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 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:


  1. Thanks for sharing! I think I need to put something together like this for visitors in my classroom as well. Keep up the great work!

    1. Thanks Crystal! I found myself explaining the same thing over and over so I thought, why not make a packet and they can circulate the room and see it for themselves! I borrowed your idea of letting visitors give feedback and ask questions, I think that will definitely help me when I assess my data at the end of the year.