How do you get middle school students engaged in English Language Arts and STEM?
Two ways: Moodle and flipped classrooms.
Our Savior’s Lutheran School, a Christian school in the Albany area for 60 years (click here for their website), is using both to engage middle school students and prepare them for the transition to high school and beyond.
At the pre-K to 8 school, Moodle is being used for middle school English Language Arts and the flipped classroom model for science.
No. 1: What’s a flipped classroom?
A flipped classroom is a class where the typical lecture by the teacher and homework elements of a course are reversed. Schoolwork traditionally viewed as homework is done during the day in the classroom and students listen to lectures on the day’s topic at night for homework. (You’re welcome, Mom and Dad!)
Science at Our Savior’s Lutheran School has morphed into STEM, which is curriculum based on the idea of educating students in an interdisciplinary and applied approach using a combination of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM. Flipped classrooms are a perfect complement to an applied approach to learning – where students are actively engaged in learning during class while lectures are reserved for home, according to Our Savior Lutheran School’s middle school science teacher, Becky Sommer.
Julia, a middle school student at Our Savior’s Lutheran likes it because she gets “tons of help from your teacher one on one,” she said. “And I can watch the lecture for homework at my own pace. I can pause and rewind if I need to listen to something a second or third time.”
The lectures come from various sources – the teacher, science departments of various universities, and YouTube – and are curated by Our Savior’s Lutheran middle school science teacher Sommer.
Flipped learning caters to multiple types of learners and allows lessons to be differentiated so they can learn the way they need to. Learners who understand material best when they hear it can view lectures that emphasize listening to the material. Visual learners can view lectures that emphasize graphics and videos and other visual information that help them understand the lecture content.
“During the day, I make sure that their understanding is more scientifically sound. For students who require a little more explanation, the flipped classroom model gives me the opportunity to do that,” Sommer said. “It allows me to spend more one-on-one time with each student and give them the attention and the assistance that they need.”
Moodle for Middle School
Students access the videos through Moodle. Moodle, which is a self- contained web platform that’s been primarily used at the college level to facilitate online learning. It’s an acronym for Modular Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.
Lorrie March, Our Savior’s Lutheran School English Language Arts middle school teacher, first used Moodle when she was teaching at the higher ed level in Ontario, Canada. She thought it might work in her middle school English Language Arts classroom at Our Savior’s Lutheran School so she implemented Moodle this year, and the students’ enthusiasm has “peaked,” she said.
“Obviously, you always want your content to be something they’re interested in but when you add this to the classroom they are SO excited about it,” she said.
That’s pretty obvious when she tells students to grab a Samsung Galaxy from bins in the classroom and they immediately gravitate toward the power outlet in the room – just to make sure they don’t run low on battery power. They quickly sign in with a username and password and click on the course to get in.
“We create the curriculum and curate the activities, and manage classroom accounts,” Lorrie March said, “but it lives on Moodle’s database, Moodle Cloud, and is managed by Moodle.”
Sydney, a middle school student at Our Savior’s Lutheran School, likes it because “you can do all your work with help from friends and especially your teacher. You can share your opinions, thoughts and ideas with your classmates on the forum and see other people’s perspectives. You are able to give and receive feedback about writing and assignments, and you can access Moodle almost anywhere as long as you have Internet.”
Colleges and universities like University at Albany, Union College and Clarkson University in New York State have been using Moodle as their core learning platform for several years so Our Savior’s Lutheran middle school students will be familiar with it when they transition to high school and college.
Moodle has a variety of functionalities. For example, Our Savior’s Lutheran middle school students recently created a wiki (digital encyclopedia entry) about Anne Frank. Each student contributes to the wiki so it’s a true cooperative effort.
Moodle also allows for multiple ways of producing homework, including the creation of videos.
Getting middle school students engaged is a priority for Our Savior’s Lutheran School, and Moodle and flipped classrooms are two of the latest learning techniques being used in class.
Of course innovative learning techniques are not the only priorities at Our Savior’s Lutheran School. The pre-k to 8 school in Colonie is “designed to provide guidance and direction for children’s academic development along with mental, physical and spiritual growth,” said School Principal John March.
Middle school students are taught how to use their faith to improve the lives of others through service projects: working at a food center established by Albany’s Victory Church in downtown Albany.
They volunteer through the Jaycees, a leadership training and civic organization. Students also clean the facility and wash and fold clothes. During the holidays they pack boxes that are sent all over the world through Operation Christmas Child.
“Putting your faith into action is a very important part of learning at Our Savior’s Lutheran School,” said Principal March “It’s not just the words and the thoughts but how you show your faith that we want to relay to our students.”
In addition to the innovations in the classroom parents are drawn to Our Savior’s Lutheran School because it provides a place for students to deal with life’s issues within the context of their Christian faith.
Our Savior’s Lutheran School was established in 1956 as an effort by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church to provide a program of quality Christian education for children in the church and from surrounding communities.