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 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.