An Effective Blended Learning Environment: It’s a Process

A Word to the Wise…

Katie Wondra
Katie Wondra

Anytime a teacher embarks upon the daunting task of transitioning from a traditional lesson style to a flipped classroom or blended learning environment, it is a process and cannot be done overnight. It takes lots of planning, teaming, and a willingness to learn to pull it all together.

Katie Wondra (affectionately referred to by her students as “Ms. Wondraful“), is a Biology and Earth/Environmental Science teacher at Bertie STEM High School who has done just that! She’s gone from planning teacher-centered lessons (unknowingly), to creating a student-centered learning environment in a semester’s time. At this point, she truly understands what it means to facilitate instruction.

I remember watching Ms. Wondra go through the painstaking process of lecturing to her kids while they copied notes endlessly from her PowerPoint presentations. She could barely move through the slides without someone blurting, “Can you go back!?” I began to talk with her about flipping her classroom, and freeing herself and her students from talking and writing without a meaningful purpose. Well, suffice it to say, that was last year.

This year, Ms. Wondra has evolved quite nicely into a technologically savvy instructional facilitator, and she’s shed that traditional teacher’s skin. There’s a class website, to which she posts lessons ahead of time for students to access and refer to, they like. Her students also have the option to take digital notes, which allows them to stay organized. Therefore, she’s no longer totally exhausted by the close of school, and the students are no longer complaining about writing until their fingers cramp.

Because of her willingness to try the strategies that we’ve suggested, and the amazing turnaround in her instructional delivery, I decided to ask her a few questions about what that process was like. Transitioning for future ready learning can be difficult, so a success story like this needs to be told so that others who may not feel ready just yet can be inspired to move closer to their goals.

How do you infuse technology in your classroom, and how does it affect learning for your students?

My main goal for the semester was to work towards flipping my classroom! In doing this, I have made a class website where I post my PowerPoints for students to get their notes. When I assign homework, it is usually to learn the material on the PowerPoint – this gives them the flexibility to taking notes how they would like (in their notebooks, making notecards, on Evernote etc.). Posting these PowerPoints on my class website also allows my students to see the PowerPoint throughout the class rather than having to spend time during class to copy them.

By flipping my classroom, my students have a lot more time in class to complete activities, discuss topics and questions, and work towards passing their state exams! Rather than spending half of the class copying notes, they come to class having recognized the material for the day so we can do more hands-on activities to get them engaged and invested in the subject.

Compare the level of technology engagement in your classes for students this year with the levels of engagement in your first year. How have your grown as a teacher (in technology)?

As a first year teacher, you have a lot on your plate – lesson planning, following the curriculum pacing guide, and trying to learn what teaching is all about. Last year, I tried my best to implement technology, but looking back I know that much of it was just used as a filler rather than something effective towards the content. As a second year teacher, I have been able to reflect back on last year and spend more time this year learning more about technology and different tools that I can use in my classes.

After spending time learning about tools and working with our Instructional Technology Facilitator, Ms. McCullough, I feel more confident about implementing technology tools in my class that actually engage my students and help them learn. There is not a better feeling than seeing your students engaged in a lesson and asking questions that challenge their own thinking and their classmates’ thinking. I feel as though I am more confident in using technology in my class, but also more confident in finding resources that are effective to their learning.

Tell me about any challenges you face while implementing technology in science.

IMG_2059Getting students on board with the flipped classroom was my hardest challenge. They were not used to taking notes at home and then coming back to school to complete an activity (online or on paper). Getting them out of the routine of spending much of their class time taking notes was difficult for them. I have also attempted to transition my students to take note in Evernote so when we do take notes in class or do activities that they need to expand on their notes, they can quickly take notes online and have access to them on their phone or device. This was a different concept for them because they have always used pencil and paper. At this point, I do not have 100% participation with online notes, but do have a handful of students in each class that caught onto this style of note taking and love it!

That’s what implementing technology is all about – as an educator you use trial and error on a daily basis. Some tools that you implement in the classroom that you thought were awesome might only be good for specific learners. Getting them to buy into the use of technology is only going to help them in the future as a learner in the 21st century, but they need to be taught how to love technology in an educational manner.

What are your personal goals for technology in your classroom?

I would like to eventually have each of my classes become 100% flipped. By flipping my classrooms this year, I have had to work with getting them to buy into the process. When they have completed the work before class, I am able to spend so much more time on activities that help them apply their understanding. I would also like to continue to expose them to as many tools that are engaging and that challenge their learning. Technology can be a great tool to use, but in order for my students to learn it has to be planned well.

Katie Wondra is from Centennial Colorado, and she’s a proud graduate of Colorado State University. Follow @Ms_Wondra on Twitter, check out her Web Page, and join her in her technology (R)EVOLUTION!


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One thought on “An Effective Blended Learning Environment: It’s a Process

  1. Katie, thank you for the information about Evernote. I will sign up for an account. Could you tell me why you prefer Evernote instead of OneNote? I love that you increased the time doing hands on activity. I am familiar with blended learning, and I have experience teaching as a virtual school teacher. I am new to the term flipped classroom. Having access to the learning targets and objectives and assignments online for the semester is a great idea. That is one of the things I love about online learning. I am wondering, you mentioned you did not have 100% participation for students viewing the powerpoints on the internet from home. How do you accommodate for students that do not have access to the internet, or do not own personal technology? My most recent teaching position was working in an urban school setting, with a very high free and reduced priced lunch rate. How do you provide an equitable education if all of your students do not have access to the same resources? I also had a very high refugee and asylee population that spoke very little to no English. How do you accommodate for ELL students in a flipped classroom? Do you pre-translate your powerpoints into various language choices or is that the students responsibility?
    It is a wonderful design if it is equitable to all students!
    Niki Charneski


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