Blended Learning in a Low-Tech Classroom Via Playlists

Today’s Contributor: Rachel Pacheco

Ortega 1I’m a 5th Grade teacher at Ortega Elementary with a passion for science, technology, crosswords, hiking, quilting, and dogs.

“I wish we could do this all the time.”

“This doesn’t feel like learning, this is fun!”

-Sneakily overheard from students during science class.


Staring out at my science classroom, I feel a little guilty. I’m just standing here observing.   At this particular moment, I don’t need to conference with students about behavior.  I am not lecturing or doing direct teach.  I feel guilty because I should be interacting with the students.  At this moment though, they don’t need me. They’re totally engaged and independent.

So I will jump in and start facilitating soon, but right now I just watch.  Because honestly, in the past,  I have witnessed chairs being thrown just as frequently as these moments of harmony.  I want to soak it in.

I watch 3 kids huddle around one computer and actively use Quizlet to play the matching game to study their vocabulary words. A little friendly competition and some words of encouragement are thrown in.  Other similar huddles are scattered around the room.

I observe five students with clipboards moving around the room to locate our hidden “Earth Science Escape Room” clues.   A student finally finds one hidden under the table and his smile is priceless.  He crawls underneath and begins to work through the problem.

I see a group of students explaining to a student (who had been absent for multiple days) how to create a dance based on the steps of the sedimentary rock formation.  They show her their own dances they filmed on the iPad.  They tell her they would do it again with her so she won’t have to do it alone.

Two of my speedier students have advanced to working on a fossil fuel “moodboard” using photo editing tools online.   (Ah, the Tumblr generation!)

This is thanks to the use of “playlists” in the classroom.  Let me preface by saying I am not an expert and I have only recently started their implementation into my instruction, based on an amazing article I read from Cult of Pedagogy. However, since I have started, I have noticed a marked increase in engagement and (maybe?) more importantly the retention of information.

So….What is a Playlist?

A playlist is a differentiated list of digital activities relating to the content that students can work on at their own pace.  (Ever been teaching whole group, and you’re waiting on those three to finish before you move on and there’s at least 4 kids who would have light years ahead if only you didn’t make them wait???? Let ‘em go!)

How does it work in a low-tech classroom? Well, first off, not all activities in my playlist are digital, obviously.

  1. I created a student learning survey to identify interests and learning styles.
  2. I identified the core content that I wanted students to learn. Austin ISD already has essential questions and learning outcomes in their content pages if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel.
  3. I analyzed my past lessons that have been successful and could fit into a blended model. I considered my timeline when choosing lessons. I altered these activities to fit with the preferred learning styles of the students.
  4. I alternated using tech vs. non-tech activities to allow for a natural staggering of activities, letting all students have access to our limited technology.
  5. I check in with the students frequently, meet with small groups, and informally assess.

Sample of my Sedimentary Rock and Fossil Fuel:

Ortega 2

I have more to learn about their implementation but I look forward to expanding my knowledge and incorporating it into our classroom.





  1. Thanks for sharing! I’m already sharing your post with other teachers. I’m looking forward to other teachers following your lead in sharing playlists and ideas that would positively impact their Blended classrooms. Way to go!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing all of this, Ms. Pacheco! Offering more BLENDED learning type playlists where students have more options and choice about what to interact with during class is something I’m trying to improve upon as well. Though I’ve used a lot of technology and still do, I used to rely on requiring students to complete all activities that I listed for them. Now, I’m learning to provide choices and options so that students can participate in the learning, but with more student decision-making and control. Thank you so much for the article and for your examples–very helpful and awesome stuff!! 🙂

  3. Thank you for the details in your post…very helpful! How do you think prepping for this compares time-wise to prepping for a “regular” lesson plan?

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