Sunday, February 5, 2012

Planning for Hybrid PD (Part 3) - Make it Relevant

This week is my third face-to-face set of meetings with the two groups of teachers I have been embarking with in the hybrid, or blended, professional development journey. We are focused on learning and integrating dynamic mathematics into math instruction using The Geometer's Sketchpad. We are just coming off our 2nd online unit, about to start our 3rd cycle.  This particular online unit was significantly shorter (3 weeks) compared to the first one (5 weeks), so a much quicker turn-around (my feedback on that can be found in my last online community posting).

In my first two parts of this series on blended learning, I went into each face-to-face workshop with specific lesson or goal to focus on:
From Planning for Hybrid PD (Part 1):
Lesson One: Begin a professional development experience assessing the background skills of participants.Ensure they are given the necessary tools, starting points, and resources to feel comfortable with what they are going to be doing, see the purpose behind what they will be doing, and know where and how they can get continued support. 
From Planning for Hybrid PD (Part 2):
Lesson Two: Work on building a sense of community and support among participants, where they feel comfortable sharing their struggles, their experiences, their ideas and expertise. Providing a safe environment where it is okay to try new skills and strategies and knowing it is okay to fail or struggle and that others are going though similar experiences, gives teachers confidence to try to change and improve their own practices. 
As I plan for this week's f2f, and reflect on Lesson One and Two, I think the important lesson to focus on this time around is making sure that the teachers are sensing how the skills and tools they are learning are relevant to what they specifically are teaching. After over two months of working on feeling comfortable with the tools, becoming familiar with the resources and how to access them, and really focusing on working together and supporting each other as they learn, I am sensing the need to narrow in on their individual students and classroom needs.  I have noticed in our discussion forums, several comments and reactions to the activities such as "I see how this would work great for the math content, but since I am not teaching that right now.....", or "these were great - I wish I had something similar to use for what I am teaching tomorrow..." or even "it seems like this takes a lot of time to make it fit into the topic I need, and I am not sure I have the time or that this will work for my students".

In all the research I have been doing on effective professional development, besides the importance of time and support, there is quite a bit of emphasis on relevancy and coherence to what the teachers are doing in their classroom.  If a teacher is expected to change their instructional practice, then the new strategies and tools need to be relevant to what the teachers are expected to teach.  The topics we have been focused on in the past couple of months are very specific math content that the district leaders mandated, but not all the participants are necessarily teaching those concepts at this time, which is where I am sensing some disconnect.  I believe we have reached a point where they have learned enough skills and made some great head way into how the integration of Sketchpad into math instruction is a tool that can help students explore, discover and learn mathematics, that we can start focusing on individualizing the content we use for learning.

The great thing is that I do have the tools and resources to support the teachers in trying to make this next face-to-face and online unit more relevant to the current topics they are teaching, which is not always the case for many professional development experiences.  Teachers are using Sketchpad LessonLink as part of this professional development, which is a searchable database of ready-to-use lessons for Sketchpad (these lessons are also available in separate resource modules).  My plan for this weeks upcoming face-to-face sessions is to really focus on allowing them to find activities that continue learning of Sketchpad skills, but that are specifically related to what they themselves are teaching in the classroom. After we do our debrief of the second online component and sharing out of what happened when they tried an activity in the classroom, we will spend some time learning some more software specific skills through model math activities, and then focus on relevancy.

Continuing the idea of collaboration and support, I plan to put them in pairs/small groups based on similar content focus and have each group focus on a math content they are covering in the next few weeks. Using Sketchpad LessonLink, they will find an appropriate lesson, and then, as a group, analyze that lesson and modify it to fit their students needs and skills.  We will then have share-out time, where each group will talk and demonstrate (via the Smartboard and Sketchpad) what they found, how it fits into the content they have to cover, and what they plan to do to integrate that Sketchpad lesson with their students.  This will then give us a starting point for our next online unit, where they will explore more about the related Common Core standards, work on learning the skills needed for the lesson, and work on actually implementing the lesson in their classroom and getting peer feedback.  I think by allowing them choice and focusing on content that is specifically related to their own classroom, they will hopefully start seeing the relevancy to their own practice and Sketchpad will become a more regular tool they consider when planning.

Lesson Three: Make the activities and learning relevant to the teachers every-day teaching practice.  By providing activities that focus on learning the skills, how to integrate technology appropriately, and also cohere to the specific content and curriculum the teachers must follow, it is more likely that they will begin to change their own practice.  If they can see the relevancy to their own daily experience, they are going to be more willing to implement new tools and strategies.

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