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FHS science teacher introduces new hybrid class

Teacher Julian Buss, right, reviews a lab with students in his Earth Science class. Students in Buss's Farmington High School class only come to his room for tests and lab work. Otherwise, using his new hybrid class structure, students can work through their lessons on their own, outside of the class period and outside of the classroom.

Most of the time, only about half of Julian Buss's earth science students are actually in his Farmington High School classroom. And that's OK. That's the way it's supposed to be.

This year, Buss is trying something that challenges the traditional thoughts about what constitutes a high school class. Buss is one of a few Farmington educators working through a new concept called hybrid classes.

Essentially, hybrid classes give students all of the information they need to be successful, but the structure is such that students can work through units of information at their own pace.

It's a system that is coming into its own now that Farmington educators and students have been working with district-issued iPads for several months.

Two years ago, Buss taught his classes like any other teacher — lecturing in front of a full classroom of students. Even during the first trimester of the 2012-13 school year, he used the traditional method, but students were using the iPads to work through the coursework.

Through a grant from sustainable agriculture company Monsanto, Buss was able to secure a number of compatible devices for lab work. Using those tools, students were able to log their results directly into their iPads.

During the second trimester, Buss started prerecording his lectures and downloading the videos into files that students could access on their iPads 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

By the third trimester, Buss was confident he could run his classroom in a nontraditional way.

"I ran it as an online hybrid class. That means a good portion of their class content was available to them 24/7, on their iPad. Anything from lectures to screen tests to online discussions and online quizzes. Anything you might envision happening in a class was now happening electronically, online," Buss said.

The hybrid class structure gives students flexibility in working through their earth science coursework. Students can listen to Buss's lectures whenever they want — during the classroom period, in the media center, or at home as part of their homework. They work through the associated projects at their own pace, though Buss has deadlines for assignments and he sets a schedule of when students should have worked through different components of his coursework.

Students still have to come to class to do labs and take written tests. But when they do that is entirely up to the students, not Buss. Instead, he has a class roster on his bulletin board, and students schedule the days they will be in his classroom, and what projects they'll work on while they're there.

"They are now self-scheduling and self-pacing. This is giving students the ability to work at their own pace. We're no longer dictating what day they have to do what tasks. Students move at their own pace. When they are done with one task, they move their sticker over and let me know when they're going to be here next," Buss said.

Last Friday morning, for example, about 15 students sat around lab tables in Buss' classroom. They had their iPads out, and were listening to his prerecorded instructions, working through an experiment that involved magnets and sand.

The other half of his students registered for that class at that time were not in the room. The students who are not in the classroom are told to go to the media center or a quiet work space and continue working on school work. Even if it's not earth science homework, as long as students are working quietly, they are allowed to leave Buss's classroom while other students are working through labs.

The set-up is different than what many are used to, but it seems to be working for Buss and his students. Because students are getting his lectures and coursework outside of the classroom, Buss is able to spend more one-on-one time with the students who are working through projects inside his classroom.

He has also started compiling electronic iBooks on different subjects for his classes. Content for the books is available through an online company, CK-12, which puts out textbooks. By pulling content from CK-12, and combining it with his lectures and maybe a few images or videos from other online sources, students get a comprehensive education each subject within the earth science curriculum.

"It opens up a whole new area of dialog between student and teacher," Buss said. "I'm going to help when they have a question, but all of the information they need to be successful is available electronically."

Buss usually plays music in the background during his class periods, too, because he hasn't quite gotten used to hearing his own voice repeating instructions on the iPads.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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