault and I plan on changing some of the wording in my course profile as a result. I know my 14 students very well, and I created this course profile with these students in mind. Of course, I will have to make adaptations from year to year but I am very lucky with the group of intelligent, talented, young adults I have this year. This experience so far as been nothing short of incredible and I absolutely love teaching all of them. My 14 students all have cellphones and internet access at home. Of course, we have devices at school students could use if this was an issue, as well as support for low bandwidth. My students have spares and can access these devices before/after school, in spares, during class, and at lunch. Due to the rigor and level of the course, EAL learners will have a strong English language background in order to get to this point so this is not technically an issue I need to address in my classroom currently. Again, if I needed to, I would adjust my material, offer extra support, and allow Google Read and Write to be used. However, because all these students will write the same exam in May (in English), with the same expectations and little to no support during the exam, I try to mimic these expectations during classroom assessments. I am not even allowed in the exam room or to talk to my students about it for 24 hours after they finish the exam! Every student will write version 1 or 2 of the same exam, all over the world and my students need to be prepared for this assessment adequately. I have a variety of cultural backgrounds in my class and I love the diversity of it which allows for some great conversations and different perspectives in my course, but at the end of the day, the only assessment that matters will be the same for everyone around the world and I try to prepare my students for that.
I really appreciate the feedback I received from my peers this week and it gave me some great ideas for continuing to develop my course! I’m going to look at creating more time in my videos for pauses, create more effective assessments on Formative, and construct some way for students to communicate when they are not in the classroom. Overall, I am happy with how my course is developing this semester and look forward to working hard to make it more polished in the coming weeks!