Modern Classrooms Project: An Opportunity You Don’t Want to Miss
Written by: Bo Gibson
Summer is here for most of us, and professional development is likely the last thing on your mind. With that in mind, I feel like this blog may be a tough sell; however the Modern Classrooms Project is too good of an opportunity to not talk about. If you’re one who just doesn’t want to do school at all over the summer, this might be something you can read about, let marinate over the summer, and maybe pick up when we get closer to the beginning of the school year. OR, if you are the type to really dig into professional development during the summer months or are just ready to make a change in your classroom, this might be good for you to dig into immediately!
What is the Modern Classrooms Project?
I don’t feel the Modern Classrooms Project has gotten a lot of press amongst educators, so I would suppose many readers may not be familiar with the project. With that in mind I will first give a broad overview of the program. Then we will break it down into a more practical description of the end-user experience. The Modern Classrooms Project is a researched-backed instructional model designed to reach all learners and is meant for all grade levels from Pre-K through college. The Modern Classrooms Project emphasizes learning through a self-paced, blended learning approach with mastery-based assessments. I would suppose many readers are familiar with the idea of a flipped classroom. The Modern Classrooms Project emphasizes a learning style very similar to this model. However, having tried a flipped classroom in the past and also having gone through the Modern Classrooms Project, I can attest that utilizing the Modern Classrooms framework gives much more structure and really puts your class in a position to be much more successful compared to the typical flipped classroom model.
“I can attest that utilizing the Modern Classrooms framework gives much more structure and really puts your class in a position to be much more successful compared to the typical flipped classroom model.”
The program itself can be done on your own with a free online course or through their online mentorship program. Both programs cover the same material, but just as its name implies, the online mentorship program pairs each participant with a virtual mentor to help guide them through the process. When I went through the program I utilized the virtual mentorship program. While I do feel my virtual mentor provided valuable guidance, I don’t think the virtual mentor is a “make-or-break” part of the program. Using the self-guided free option would still be a great way to experience this professional development program.
There’s some broad-spectrum information, but I know the question you really want answered is, “What will I be doing? What is going to be expected of me?” So let’s get down to the user experience and tasks you’ll actually be expected to carry out. When you go through the Modern Classrooms Project, you will be asked, over the course of five modules, to create a blended-learning, self-paced unit for your classroom. If you are doing the virtual mentorship option, these modules will come with suggested, but flexible, due dates to help keep your learning progressing in a timely manner. During each module you will learn a little bit more about certain topics emphasized by the Modern Classroom model and then add a little bit to your unit. Topics include:
- A general overview of the Modern Classrooms learning model
- Blended Instruction
- Tips and tricks for instructional video creation
- Student self-pacing in the classroom
- Mastery-Based Learning best practices and implementation
- Tips and Tricks for maximizing your LMS
During each module you will learn a little bit about these topics, implement what you just learned into your own unit, then by the end of the program you’ll have a fully complete unit ready to be used in your own classroom!
Why try it?
Of course there are a million reasons to either try or not try a new approach to teaching and learning. Ultimately the decision to try or not try something new is a decision we each have to decide for ourselves. However, I can at least offer some examples from my own experiences implementing this program that may convince you this program might be beneficial for your own classroom.
Increased 1-on-1 or Small-on-1 Time
One of the most significant advantages I noticed when implementing this learning model is how much extra time I had to work with individual students or to pull small groups of students. Since I no longer had to spend time in the front of the room giving a lecture, I could now spend this time working with individual students or small groups. Our students come to us from such a variety of backgrounds and sometimes with such significant learning gaps, being able to address misconceptions on an individual basis can be a life-saver!
Increased Student Choice
I am a big proponent for student choice in the classroom. This learning model really allows the students to have some agency in their learning. The self-paced nature of the class means that students can choose (within reason) the pace of their learning. Also, students who are faster workers will inevitably have some choice in the enrichment and extension activities they do once they have demonstrated mastery with the mandatory topics. Depending on the classroom, students may even have some choice in how they demonstrate mastery for certain topics.
When I implemented the Modern Classrooms model for my classroom I saw a noticeable increase in student engagement. Since the learning is happening at each students’ own pace, every student is engaged every day. Before in my classrooms there may be days where my “high flyers” were finished with their work or we would be doing an activity they really didn’t need as they had already mastered that particular topic days ago. Similarly, I would have some stragglers who really needed to be going at a slower pace and would eventually shut down when they could not keep up. When students are able to learn at their own pace, these problems become minimized. I won’t go so far as to say these problems disappeared, but I certainly saw a marked decrease in students off task when I switched to this model.
Decreased In-Class Stress Levels
This point may be specific to me, but I certainly felt less stress during the class period when I implemented this style of classroom. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, because there’s still a lot of moving pieces and a bit of chaos to a self-paced classroom. I do believe a large part of the relieved stress is that in this sort of classroom model you are not trying to fit so many things into one period. Ie, in a traditional classroom you have to give the students information, traditionally in the form of direct instruction. But students also need time to practice. And also peer-to-peer discussion is important. Plus there needs to be formative assessments to check progress and summative assessments to check for mastery. And the list goes on and on! Not to mention you are trying to execute all these tasks for 20+ kids all at the same time. The self-paced and blended nature of the Modern Classrooms model really alleviates a lot of these demands. For one, you are rarely giving face-to-face direct instruction, which immediately frees up a significant portion of time. Also, almost never will the entire class be performing the same task. So at any given time I might have 5-10 students receiving direct instruction through a video, 4-5 students having some sort of peer-to-peer discussion or peer review process, 4-5 doing some routine practice, and maybe 3-4 performing a mastery check. All happening while I circulate the room making sure every student has exactly what they need to continue their learning (and making sure students stay on task).
I know some teachers became skeptical of this program once I mentioned the similarity to a flipped classroom model. And certainly this style of classroom is not meant for everyone. However, even for those who don’t adopt the model fully, you can still pick up some really good teaching tips! For example, in one of your modules you’ll learn how to make really effective instructional videos. Even if you are not planning on recording every single one of your lectures for students, any teacher in today’s day and age will benefit from being able to make an effective instructional video. You’ll also learn some effective ways to use an LMS. Again, you don’t have to be utilizing a blended learning style in the classroom to benefit from being a master of your LMS. You’ll learn some effective classroom management tips for self-pacing. I know I have a class where we are not doing blended learning at all, but because we tend to do a lot of projects, students are definitely progressing at various paces. I personally learned a lot about how I can better structure that class to keep students engaged. I think even for teachers skeptical about adopting the program in its entirety, this is still a wonderful professional development opportunity just for these skills that the program teaches along the way.
So, what’s the rub? We educators know when something is too good to be true! Let’s take some time to examine some downsides to the program, at least in the eyes of some educators who have tried it.
Some students do not like or respond well to the blended model.
Teaching in the style proposed by the Modern Classrooms Project means going to a flipped class style of class. At the very least, your classroom will look very reminiscent of what most would call a flipped class. Students will primarily be getting new information from pre-recorded videos or pre-made resources. This can be quite the departure from the norm for some students. Students will definitely need to be prepped for this change when first implemented. Just like with any other system or style, students need to be taught very explicitly the expectations and procedures for learning in this style of classroom. I have found it also helps to be very upfront about why you are utilizing this style of teaching. The common refrain from students who do not understand this particular style of teaching is “So-and-So doesn’t even teach! We just watch videos!” While we as the educators understand this is far from the truth, I have found that addressing this upfront and explaining how this classroom model actually allows for more overall teaching and more individualized teaching helps keeps these objections to a minimum.
Mastery Learning can sometimes be tricky with “traditional” grading practices.
In a classroom that practices mastery learning, students will assess, practice, and then re-assess until they demonstrate the level of mastery needed to move on to the next topic. If we accept that grades should reflect a student’s level of mastery at the end of the grading period, then in a mastery learning classroom, students will likely have mostly A’s in their grade book. After all, they should not be moving on until they have mastered the previous topic. However, some students may achieve mastery on their first try while others may take several attempts to achieve mastery. Using traditional grading practices, this may pose a problem in assigning grades. Should the student who requires several attempts get the same grade as the student who only needed one? For me and my classroom, the answer is if they both demonstrate the same level of mastery by the end of the quarter, they both have the same grade. To me, grades are simply indicators of a given student’s level of mastery of a given topic at the time grades have to be posted. This aligns quite well to a standards-based mindset. However, many who use a more traditional grading scale may not see it that way. Modern Classrooms is not trying to sell you on standards-based grading and neither am I. However, I will say you might want to put some thinking in up front about how you will address grading in your classroom if you do implement this style of learning and your school is utilizing a traditional grading scheme.
It takes a lot of time to create these units and assessments.
Time. The enemy of every educator. A common, and legitimate, argument against utilizing the Modern Classrooms model is the time it takes to create all of the resources necessary to implement a unit or lesson. Since the learning throughout the unit is self-paced, all the work and resources must be posted up front. This means all of these documents, videos, and resources must be created up front. Thus, you do have a lot of work initially to get ready for this style of learning. However, the work for this style of classroom is really front loaded. By this I mean once all the resources are created, the additional work you must put in drops significantly. I’ve also found there are residual benefits to creating these resources and having them available. For example, I never have to worry about “catching up” students who have missed days. Those resources are already available to students. In the past I have had to have multiple forms of quizzes or tests ready for students who were not in class the day of the test and needed an alternate form. With mastery learning, I have multiple forms ready anyway so I no longer have that issue. While you will find that you are indeed putting in a lot of work at the beginning, this really goes a long way towards making your life easier in the long run.
“While you will find that you are indeed putting in a lot of work at the beginning, this really goes a long way towards making your life easier in the long run.”
There is a lot to consider before shifting to a whole new style of learning in your classroom. However, keep in mind that by simply going through the program you do not have to commit to fully changing the way your classroom runs. You can simply pick the pieces you like and leave the things you don’t like so much. I know for me, I adopted the blended-learning style in one of my classes pretty much entirely, but in other classes I was much more selective about what I utilized for the project. The choice is yours. Regardless of how much you adopt, I do believe if you are looking to do some professional development this summer, the Modern Classrooms Project certainly merits some consideration!
If all this sounds interesting to you and you’d like to hear more, check out this livestream on the Keep Indiana Learning YouTube channel. This livestream features three educators who have been through the program discussing pros, cons, and general thoughts and feelings about their experiences with the program!