Thinking in Circles

Over the past few weeks my teaching brain has developed new pathways of thinking; the classroom I imagine in my mind when developing lessons has had to change dramatically too. No longer do I just see a classroom of students sitting at tables ready to learn. I now have a visual for the online classroom and it is very different and still taking shape in my mind. To say the least my brain has hurt from all the growing pains of learning how to teach in the online learning environment and imaging the students on the other side.

Designing an asynchronous unit for 8th grade students has been difficult because I enjoy class and small group discussions and students working collaboratively together in the classroom. This is easily done in the online learning environment, but is more suited for college students than 8th grade students. Young 8th grade students are not mature enough, do not have enough experience, and usually lack organizational skills for a synchronous online class. I have been wondering what I was thinking when choosing this age to teach. I know exactly what I was thinking. I am familiar with the age group and subject matter. No brainer. I do not know much about teaching college classes or students, but now that I have had time to think about my choice my natural teaching style is probably more suited for it as far as the online learning part is concerned. Choosing to design a college appropriate unit might have been easier in some ways; then again I would not be stretching myself as a K-12 educator and preparing myself for the future of K-12 online teaching and learning.

After receiving some feedback on what I currently have for my unit-sized curriculum plan I definitely need to fine-tune my ideas and find the online tools to make ideas possible and attainable. Making an asynchronous class engaging and interesting is different because as a teacher I am technically teaching a student one at a time because the assignments and activities are individual. Going from thinking about how to teach a room full of students at the same time to teaching individual students sitting in front of a computer from anywhere has been a brain stretcher. I have had to think of new ways and then rethink those new ways in which I want to accomplish the same goals I had for a face-to-face class with different activities for an online class. I have not quite succeeded yet, but I know I have to help students make the personal connection first so they can see the worthwhile of reading and learning about The Giver by Lois Lowry.

All in all I have enjoyed stretching my brain in a new direction. I have come to realize how much of a one tracked teaching mind I have developed. It has been good to push and expand my comfort zone. Learning is cyclical in nature and I definitely feel as I have gone around in circles in my head, thinking, rethinking, reflecting, and doing it all over again. I still have a long way to go before my brain can easily switch from the face-to-face classroom to the online learning environment. Hopefully, one day it will become second nature to me to switch between the two learning environments.

3 thoughts on “Thinking in Circles

  1. lsowa

    Kelly – I often wonder just how an online course would work for middle-schoolers as well. Looking back at my own experience, I wonder if I would have had the skills needed to be successful in that medium, even as an undergraduate college student. But times have changed quite a bit since then! And stretching yourself to take on the more difficult task of developing a course for this age group is commendable.

    I also enjoy the face-to-face classroom – class discussions, hands-on activities, and even chalk on a chalkboard. Having the opportunity to co-teach a course with a seasoned online instructor (who, by the way, couldn’t fathom that we were still using chalk on the chalk board), was a great learning experience for me. I know that experience won’t be available for everyone but if there’s a way to do that – even just sitting in for a class or two – it can help jump start that mental transition.

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  2. Jenny

    Kelly,
    I think your peice really summed up the frustrations I am having with my own decision to plan a unit in the K-12 realm. While my students are 10th graders, they are also at-risk students and I do worry that the maturity and organization skills needed for success in the online environment might be overwhelming for my population of students. I think that some of the tools we will be exploring in the next week, will help provide answers to some of these problems.

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  3. Owen

    If you think back to “constituent factors” I think there might be some value in thinking not about whether or not learning can occur for middle school or high school students, but more, what would those learning experiences need to look like in order to be effective?

    We make these affordances automatically in a face-to-face setting. We know we can’t ask the same of a 13 year old as we do a 23 year old in face-to-face classes and we structure the experience differently. The same is true online.

    I’m thinking about my own daughters and the amazing amounts they’ve learned online via World of Warcraft, Minecraft, Sims, etc… These games provide amazing learning experiences. I wonder if we’ll ever successfully marry their strategies for engagement with other types of material and content?

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