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: