20 September 2014

Transitioning from direct instruction to a Flipped Classrrom

I am writing a pair of articles for Carolina Biology Supply for their monthly newsletter that it is sent to science teachers around the country. I am not sure when they will actually appear, but I wanted to share the first one here.

This year will be my 5th year flipping HS Chemistry. My learning environment is very different than many of my colleagues and I find that my students function better by transitioning into a flipped model of instruction than by simply jumping straight into it at the beginning of the year. I start the year by changing their mindset about learning by altering my assessments (using mastery and student choice) and lab activities (introducing guided-inquiry), and then start using video for instruction about 2 months into the school year. By the time I remove myself from the front of the room and put myself onto the computer, they are so used to thinking differently that the adjustment period is much shorter.
If you are thinking about flipping your classroom, here are a couple of methods that have worked for me for transitioning the students:
  1. Use the videos to start a class discussion--The TED Ed website (ed.ted.com) is a wonderful resource for finding short, animated science videos to illustrate topics and taking the first steps toward using video for instruction. Just How Small Is an Atom? by Jon Bergmann (http://bit.ly/smallatom) and How Big is a Mole? by Daniel Dulek (http://bit.ly/chemistrymole) are two that I use as starter activities to introduce a lesson and begin a discussion on a topic. The TED Ed videos work well because the content is created by educators for educators so it uses simple terms and also gives real-world analogies to make it easier for students to understand. Also, the animation is excellent and helps keep kids’ attention. The TED Ed videos can also be used for instructional purposes as well. One of the few instructional videos I use in my AP Chemistry class is How to speed up chemical reactions (and how to get a date) by Aaron Sams and Mark Paricio (http://bit.ly/kineticsreactions). This video perfectly summarizes everything my students need to know about collision theory and reaction rates for the Kinetics unit. I assign this video for HW, ask them a series of follow-up questions the next day, then we perform a rate-law lab that demonstrates what they learned in the video. Students are then required, as part of their conclusion statements, to explain how the different reactions in the lab illustrate the methods for speeding up the chemical reaction that was shown in the video.  
  2. Record examples you complete in class--The first instructional video I created was simply a recording of me completing two example problems in class. A student made a comment that she really wished there was a way to hear me explain the hard examples again when she was studying. I used a video camera to record the computer monitor while wrote everything out on the interactive whiteboard (IWB) and then dubbed my voice over the writing later. You can do this easily now simply by asking a student to come by during lunch or after school, handing him/her your cell phone, and asking him/her to record what you write on the board. It will take 5 minutes to record and seconds to upload to YouTube or your website. Or, if you have an IWB, use a program like Snagit by TechSmith to capture all of your writing to share later.
  3. Instructional videos as notes only, no examples--One comment my students make is that either my videos are too long (keep them to under 10 minutes!) or that I provide too many examples. What I have started to do is create two sets of videos: one that is strictly notes that contain things like definitions or diagrams, and a second that contains only examples of how to solve problems. Some of my students watch the videos on their bus rides to athletic events and say they can’t concentrate well enough on a bus to truly understand the problems I show, but the definitions are easy to get down in their notebook without much thinking.
  4. Hold Student Accountable.  What you will need to remember, regardless of the purpose of your video, is you must hold the students accountable for watching the videos. You can use a Cornell notes system, have students generate original questions based on what they learned, tie all assessments directly to the learning in the videos, or have them complete reflection logs after each video. Kids are used to watching videos for entertainment only. You need to help them see them as learning tools as well and help them develop ways that aides in retention of that learning.

I hope these tips are helpful as you transition from a classroom utilizing a lot a direct instruction to a flipped classroom. Video is a powerful way to excite students about a topic and to deliver content that will help you better utilize class time.

19 September 2014

Play the ball where the monkey drops it

This post is again inspired by something I read in Creativity, Inc.

Story told in Creativity, In.:
When the British first brought golf to Calcutta, they were faced with an unforeseen problem. The monkeys that lived in the area around the course were fascinated by the flying balls and would run onto the course to snatch them. After trying a variety of methods to prevent the monkeys from doing this, this simply instituted the rule 'Play the ball where the monkey drops it.'

Related story not from the book:
I remember hearing a story about a university that was redesigning the buildings and green spaces along a section of campus. Instead of putting in walkways immediately after finishing the new buildings on campus and laying new grass, the landscape designer decided to leave everything dirt for 1 month. After a month, he returned and found the paths worn in the dirt by the students as they chose for themselves the best route to get to their next location. Then the landscaper poured concrete paths where the students traveled most and landscaped around it. The university never had worn grass sections or damaged landscaping because of this.

We often create policies and procedures to prevent behaviors from occurring. We do things like install heavy filters on our Internet firewalls to prevent students from visiting inappropriate websites or unlock certain bathrooms to limit where we need to supervise students or ban cell phones in the classroom because we feel they will be a distraction. But what if we stopped doing that? I mean all of it. What if we let the students use their best judgement and then developed policies based around their behaviors? Or better yet, create policies that encourage and reward proper behaviors rather than only punishing bad ones?

14 September 2014

A glimpse of Google Classroom's potential

To be honest, I wasn't going to use Google Classroom this year. I see that it has a lot of potential, but it just didn't really fit what I wanted to do with my students this year. Last year I moved from my Moodle site to Edmodo. This year I was going to shift back to Moodle so that I could do more online assessments and free up time in the classroom for other activities. Unfortunately, Moodle is taking so long to get up and running the way I want it to that I needed to make another shift.

Enter Google Classroom.  Well, sort of...

So I didn't decided to use Google Classroom until the end of my first class of the day. The night before I shared a document we would need for the next class with all of my students. During the first block, I showed the students how to find the document, make a copy, and share it with me. In between classes I had the realization that everything I just did could happen a lot faster if I used Classroom.  Later in the day another class came in for the same lesson plan as earlier and, but we used Google Classroom this time for the assignment.  That class, despite having more students, were into the activity TEN MINUTES faster than the earlier class.

So I learned my lesson with that one. But the purpose of this post is not to talk about how prior planning would have helped with this. I wanted to share one aspect of the review process.

We are working on Naming and Forming Compounds. After explaining the process with ion cutouts as manipulatives, the students joined the Google Classroom and accessed the assignment for the day. First, what we found was the assignment doesn't appear in the students' Google Drive until the access it in Classroom first. This forces the students to log into Classroom to see any announcements or directions prior to starting the assignment. Once they have clicked on the assignment Classroom makes a copy in their folder (if you set it up to do that) and creates a link for the teacher to access it at any time.

For this assignment, I wanted to be able to check how the students were doing as they were both naming and forming ionic compounds. I told them that I would leave feedback in the document for them for the next class so they can correct their mistakes before the due date. Below are 2 screenshots so you can see my comments.:
As you can see above, this student had a number of mistakes that needed to be addressed. I left both short and long comments depending on what needed to be fixed. Also, any changes I recommend making can be left either as comments or "suggested edits" which is a new feature in Docs.

This student only made a minor mistake so I left positive note at the top.

All of the assignments for the class was in an alphabetized list for me in Classroom instead of being in my Incoming section of Google Drive mixed in with all of my other documents. Since everything is technically in my Google Drive, I was still able to leave feedback on the students' work from my phone (this is how I kill the hour my kids are in swimming class). I never found this easy to do from Edmodo and not possible at all in Moodle.

While Classroom really made this aspect of my job easier, the jury is still out on whether this will be my go to method for distributing assignments. It is great for HW/Classwork, but anything that requires group work doesn't function here. I will continue to update on how I use Classroom as the year progresses.

If you are using Google Classroom with your students, I would love to hear the ways it is working for you. Please leave your comments below. Thanks!

11 September 2014

Be audacious, get fired

I am reading Creativity, Inc. by Tim Something who is the founder and CEO of Pixar Studios. In the section I am reading, he talks about how he met John Lassiter--the Executive Producer and Director for many of Pixar's blockbusters like Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and Toy Story 2.  Here is a story that I found fascinating:

John Lassiter was a Disney animator in the early 1980s before coming to Pixar. He had this idea to create a short film which integrated computer generated graphics with hand-drawn animation. He, along with other Disney animators, visited George Lucas' ILM studios in the graphic arts division (where Pixar was born). He became amazed at the work they were doing with computer animation and decided to pitch his idea to his project managers at Disney. The managers listened to his ideas and shortly after that fired him. The animation team felt, at the time, that computers had no place in animated films. Within a few months, Lassiter was hired by what would become Pixar Studios.

Lassiter would go on to actually make the film which is what you can see below:
Lassiter's story is not unique. Many of the people we call geniuses in their field were originally laughed at or shunned because their ideas were too bold, too unique, or too revolutionary.

So, here is the message that I took away from this:  Be bold. Be daring. Be audacious. If your employer values you and values creative endeavors, you are set. If not, then find a place that will and you will better off because of it.

07 September 2014

First Day(s) of School

One of my unwritten goals for this year is to make a post every week. The idea that I want to pursue for the TED Ed Club is to help others see the awesome that is around them every day. The truth is I have awesome students and we do awesome things in the classroom so I want to share that with everyone.

This was the first week of school. My oldest son entered 2nd grade and every year he comes back and tells us he doesn't remember anything he did that day. When he entered Kindergarten, I remember him saying that the entire first day was him listening to his teachers tell the class the rules: where to sit, where to stand, when to talk. As he spoke all I heard was 'Sit. Stand. Speak. Good boy.' This year I vowed not to make class an obedience lesson.

The first day of school is a clean slate. I can be anyone I want. I can be the person I was last year or I can completely recreate myself. I chose the latter.

On the first day, I told my students that I didn't want to talk about procedures or grading or a syllabus. I talked about learning and my expectations for them and their expectations for me. I talked about my experience at the Google Teacher Academy and how it changed my life. I did a lot of talking, unfortunately, but they did a lot of smiling.

My classes are very different from each other. I think my Honors classes surprised me the most. I talk about my bungee chairs and how I encourage the class to make the classroom their learning space, to be as comfortable as possible. One of classes just stared at the chairs as if I told them they could sit on a bed of nails all class. My other class stopped me, asked if I was serious, and the second we broke for the activity, began pushing each other out of the way to get to the chairs. One student didn't make it so he sat on top of his group's desks, happy as a clam.

Colleagues came up to me on Friday and told me how their former students who have me told them how excited they were for my class. That makes me feel good, that they actually heard what I was trying to tell them. But on the 2nd day of class I wanted to be sure. I ran a PollEverywhere poll and asked "What was your biggest takeaway from last class?" Obviously each kid took something slightly different away, but here is a screenshot of my favorite:


I wasn't going for fun, but many realize that they will learn chemistry, they will learn new skills, and that they actually have to work. The ball is rolling and now I just need to keep this momentum going.

06 September 2014

Shuffling the deck

Think back to your HS science class days. The class probably looked something like this:

  1. The teacher introduces a new unit by giving you notes, then assigns HW that night based on what you just learned.
  2. The next class, you turn in your HW and then take a short quiz on what you learned last class.
  3. The teacher gives more notes, which are slightly more in-depth and complicated than last time, and gives HW again.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 as necessary.
  5. The teacher has you perform a lab that illustrates what you have been learning.
  6. You take a test on the unit.
I have to be honest, I am guilty of following this plan. As a teacher, I would find activities and labs that would help the students better understand the material that I have already taught to them. There were a lot of lightbulbs going on during the lab because now students could finally see why what they had been learning was important.

But if the lab is so important to the learning, why did I leave it until the end of the unit?

I decided to rearrange the order of some of the items above. I am going to activity the heck out of my class. We are going to start the unit with the activity and the labs. My hope is this will generate questions from the students about WHY something has occurred. The WHY is what we are always seeking in education and yet we are satisfied with an OH, as in 'OH, I get it now."

I understand that sitting quietly and taking notes while someone is speaking is an important skill. However, if you think about the average person in the average job, they probably spend maybe ONE hour a day doing that. We ask kids to do it for SEVEN! If I told you that your job would be to sit in a room all day and listen to other people talk for 7 hours a day, I guarantee you would be dusting off the resume and looking for a different employer.

School, and science especially, needs to be about doing. Even if the activity is a little crazy or boring we are going to be DOING things during class this year.