After 25 years or so, the catalyst for a new approach to lesson planning and programming for me was the use of a Learning Management System, a wiz-bang new teaching and learning platform which provided a receptacle for my lessons and all of my resources. One other spin off was a brave leap of faith to partially flip my lessons. I have stated a number of times too that I flipped my classroom before I even knew what that meant, the motivating factor being that while my students had an excellent command of content, their results often did not reflect the same, as their writing skills were not well developed, time being sapped by my concentration on content.
Why use an LMS?
Put it this way - what if I had this great big container which housed my lesson plans, class lists, mark-book, seating plan, short tests and quizzes as well as links to resources. Better yet, what if I could upload my lessons for students to work at their own pace; use a built in calendar to set a start and end date; monitor student engagement, track their task completion, enable email push notifications to parents and students; provide a space for my students to upload drafts for me to mark online and return. What if I could also administer a discussion blog where we could post questions and share responses and have instant reporting once marks are uploaded. And when either I or one of my students is absent, how good would it be to be able to just say “everything is online - just jump on and keep going from where you are up to.” It might just make my teaching easier, possibly more fulfilling, save me time, engage parents and improve my students’ learning.
How good would that be?
Starting at the start
The first task for me was to think through my lesson planning and programming in far more detail than I had for a considerable period of time. Were it not for the fact that I was now seeking to focus on different outcomes, specifically a mastery of writing, I may not have changed my approach.
What did my new lesson plans look like?
With the help of an LMS, I now took a different approach to my planning. I planned in weeks, generally blocks of five lessons, rather than individual lessons. With registers and programs outlining how long to attach to each unit. I broke that down and uploaded my lessons in weekly blocks releasing them every Sunday evening, with a notification going out to my students when the new work was available for them to access. Consider this (albeit hastily constructed) example:
Term One Week Eight
Unit: Ancient Society - Sparta
Resources: Atomi video on Spartan Government
Useful web links:
- Short History Website: Spartan system of government
- PBS: Sparta government and classes
- Ancient History Encyclopedia: Sparta
- Watch the Atomi resource video 3.2 Sparta - Government
- Take notes specifically on the two syllabus dot points:
- Role and privilege of the two kings
- Government and political organisation
- Compile a visual summary (a mind map or similar) of the main reforms of Lycurgus with particular attention to the idea of a mixed constitution.
- Compile a glossary of new terms and their meanings. Outline the roles and privileges of each tier of government.
- What examples can you find of ‘Eunomia’ - good governance in Sparta’s system of government.
- What examples can you find that Sparta’s system of government did not live up to this concept of good governance
- Download the short quiz and complete it as best you can without reference to any notes. Make a note of any questions you cannot answer without referencing back, then look them up and answer them too.
- Watch the video a second time, making note of any new useful material you did not notice on first viewing
- Share your findings with your table group.
- Complete an extended response on the following question: To what extent do you agree with Aristotle’s claim when considering Sparta’s system of government that the best constitution is a mixed one?
- Share your extended response with others in your table group, selecting one person to peer mark it and provide feedback.
- Complete all tasks by the end of the week.
My new style of planning and the use of an LMS had immediate positive effects both for me and my students.
I instantly felt the weight of a content-heavy unit lifted as I no longer felt I needed to wade through teaching so much information. My lesson time was now spent working with groups or individuals and when needed, would draw everyone together to make a point pertinent to all. Instead of dealing with content, I now threw my hand at more creative class tasks - quizzes, mind maps, presentations and note taking. Importantly for this group, I was able to spend much more time on the writing process, structuring and scaffolding paragraphs and extended responses.
For my students
They sat in groups with thought given to ensuring ability levels, organisational and leadership capability and were mixed with friendship groups in order to balance each group. That way I could ensure the most significant tasks like the writing process and peer marking were coordinated and structured. Each term I would select a new group leader with whom I would set aside some time early in the week to meet with, discuss the tasks and what I wanted to focus on. If the main task was to create a presentation using Powerpoint, Keynote or similar, then we would storyboard the main elements - setting out five essential slides on which to base the whole presentation. If the main task was oral presentations or a written task we would workshop a marking criteria to be uploaded.
Benefits of using an LMS
Not to say some of these outcomes cannot be achieved in a traditional face-to-face learning environment, but with the added help of a learning management system, my experience has been a greater depth of enhancement to individual skill competency and ability. Some of the other added benefits I have experienced include:
- A student centred approach I can tailor to suit individuals
- Increased engagement and student collaboration
- Flexibility in planning and room for innovation
- Tracking data to assist with evaluation of my teaching and student learning
- Parental involvement - parents have everything at their fingertips 24/7.
A user-friendly LMS is like a one-stop shop for effective teaching and learning. There are many products on the market for schools to select from, with integration with one’s own context being central to any decision. Irrespective of which LMS is chosen, ease of use as well as adaptability are their greatest strengths. Perhaps a better name could have been chosen - I’m not a great fan of the sense of ‘learning management’, but after 30 years in the classroom, it is living proof you can teach old dogs new tricks.
You can find the extended version of this article on my LinkedIn page.
Here at Atomi we’ve built our videos so that they can be easily integrated with almost any LMS system or Google Classroom. If you’re interested, get in touch and I’ll be able to help you get this set up as well as workshop some really effective lessons plans with you.