18 July 2015

Moving Day

I want to thank everyone who has been reading this blog. It is time to get a more professional look to the site so this blog will be moving to

The site is still evolving as I figure out what objective I want it to serve. My blog posts will be posted there and I hope you will continue the journey with me.

30 June 2015

Speak up more

I was in a session at the ISTE Conference 2015 where George Couros was speaking about having an innovator's mindset. If you have never seen or heard George speak, you need to ASAP! He is the Tony Robbins of education. He is lively, entertaining, funny, and extremely on point as to what we need to change in education. During his presentation, he posted this on the screen:

This picture looked a lot better on my phone than on this blog. It says: What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day that they did in their classroom to a school hashtag, and they took five minutes out of their day to read each other's tweets?

What impact would that have on learning and school culture?

He goes on to say that we would never see a worksheet because no teacher would post 'hey, look at this amazing worksheet my students worked on at their desk!'

But would that eliminate worksheets from the school? You would see amazing things happening around your school every day. You could look at that hashtag and say 'hey, that looks awesome! I could totally use that in my classroom.' But, more importantly, your will look at those worksheets and think 'I could totally do better than this.'

Now think about how the school will change over the course of the year with this shift in mindset. We would be pushing our colleagues and our students to raise the bar because we will have a 'I can do better' mentality on everything we do.

We need to speak up more as educators. We need to blog, we need to tweet, we need to take pictures of our classrooms and the great things that are happening in them. We need to inundate the digital world with all the positives that are happening every day.

15 June 2015

Pretty Good

I want to share the following poem published by Charles Osgood in 1991.

There once was a pretty good student,
who sat in a pretty good class,
and was taught by a pretty good teacher,
who always let pretty good pass.

He wasn’t terrific at reading,
he wasn’t a whiz-bang at math,
but for him education was leading,
straight down a pretty good path.

He didn’t find school too exciting,
but he wanted to do pretty well,
and he did have some trouble with writing,
and nobody had taught him to spell.

When doing arithmetic problems,
pretty good was regarded as fine.
Five and five needn’t always add up to be ten,
a pretty good answer was nine.

The pretty good class that he sat in,
was part of a pretty good school,
and the student was not an exception–
on the contrary, he was the rule.

The pretty good school that he went to
was part of a pretty good town,
and nobody there seemed to notice
he could not tell a verb from a noun.

The pretty good student, in fact,
was part of a pretty good mob
and the first time he knew what he lacked was 

when he looked for a pretty good job.

It was then when he sought a position
he discovered that life could be tough
and he soon had a sneaky suspicion
that pretty good might not be – good enough.

The pretty good town in our story
was part of a pretty good state,
which had pretty good aspirations,
and prayed for a pretty good fate.

There once was a pretty good nation,
pretty proud of the greatness it had,
which learned, much too late,
if you want to be great,
pretty good, is, in fact, pretty bad.

The Osgood File, Charles Osgood, CBS, as quoted in Ann Landers column, New Jersey Herald and News, October 5, 1991.

I actually read this poem as part of my graduation speech in high school. I feel it is probably more significant today than it was in 1991. Are we settling too often in education? Are too many teachers choosing the route of 'flying under the radar' rather than draw administrators into their classrooms? Are too many students hiding their talents because it is easier to go unnoticed than to deal with praise?

We are standing at a precipice in education. We can choose to turn back and take the safe route or we can leap. Me? I have no interest in being 'Pretty Good'.

I want to be great!

05 June 2015

What does it mean to be social?

I was running a professional development session on the Flipped classroom and I asked the question "what 20th century skills are still important in today's classroom?" One of the participants raised his hand and said, "kids today are not social. They need to learn how to look someone in the eye and have a conversation." Being the pot stirrer that I am I immediately responded with "can a person today have a good job and be a productive member of society without being able to do that?" Some members of the group immediately exclaimed no. Others gave a 'well, sort of.' And some were just not sure because you sort of can in today's world. You can literally never leave your house and still be a productive member of society.

Without leaving your home, you can:
  • order groceries online
  • work from home
  • talk with friends and family all over the world both by phone and video
  • date
  • have meals delivered
  • play games
  • buy clothing
  • have your dry clean only clothes cleaned
  • pay your bills
  • vote
  • learn a new language
More and more people are working from home and never have in-person meetings with members of their company. Or, like my sister, some start their own company in their living room and have employees that are in different states.

Typically, when we say 'being social' we mean to interact with other human beings that are physically near us. We fault people who are staring intently at the screen on their smartphone and are missing the world around them.

But what if they are staring at a part of the world that isn't around them? What if they are watching a video from the ISS? Or watching their niece who lives in a different country take her first steps? Or watching their mother blow out her birthday candles when they couldn't be there because of work commitments?

What if the world around them isn't meaningful to them and they are trying to immerse themselves in something that is?

Another question I asked the group was this: how many of you growing up had friends that were more than 50 miles away? Zero hands. None of the 30 people in the session had friends that were more than 50 miles away from them. If I asked that of my students I guarantee that a few hands would be raised. Why? Skype, Face Time, Google Hangouts. Teenagers today are able to stay connected to their friends and family no matter where they are in the world. More and more of my students are staying together with their high school boyfriends/girlfriends after they go to college than ever before because of the ability to stay in close contact no matter where they are.

We are very quick to attack today's youth because they don't meet our societal norms. Maybe it's time for society to redefine what it means to be social.

04 June 2015

Teaching outside the curriculum

Last week, I attended our spring NHS induction. At this event, each senior member of the club has the opportunity to honor a staff member who they felt was a mentor to them over their 4 years of HS. It was an honor to be selected by one of my former students and even more so to hear the amazing things she said about me in her speech.

Some of the stories were very moving. Two students talked about their art teacher who they referred to as Mom; one student talked about how the teacher created a safe place for her to visit; four students spoke about their coach and how he taught them to be better men; one talked about a substitute teacher and the impact he had on her. But I think the most emotional speech was given by the young man who spoke about how hard high school was for him, how he probably wouldn't have made it through the four years without his history teacher. This teacher taught him lessons about life, taught him that no matter how tough life seems his spirit is tougher. I got the distinct impression that this student might have just dropped out of school altogether if he hadn't had this particular teacher during his sophomore year.

Through every speech, the same thought ran through my head: where are these life lessons in the curriculum?

We measure a teacher's effectiveness based on his/her ability to complete a curriculum. But where in the evaluation process is mentoring young people? Is there a way to quantify that? If a teacher was a mediocre instructor, but found a unique way to connect with his students and help them find meaning in school, shouldn't that be used in measuring his effectiveness?

Maybe we need to take a closer look on what the term "effective" really means.

12 May 2015

School Leader Magazine Article

I was asked to write an article for School Leader Magazine--a magazine published by the NJ School Board Association. For those of you not a Superintendent or BOE member in NJ, I wanted to share my ideas with you.

Let’s Stop Talking About Flipped Classrooms and Start Talking About Flipped Learning
A chemistry teacher describes how he refined his approach to a flipped classroom
By Marc Seigel

I will never forget the exact moment that I became complacent.

It was October of 2010, my tenth year in education. I walked in on a Monday, sat down at my desk, opened the folder of my laptop that contained all of my PowerPoints, opened the one pertaining to the unit I was starting that day, and suddenly felt like I was punched in the gut. You see, I hadn’t spent a single minute over the weekend preparing lesson plans or even thinking about what I was going to be teaching that day. My instructional routines had become so automatic and my grasp of the content so precise that I didn’t even have to engage my brain to produce a lesson for the day. My classroom was generally running on autopilot. I knew at that moment that something needed to change and it needed to happen fast.

It just so happened that about two weeks later, I was skimming a publication from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and stumbled across an article about two chemistry teachers (Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams) in Colorado who were using videos they had posted online to teach content to their students. About two years prior, I had begun recording example problems on an interactive whiteboard using a video camera and posting them to my website, but they were only there to supplement what I was already doing. I never considered recording my entire lesson for my students to watch. My students commented how helpful it was to see those problems a second time when they were at home so why wouldn’t seeing an entire lesson help them? So began my flipped classroom story.

Flipped Classrooms: 101 A “traditional” flipped classroom centers on the idea that lectures normally given in class are recorded and posted in some form for the students to watch for homework. The videos might be posted to YouTube, a teacher website, copied to a flashdrive, or burned to a DVD. A typical 45-minute lecture could be boiled down to about 10 or 15 minutes. Students would take notes, just like they would normally do in class, then come to class ready to engage in something to reinforce the material they learned the night before.

This is exactly how I began my first flipped unit. I chose a fairly easy unit (since I teach chemistry, I chose writing and balancing reactions), something with which my students had always found success. They would go home, watch the videos I recorded using Camtasia Studio from TechSmith and posted on my YouTube Channel (http://bit.ly/seigelchemistry), come to class, and do the homework they normally would have done at home. It was fantastic! Every time a student began to struggle, I was right there to answer his or her questions. The students wouldn’t go more than a few minutes being confused and would immediately get right back to getting their work done. I still gave the same checking-for-understanding quizzes I had always given, the same labs, the same tests. The only thing that changed was where the homework assignment and the lecture happened.

The best part about this method, for me, was students could move at their own pace. Some students would watch all of the videos in one weekend, show up on Monday and just plow through all of the graded assignments. Some students would have the laptops open on their desk (at the time we had Dell mini-laptops, but I now have a cart of Chromebooks) and watch the video as they completed the homework. Some failed the homework assignment even though they took good notes, went back to the videos in class, and had the opportunity to fix the mistakes they made. None of this would have been possible in a traditional model with me controlling every aspect of the daily routine.

This system worked really well. But then I soon realized things were starting to unravel. Since everyone was completing the same homework assignment, and different students were moving at different speeds, slower students figured out that if they just wait for the faster students to complete the assignments, they could just copy their work when it was returned. Also, students who were not good at managing their time in class properly, fell far behind (sometimes weeks behind) and were turning in an entire marking period’s worth of assignments on the last day before grades were due. This last situation caused a tremendous amount of work for me and meant that the students were not getting the timely feedback they needed to be successful.

Once again, things needed to change, and fast.

Stop Focusing On Classrooms and Start Focusing on Learning Those educators who have been successful with a flipped classroom have begun to move to a flipped learning approach. Both are centered on the essential question: What is the best use of my face-to-face time with my students? However, it is the mindset that is different.
  • Flipped Classrooms allow students watch lectures at home and engage in homework in school. Teachers guide students through a series of worksheets or more traditional activities that help them reach objectives and gain the knowledge necessary to pass assessments.
  • Flipped Learning allows educators to use a variety of teaching methodologies to help students reach a learning objective. (www.flippedlearning.org) Rather than focusing on the content they need to learn, students are engaged in activities that teach both content and skills that are necessary for success. The classroom is a dynamic and collaborative environment where all levels of learners are supported.

So, what does this dynamic, collaborative learning environment look like? Well, that’s the beauty of flipped learning--every educator customizes it to fit his or her school, students, and personal abilities. Some teachers use pre-made videos on the Internet; some make their own. Some are the only teachers in their building/district flipping; some are part of an entire flipped school. Some teachers use only their traditional assignments; some allow the students to design their own work. This is not a pre-packaged curriculum--something you just order from a company and everything you need is already inside. Let me tell you what a typical unit looks like in my flipped environment.

One unit my students learn about is solutions. On the first day, the students will participate in a guided-inquiry activity called Introduction to Solution Making (http://bit.ly/seigelsolutionmaking) in which they will learn about calculating concentration of solutions by making two cups of fruit punch. There are no procedures other than for them to make two cups of fruit punch the way they like to drink it. After they make the drinks, they read farther down and it tells them to use the mass of powdered drink they measured and the volume of water they used to calculate the concentration. This is when they realized they didn’t measure anything and have to start again.  Note: While learning how to calculate concentration is the main learning objective, students learn more through their mistakes of solution making. At the end of the activity, the students are free to drink their solutions while they watch the instructional video about calculating concentration (which is linked in the Google Doc of the lab).

The video on concentration is embedded in a Google Form. Below the video are three self-check questions for the students to complete at the conclusion of the video. These questions are modified questions from the unit test and align to the district quarterly assessment. When they answer the questions and hit “submit,” a tool called Flubaroo provides both the student and the teacher feedback on the student’s understanding of the material, and he or she can ask the teacher questions about any errors or misconceptions and get the immediate assistance they need.

Students now move through a series of both required and optional assignments for the unit, which have been detailed on an assignment chart distributed on Google Classroom and on the first day of the unit. (bit.ly/seigelsolutions) While some assignments are labeled as required, I have given the students the freedom to either supplement or replace these with assignments they have designed. This gives all students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding in ways that better suit their needs.

The Future of Flipped Learning Is Now The flipped model does not only apply to teachers and students. Administrators can flip faculty meetings or professional development by giving teachers something to read or research in advance and then engaging them in discussion and activities when the group comes together. Advisors can flip club meetings. The culture of learning has changed for students and schools. When the accumulated knowledge of the human race is sitting in your pocket, teachers no longer need to be the sole source of content knowledge, but rather, need to direct students toward ways to find their own understandings of how to use that content appropriately.

10 May 2015

Teacher Appreciation Week

I have a student who is basically mute in my class. I want to say she has said a total of 20 words all year. Through March I was only able to ask her yes and no questions because she could shake her head otherwise she would just cast her eyes down until I eventually gave up. However, being the stubborn person I am, I would go out of my way to say hi to her every time I saw her, compliment her art work when I visited her art class, and give her a huge smile. April saw a break when she finally said hi back.

This week, for Teacher Appreciation Week,  I received the following from her:
There's a lot of things I could say right now. A lot of cliches to justify this and the things I do every day. But all I am going to say is this:

Thank you. Thank you for being brave enough to write this. Thank you for making me cry.

I really appreciate it...Honestly!

13 April 2015

Let's Start Celebrating Mondays

Monday is my favorite day of the week.

Monday is a clean slate.

Monday is the day to try something new.
To blaze a new trail.
To kick the tires and light the fires.

My best ideas come on Sunday night and Monday is the first time I get to test them.

I stumbled across this image a while back and I love it.
The weekend is only 2 days out of 7. If all we do all week is count down the seconds until the weekend comes we are wasting over 70% of our life. And, if you ask most people how their weekend was, they tell you it was nothing special.

Don't get me wrong. I love my family and my favorite thing in the world is spending time with them. But my family knows that I love my job, too, because family is not my only passion.

You need to find what excites you and pursue it with unrelenting energy and steadfast determination. 

Take today to pursue your passion. Your weekend will thank you for it.

05 April 2015

Can I Have Your Number?

When the movement towards data-based decisions started to get traction, I have to admit, I was a little excited by the idea. As a science-minded person, I would much rather use cold hard facts to back up my decisions rather than just my gut. Unfortunately, as we strive for more data we are creating systems that are standardizing education; trying to tie everything to a number and removing the human element. But, is this just creating an environment that creates feelings of resentment between colleagues if they don't perform as well?

In NJ, if you take the average of your evaluations and factor in your SGO data, using a carefully determined formula, and have a value of 2.60 or higher, you are considered an effective teacher. If you manage to score a 3.50 or higher, you are HIGHLY effective. A simple formula that anyone can follow. Great!

Here's the problem with the system. Previously, most teachers I talked to were evaluated on a system of something similar to what you would find in an elementary classroom to measure reading comprehension. You had 3 or 4 categories like Satisfactory, Unsatisfactory, Needs Improvement, Not Observed. Occasionally you found a school that had an Excellent or Above Average category. Most teachers ended the year with all Satisfactory, which, if you think about it, is the highest rating possible. But Satisfactory is like getting a C. Schools set up a system where the BEST you could be is

Not Good. 

Not Excellent.

Not Above Average.

And the worst part was teachers were fooled into thinking that scoring all Satisfactory meant they were Great.

Now enter a scoring guide that actually separates not only the Highly Effective from the Effective, but also quantifies how effective you are. Earning a 3.4 is very different from a 2.75. Teachers who were used to scoring the highest in every category are suddenly shocked when they are scoring a 3 out of 4. Do you know what a 3/4 is? 75 percent. That's a...C, a perfectly Satisfactory grade. 

Teachers are now getting resentful. 'How could I possibly earn a 3 in that category?!' 'Why did he get a 4 when I only got a 3? I work just as hard as he does!' 'How could he earn Teacher of the Month when I scored higher than he did on my SGO?'

In all of this movement, we have forgotten that in data-based decision making, the data is supposed to be a way to identify our areas of strength and the areas that need improvement. And, from that, we have a place to start creating goals to drive our classroom/professional development/school forward. Why is our first response to fight the evaluation rather than see it as a guide for future decisions? 

We need to stop focusing on the numbers on the page and start working toward improving the education that is happening in our classrooms. If we view evaluations more as a motivation to better ourselves (like when you look down at the scale and say 'I can get rid of those last 10 pounds') and less like they are personal attacks, maybe then we can start having real conversations on changing schools.

16 March 2015

America versus the World

The Media likes to pull out the random fact that the US is falling farther behind other countries in terms of Math and Science testing. Clearly our public schools are failing our students because we are not the best in the world on this standardized test. But, maybe that's ok.

This weekend I was at the NJ GAFE Summit and a student from Ramapo College spoke about a project he completed for one of his classes. His teacher used Google's Moonshot Thinking idea to ignite his passion to complete a project centered about building a strong community on campus around the World Cup Soccer matches. The student was from Nepal and mentioned that if he was in his home country the focus of class would have been to memorize the facts in the books and recite them back to the teacher for a grade. He came to America expecting school to be the same and was amazed that he was able to use his creativity to complete a project based on his passion: soccer. And that comment made me stop and think.

What if the reason we are falling behind on these Math and Science tests is because the US has been focusing more on creativity and less on knowledge?

Even though we are standardized test crazy right now, nothing is going well for schools when it comes to state tests. More and more schools are approaching failing. If I gave a test in my class and half of the students failed, would I blame the students or my test? Yet, when school after school fails the state test, it is the school's fault.

When today's students live in a world where anything they want to know is at their fingertips, maybe a focus on creativity and passion is the better topic to be teaching.

08 March 2015

That's What She Said

In my second year teaching, I was hit with the proverbial slap in the face when a student openly disrespected me to her peers. Julie was a sophomore at the time and as she was walking out of my classroom she said, ‘that guy is such an [nickname for donkey’s sphincter]!’ As a young teacher who, even 15 years into his career, is trying to figure out this whole classroom management thing, two scenarios from teaching school raced to my head
  1. Ignore the situation. Play it off as if you didn’t hear it. That will allow me, the teacher, to save face and I won’t have to punish the student who will now feel like I am always out to get her.
  2. Punish the student. Go into the hallway and demand that Julie come back to my room and apologize to me. Give her a lecture on respect and how you 1) don’t use that language in school, and 2) never use it to describe a teacher. This student needs to be reminded who is in charge.
Both of the scenarios ran through my head in a split second, but I choose unwritten, untraditional option #3. You didn’t know there was a 3rd option, did you?

I ran out of my room (yes, literally ran), leaving the few students who were in my room and who heard what Julie said wide-eyed and trailing after me to see what was about to happen. The entire time I am calling for Julie to stop, which she ignored by putting her head down and trying to get to her locker as quickly as possible. [Side note: why do teenagers think the area around their locker is like some invisible fortress adults can’t see through. You should hear about the things I have seen happen in front of lockers that students are totally oblivious to.] I get right up in front of Julie and say, ‘Excuse me. Did you just call me a nickname for donkey’s sphincter?’ (this time I actually used that phrase. I am still a teacher and swearing, even if you are repeating a student’s words is still a No-No). She got red-faced and tried stumbling out an apology, saying she really didn’t mean it. I said, ‘it was a simple yes or no question, did you call me a nickname for a donkey’s sphincter?’ She replied with a yes. I said, ‘Thank you. I wanted to make sure I heard you correctly.’ and I walked away back to my room, splitting a crowd of students who just stood there dumbfounded.

Every year on the first day of school I tell this story and every year I am met with the same wide-eyed look of shock. I tell them ‘you have every right not to like me. In fact, you can outright hate me. However, if you are going to say nasty things about me, say them to my face. I have worked hard for at least that bit of respect.'

Teaching is not about imparting information. It's about building relationships.

03 February 2015

How Chemistry Explained Deflategate

I love Chemistry for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it helps explain the world around me.

In case you were living under a rock, during the AFC Championship game, it was found that the New England Patriots deflated their footballs by about 2 psi. The ensuing scandal was named Deflategate by the media. At a press conference, about a week later, the Patriots organization claimed that the rapid change in air temperature from their equipment room (approximately 72F) to the football field (approximately 47F) caused the pressure to drop.

A colleague (Mr. B) came to me and said that he saw a piece on a news channel that had Bill Nye the Science Guy facing off against a Harvard professor debating whether Chemistry was at fault for the pressure drop. It was very West Coast vs. East Coast like the Super Bowl was going to be. And, let's just say, that people need to stop doubting the genius that is Bill Nye.

Anyway, any good Chemistry teacher knows that the relationship between Pressure and Temperature of a gas is directly proportional so, technically, if the temperature went down the pressure would go down as well. But, any good Chemistry teacher will also tell you that what applies on one side of the football will apply on the other; meaning if the Patriots had this problem so would have the Colts. Ok, I digress again.

Mr. B and I brainstorm and come up with an idea about mounting a pressure gauge on a football and having the students immerse the ball in several water baths. We knew that the small change in pressure the footballs experienced wouldn't cause the almost 20% pressure drop caused at the game so we made the water baths go from over 100F to around 35F to have a more dramatic effect. After trips to Dick's Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Five Below, Home Depot, AND Lowes, I found our original idea of simply installing a pressure gauge attached to a ball pin wouldn't work. I made some modifications and decided to add a Vernier Pressure Sensor to the footballs to give us better readings.  Here is a picture of the final setup:
This is the lab setup with the Vernier Pressure Sensor and Temperature sensor all attached to the football.
This is how I spent my weekend. Not pictured are the 3 footballs I destroyed trying to figure out how to remove the air valve. FYI, this was a lot harder than it seems.
I wrote up a lab experiment for the students to follow just so that we could have consistent results. I had some Gatorade containers like they have on the sidelines of football games for the hot and cold baths, and simply filled sinks for the room temperature baths. You can see the students holding the footballs underwater in each setup so that the air in the balls would actually change.
Room Temperature--approximately 23C

Hot Water--approximately 40C

Ice Water--approximately 5C
I ran the experiment with 6 groups in each of my 4 classes and NONE of the groups had more than about a 10% change in pressure and that was probably due to the fact that their valve was leaking and letting in water. We absolutely confirmed that Pressure and Temperature are directly related, but there was no way that only temperature caused the pressure in the Patriots' footballs to deflate.

Thinking forward to next year, there are a number of changes I need to make to the lab. First, my valves kept popping out which caused massive error. The valves definitely need to be sealed permanently into the footballs so that they can't leak. Second, I need larger containers for the water baths. Mr. B is going to try this with coolers instead and we think that will solve the problem. Third, since the plug on the football has a valve that will close to seal the air inside, I think I will have the students close the valve and move only the football to each station instead of moving all of the equipment. It became almost like a team-building exercise as they carried wires and probes and data measuring devices around the room.

Overall, this lab was a success. I loved that I planned this with a first year teacher. I loved that it had real world application. I loved that it was STEM driven. And I loved how it was real chemistry, but didn't feel that way to the students. It reaffirms my belief that we need less formal labs and more real-world activities for the students to be doing. I also love that it was messy because that's what learning truly is.

30 January 2015

Lucky Teacher

I have been very fortunate this year to have a fantastic group of students as well as a wonderful co-teacher. Every crazy idea I have had they have all supported 100%. I get up every day excited to go to work for the chance to work with these wonderful people.

My Honors students are exceptionally open-minded. I decided to do away with traditional notes for the Gas Laws unit and let them tell me what they know about the properties of gases. We spent about half of the block breaking through all the misconceptions they had about their world and it led to great discussions in both classes. Then we learned about the relationship between Pressure and Volume using pressure sensors and a syringe. They quickly understood the inverse relationship between the two properties and I was very satisfied with the lesson.

I planned on using the Gas Properties simulation from PHeT just to verify what they had discovered earlier using the pressure sensor. The sim was projected onto the board and I asked for a volunteer to go up and manipulate it. The student quickly figured out how to add gas and I asked the students to explain what they were seeing. The shouted out things like:
  • The molecules are constantly moving
  • They spread out to fill the container
  • They are all moving with the same speed
And while this is going on, the student at the board is playing with the simulation. She is moving the little man to change the volume and pumping in more gas. Well, that's the point where I was no longer needed in the room. The class began to yell out things they wanted her to do: raise the heat, lower the heat, pump in heavier things, blow the lid off, add tons of gravity. I had planned to use the simulation as the next class' lesson, but the students were so into what they were learning that I literally couldn't stop them. I tried to do it. TWICE. But I was completely ignored.

I sat down at a desk and snapped these pictures. 

Naturally others wanted a turn so we needed to rotate. I made whomever went to the board make a statement for the class to add to their notes on the topic. No PowerPoint, no outlines, no formal notes. In one block we covered an entire unit's worth of material. And the best part, every word is theirs. I told them nothing.

I am a really lucky teacher to work in a school that has amazing students that let me do the crazy things that I do.

27 January 2015

The Four Rules of Meetings

I get a lot of inspiration from Audiobooks I listen to while doing other things. This post comes from Bossypants by Tina Fey. In the book, Tina Fey talks about the 4 Rules of Improvisation. They are:

  1. Always Agree and Say Yes--Someone points their finger at you and says it's a gun. You say, No it's your hand. You have effectively killed the conversation.
  2. Say Yes, And...--Instead of saying No,-- say 'Yes. And it's the gun I gave you for Christmas last year!' Now you can go somewhere with this. Not only has the person pulled a gun on you, but ironically it's the one you gave him.
  3. Make Statements and back them with your voice and actions--If you ask questions, you put the pressure on someone else to come up with all of the answers. By making statements, you helping drive the direction of the conversation.
  4. There are no mistakes, only opportunities--you may not have meant to say or do what you just did, but now that you did, where are you going to take it?
I got energized listening to this list (which I have heard before, but it never lit the lightbulb). Let's take those 4 rules and apply them to your next faculty/department meeting.
  1. Imagine that your Principal announces that the school will be participating in a new initiative for the school year and no one groans or complains. Instead, they all nod their head and agree that this is something they could see incorporating into their classrooms.
  2. The Principal decides to let everyone discuss what he has presented for 5 minutes in small groups. You turn to the teachers around you and start brainstorming ways that you could see this working with your students. Then, you start adding other elements to it, putting your own spin on the foundation that has been set for you. You decide to work with another teacher to develop joint lessons because you have a number of common students on your roster.
  3. At the end of the meeting the Principal asks if anyone has any questions. You raise your hand and, instead of asking if it is ok to do something, you explain to the faculty what your small group had discussed and the methods you are planning to make this a success with your students.
  4. During the course of the next several units, you realize that you have left out some key parts of the initiative and need to change what you are doing for the next unit. You work with your supervisor to make sure all the changes you are planning better align and your students are open to the changes because you have been invested in it from the beginning.
I know that my example is that pipe dream situation for all Principals, but why is it a dream? Could these 4 rules be used in schools? 

Sorry, I violated Rule #3.

These 4 rules could be used in schools to drive everything we do from classroom management, to curriculum, to discipline, to department meetings, to club meetings. Think of the possibilities if you were never allowed to say No, and had to be open-minded to what someone else had to say, no matter how crazy (read awesome) the idea is.

25 January 2015


I have been very bad about posting updates from my classroom. I even signed up to do the blog challenge from #YourEduStory in an effort to force myself to write more and I still failed.

The first assignment was to pick the word that is going to define you in 2015. The challenge was a lot harder than I thought as there were a lot of words that came to mind. I have used Awesome and Audacious before, and while I still love and strive for those words, I know that I will not expressly be striving for either of those things.

I realized that the word that will probably best define my classroom will be FLUX.
When I first started flipping my classroom, I realized that I needed to radically change my thinking about how learning and grading occurred. Over the last 5 years, change has just become a constant for me. In the 2014-2015 school year, I have changed at least 1 thing about every unit I have taught in every course. It may be something simple like changing the HW set for AP, modifying the unit Test, or completely revamping the entire way the Gas Laws unit is taught (which I will write about next week after I try it).

While it is absolutely exhausting and I feel like I am in my first year of teaching all over again, it has also been exhilarating! When I sit with my in-class support teacher to discuss the frustrations I am having with our current system, I get so excited in developing something I have never tried before. 

The best part about having a classroom that is in flux is I have created students who are willing to take risks with me. They know that I am constantly changing class, always looking for improvements. Because of this they remain flexible and open-minded for anything that I might throw their way.

Flux is tough. I often get to the end of the week and think I should just drop all of this and just do it the way I have always done it. Then I stare at my empty classroom and reflect on all of my successes. That's when I realize I wouldn't have it any other way.