Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Your Classroom Reminds Me of Panera" and other educational developments

"I feel like I'm in Panera" said one of my students. I thought about it and I have to agree, to a point. I'd love to offer them delicious hot coco and yummy pastries as they work on their projects, however the school nurse would probably hunt me down faster than a missing lap top cart.

I've been experimenting with music in my classroom lately. As I'm sure you know from my previous posts, students work on independent projects during the week in my class, however they sit in groups while they complete them. Well- some students sit in groups. Some sit in a "cubicle" in the back of my room, some sprawl on the floor, some sit on a rug near my book shelf, some pull up a chair along side another student- in other words they sit where they are most comfortable and where they are working most effectively.

I stumbled on music as an aid to learning by accident a while back. On occasion I listen to music while I work during my prep period, like some students it helps me focus and makes time spent doing tedious or arduous tasks go a little faster. One particular day I forgot to turn the radio off, students entered the classroom and started working. The particular class that I had at that point tends to be on the "louder" side (note I did not say noisier side because they're conversations are useful and valuable, they just have difficulty regulating volume at times). However students were "in the zone" that day, they were having quiet chats with their group mates, moving about, but were really focusing in a way I had never seen before. It wasn't until about half way through that I realized the radio was on.

I decided to further experiment with this. I've realized early on I had to choose music that was soft, soothing, and had no lyrics to distract them. I tried classical music originally but noticed that the students had an immediate aversion to it (eww Classical music). Being the mind opener that I am, I told my students to give it a shot, however Classical seemed to have too much variance, getting really loud at times that forced me to rush to the speakers and turn it down and then at other times getting very quiet to the point that it was ineffective and we had that "awkward silence" that is so dreaded in middle school. I've toyed around with several other styles and artists and have finally settled on the Vince Guaraldi station on Pandora.

For those of you that don't know Vince Guaraldi is the musical genius behind Charlie Brown, think of all those great songs in the films and how calming they are- his station on Pandora is filled with similar artists. Its Jazz, but soft Jazz, soothing and calming. The first day I tried the station the students didn't even notice, they sat down started working and I noticed that they were very focused, they were still collaborating and talking but their volume was lower as I made the music very soft.

I'm not sure if its the music or the evolution of the year in general but I've noticed students moving in and out of groups to work now. What do I mean by this? Well, I love collaboration and encourage it, but I think sometimes students felt like they had to talk or get involved in conversations when they really needed to think something out for themselves before joining in with peers. Perhaps its the absence of "awkward silence" but I've noticed several students grab materials and get lost in their own thoughts exploring them. Later they may join in with a group of students or may get up, ask some classmates some questions and return to their work, but I love that I can see them really working on their own terms.

My students that choose to work in groups are also more focused, the music seems to have a calming nature on everyone- including me. As I circulate the room I can't help but feel cheery and peaceful, its as if we all take a breath when class starts, relax and simply start learning. It almost takes me back to days at the library in college just before finals. It was quiet but social, people stopping by your table, some people were in groups studying some were solo, but the learning was palpable, it was an energy of education.

Perhaps someday I'll get permission from the nurse to have a "hot chocolate" day, perhaps someday I'll invest in some comfy reading chairs for students, but for now hearing a student tell me that my classroom reminds him of Panera, for all its humor, is actually a pretty positive statement, after all, people get a ton of work done there...don't they?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grade Thermometer

I haven't updated in a while and will be doing a larger update later this week. However I wanted to share this. My students struggle to understand the concept of Mastery Based Grading. They get it...sort of. They understand they have to master things at 80% or better, they understand that they have to master all the units for the term to get an "A" and yet they still ask "What's my average?" or "Am I getting an A?." I've had a hard time reminding them that since its based on what they master by the end of the term, their grade is constantly changing. I also wish I didn't have to grade them at all, or that they weren't so obsessed with "grades." I really just care that they are engaged and learning.

I have check lists for them to keep up with their work and they can keep track of their "grade" that way, but I realized that maybe a more visual way for them to see progress towards an "A" might not only be clearer but a motivator so I came up with the following:

I took the units for the Term and divided them along a thermometer. I then put in the "grades" for where they would master a unit. This way they can color it in as they progress and see what their grade is. I realize some of my flipped class colleagues will not like this as it puts emphasis back on the "grade game" the idea that its "all about the grade." However I felt like I had to meet them half way, I'm expecting them to change a lot of how they think of school and grades, I guess I can give them a little of the "point game" back (but only a little)!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

First Day of IBL

After a few weeks of build up we finally started our first week of in class projects. Last Friday students were given a question and a project proposal sheet. Questions varied but were all topically the same. The unit we are studying is Mesopotamia so one question was: What features would an area need to give birth to and encourage the growth of a civilization? Be sure to include information about Mesopotamia and why it is called the "cradle of civilization."

The proposal sheet asked students to think about what information they already knew, where they could find additional information and ultimate what kind of project they were going to create to demonstrate the answer. I'll put a copy as a tab off of the main page.

I was really excited for students to start researching and working, I knew from experience last year that despite the fact I'm constantly circling and checking in, many students would stop working until i could get to them, or in some cases follow me around. I saw an elementary school teacher on Pinterest that used different color cups to signify when a student needed help, I adapted it with flags for my class today and it worked great:


Green = I'm all set and working hard
Yellow = I need help but I can keep working, check in with me ASAP
Red = I need help and I cannot keep working. Check in immediately.

I tried to emphasize to the kids that most questions would be "yellow flag" questions and to only use red if it was something I needed to leave their classmate to come and help them with. It worked really well, I only had one red question all day, and it was an actual red flag question. The flags helped me to see who was struggling and use my time more efficiently. 

Here are some pictures of the students work today, all of these projects were thought of and developed by students, I'm excited to see how they turn out:


This was only the first day so these are all still in the planning/first steps phase but so far so good!

If you flip your class what do you do with your new found class time?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Will the Real Fred Flintstone Please Stand Up?

Sometimes with the flip I feel I can over emphasize technology. Don't get me wrong I love utilizing technology in the classroom. I feel the more students access various technology platforms on a daily basis the better. Sometimes however, its nice to take a minute and go "low tech." This week we did some "low tech" yet "high impact" activities. The Flipped Classroom allows me the time to do this kind of stuff, sometimes I have to remember that when I'm preaching the gospel of the flip- its not about videos or technology- its about having time to reach my students and let them explore the material in a meaningful way- technology assisted or not!

The students recently watched a lecture on Cave Painting that went along with their study of CroMagnon man. I thought it would be fun to try it first hand. Students had to "crawl into the cave" which was dark inside and leave something to "symbolize they were here." It was very interesting all day not knowing what it was going to turn out like...here it is:

The "cave"

"Inside the Cave" (it was darker when students entered):

Our finished results: 

In addition to cave painting this week we watched an episode of The Flintstones where students categorized things into show into "Old Stoneage" or "New Stoneage" (ie things like: written language, cooking food, axe, fire, wheels, etc).  I love the kids realizing how much of The Flintstones is historically inaccurate ("Hey there were no dinosaurs at the same time as man"). Its a fun way to get them to think outside the box.

We also studied the "Naciremas." If anyone has done that exercise themselves in a Sociology class it was a great way to introduce the kids to historical empathy and cultural awareness. They loved it. Basically its a fake anthropological study of a "unique culture" that does "weird crazy things." Its written in such a way that the students always tell me it must be an ancient culture from far away. The great part is the reveal when they learn the culture is actually our own! Its a great way to get them to open their minds to other cultures instead of just saying their "weird." It also is a great example of the "historical bias" we go over at the beginning of the year, students realize they need to examine ancient accounts rather than take them at face value, since its all about how something is described. 

Finally they got their first essential question today and are starting in class projects next week. Overall I'm really happy with how this week went, hopefully the long weekend will be a re-energizer and not a momentum loser! 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Standards Based Assessment Exit Interviews

I currently grade on a Mastery Based grading system. I really like it because it allows students to reap the benefits of time spent relearning material and also allows me to see what they are struggling with and what I can spend more time going over with them.

Their current "Mastery Tests" at the end of a unit are essay based. They are usually asked to define terms by explaining their relationship and significance to larger historical events and write essays that synthesize the information from a particular unit into a well crafted written piece. Only once they demonstrate an understanding of the key concepts of the unit and the ability to synthesize, rework, and produce information do they "master" the assessment.

In order to master an entire unit they must, in addition to the Mastery Test, complete all of the work associated with it. This includes watching lecture videos, filling in two-column notes, answering section review questions, creating flashcards, completing Critical Reading's of articles and finally completing their in class work which is an in class project each week based around an essential question they receive. Its a lot, but manageable. 

I have been struggling to find a way where I could give students another opportunity to demonstrate mastery that did add on to their current workload. I have also been looking for more effective ways to use my one on one time with them. Currently I can assist them with in class projects, or if they struggled with a particular concept and come to me, I can sit and go over it. I wanted a way however to suss out those that were too shy to tell me they weren't "getting it." Additionally under our new evaluation systems they are interested in seeing how we use data to assess and react to student learning. I've been wanting to do this for a while and this will be a good push.

I decided to create "exit interviews" for each unit. Currently a student must present me all of the coursework for the unit when they have mastered all of it, and I sign off that it is done and mastered and it goes into the books. I've decided to change this a bit and make it another chance to assess mastery.

I made a simple checklist (adapted from Frank Noschese's great examplehat I found through Brian Bennett ...yay for the power of networking!) that included all of the state standards for the course. The first column had the standard the second column had a simple "Mastered?" This year I'm starting with just "yes" or "no." I'm sure in the future I can find ways to show "working towards mastery" but for now I wanted to keep it simple. At an "exit interview" students will bring all of their work, notes, quizzes, tests, projects, flashcards, critical readings, etc. One by one I will go through the standards, they can either orally demonstrate mastery, or they may show me in some of the work they have done where they can demonstrate mastery of the concept.

I plan on making these "interviews" as comfortable and informal as possible. "No" answers under the Mastery column may be changed at any time, a student can bring me something that demonstrates a mastery of that standard and I will change it. This won't take away from what they've done, rather it will be one more chance for them to show master, for many of my students answering orally is preferable to writing. I am not lifting the required writing of the course, merely giving them another opportunity to clarify their thoughts.

While this will be time consuming and initially difficult to set up I think it will allow me to track where students are more closely and get a better sense of who is mastering things quickly and could be more challenged and who is still struggling. However I think it will be worth the time in the end. I will have a calendar where students may sign up for the exit interviews. They may sign up during class time (only 1-2 per class I want to make sure I'm still available for the class at large), during our SSR (a silent reading period...a post for another day), or before or after school. 

After they've received "Yes" on everything for the unit, they will have truly mastered it, and I have decided to print out "mastery" certificates for the units. After all, it is still seventh grade, and everyone likes to be recognized for their efforts!

 Here is an example of a checklist for our Early Man unit, taken from the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks: 

7.1 Describe the great climatic and environmental changes that shaped the earth and eventually permitted the growth of human life. (H)

7.2 Identify sites in Africa where archaeologists have found evidence of the origins of modern human beings and describe what the archaeologists found. (G, H)

7.3 Describe the characteristics of the hunter-gatherer societies of the Paleolithic Age (their use of tools and fire, basic hunting weapons, beads and other jewelry).

7.4 Explain the importance of the invention of metallurgy and agriculture (the growing of crops and the domestication of animals).

7.5 Describe how the invention of agriculture related to settlement, population growth, and the emergence of civilization. (H)

7.6 Identify the characteristics of civilizations. (H, G, E)
A.  the presence of geographic boundaries and political institutions

B.  an economy that produces food surpluses

C.  a concentration of population in distinct areas or cities

D.  the existence of social classes

E.  developed systems of religion, learning, art, and architecture

F.  a system of record keeping

So as an example for checkpoint 7.1, they could tell me orally, show me an essay they had written on a test where they already did this (everything will have been graded at the interview), or show me a project that they created in class dealing with that standard. 

I really want them to reflect on why they are doing what their doing, and really realize how much they know and are learning! 

Do you do any kind of standards based assessment? What do you do to encourage students to reflect on their own work? How do they demonstrate they've mastered something?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Our In Class Archaeological Dig!

I think sometimes in the Flipped Class community we can spend a lot of time discussing the out of school part- the creation of videos, the work that goes with them, and what to do with students who don't always watch them. This is fantastic and helpful, but I think its also important to share what we do during class, since this is the whole point- freeing up this time and realizing what we can do with it.

This week I had two great experiences. The first was a discussion of our "critical reading" article. Students read an article about stolen artifacts and we had an in class discussion surrounding the idea of returning objects to their home country, preservation of artifacts, private owner rights..etc. IT WAS GREAT! Sure it took a few minutes to warm up, but once we got going to students had a lot to say. I got to hear a lot of opinions and spend an entire class period taking an idea and fleshing it out from start to finish- I never had time to do something like this prior to the flip. This was a topic related to Ancient History (which is my core subject that I teach) but tied to the modern world, it was something interesting but not something that we would have had the time to spend on before.

The second thing we did was an in-class archaeological dig. Students were broken into teams. At each table I set up a "mini dig site." A tray with brown sugar, corn meal, or flour filled with artifacts, and an iPad. Students had to map the dig site, divide it up, and excavate and record the artifacts they found in the site. They also had to record "soil conditions." They used the iPad to take pictures of their artifacts and ultimately put them into a presentation. I put all kinds of things in the trays, spoons, paper clips, necklaces, cupcake wrappers. Teams then had to determine what they thought the site was and ultimately present their findings and information to the class in a Powerpoint presentation.

Here are some pictures from our team dig:

How are you using your class time? Do you find more time to do hands on activities? Has flipping your class changed the type of activities you run? 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Of Mice and Men: First Day Hurdles, Week 1 of the Flip, and the Positives of a Negative Twitter Experience

Warning: Lengthy post ahead.  I haven't posted in a while so this post will be three posts lumped into one.

First Day Hurdles

After two days of staff meetings and logistical meetings my version of New Years Day finally arrived: The First Day (with students). The smell of freshly sharpened pencils and new denim filled the air as the kids bustled in for their first day of seventh grade. Homeroom seemed to last forever as we explained all of the paper work that the students would need to bring home that evening (Google Docs would simplify this process so much, but alas thats a discussion for another day).

I was extremely excited about the activity I had planned (see my previous post). I went to the main office to pick up the laptop cart, brought it to my room and plugged it in, and with that lost power in my classroom. Apparently our 1960s era school did not anticipate the toll that computers, ipads, and the like would take on the circuit breakers. Incidentally I also caused the Vice Principal to lose power..oops! So there I was on the first day with no power and an awesome lesson I couldn't implement...what's a teacher to do?

Well we proceeded anyway sans technology, I'll admit the first few classes did not go as I hoped since I didn't have the ipads to do the online portion with them. I have a prep in the middle of the day and was able to print out the materials, so things went MUCH smoother the second half.

In terms of the tape and straw activity, the kids LOVED it and I think they were really able to see how it connected to the flipped class and how the flipped class was going to help them. I will definitely be using this again next year, with a few minor tweaks. One being that in all the excitement I forgot to go over names with my kids (oops sort of a big deal on the first day). I felt a little like a first year teacher again. I guess in a way I am since this is my first fully "flipped" year. A lot of what I'm doing is reminiscent of my first go around.

What I learned from this? Technology is great, iPads are wonderful, but sometimes they fail and don't work, so don't forget to have a paper back up! Incidentally, don't we tell our kids this all the time!?!

Onward and Upward: The First Week

Overall this week wasn't the most exciting for the kids, I went over how to watch the videos at home and did a lot of checking in with their passwords and such. I handed out the coursepacks and went over how to use them. I also lectured in class so they could see how I explain the powerpoint slides that they would be seeing in the video and made sure they knew how to follow along with the notes.

What I learned: Students adapt quickly. I was really worried that students would need a whole week to get used to me and my note style before they started to watch the videos at home, I think all they really needed was a day. Next year I will probably start with the at home videos within the first two days, that way we can get right into the fun stuff "doing" history instead of listening to me talk about it.

My First Negative Twitter Experience

I was participating in a Twitter Chat and I used the word "irregardless" I hadn't even realized that I'd used it. Now, trust me, I am fully aware grammar is one area that I could really improve on (you read my posts so you're aware of this) heck I'm sure this post is filled with errors (I'm not saying this is OK, just that I'm aware it happens). However, I am fully aware that "irregardless" is not a word. I honestly, even now cannot tell you why I used it. I was tired, it was the end of a long day, none of which excuses using a made-up word, but my point is it happened, as these things some times do. I was alerted that I had a new tweet and when I looked someone had replied with a statement that "irregarless is never acceptable for an educator to use." I froze, I realized my mistake, I was mortified and embarrassed. She was right of course, how could I as an educator have made such an error? Would people still take me credibly on Twitter? I pulled the offending statement from the interwebs hoping people hadn't seen it. As silly as it sounds, this woman's tweet sat in the back of my mind the whole next day at work. I began to question myself. I suddenly pictured my tweet getting picked up by some organization as an example of an ill prepared educator. I started to wonder if I could call myself an educator. I couldn't get past those words "is never acceptable." Someone in my profession should know better, should never have made such a mistake. Beyond all that my feelings were hurt, I had been trying to make what I thought was a really positive point on education and this woman zeroed in on my mistake, broadcast it to the universe and really made me feel like I had no business being a teacher. I felt judged it was "never acceptable" for an educator to make that mistake, therefore, I am not an educator, I am a fake.

I realize this may seem very silly to some of you (I can hear you now: for goodness sakes it was JUST a TWEET) but it honestly really really impacted me...and then it hit me....words are powerful...words hurt....we as teachers use words all day every day.

How often do we quickly correct a student's error without looking past it at the point they were trying to make? If this woman via cyberspace that I have never met in person could impact my feelings in such a negative way, imagine what I could do to a 13 year old sitting in my class. If she could cause me to question my abilities within my profession...what could I cause my students to question?

I firmly believe in making mistakes, I believe that you learn from them and that failure can lead to great outcomes if you choose not to accept it. However I also believe there is a way to correct my students without causing them to question themselves. I realized I need to approach how I correct students very carefully and so I came up with following to guide me this year as my students (and I myself) inevitably make mistakes.

1. Absolutes do not encourage improvement. I would never tell a student "it is never acceptable for you to make this mistake." Rather I would tell them that it is acceptable, they are human, they are learning, they are incomplete in the best possible way. Together we will learn how to take mistakes, learn from them, and implement change from them. We will look at why we make mistakes, what preconceived thoughts we have about things, and realize that sometimes, we just make them, and as long as we are willing to fix them, and try our best to not make them again, that's ok.

2. Public correction of a mistake is more about the corrector and less about the learner. It's one thing to realize many students are making the same mistakes and going over them together, but announcing a students mistake in public is going to do little more than embarrass them and make them afraid to make another one. All it will serve is to make the teacher look "all powerful." Socrates was famous for purporting that the first step to becoming wise is admitting that you don't know everything. I'm not saying we should let mistakes go and never point them out, but rather I think it is important to allow students to learn of an error in a comfortable private environment where they are given the opportunity to fix it.

3. Words have power, negative words, positive words, all words. I need to choose them wisely and be aware that constructive criticism while far better than negative criticism can still hurt. It is essential for my students to realize that I am correcting their mistake and not personally attacking them. I believe strongly in the use of positive language with students and will continue to look for the meaning and the message first and foremost before I go about correcting the incidentals. I don't want to miss out on a student's brilliant ideas because I'm stuck on a spelling mistake. Praise the idea first...privately correct the spelling mistake. I need to make sure my words are about empowering my students and not phrases meant to only empower me as a teacher. A private message from this woman pointing out my error would have been welcomed, but I guess I wouldn't have learned as much from that.

I thought about tweeting back to this woman and telling her that she'd hurt my feelings, telling her that I hoped she would never correct her students publicly like that, but finally I realized that I need to get it together and grow up. I'm an adult, I've been avoiding Twitter, I've been ridiculous. I made a mistake, I fixed it, and now I'm returning to probably make more...but that's why life long learning is so great! In the long run this woman did me a great favor, reminding me of the power our words have.

Ok way too long of a post. So as you can see I've learned a lot these last two weeks. How are things going in your first few weeks? How do you handle things like technology and power failures? Have you had any negative experiences on social networking sites? What are some ways you help students realize their mistakes without making them feel poorly about themselves?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Virtual Syllabus and First Day Activities

I'm one of the lucky ones who do not go back until after labor day. It gives me an entire extra week of Summer, but to be honest I really consider this the last true day. Next week I'll be in my classroom every day setting up, printing my coursepacks and putting everything together. I'm so excited for my first full year as a flipped class.

I have spent the summer creating videos and setting up Schoology, pick a day on the calendar and I can tell you what video lectures are that week and what projects the kids are doing in school. I have it all planned out...except for the first day.

I have a confession, I have never ever "planned" my first day. I have always just done a quick introduction: state your name and your favorite kitchen appliance (thought I was "changing up" the typical first day intros...oh how wrong I was). I then handed out the Syllabus, read it with the kids, usually run out of time before we finish reading it and send them on their way.....ew. How boring for a 7th grader, I as an adult would not want to do that 8 times in one day, I cannot fathom 13 year old me being any more enthused. If I really reflect on it, this first day style really did a disservice to the type of class I run, student centered, project based, and enthusiastic. In short it projected the opposite view.

Since this entire year is going to be flipped, and going to be different, I decided the first day needed to start differently. I wanted to convey that this year would be different, and why the flipped class would benefit them, so this is my (tentative) plan for the first day:

Students enter room and sit in groups. Each group will have the following on it: an ipad, string, tape, glue, and a pile of straws. Each group also has a supply draw next to it with things like whiteboards, markers, and scrap paper that they can utilize throughout the year. 

Students will be instructed to use whatever they have at their group's station to construct a tower with the straws. They will have 5 minutes, at the end the group with the tallest tower will get an A, second tallest a B, etc. They may not undo anything as they work, they can only add to what they've done. The catch: they cannot talk...at all.

After the five minutes I will explain that this grade does not count, and that I want to discuss with students what things would have made them more successful and helped them to communicate, I'm hoping for (and will gently nudge) answers such as:
background knowledge
plan in place
the ability to talk
use of phones
ability to look up examples and ideas
the ability to redo and fix mistakes

I want them to understand that in my class its OK to fail at first, many groups will have failed at this task. However its not OK to accept failure.

I'm then going to use this is as a segway to talk about the Flipped Class and how they will be encouraged to communicate, question, research, do and redo during class. How it will help them meet success and fix failed first attempts. We will discuss ways technology will help us to do this, and how having a background from the video lectures will help us to create a plan for our projects.

Finally we will use the ipads to flip through a virtual copy of the syllabus:


I created it to look more like a magazine, and less like a boring document. Students will receive a paper copy in the front of their coursepacks. I like that students can "flip" through it.

Before leaving they will receive instructions for signing onto Schoology and their Parent FAQ letter (which basically an adult version of their virtual syllabus). They will be asked to watch an Intro Video and Web Resource Video for homework that night.

I'm not sure if this will work or by the end of the day I'll be back to reading the syllabus, but its worth a try. 

What are you doing with your classes on the first day? Have you found ways to get away from the "reading of the syllabus" routine?

Monday, August 20, 2012

#flipclass chat

So I've known about the #flipclass chat for a while, but have been too overwhelmed to jump in. After a few weeks of lurking, I finally joined tonight. Wow. I didn't even contribute much, maybe five tweets at most, and yet I found the conversations stimulating, invigorating, and reenergizing as I come into the homestretch of Summer.

As I'm heading into my first full year flip, and reflect on my 1/2 year flip this past Spring, I realize the one thing that was more valuable to me than any resource in my classroom....the resources out there...out in cyber space...the people out there...out in cyber space.

I came across the idea of a flipped class by accident. I was looking for ways to integrate technology into my classroom, and happened upon an article about it. Which led me to another article....and another...and another....and all of a sudden it was 4am and I couldn't sleep because I knew I had stumbled on to something amazing.

Next came the blogs, teachers, from all corners of the country...all corners of the globe....sharing how they were incorporating the flip. Disseminating information, sharing resources, all for the betterment of the students. Twitter and the #flipclass chat is yet another extension of this.

I think this is what I have come to love about the flip class more than anything else- the community of educators it has put me in touch with. People that I would never have the pleasure to interact with in my daily life otherwise, have become my mentors, my collaborators, my teachers, and my global colleagues.

Teachers get a lot of bad press these days. We're lazy. We only work until the bell rings. We only care about raises and money. We're not in it for the kids, we're in it for the paycheck. How dare we call ourselves "professionals." The attacks go on and on.

I would challenge people that hold those beliefs to do a simple search of "flipped class" on Google. Check out some blogs. Lurk on Monday nights for the #flipcclass chat. What they will see is enthusiastic and engaged professionals who are connecting with others purely to share ideas and help better their students' experiences in their classrooms.

They are not prompted to do this from a boss, or by a contract. This is not part of what they get paid to do. This reaching out to others, this evolving and learning as a global community, is done purely in the name of education and doing what's best for the kids.

In history class I often talk about "grass roots" movements. We discuss the role they have played from the dawn of time forward, and how a few individuals really can incite change. We discuss how their agendas vary from awareness to policy change. To me the flipped class truly is a grass roots movement. Creating an awareness that the institution needs changing, and providing a pragmatic way to do it. Its not about the videos, its not about the newest "trend" in education. Its about doing right by the kids, and creating a classroom that inspires learning, and prepares them for the world we live in. Its about changing the way we teach, and the way we as teachers learn. Its about rethinking our craft and recreating ourselves as needed.

You don't have to flip your class to do this, great teachers do it every day with no flip involved. If you do want to flip though....if you do think this might just be the thing you were looking for...the thing that keeps you up until 4am too excited to sleep...with too many ideas floating through your head...

...join the conversation. Mondays 8pm EST  #flipclass.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Coursepack Video

I made this video to explain the different parts of the "coursepack" to students. It is very straightforward, nothing special. I'm posting it here just to show what I have my students doing at home during the videos and in addition to them. I wanted to make sure they weren't just watching the lecture videos but were responding to them. I also wanted a way to check their progress.

I think I'm going to make a video of myself watching actually doing the activities in the Coursepack, but this is what I have at the moment.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

FAQ by Parents Video

This is a rough draft of a FAQ video for parents. I wanted to play around with the new "screen in" feature of Screencast-o-matic. I definitely need to rewrite some parts, and I think I will split it into two videos, one on what a flipped class is and a separate video on what mastery based grading is. I think in this I just skim over the grading too quickly. Having played around with the isight screen in feature I can see that I need to adjust my camera angle and lighting.

I think overall I probably won't use this feature for student lectures, I think it could distract them from looking at the actual slide. However, I think for introductory purposes it is a nice feature so parents can get a feel for who their student's teacher is. I also think I will use it for the first few student videos. I was reading up on student "trust" levels. Despite the fact that we are having students listen to videos via their computers it is really important that they buy into the idea that it is "their teacher" disseminating information. That is why I make my own videos, despite the fact that there are far more professional looking ones out there. I need students to trust me as their teacher. I wish there was a way to turn the screen in feature on and off, for example have it on to introduce the video and then turn it off for the lecture. Has anyone figured out how to do this?

Anyway here it is, again, rough draft:

Parents will receive an explanatory letter the first night of school and a link to this video. I have a separate blog for parents that I update each Friday so I'll house it there.

Has anyone found a better screen cast software? Right now I'm limited to using free software. I've toyed around with the idea of using iMovies but I like the ability to open websites within the screen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Intro to Flip Video

This is a very rough draft of an intro video for my incoming students. I'm contemplating on sending them an epacket prior to the start of school with their account passwords, intro letter, and a link to this video. I made it using PowToon which I know a few other educators on the blogs have started using. I found it really easy to use and think it could be a fun tool.

PowToon : What is a Flipped Classroom?

The video itself goes pretty fast, probably too fast for studen't to grasp everything the first time. I plan on making another video that is much slower and easier to follow...I'm still learning to use this presentation software.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Critical Reading

I've been (slowly I'll admit) tackling my summer projects that I mentioned in the last post. The first part of the summer I was wrapping up a grad class, and the rest of the time..well the weather in New England this summer has been beyond beautiful. In fact it rained yesterday for the first time since school let out, so you can imagine its been tough to find the motivation to think about my classroom.


Well, that's not true I'm ALWAYS thinking about it, but todays clouds meant I finally sat down and worked some things out.

One of my projects this summer was to create stronger "Content Folders." I use the Schoology program to deliver the flipped classroom and one of the features I love is that you can create folders to house related materials. Students can easily see them and there can be folders within folders. Thus I can create a folder for example entitled Ancient Greece. Within that giant folder I have folders for each week with all the content that should be worked through. Student can work ahead to the next week if they master everything in that week's folder.

This is an example of last year's but of course I'll be "tweaking":

The inside of each week's folder looked like this, you can see the videos, quizzes and discussion threads:

Since this past school year was my first attempt with the flip, the folders only contained the lecture videos and the online quizzes. I knew I wanted each week to contain more, and I knew I wanted a way to introduce more reading into their weekly work. If you follow my blog you probably already know that I hate the textbook that my school system gave me. For one thing it was written so long ago that my name (yes I once was a student in my very classroom...a humorous discussion for another time) is written in the front of one (incidentally I used to offer extra credit to any student who found it), but I digress. So you can see the problem, hate the book, but value students reading content as well as watching lecture videos. Lo and behold my grad class (not an education class by the way) provided the answer to me. Prior to each class my professor (Prof. Carragee at Suffolk University) required that we read an assigned article and do a "critical reading" of it. At first I thought, "well I always read critically" but this particular professor required that we write a one page paper, in a very specific format that forced us to read critically and best of all come up with a question.

I decided to borrow the professor's idea and "tweak" it down to 7th grade level. One of the things that I am trying to do this year is go paperless (for the most part). The only paper handed out will be in the form of "coursepacks." At the beginning of each unit students will receive a coursepack with all the notes they need to fill in, all review questions, flashcard requirements, and yes critical reading assignments. I will post more on the course pack when I finish the first example. Essentially it will function as a workbook for the class. The "blank form" of the critical reading assignment will be found in the coursepack, students will write in the answers.

Every other week in their content folders there will be a reading. It may be an article written by an historian, it may be a primary source document, or something else that ties in with their lectures that week. Students may view the reading on their computer, download it to a mobile device or eReader, or they may take a hard copy in class.

After completing the reading they will fill in the following in their coursepack (the bold will be given, they will fill in the information on lines after):

Citation: A citation for the article you read using Chicago MLA format. We will be going over this in class, but this is a sample: (I'll include a sample for them)

Summary: 2 (and only 2) sentences summarizing the major point that the author is making in the reading. Believe it or not you will find it difficult to summarize something in only 2 sentences, you need to make sure you really understand the main point that the author is trying to make.

Critical Insight: 2-3 sentences describing something that you learned from the reading or a new insight that you gained. It could be something that you already knew, but now you understand better, if that is the case tell me why you understand it better now. What information did the author present that sparked your interest or made you think?

Critical Question: A question you have after completing the reading. It could be a critique of what the author has said (something you agreed with or did not agree with), or something further that you would like to know. This should be a well thought out question, not one that can be answered by the reading. It should be an open ended question (not a yes or no question). This is the most important part of the CR assignment as it forms the basis for our class discussions.

Students can complete the Critical Reading at any point during the week, and on Fridays after our CNN Student news quiz, we will have a class discussion based on their questions. 

Things I like about this: 
  • students will be exposed to the writings of various historians
  • they will be forced to think about what they are reading, not just go through the motion
  • they will get practice creating citations, something that I try to prep my students in as I feel that (at least in my district) history classes do not spend enough time going over, while English classes seem to do an excellent job of prepping students in something that they will undoubtedly be expected to know in college
  • class discussions will be a great way to end the week, and basing it off their questions will give the ownership of the material they have read, I will merely facilitate and play the "devil's advocate" where necessary 
  • I have tried class discussion in the past but often get a blank stare, hopefully the questions will prompt better discussions
Problems I foresee:
  • students not giving quality responses, thinking that because it is only 2 sentences they can just write "anything" rather than really trying to understand the main idea
  • questions not being deep enough to foster discussion (I think this will take some time initially but hopefully they will get the hang of it after a few discussions)
  • getting the classic "I don't get it" line as an excuse for not completing the assignments, I'll need to make sure students remember to utilize class time to ask me questions if they don't understand the reading
  • time management, hopefully I'm not asking too much
On weeks where they are not doing Critical Reading assignments they will be completing an internet literacy assignment..but more on that at another time!

Have you incorporated readings into the "flipped classroom"? Or into a traditional classroom? Did students complete them? Were they able to foster discussions? Am I asking too much?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer Projects

I haven't posted in quite a while, its Wedding season here in New England and between that and the end of the year activities fast approaching I've put my blog on the back burner. I plan to update throughout the summer however as I have several projects I'll be working on to improve my classes for this fall. I'll be rambling and thinking my way through those on here in the coming weeks, but at the moment this is simply a stream of conscience post so that summer's ice cream enduced haze won't wipe out all the thoughts I had:

Project 1: Going paperless....well nearly. I'm pretty sure I routinely take out a forest or two during the school year. I'd like to get all of the notes, worksheets, and readings that students complete bound into a notebook for them. I'd also like to have the notebook available to fill in online, so that for the coming year students can pick which way they'd like to fill it in. Other than this initial hand out, I'd like the rest of the year to be paperless. We're not a 1:1 school so I would have to think carefully about how this could work, I think having students bring their own devices could help.

Project 2: BYOD (Bring your own device). I piloted this idea with two small groups of students in two different classes and it was wildly successful. I found students able to use them for research far faster than our lap top computers. I found that 90% of the time they were using these devices for school related work. The other 10% of the time I found that they were listening to music, which to be honest I'm ok with. Many students appeared to work very calmly on their projects while listening to music and still managed to collaborate with peers. We are always teaching students various study methods, for some of them music is part of that...why not let them try it out. In order for this to be successful I need to develop some kind of guidelines, as well as meet with school admin about getting access to wireless. Currently my students can only access it if I have the laptop cart with the wireless transmitter in my room...which defeats the purpose in the long run.

Project 3: Leveling my classes. Yes, one of my main reasons flipping was to make differentiation easier. Even before the flip I have always made sure to differentiate for those students on IEPs. What I hoped to achieve with the flip was to challenge my very advanced students who often get bored in their classes. I'd like to take this a step farther this year. Students currently work their way through "content folders" on Schoology. There are lectures and quizzes for each unit. I'd like to level those folders, so that everyone will get the state standards, but those students who would like more of a challenge can listen to lectures that cover deeper content than the standards. Which brings me to Project 4:

Project 4: Creating better content folders. My vision is that each week there will be an online content folder containing not just "videos" but readings, webquests, discussion threads, and quizzes that students should complete. I'd like to see them developing critical questions in response to readings and making connections to the lectures. I'd also like to see the out of class discussion threads get more use. They were being used at the beginning of the year quite well, but I would like to see them become something students want to do rather than have to do as part of their grade. I'm on the hunt for a secure educational chat room for the students, one where we could have a synchronous discussion, even set times for extra help, but that would be secure and that students could only access with me "present." I know some educators have "hang spaces" in Google+, I'll admit I haven't jumped on the "+" train yet but intend to explore it this summer.

Project 5: Personal content building. I'll admit that while I enjoy teaching Ancient History, my passion (and really my area of expertise in terms of teaching) lies in American History. It has been a personal struggle for me to deliver content in this area with the same enthusiasm. This summer I have created a reading list for myself and plan to take some free online courses through Yale Open Courses and some other places. My goal is to gain insight into all those "little known facts" that make history fun and interesting. I have a myriad of these facts for American History, but I want to discover them for the content that I teach. I spend so much of my time trying to read up and learn about the newest technologies, and implementing them into my classroom, sometimes its good to go back to basics and think about the content itself, after all that is what is at the heart of all of this right?

Project 6: Relax. Spend time at the beach. Grill. Read for fun. Travel. Explore. Spend time with family and friends. Not think about work. Revel in the fact that "summer vacation" and "first day of school" are still part of my vocabulary as an adult. Remember the excitement those two phrases hold? Summer is a time to recharge the batteries and ready ourselves for another year. That's one of the best perks of the job, right?

We still have three weeks of school left, so I will still be posting as I wrap up my first flip, but I'd be kidding myself if I didn't say my thoughts (as well as my students) have already begun the turn toward summer. There are so many other things that I want to accomplish this summer, and this list is by no means exhaustive, but if I honestly complete two things on this list I'll consider it a success. What are your educational plans for the summer? 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Admitting that videos don't work for all...

We just started a new term yesterday (our school works on quarterly terms rather than semesters) and a new nit (Ancient Rome). Since we were starting "fresh" so to speak it was a good opportunity for me to attack some of the problems and concerns that had come up in the flipped class. There are always going to be a few problems that occur but a major concern for me was those students who were not watching the lectures at home. There weren't many, but a small handful that I felt needed to be addressed.

I'll admit, I was angry with those student's. I felt like I was offering them such a "better" alternative to traditional homework. "How could they not want to watch a video?" I thought, "Don't they know I could be giving worksheets and busy work? I'm trying to do something for them!" Then I took a step back...wasn't the whole point of this to do what is best for the students? If they aren't watching the videos, they aren't getting the main content. There must be a way to fix this. 

As much as I dislike the textbook that has been assigned to my class (I don't even use it with the kids, I have 100 of them sitting on a shelf) and as much as I dislike assigning worksheets and bookwork (I feel students don't really read they just look up answers) I knew this could be a short-term solution. I found chapters in the book that corresponded for the most part to the video lectures and set up a reading schedule. I also found guided reading worksheets that go along with these chapters. In lieu of the notes that most students take while watching the videos, my "book" students would take these guided notes while reading, and take paper-based quizzes in class each week.

I had trouble squelching the voice, "But I want them to watch the videos, I don't want to use the book, this is a "flip" the whole point is to watch the videos." Its not, "flipping" really has nothing to do with videos, the concept of flipping is a shift in how we conceptualize the use of class time as application rather than delivery of content- and it looks different for every class. As much as I wish these students would watch the video lectures (there's so much I can do with showing images of the places were studying and telling human interest stories that the textbook doesn't cover) they aren't, and that is the fact of the matter at the moment. Getting content from the book is better than no content at all. Additionally I have to remind myself to do what's best for them, and maybe the videos just don't work for everyone. Do I think the videos are more informative and far more interesting than the textbook? Absolutely. However I'm willing to admit that for some students the flip is just to radical, and some old fashioned reading and worksheets might rectify the problem.

They will still be learning the main content outside the classroom and collaborating on projects in class, I am hoping that of the eight students I am assigning the book too, a few will decide that they would rather watch the lectures online. I told them that if they decide to go back to the lectures, if they complete two weeks in a row and on time, that they may return to the computer based rather than the book. 

At first I felt like going back to the book was admitting defeat, but I now realize its the opposite, its continuing to differentiate and adjust the delivery of content so that every student has the same access to the curriculum. It has even got me thinking about creating different "levels" of videos next year. Essentially different students taking different "course levels" so to speak right in the same room. Oh the ever lengthening things I want to do this summer!

I said this was a short-term solution because I used the book and the worksheets that came with it. Next year if I were to create an alternative reading plan for some students, I would probably create my own guided notes, and perhaps look into different texts (or maybe have them read an historical novel!?! :) ) and create something a little more inline with the videos.

Has anyone else come up with solutions for students not watching the videos? What has worked for you? What hasn't? I'd love to hear what some others have done!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Greek Festival

Today was our Greek festival, students displayed the projects they've been working on and brought in food, music, clothes, and games from Ancient Greece. It was a huge success and we had a lot of parents show up. I had a few parents come up and tell me how much they loved the flip. That was really great to hear, it was also great to see the students so proud of the work. That being said it was definitely a long, chaotic afternoon. I've posted a few pictures below from the festival, as well as a picture of the fantastic columns that the students made for the entrance.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Culmination of Creativity

This has been an odd week for my students. In Massachusetts we have "April Vacation" which starts next week, and we completed our unit on Ancient Greece last Friday, thus I'm in the weird gray area between units. Rather than start Ancient Rome before vacation, I have elected instead to extend our normal one day "culture day" to a whole week.

Culture Day takes place after we finish a civilization, students bring in food, music, fashion, games, and other things from that area of the world both in ancient and modern times. Prior to the flip this was the only time my students got to work in groups and do in class projects. Now we do that on a daily basis. Since each student has 7 projects from the past unit (yes that means I am currently sitting in a pile of 700 student created posters, models, dioramas and maps) I thought it would be nice of their parents could actually have a chance to come in and view their work.

My vice principal was kind enough to let us use the library tomorrow afternoon, so we are having a full "Greek Festival." The kids have been building columns, making signs, togas, laurel wreaths, and generally planning some pretty cool stuff. Their projects will be set up like a science fair, with each student getting table space. I am going to project videos of in class plays that some of the students performed in one corner (the students are setting up a "Greek Theatre", and the "legacy of Greece" powerpoint the students did in another. Two of my students even created a "QR Code" scavenger hunt that will go throughout the fair.

I am excited to have parents come in and see all the hard work the students have done. Furthermore I am hoping it will be a good chance for other teachers to come and see what cool stuff we were able to accomplish when we didn't have to spend class time listening to lectures. Finally the students are excited and enthusiastic, I'm hoping parents and colleagues can see how beneficial this has been for them.

Below is a sample of the "legacy" slides the students put together. Keep in mind it is very "rough" I basically gave them the microphone and let them coordinate their own Screencast. It is simple, each student making a one sentence statement on what they thought Greece's legacy was. Keep in mind this video was done in my inclusion class, so there are students of many levels and abilities...again its rough...but it is theirs.

I'm excited to see how our "festival" goes tomorrow, I will be taking pictures and posting them here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Inquiring minds want to know..Did it work? Data Data Data

Forewarning: This is a long post! I finally have some numbers to crunch!

So in all of the craziness and excitement of flipping the big unanswered question of the term was...did it work? Now there are different definitions of "work." From my point of view my students were excited, engaged and busy the entire time they were in my room. They were also learning content at home rather than doing "busy work." So yes if you ask me if my flip was a success thus far I would give a resounding, "Yes"! Of course because of the way our school systems are set up all of that is fine but parents and principals really want to know, what do the grades look like? I have to admit this part had me nervous. Since I was using a mastery based grading system, I had a sense of where students were at, but I couldn't make any definitive answer since many were working right up to the end of the term. I also, if you remember from previous posts, had gotten frustrated with a few classes and wondered if they were all simply going to fail for lack of effort.

Welp, today was the day, grades were do and crunch the numbers I did... and I was pleasantly surprised! All of my classes saw at least a 50% improvement, one even saw an 88% an improvement. Each class also saw a percentage of grades drop, but these were around 15% in most classes, and as low as 5% in one. I'm not thrilled with that number but it is to be expected, and an area for improvement. Between 10 and 20% of students stayed the same in each class as well. Overall for all of my students I saw a 65% improvement, a 15% drop, and 19% stayed the same (these are rounded figures, the actual data is off by a margin of 2% due to pass/fails and other grading situations).

So where does that leave me? Very happy, yes it is not a whopping 90% of students seeing improvement, but it is an excellent start, and data only goes so far, where I was most pleased was the growth of some of my lowest scoring students, who I knew with a different class set up would thrive. For example:

3 students raised their D to a C
5 students raised their D to a B
2 students raised their D to an A

Even more exciting:

2 students raised their F to a C
1 student raised their F to a B
1 student raised their F to an A!!!!!

Though many care more about the overall data, I can't help but look at those success stories. Two of them in particular were students who I knew had the potential to be great but were falling through the cracks of a traditional system. I saw them turn it around, very enthusiastic to do projects, and ultimately getting the content at home as well.

I am pleased as well not just that grades have gone up, but they have gone up with "mastery." In other words, students grades reflect the work they put in, and the content they understood, not some kind of points game. Interestingly enough I still gave out the same number of "failing" grades this term as I did last term, however it was a different set of students. Students who had previously squeaked by because of "bonus points" and the way things were weighted suddenly found out that if they did not put the time and effort in, they weren't going to pass. This is just a small sample of the very first data to come out of this experiment, but I am pleased. I think this is a great starting point to move forward from and I hope to see even more improvement in the coming term!

I hope this post does not make me come across as someone who is grade conscience or even really cares about grades (because to be honest I feel there are so many more ways a student can demonstrate their knowledge), but inquiring minds (parents, administration, and others) do seem to use these as bench marks for success. Has anyone else seen a drastic improvement in grades? Was it a "honey moon phase" where grades reverted back? Does anyone else hate grading students??

Happy Flipping! =)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

BYOD Experiment

I know its too early to be jumping ahead to summer, but I am already thinking about projects that I want to work on. I want to re-do several of my videos for the flipped classroom (adding more content, changing things, polishing them etc). I also need create videos for the content at the beginning of the year since I did not flip until February. That itself will be an enormous undertaking however I know deep down their is another thing that I'm itching to implement into my classroom: going paperless.

Now I'm not going to go ENTIRELY paperless, I still plan on sending student Interactive Notebooks home with the kids, and paper will never fully go away, but I'd like to see the kids using and synthesizing information on devices that make sense to them.

We have a few laptop carts in the building and I do grab them on occasion to assist with research. However, more and more, I find the students looking at them not as the "futuristic" machines that they have long been herald as, but rather as these dinosaurs...their world has already moved past that.

We also have an iPad cart, and I do find the students much more receptive to working with them. I think a huge part of it is the "new" concept and that they are "en vogue." After talking to a few students I think that another reason they like them so much more is that they are really giant iPods. Many of my students have iPods and are familiar with how the internet works on them. In fact they were thrilled when I told them they could access the videos for the class using their iPods. Some even requested that I upload materials to iTunes for them to download as podcasts (I'm all for this, I just can't figure out how to do that...another project for the summer perhaps)!

Why am I saying all this? Well I've started an experiment with one class section. It is my smallest class, and probably my most responsible. I had a conversation with them about using their phones and iPods in class for research purposes and for working through the coursework. They bought into it so quickly I was astounded. I was more astounded that during the past week they have been actively using these devices every day FOR SCHOOL WORK! They really are staying focused. Some students also brought in a Kindle or  Nook and downloaded articles they found in their research to read on them...fantastic idea!

I think next year I want to implement a "BYOD" (Bring Your Own Device) policy in my classroom (thanks for the idea Confessions of a Jesuit School CIO ). Even on days when I do get the laptop cart, there are only 14, and I have 23 students. Additionally they are slow, and students get frustrated. I'm going to continue this mini experiment with just the one class, but next year I'm going to attempt to expand to all my classes.

I know other teachers have made students a part of the process to set up an agreement with how technology and devices will be used appropriately in the classroom, I plan on doing that as well.

Problems I foresee:

-Students that do not have a device feeling left out
-Creating a conflict with the School's policy of no cell phones
-Using devices for inappropriate reasons (not being able to monitor 23 students at once)
-Other teachers getting angry about their use in my classroom (and students trying to get away with using them in other classes)
-Loss/Theft of devices
-They are still kind of young..middle school

Reasons I think it will be worth the potential "problems":
-Students can create work on their own device, no more uploading saving and emailing off of the school's computers
-Faster speeds, updated technology
-Fill the gap of the shortage of laptops etc
-Teachable moments opportunity for using technology for learning
-It will be easier to create some kind of class social network space (I'm thinking a twitter feed for each class period or a "hangout" in Google+)

Has anyone else ever experimented with devices in the classroom? Is middle school to young? Do you find students use it to their advantage or take advantage of it?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

PLN Appreciation

My classroom is physically separated from a lot of others because it is down a side hallway near the front offices. While most days I love this, there are times that it does make me feel isolated with regards to my colleagues. While I meet daily within a team setting of teachers, I sometimes feel I lack collaboration with teachers of other levels and subjects, in other parts of the building. I don't think this is anyone's fault, I think its a matter of not enough minutes in the day.

I have been spending my free time as of late checking for blog updates of teachers I'm following and reading up as much as I can on "flipping." I came to the realization that I know more about what some teachers in Chicago and Arizona are doing in their classrooms, than I do about what people in my very own building. I have to admit I love my flipped class, and I'm excited to share about it and talk about it, and ultimately get feedback. Aside from one other teacher in my school doing a partial flip, I sometimes get responses like, "Wait, you LIKE having that chaos in your classroom? Do the kids learn like that?" Who would have thought I'd rather have students jumping up and down sharing information instead of staring at me as I blab away. I am getting really positive support from administration, but I would like to share more with the teachers I work with. I wish more people blogged and were part of PLNs.

Which brings me to the title of the post. I am so thankful for the hundreds of teachers out there blogging about their experiences. Not only have I gotten fantastic ideas and feedback but I love knowing other teachers are just as enthusiastic about what is going on in education. I have been questioning my decision to flip this week, wondering if it makes sense given the fact that I feel I am constantly on the defense, explaining myself, or having to alter forms and change things because my class no longer fits into the mold of the majority. Even in terms of our progress reports- the standard "# of missing homeworks" and "grade average" don't apply. Try explaining to another teacher that you can't tell them what a student's average is because their grade is based on what they master by the end of the term...somehow I feel they think I'm being lazy when the opposite is true. I had to make the decision this week to continue to flip for the next term...and ultimately...I'm going to. My PLN keeps bringing me back. I know this is what's best for the students and I have seen some really amazing stuff happen. I see others having success, and see others struggling as well and it renews my energy in the project. So I just wanted to take some time to say how much I appreciate those who take the time to reflect and share their experiences, educator's I have never met have given me the energy needed to keep giving my kids what they deserve, the best possible opportunity to succeed.

I work with some really stellar educators, I'm hoping that they find their way to the web as well so that I can gain as much from them as I have from my "virtual" colleagues.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Visitor Information

Before I start my post today I needed to share this quote that I came across in a position paper on technology in the classroom:

"Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install 
locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All these measures are helpful, but 
by far the most important thing one can do for one's children is to teach them to 
swim." –Dick Thornburgh and Herbert S. Lin

I feel like this quote speaks directly to those educators who are too afraid to bring technology into the classroom for fear of "the great unknown" of the internet and what trouble students should get into. Rather than avoid technology, we should be teaching students appropriate use of technology, and correcting them when they make a mistake, as they inevitably will...is this not our job as educators? We would not refuse to teach children to read in the event that someday they may come upon some salacious material...internet literacy should be no different, it is not even the way the world is going, it is the way the world has gone. We are doing them a huge diservice not just to their future, but to their present by avoiding instruction in an area that is vital to their everyday lives, but I digress...

Ok rant over, so I've been getting a lot of visitors lately to my room in various capacities. I had my standard observation with my principal, my supervisor for my mentor program was making yearly classroom visits, and the Department of Ed had been doing random visits for a compliance review in our school. 

Given the confusion that a flipped class can present (wait..what does she do all day)? I decided to come up with a visitor packet to give a summary of my class and what its all about. I put them by the door, and included a feed back form. I've copy and pasted it below in case anyone was interested in doing something similar. 

Visitors Info Packet

Hello! Welcome to 7th Grade Ancient History. I put this packet together so that you would know what was going on in my class. At first glance it may look like I am not teaching….and that’s because I’m not! You see I have “flipped” my classroom. Students now listen to lectures at home and do “homework” or projects in our case, in class. If you are curious or confused, please continue reading.

What is  a “flipped” class?

Traditional classrooms see students receiving instruction in class (usually listening to a lecture of some sort) and then doing an “application” activity for homework (ie: worksheet, project, etc). In the flipped class we reverse that.

What do they do at home? They have no homework??

 Well that’s not entirely true, students don’t have homework in the traditional sense. Rather than worksheets and projects at home, they watch 2-3 lectures per week for homework. During the lecture they will fill out the corresponding pages in their “Interactive Notebook.” The IN is a series of fill-in notes and section review checks. Finally they take a quiz after each lecture. Students that traditionally have trouble keeping up in class or with notes can pause, rewind, and re-watch a lecture as many times as they need. So even though they don’t have traditional homework, they are actually doing a lot of work at home, but they are doing it at their own pace and are responsible to get work done by a certain date.

What do they do in class? You don’t teach??

No I suppose that is true, I am no longer “teaching” in the sense that I am standing at the front of the room delivering content. However I am still educating students all through class. Each week students are assigned a project that digs deeper into the content of one of the lectures. Students are given projects based on interest and ability. They spend Monday-Friday in class researching, developing, planning and executing everything from posters to models, reports to brochures, even sometimes performing in a play. While they do not have “group” projects they do sit in groups and are encouraged to bounce ideas off each other and assist each other in the process. In other words they are collaborating and learning from each other, but ultimately responsible for their own grade. My role is to circulate the class, giving one on one time where needed, pointing students in the right direction for materials, and clarifying facts and information. Sometimes I even get to have a whole conversation with a student on a topic they’re really interested in, its fantastic! I am no longer the “sage on the stage” but rather the “guide on the side” its taken me a while to get used to it, but I feel I’m doing more “teaching” now than I ever did before…it just looks a lot different!

How are students graded? YOU DON’T HAVE TESTS???

The biggest question I get. Again, not entirely true, there are tests they’re just a different style. I like to think of them as “assessments” rather than “tests.” Students are graded based on the number of units they master.

4 units= A
3 units = B
2 units = C
1 unit = D

Mastery of Units counts for 60% of their overall grade. Grade breakdown as follows:
Mastery of Unit = 60%
Notebook and Discussion Threads = 10%
Weekly Projects = 20%
CE Quizzes/BW = 10%

Remember those quizzes they take after each lecture at home? They have to get an 80% or better on all of those within a unit to sit for a mastery test. They can take the test in class, after school, or even online. In fact most students prefer it online.

Doesn’t that cause cheating? Can’t they use their notes?

Yes they can use their notes! I want them to use their notes!! History as a discipline is not about memorizing facts and dates but rather synthesizing information and using it to create coherent arguments about the past. For their “assessments” students are asked to identify and define a number of people, places and dates from the unit explaining their importance. They choose a number off a larger list that they feel they can write about best. Finally they must write an essay that pulls all the information together and requires them to use all their information to create a solid thesis statement and back it up with facts and details. So they can’t really cheat since each test is different and I absolutely want them to use their notes, there is no sense in having all this information if they don’t know what any of it means in the “big picture.”

Why did I do this? Was it hard to revamp your entire class structure?

Good question, yes it was, but I feel it was necessary. Under the traditional class set up I wasn’t reaching all my students. Most weren’t doing homework, many were not taking anything seriously, and worse yet most didn’t care. I think I did a good job with special ed and 504 accommodations, but it doesn’t mean they were “engaged” the whole time. I also felt that the really advanced kids in my class were bored. I was sort of getting through to the “middle of the pack” but even they were bored at times listening to be drone on about dead people, and you know what… I was bored too. I needed a way to ensure that my students were going to be engaged the entire time they were sitting in my classroom. I figured it was worth a try…and I have no plans to go back. Sure there are still students who won’t do work at home, but at least they are engaged the entire time they are in my room. Furthermore those students who do care have the option to retake tests, no more “bad days” resulting in ruined averages. My advanced kids? I can challenge them more with projects requiring more in depth thinking? My students that need extra attention? I have the time to do it now. In short this is by no means a perfect system, but I feel it has done good things for my students, and is a great starting point on my evolution as a teacher.

Cool! Where I can I get more info on this flipping thing?

There are many teachers across the country “flipping” their classrooms. I have a PLN (personally learning network) where I communicate with many of them via blog and twitter, there is also the first published research coming out this summer on “flipping.”

Check out my blog for links to other educators doing the same thing: