Tag Archives: Vanguard

Blended Learning [Mindset]

Not necessary, but…

I’ve been jumping into blended learning this year as a part of the FCPS Vanguard program and I’m leaning heavily into station rotations as a model for making my class “smaller”. This week I’ve turned my attention to my seating arrangement.

I must say that I appreciated one tweet a few years back with the caption “Seating doesn’t create a cooperative classroom, students do” and it had a picture of a classroom where the seats were in traditional rows, but the students were sitting in a group–some in seats, others on the floor. The students were clearly working in a group despite the seating arrangement and I admired that teacher for developing such a sense of group work in his/her students that I didn’t see the need for rearranging my desks that were also in rows (actually pairs, but essentially rows). I have been using VNPS. However, I have had the luxury of a teacher intern (student teacher) for the past three weeks and I’ve gotten a new perspective on my classroom and really want to try a new seating arrangement.

I moved the desks around and I’m now super excited for my students to arrive on Monday!


Yes, that’s a trombone and a music teacher in my math classroom


Cool panorama of how lame my seating was

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Early this year I went with the color-coding to quickly assign students to stations and rotate them through the stations.

After attending a workshop by Catlin Tucker, I realized that I need to focus more on my teacher-led station being conducive to, well, being led by a teacher. So I changed one station.

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And it helped the flow of my class and I started to like the teacher-led station more. Then I realized “hey, I could use the seating to help the blended learning”.


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It’s amazing how much more space I have[1] and I like that the students are now already organized in groups. Before I had to put them into groups every time they got to the “groups” station, which took me away from the teacher-led station, which took time out of my class, which delayed their starting their work, etc.

Here are some pictures of my new classroom setup.

The brown table now is where students quickly pick up supplies and any papers based on their current station. The table was between me and the students at the front, but now there’s nothing in the way!

The teacher-led station is also around the projector rather than a random whiteboard, so I don’t have to go back to the 19th century[2] and draw all of the graphs by hand.

The Question Wall

Another little addition around the room are a few “question walls” (sometimes called a “question parking lot”) for each station. This was suggested originally to me by my Vanguard Coach, Kent Wetzel, and later reinforced by Catlin Tucker’s workshop.

The idea is that I don’t want to divert my attention away from the teacher-led station (even if it’s student-centered, as I hope it most often is!). But I still need to do a “lap” to ensure students are focused and working around the room at the other stations. However, the danger is that students, who were perfectly independent a moment ago, suddenly become helpless and hopelessly stuck when a teacher walks by. But if I get bogged down in answering “proximity questions” as they’re called, I will never return to the teacher led station in a timely manner. So students write specific questions in that space and then I only address written questions on my lap around the room (which is done on my time, not at the insistence of a student). Students have other resources that they need to get better at using: their notes, their classmates, their brain.

[1] Yes, I shrunk the desks in the diagram, but there really is more space!

[2] Well, a 19th century that had whiteboards…

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Vanguard Program, Day 2

We started off the day by doing this great ice-breaking activity designed to quickly ask deeper questions. The cards came from We and Me and I really liked the questions. Each card had a question, we asked our question of a random other person in the room, then we traded cards, so we had a new question to go find a new person in the room. After the activity, the creator of the cards encouraged us to focus on the person we’re talking to and “going for the Win” rather than just turning the conversation onto ourselves. This is exactly what the Bible tells us to do: “Each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) This is something I’ve been trying to practice to become a better teacher and colleague.

Eric Hanes discussed Micro-credentials, which are the ways that we show that we’ve been growing in the Vanguard program in the 4 areas: Mindset, Instructional Technology Skills, Teaching Practices, and Professional Learning & Networking.

We participated in a fun BreakoutEdu activity, which our group won!

For “lunch”, we had a learning marathon, where we walked around Downtown Frederick and looked at various businesses and how they personalize the experience for their customers.

In the afternoon the most helpful thing we did was to review scenarios in which students, parents, or colleagues struggled to understand Blended learning, and gave push-back on the practice. It was helpful to share even some of my struggles with students responding negatively to the flipped classroom. I believe that many of those cases were actually a failure on my part to “onboard” students, or teach and train the students how to be effective in a flipped classroom environment. I am planning on doing much more practice of classroom routines this year.

That’s the next step for me: planning out the first few weeks and how I will train students to be effective in a Blended learning environment. I will need to teach each of the items that I listed in my day 1 post, assess their comprehension of those methods, and follow-up with students who didn’t grasp the methods in the first place. This will be a lot of non-math teaching, but the more I teach, the more I realize that a master teacher is a teacher of everything, not just a teacher of <insert subject area>.

I’m excited to begin the process of teaching students so they can best learn!

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Vanguard Program, Day 1

Today is the first of a 2 day “summer camp” for all of the 3rd Cohort Vanguard teachers of FCPS. I’m excited to be joining this group of educators and am excited to bounce ideas for how to improve my classroom off of other expert teachers.

We started with a “speed dating” activity to meet other teachers in the program. Afterwards, we met with our “Mentor Groups” which is where I met with other HS teachers. This was beneficial for me as I got to put a face to the other HS teachers and see how many of us there are (about a dozen).

Other memorable activities include the “station rotation” where we got to investigate the difference between Personalized, Differentiated, and Individualized learning; Eric Hanes explained a handful of models we could use in the classroom for Blended Learning; we investigated and did a little big-pictures planning for our classes next year. The challenging thing about planning long-term is that the Blended Model is supposed to be personalized and respond to the class’s needs and specific students’ needs. That means that although I have a good “feel” for how a 9th grade class at my school may interact with my flipped classroom, I don’t know how that class will interact and so I will need to adjust as the school year starts.

So I came away with the idea that I need to do a better job of “onboarding”. That’s the idea that I must teach students how to move around the room, as elementary as it sounds. Here’s a short list of things that I’ll need to teach students to do because it’s different in my class:

  • How to learn math by watching a video[1]
  • Station Rotations
  • Playlist with limited options
  • Playlist with lots of options (menu)
  • Help students figure out their own learning strengths and weaknesses

This is of course in addition to the normal things that I have to train students, especially 9th graders: warm-ups, bathroom procedures, cell phone policy, reassessment policy, etc.

[1] I create my videos for my class, specifically where they are, give students a guided notes outline to fill out as they’re watching, and put it into PlayPosit which asks questions throughout the video. So no, they’re not “just learning from a video”. But I need to be flexible for students who struggle with this medium.

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