Jack Coakley: Science

Jack Coakley: Science Teacher
Education: University of California, Berkeley, BA

What BlendEd course did you teach?
I taught Organic Chemistry in the spring of 2015. There were 12 students from schools around the Bay Area, including one from College Prep. The format included five in-person meetings. The rest of the coursework, including tests, was online; students would complete assignments I posted and we’d have weekly online discussions. The work, for the most part, was collaborative. For the in-person meetings we had one introductory session, three labs, and a final project where the students, in groups, produced video animations of chemical reaction mechanisms. These in-person sessions were a lot of fun and gave the online course the human connection necessary for collaborative learning.
What is it like preparing for a BlendEd course?
I spent the spring of 2014 learning about a learning management system, Canvas, and planning how to make an online course feel like a standard classroom course. During the subsequent summer, I designed the course website and put lesson plans together. It was all new for me, and I had to keep in mind that students would be accessing all of this on their own, without me there to look over their shoulder. I also wanted to get everything done in time for my materials to go through an early peer-review process. There were some elements of the course that seemed great on paper but just didn’t play out, but on the whole the process worked and I loved teaching the course.
Can any student take a BlendEd class?
The program is open to juniors and seniors. Since I only see the students about five times in a semester, BlendEd students tend to be self-disciplined. Some students are so used to meeting daily with their teacher and classmates that a self-paced online course is very hard. On the other hand, for students who can handle it, BlendEd is wonderful because they can work at their own pace, speeding up or slowing down as necessary. In a classroom you can’t fast-forward through a topic you already know, or rewind to something you didn’t quite understand.
What did you like about teaching a BlendEd course?
I loved teaching without being a talking head, the center of attention, and the disseminator of knowledge. I lectured for a total of 20 minutes during the entire course. For older students, BlendEd is fantastic. They’ve gone through many years of classroom learning already, so breaking up the cycle with this alternative format is fun and stimulating. It’s the same for me. Last year was my 23rd year at Prep and after so many semesters of classroom teaching, I loved the idea of doing something new and unfamiliar.

What  were some of the challenges?
I love to see students together in a classroom engaging with the material, their instructor, and each other—one thought leads to another, discussions emerge, and learning happens in a natural and spontaneous way. The hardest part of BlendEd was trying to replicate some of that spontaneity of the classroom. I found that when teaching online, I had to ask more leading questions. Students were less forthcoming with their own ideas and questions. Being by yourself in front of a computer can be less motivating for some students. I think it’s the same reason gyms are popular: some people can find the motivation to exercise on their own, but if you go to a gym and see other people training, it motivates you to work hard as well. Similarly, I think many students are motivated by the classroom and campus environments, and by seeing their peers working through the same problems they are.
What are some of the other elements of teaching and learning that you’ve been involved in at College Prep?
In addition to my classroom work I coach in the Athletic Department, I love to lead trips with students—either through Intraterm or our emerging Outings Program—and I was in charge of Intraterm for years. I’m a firm believer that every student should get outside, enjoy nature’s beauty, sleep under the stars, go hiking, that sort of thing. I’ve also enjoyed coaching—cross country, track and field, and baseball back in the day. A great thing about teaching at College Prep is getting to know our students in and out of the classroom—there are many meaningful opportunities to teach and learn, for them and for me.

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