Category Archives: Flexible-Paced Learning Classrooms Series

Part 8: It’s Time to Show What You Know

Every student is different. I know this is not really a revelation for most of you, but do we really try to adapt our instruction with this concept in mind?

My family is full of very different learners. My husband hates reading (especially instructions), but he can do anything hands-on. He wants to take things apart and then put them back together to see how they work. On the other hand, my brother-in-law wants to read about everything and completely understand it before he attempts any sort of hands-on learning. I am somewhere in between.

I think my students follow this same pattern. Traditionally, school has been aimed at book learners. I have many students who struggled with tests and paper assessments but were great at labs. I wanted to even the playing field in my class so that these students could be successful also. I also feel like knowing something and applying it are two different things, so I decided to add in Mastery Demonstrations.

What are mastery demonstrations? Glad you asked. Mastery demonstrations are a time for my kids to show what they know. I typically use these after we have learned the material as a hands-on assessment.

How do mastery demonstrations work? I first tried this with my Circuits & Electricity Unit in Physics. I created two different demonstrations for this unit.

Mastery Demo #1: I put everything a student would need to build a circuit in a basket. Their task was to build a complete, working circuit using everything in the basket. They had ~8 minutes to complete this task. To prevent cheating, I had different materials in each basket in the lab. Once they had a complete working circuit, they had to draw the schematic diagram for their circuit.

Mastery Demo #2: I placed all of our circuit building materials on a table. Each student was given a schematic and required to build a working circuit that matched their schematic. They had ~8 minutes to complete this task.

How did it go? Students found this challenging. For my book learners, they had struggled to apply what they had learned. They did not understand circuits nearly as well as they thought they did. However, my hands-on students had no trouble at all. They met this challenge and blew it out of the water. Mission accomplished.

Part 7: Where are we now…

I love to read! My husband thinks I am a complete nerd, but I don’t care. I especially enjoy reading other teacher’s blogs for new and innovative ideas. Some teachers are doing some really great things in their classrooms, and I want to know if I can incorporate any of these great ideas into my own classroom.

One of the blogs I enjoy reading is by Matthew Moore, a high school math teacher. One of his ideas was to change his math curriculum from a linear format to a non-linear format. Instead of teaching Topic A, Topic B, and Topic C in order, what if we rearranged the sequence. Does Topic A really need to be first? Maybe. Maybe not.

Since I had already switched my class to a flexible-paced learning environment, I was really interested in the idea of a more non-linear format. What if instead of teaching the unit in the same order as always, what if I clustered the information around central topics. I decided to start with Circuits & Electricity and give it a shot.

I watched his video on how he creates a non-linear lesson using Google Drawings. So I started with my objectives and created my first ever Google Drawing. I decided that a completely non-linear unit would not work in this case, so I broke my unit into 4 parts. Here is a screenshot of my first attempt at non-linear instruction.

So how did it go? Glad you asked. It actually went better than I expected. It was interesting the first week because it was new and unfamiliar. Once my kids understood that they could do Part 1 in any order, it got much easier. They loved having more control and more choices over how they learned.

For some kids, having all 4 parts on one Google Drawing was overwhelming. So for the next unit, I made separate drawings for each part.

They also really liked having all of the links to assignments on one document. I had chosen to create all of the assignment for this unit in Google. This was great, because with all of these new changes, I was bound to make some a lot of mistakes. Using Google, it was really easy to make changes that were instantly live. Sometimes I just needed to clarify instructions or change a link to a video. Now I only had to change it in one place instead of 6.

Using Google also allowed for more variety in assignments. I was no longer limited to paper pencil tasks. Now my students could use technology to create all kinds of new products to show me what they learned. This provided great opportunities for differentiation that were easy for me to manage.

Overall, this was a really positive change to my classroom. I am not sure how well it will work with every unit, but it will definitely work with most of them. I plan to continue teaching this way. My kids loved it, and I loved it.

Part 6: When You Give a Kid a Choice…

Here are the things that stood out to us from the student survey:

  1. Students love being able to work at their own pace. Students who needed more time were able to slow down, while our more advanced students could work more quickly.
  2. As teachers, we always have a plan of how a unit should progress, but we don’t always provide this information to our students at the beginning of the unit. When we changed to the flexile-paced format, our students now have all of the information about a unit on the first day. They know when all assignments will be due and can now adapt their schedules accordingly.
  3. It was evident that our students noticed that they were able to get more 1:1 instruction (if necessary) when they needed it, not just at the end of class.
  4. Students really seemed to take more ownership of the class. When we asked for ways to improve our instruction, they really gave thoughtful answers with practical ways that we could implement some simple changes.

Bases on our student survey responses and our observations during the unit, we made some minor changes for the next unit. Here are some of our changes:

  1. We added a class calendar for the unit. We created the calendar using a Google doc, so that if we needed to make changes on the fly, the student link was updated immediately.                                                                                                                                                                                       We color-coded the days to make it easier to see what was happening in class each day. We posted the calendar on our Schoology pages, and we printed a hard-copy and posted it in our rooms. Our kids loved this change because it made it easy to know what was happening each day in class.
  2. Our students really preferred having lab days as a class instead of working on them individually. They wanted to be able to discuss the lab with other people during the lab. This was a really easy change to make and actually made it much easier on us.
  3. We changed the Optional Assignments to Supplemental Assignments. To the students, optional implied that you really didn’t need to do the assignments and that was not our intent. By changing the title to supplemental, our students understood that these weren’t just busy work.
  4. The types of assignments are changing from online worksheets to more authentic, student-created assignments (EX. Real world posters, online discussions, comics…)

Part 5: The Results are In…

Well, Week 2 went much like week 1. Now that the initial unit is complete, it is time for another self-refection.

Things we thought we well:

  • Students were engaged and worked diligently.
  • Overall student learning increased. Most students improved their assessment scores; although, it did take some students more attempts than others.
  • Students seemed to take more ownership of their learning.
  • We were able to spend more time with individual students.

Things that didn’t go so well:

  • As usual, there were some technology glitches, but we seemed to have worked these out.
  • We need more equipment for some activities. It seemed like everyone wanted to do those activities at the same time.
  • Some students still needed some help staying on task and struggled with independent work.

Things that surprised me:

  • I didn’t expect to have so much free time during class.
  • I didn’t expect it to be so quick and easy to get assignments graded during class.
  • I was surprised at how long certain activities took compared to others.
  • I was pleasantly surprised at how well they adapted to the changes overall.

So what did the students think? Glad you asked. We did a survey using Google Forms to hear what they had to say. Here are the results:

So I guess you could say they liked it, so here goes Round 2…

Part 4: Are we ready for this???

Teacher’s Log Day 1: The kids seemed excited about the new changes. As expected, there were A LOT of questions, so the discussion took a lot longer than expected. I don’t know that the kids accomplished much on their assignments today, but it seemed to have gone well.

Note to Self: Student’s need earphones or earbuds for watching videos.

Teacher’s Log Day 2: Everyone came in and got started. They were ready to work. We did field a few more questions about the directions for the unit, but overall, it was a pretty productive day. I was even able to talk to most kids individually as they worked on their assignments.

Teacher’s Log Day 3: I noticed that many students had completed some of their assignments but had not turned them in on Schoology, so at the beginning of class, we discussed why it was important to turn in assignments as they were completed. Do not procrastinate and wait until the deadline. I need to keep reinforcing time-management skills.

It was also interesting that student’s grouped themselves according to the assignments that they were working on at the time instead of sitting with friends. This is new.

I also noticed that some students were breezing through assignments while others were lagging behind. I used my class time to focus on the students who were struggling and prod them along. I also was able to grade assignments as they were being submitted.

Teacher’s Log Day 4: All assignments are due by midnight tonight. Some students did not get a perfect score on their Momentum & Impulse HW even after 2 attempts. I spent today in small groups with those that were unsuccessful going over what they struggled with on the assignment.

Some students were already finished with all of the required assignments and were just working on the optional assignments today. A few overachievers were already finished with all of their assignments, so they either helped other students or worked on homework for another class. Overall, today was really productive.

Teacher’s Log Day 5: Today is quiz day. I created a timed, online quiz on Schoology using Question Banks so each quiz is different. This quiz is open-note. Students have 2 attempts to take the quiz. They must make at least a 75, or they will be required to do remediation.

I handed out the assignment sheet for Part 2: Impulse for them to work on when they were finished with the quiz.

Fingers crossed, it appears to be going well, but we will have to wait for the final results….

Part 3: Creating the Plan

We started by looking at our objectives for the unit and identifying possible assignments for the student’s to complete during the unit. Since this was a two week unit on Momentum & Impulse, it was split up into a Part 1: Momentum and Part 2: Impulse.

Since we wanted our student’s to have some choice in their assignments, we created required assignments that everyone must complete and a list of optional assignments.

***Disclaimer: Implementing this plan, requires an astronomical amount of front-loading for the teacher. All assignments for the unit have to be created, copied, and ready to go BEFORE you introduce the new unit in class.***

The plan for class on the first day of the unit:

  1. Give each student a copy of the assignment sheet.
  2. Have a class discussion explaining why some class changed are necessary, how the unit is structured, and our expectations. We had never done anything like this before, so we expected a lot of questions.
  3. Give the students the rest of the week to complete these assignments during class.
  4. Take the Part 1 Quiz on Friday.

We’ll see how it goes…

Part 2: An Idea is Born

This spring, we decided to try something different for our students to aid in their learning. After a little self-reflection, we knew we needed to make some changes to our classrooms. We needed something that would be able to incorporate the following:

  • Differentiation
  • Flexible
  • Engaging
  • Challenging
  • Student-Centered
  • Allow for Student Choice
  • Incorporate Technology
  • Time-Management Skills

Our solution was to create a flexible-paced, blended learning classroom for our students. That’s a mouthful, but what is it?

Now we just need a plan…

Part 1: It’s Time for a Change

Flexible-Paced Learning Classrooms Series


At the end of the fall semester, we sat down and reflected on the previous semester. We had both taught Physics using a traditional approach and incorporating some technology. This was Becky’s second year to have 1:1 Chromebooks and Staci’s first year with a class set of iPads. While the first semester went well, we each had some concerns that we felt needed to be addressed before the start of the second semester.

  1. How could we differentiate for all students?

Becky taught multiple levels of physics, but students had not always chosen the right level for their abilities or work ethic. For example, several students chose to take Honors Physics but lacked the prerequisite math skills for this class. Staci taught all levels of students (from SpEd to the valedictorian) in the same class period. How could we accommodate all of these students?

2. What do we do about students who miss class?

In our schools, the spring is filled with numerous activities, which means that since many of our students are involved in these extracurricular activities, they will also be missing class. We knew from previous years, that students felt overwhelmed and seemed to struggle when they missed numerous days of classes.

3. How can we improve our student’s time-management skills?

The other concern was the absolute lack of time-management skills our students exhibited. They have no idea how to balance their schedule. Typically the junior year has been more difficult than previous years. By the time they are juniors, teachers expect the students to be more self-sufficient and more responsible for their own learning. Many students have more out of class responsibilities with jobs, extracurricular activities, and childcare for younger siblings. With less parental oversight, our students were struggling to balance these responsibilities and manage their workload at school. As a result, their grades were suffering.

How could we address all of these concerns before the beginning of the spring semester? It was time to make a change…