Blended Learning and STEAM with Nancy J
Nancy J, Grade 1 and 2 Teacher
Ottawa Catholic School Board, ON, Canada
Nancy teaches a Grade 1 – 2 combined classroom in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She has been teaching for 24 years and is a blended learning advocate. She incorporates technology as part of her students’ daily routine and develops 21st-century skills (collaboration, design-thinking, digital literacy, etc.) through the use of technology that has been thoughtfully integrated into her lessons.
Blended Learning Strategies
Nancy has developed an entire repertoire of blended learning strategies to teach and reinforce math concepts. First of all, she makes selected technologies like Zorbit’s Math Adventure an intentional part of her classroom routines. “Every morning, my kids do 30-40 minutes of math. I wish I had more devices to get more students on Zorbit’s – I could collect more data, but I make it work by cycling them through a rotation.” During this time, she and her students build on their productive screentime by making it a collaborative and social experience.
“We do a lot of verbalizing and explaining of our thinking. If they get stuck when we are playing Zorbit’s, I have them explain what they are doing and this helps them find their own solutions.” This strategy helps students develop complex language skills, furthers collaboration, and helps Nancy better diagnose learning gaps and reinforce understanding of concepts.
“Sometimes we will use a whiteboard and manipulatives to help them with complex tasks.” This helps lighten the cognitive load some students experience and “this blended approach gives them the opportunity to solve a problem they couldn’t otherwise solve.”
Students use whiteboards and manipulatives with Zorbits for blended learning experiences.
Nancy attributes some of the design elements within Zorbit’s game and dashboard to its ease of use and effectiveness in the classroom. The Game Controls which lock and unlock different areas of the game allow her to personalize which concepts and activities each student has access to. This is particularly beneficial to her five students on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) – two of whom are on modified programs.
"When it comes to using Zorbit’s, [students on IEPs] feel just like their peers ... rather than being isolated or different. Zorbit’s allows that to happen in a very natural way."
– Nancy J.
“When it comes to using Zorbit’s, these students feel just like their peers. These students are so social with their age-level peers and it’s important for them to be like their peers rather than being isolated or different. Zorbit’s allows that to happen in a very natural way. They are fully engaged and enjoy learning.” Nancy reports that this sense of academic equality is due in part to the Game Controls and naming conventions in the game. At no point does a student know that they are completing activities below their grade level – they are simply exploring a different star system or planet.
The Game Controls ensure that Zorbit’s complements Nancy’s curriculum plan. “I do a lot of curriculum spiralling. It’s nice that Zorbit’s lets me quickly change from patterning to operations to data management and back again. When we are working on patterning, I can grey-out everything that is not patterning.”
Spacetastic STEAM Support
Nancy also cites the Zorbit’s team in St. John’s, NL as one of the primary reasons her students are so engaged. She claims that the personal touch the Zorbit’s team offers has a profound impact on how students interact with the technology in the classroom. For example, Nancy submits student feedback about the game to the Zorbit’s team and reads their personalized responses in class.
"The students work like game-testers and designers. They feel a connection with the game beyond just the game. They feel like they are contributing members."
– Nancy J.
“This support gives them a different level of engagement. It makes the students feel like part of the Zorbit’s team. The students work like game-testers and designers. They feel a connection with the game beyond just the game. They feel like they are contributing members.” This connection has created an additional layer of learning that the Zorbit’s team could have never predicted, translating into the development of 21st-century skills and exposure to STEAM opportunities.
Zorbit’s Lead Game Designer, Conrad, visited Nancy’s classroom via Skype to give a behind-the-scenes tour of Zorbit’s Math Adventure. This experience further immersed Nancy’s students into collaborative design-thinking and it has had a lasting impact. Nancy reports that her students still talk about this lesson and check periodically to see if the sports-themed planet they suggested has been created. Conrad and his cohorts fully intend to bring these students back into the design conversation when it comes time to build a data management planet – perhaps an icy hockey haven called ‘Planet Crossbar’?
These sorts of collaborative opportunities between the tech world and the classroom are something the Zorbit’s team is actively exploring and developing, but the real star of the show is Nancy with her willingness to try new things and her enthusiasm for creating memorable experiences through blended learning. You can create this same level of engagement, accountability, and enthusiasm for learning in your classroom with blended learning. It may be challenging at first but the Zorbit’s team is here to help you at every step along the way. To any one thinking of employing blended learning strategies in their classroom, Nancy advises, ”Take the leap of faith. You’ll be surprised at the success and enjoyment your students get from it.”
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