Monday, December 17, 2012


I am going to merge some of my religious views into this, as they are part of what informs this.  If that offends, I suppose that is the nature of our society, I won't apologize, but will give the heads up ahead of time.

We were talking today and in #flipclass today about what do you do for those students that just won't try, that no matter how charming and winsome you are, no matter how stinking interesting the material is, or how amazingly open sandbox the project they are to be working on is....that no matter what, they just don't work, they just sit there.

On my commute home with my lovely bride, I had one of my on the way home rants about a couple of my students who refuse to take responsibility.  I'll sit down next to them, help them out for 10 minutes in the middle of class and then they take 20 minutes to work one problem, because they need to hit the snack machine or check their messages...whatever.  There is very little in life that drives me more nuts than not taking responsibility... Or, to the other point, they "take responsibility", admitting that they aren't working/haven't worked, and taking pride in it.

I think every teacher everywhere has those students....some of it is the nature of just people, some of it is teenagers in my case, etc.

As teachers, what happens of course is that you only have so much time in a class period, and additionally, only so much emotional reserves.  Naturally, we want to help those that want help, those that seem more deserving, that have done their end and yet need some help.  It's natural to help the kid with their hand up.  Part of it is probably the subconscious desire to see that someone got the stuff we were teaching...that's always a boost.  As opposed to the student who never gets it, who never even tries to get it.... Spending an inordinate amount of time on the 2% while the other 98% might need help and actually cares just seems illogical.

But here's my issue, I'm a follower of Jesus, a pretty good teacher regardless of your views of Christianity.  And He pursued....leave the 99 to go after the one...

As with much of actual Christian theology, it turns the logical, the practical upside down, refutes the logic of the world.

We try to pull in CEOs and efficiency experts into schools (and other arenas) with the idea that we can focus on the big things, straighten out the whole system.  There are vast arrays of massive national and state initiatives, from Common Core, PARCC, NGSS, Race to the Top, etc, that are the next iteration of NCLB.

But programs won't help anymore than religious law helps.  What works is relationships, what works is a teacher, doggedly pursuing that student that gets left by the wayside.

That takes love, which no matter how good Common Core is, it doesn't have.  It takes doing the illogical...not the rational, "research-based" method and sitting down with that student over and over and over.  Pursue them as though you love them...because if we don't, why are we teaching?  To help the best and the brightest? They need help too, and there are thoughts in here about that too.  But think for the next day or week or month or school year about who needs you, not about who wants you, who needs the education, not just who wants it.

Students that want it often get it....but often those who need it, don't.

There are tons of reasons for, economic, etc etc...but when it comes down to it, I hope to pursue those who need it.  I don't want to just help those who want to excel to excel, but to inspire those who don't even know they need to excel to do so.  I'm not very good at it yet, but I'm thinking about it all the time, trying harder and harder every day, reminding myself when I don't, to pursue, to run go after the one...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Know Thy Students

I had my first formal observation of the new year on Friday and I think it went pretty well.  My principal and I sat down and had a discussion about the lesson, the principal prompting, but me doing the bulk of the talking (as I do a lot).

As we talked about the area that I felt went really well, I went to grouping.  This is an astonishing change for me as I was the guy in high school and even as I started teaching that hated groups.  They are terrible for the "smart" kids since they feel like they have to do all the work. Forcing students into groups almost invariable sets up some conflicts with teenagers, the kid they don't want to work with and won't, etc.

Or so I thought.  As I moved a little bit up in the teaching realm at my last school, I had to think more about the grouping thing as I was expected to evaluate teachers on it (on of the things on the evaluation rubric).

Now I am full on in favor of grouping, not just the standard heterogeneous A student, C student, F student, but all kinds of groups.  We work in group basically every single day in my room now and the groups change probably once a week or so.  Sometimes they are homogeneous, which contrary to what a lot of folks thinks, works amazingly well, even for the kids who are struggling.  Sometimes they are gender balanced and sometimes not.  I don't pick them at random, but at this point, I know my kids well, have experimented and put them in scenarios where I think they will flourish.

That is sort of the point that I think gets missed in all of our talk about methods and student centered.  Student centered is a goal worth aspiring to, but I don't think it can work well if you don't know your students very well.  You have to know who learns in what way, who will get it with direct support and who wants to be left alone to puzzle something out.  If you rely on a "system", no matter how valid it is, without the relationship aspect, it all falls apart.

My principal told me she was amazed that the groups all worked together and actually worked to make sure they learned.  That when there was cross group activity, it wasn't to chat, but rather to figure out something another group learned and they didn't. Again, that comes with having trust in your students, and knowing the ways and scenarios that they will do best in.

The other side of course is that without some structure, having good relationships has to support learning and growth.  Seems like that is a post for another day.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Feels weird to title the post that way, since I am super tired physically right now, up way to late to even think of writing a blog post.


We had our Magnet Open House tonight at my school, where we recruit 8th graders and tell them why they should apply at the STEM Academy instead of going to their home school or one of the other Magnets.  So I spent most of the night talking to a couple dozen parents and prospective students, selling our school, and myself as a teacher in the school.

Sounds awful right? It's the sort of thing that teachers, most of the time including myself , hate to do, especially on a Monday night the week before exams from 6-8pm.

I was great though for 3 pretty solid reasons:

  1. Explaining what I do in the classroom and what makes our school unique as well isn't me spinning a yarn, it was just the truth, and I realized again tonight as I talked about it, how lucky I am to be at the school I am, teaching the kids that I teach.  When you see the excitement reflected in their faces, or when you say that you believe in having the kids create more than sit and listen and the parents and the kids get visibly enthused, it excites you as a teacher again.
  2. For some reason I 'm not very clear on, I had 5-6 parents of my current students there.  I'm not sure why as I thought it was all about the new ones, but I am very glad they came. I'll elaborate a bit more below.
  3. My teaching buddy from my last school showed up tonight (his son goes to our school).  That alone was enough to make my night.  I love my new colleagues, but teaching with a friend that you know would help you hide a corpse is a much different thing. (that's a joke..., the corpse part, not the friend part....ah well, nm).  
To elaborate on #2, I, like some of my #flipclass colleagues have felt a bit hammered down by the negativity about it of late.  Like my good twitter friend @bennettscience , I took a few days off of twitter.  Coupling that with getting sick last week about the same time as the negativity hit and missing two days of school was devastating.  At the end of last week I was just beat down, physically, emotionally, and other allys.  I was having these feelings that all of the talk about my classroom, the newspaper article and such was all just smoke and mirrors, that I really wasn't lighting the world on fire, or even striking a match.

Well, I'm probably not lighting the world on fire in any case, but the parents I talked to tonight really lifted me  back up.  Let me just briefly note that I teach Chemistry, often a reviled class, and while I teach it at a STEM centered school, we are thought to have some parents with really, really high expectations.

But I had 5 or so parents just tell me how much their kids loved my class.  That in and of itself is an accomplishment when you are used to telling people you teach Chem and watching them recoil like you are contagious or something.

What was really awesome though was two parents who spent 10 full minutes telling me how they appreciated the one on one nature of the #flipclass, how it has really been amazing for their daughter.  The mom went on to tell me how she raves about #flipclass to all of her friends who have kids in other schools.  She said she directs them to my videos, but knows that it is about what goes on in class.  There was a bit about how kids in a lot of other chem classes that don't work like mine are literally crying in frustration, but that her daughter never does, because she knows if she doesn't get it that I will be there for her and not only able to help but wanting to help.

Not much to say after that, other than to make sure I send that parent an email and thank them for the much needed boost at this time of the year!

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Connected Classroom

I had some requests over the past week to talk a little bit about how I use technology in my classroom.  For some background, I teach at a 1:1 iPad public high school in Knoxville, TN (L&N STEM Academy).  Every student and teacher has an iPad, every teacher additionally totes a MacBook Pro, mostly because we don't have set classrooms and thus desktops don't work well for us.  I think we have  4 computer labs besides this (not positive), most of them Mac, one PC.

The iPad is I think something of a controversy in some circles.  It has the faddish cache of being the hot new thing that will revolutionize education, which naturally just raises some hackles.  There is the closed system part of it which rubs a lot of people the wrong way philosophically.  And they are not cheap by any stretch, and so a lot of folks would argue that you could do the same things cheaper.  That is possible, and there are definitely limitations that bug me sometimes, but not as much as I once thought.  Once in a while we have to bust out the Airs to do something that requires Flash, but 99% of the time, the iPads are an enormous boon.

Let me do a quick rundown of how a typical day in one of my Chem classes might work and how we would use the technology.  Students come in and I have their daily seating assignments up on the Smartboard, so they look at that and sit (I actually teach in the lab, which is great for grouping, but terrible for other flexibility.)  I give them a brief rundown of the day just to reiterate what they already know because most mornings, I've sent them an alert on Edmodo to remind them what is up.  Their iPads ding wherever they are, they log in, see what is going on and maybe do some las minute prep if need be.

So once they are situated, I typically have them pull up the sheet for whatever activity we are doing from Edmodo (or occasionally I email it directly to them.  Here is the first thing that I love a tablet for:

  • Almost no paper use.  Since they can write on the iPad, whether with finger or stylus, I don't hand out much of anything.  There are a few paper periodic tables around so that they don't have to flip back and forth in apps when using them, but other than that, they work directly on the ipad.  I know they could type in a Chromebook or something, but there is something about writing it out that is pretty necessary for me in my class.

To do this, they can use a variety of apps, but my favorite is one called Notability, which allows them to import and to export to a ton of place, allows them a variety of paper backgrounds, and even lets them record audio if they wish as they are writing.  It's not a screencapture app (later on those), but it is invaluable.

This is going to sound like a minor thing, but the ability to change the color of your writing utensil on the fly is amazing, and makes it soooo much easier to pick things out on the page (errr....screen).

Saying that Notability allows for import/export brings me to my personal rule #1 with most apps:

  • Apps need to have Dropbox/Gdrive/Evernote integration and the ability to email products.  Since there is no real built in file management in iOS, we need some way to save things other than the photo roll (which works in a pinch, but is inelegant).  To all educational app makers out there for iOS, if you leave this off, even if I love your product, I can't really use it if we can't manage the files on the iPad, and loading them to your proprietary site is not a substitute.  These are the student's files, they need to have them. (ThreeRing is a great example of an app that I would use the heck out of, but the lack of this and upload from the iPad makes it a deal killer)
  • This of course would mean that you need to have Dropbox/Gdrive, etc on your iPad, indispensable, I can't believe when students or teachers at our school don't have it.
That;s the boring stuff though, the real heart of where the iPad (or I suppose any tablet, I can't make that call) shines is in immediate content creation.

We've used iMotion HD to make stop motion videos of processes:

(Yes, there are errors, but you get the idea)

My kids have made a lot of screencasts of stuff this year, though I hate that we have to use the free stuff that doesn't let you download it in most cases.  But good free programs are Screenchomp, ShowMe, Educreations.   I use Explain Everything because even though it is a paid app, it has the import/export that I insist on.

CamScanner is another app that is absolutely vital, especially if you have kids whiteboard (or blackboard with neon!) as it lets them actually capture their results.  It keystones it to straighten it up, brightens if needed and then you can export as jpg or pdf.  (I use it every single day, kids often)

I'd also note that just having a camera with them in the device they do everything with leads to some very cool stuff.  This is from labs just submitted yesterday.  This is in addition to all of the pics they have to take showing the process of just about everything they do.  They got the image from google earth and then annotated it with where they took their soil samples.

As I said, they take pics of just about everything they do throughout the year, and then they pull them into Pages and integrate them right in to whatever project or assignment they are doing.  This would be possible with a laptop, but more manageable without, and could definitely be done with cameras, but then there is a lot of file shuffle required.

I didn't even really get into the fact that I use Google Forms for most of my assessments and they take these on their iPads.  This is great because last year, when I was not in a 1:1 environment we had to try to pass phones around or sneak in to the computer lab.  This could be done on anything, not just a tablet of course.

These are some of the non subject specific ways we use the iPads every single day.  I tried to focus on student use and not the uses like me using the Apple TV to transmit to the screen while I roam around the room and all of that goodness.  Hopefully this gives some insight and I look forward to questions!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Good Teaching

Sometimes reading twitter can make me feel like I'm being attacked.  In reality that is foolish, though it does occasionally, happen.  I have to remember ideas from gaming, where you know that a lot of people say a lot of things to you or about you or your philosophies that they would be unlikely to say in person, or at least not in the same ways.  I once believed it was because of anonymity, but I think it is the distance thing.  If I offend someone 2k miles away that I am unlikely to encounter or work for or with, it seems to have less repercussion than if I offend someone across the hall or in another school in my own county.

Being a proponent of the "flipped classroom" model of late brings out a lot of criticism on Twitter.  There are a lot of reasons for that, and no model or philosophy of teaching should be denied criticism, we need that, and I am certainly critical of my own methods on a daily basis.

What irks me occasionally is that folks seem to get upset about the flipclass model not being anything new and that it is being presented as new, or especially that the goals are just "good teaching" and shouldn't be under the mantle of "flipped classrooms".

Someone tell me what "good teaching" is. It's one of those things that we all recognize, but is notoriously hard to quantify or put down firm rules for, which is one of the reason why modern movements of evaluating teachers tend to be so controversial I think.  I could lay out some things that I believe are good teaching like student centered, higher-order, students creating, etc.  Lots of folks would agree with many of my bullet points, but a lot wouldn't.  

Good teaching isn't a formula, a step by step process, and it doesn't look the same in every classroom, in every school, in every district.  Just because I have something that works for my classes this year doesn't mean that it will be good teaching even next year, and it definitely doesn't mean that it will be good at a different school, or a different grade level.  Yes, there are principles that can carry over, the pedagogical ideas of student centered learning being at the center, but at the same time, I believe that methods vary widely and wildly.

I see folks that claim that their own favorite vehicle is the absolute best, that they would never switch.  I'm wary of that.  I believe pretty strongly in the flip model I'm using right now, but I won't be upset if I find something new in 5 years (or tomorrow) that I think helps my kids more.  Guess what folks, there are very good, old school lecture teachers, whose kids learn a lot.  There are a lot of constructivist teachers whose students have a lot of fun and are interested, but may not "learn" a lot either.  I have seen a lot of that in my career.

Back to the flipclass hate....

Yes, there are questions to be asked. If you are in a #flipclass chat, or talk to people in the community, we ask those questions.  I haven't met anyone in the community yet who feels they have a lock on "the one way" to teach.  It works for them and their kids.  It has also inspired them all to branch out and find other ways to teach, other methods to bring the knowledge to their kids.  

Before you attempt to run it down as the latest fad though, go look at some folks who represent what is going on, observe some classes, or at least actually talk to people who do it.  

Does it threaten you personally, does it make education worse, is it hijacking your own pet hobby horse?  Listen, if you believe that it is inferior to your own model, fair enough, but does that mean it doesn't work for other kids?  A lot of us believe that there are different ways to reach different kids, but everyone seems to think you have to teach one "correct" way.  If I use modeling, does that mean that my neighbor teacher who doesn't is terrible?  Am I better because I use the flipped model?  The answer is no of course.

These are just vehicles, searching for the way that works in our situation, for our students, at our school.  If you believe that your way always works, you must have not had the experience of different environments.  I've taught for 13 years in schools of 4600 and schools of 300, public and private, affluent and not.  Some things stay the same (the base content, my love of the students) and some things don't, in fact, a lot don't.  When I went back into public ed in a low SOSE school, I had to adapt.  And I kept adapting....and guess what, I'm still adapting.  I don't think flipclass is the end goal, but as discussed in other posts, it is where I'm at now, and it is driving a renaissance of thought about my pedagogy for me and for a lot of other teachers.  That alone makes it worthwhile in my book.

Is it good teaching?  I think so, but I think more to the point, it has help me to do good teaching.  I think I've always been a decent teacher, but flipclass has spurred me on to be a better teacher, one striving to be the best, for myself personally and professionally, but more vitally, for my students.

So the next time someone throws out the term good teaching, I just want them to stop and consider their own baggage and definitions of that term, and realize that we don't all use the same suitcase to carry our teaching tools!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


So in an effort to be more reflective and really figure out how my flipped class is working for my kids, I had them do a google form for feedback that included some quick response questions and some place for more free form feedback as well.  My questions were:

  • How has the "flipped" classroom model worked for you so far this year? (Hate it, struggling, OK, Very well)
  • What part has worked or been a struggle for your? (Free response)
  • What changes in the classroom do you feel would be helpful on a day to day basis? (free response)
  • What changes do you need to make to help you in this class on a day to day basis? (free response)
  • Other comments
I had a couple of other questions about my biweekly grade, which is mainly there as a participation type grade that they begged for after 4 weeks.

We did this at the end of the first 9 weeks, which I think is a fair point.  In the first 3 weeks they hate flipclass because it is not what they are used to.  We are at the 25% point now, enough time to make big changes if needed, but far enough in to get a fair sample.

Out of 123 students the breakdown for the "flipped" question is:
  • Hate it 7/123  (5.69%)
  • Struggling 14/123 (11.38%)
  • OK 58/123     (47.15%)
  • Very Well  44/123 (35.77%)
I was pretty encouraged since I think any time you get about 80% buy in or at least non resistance that is a plus.  Even some of the hate it responses were not totally negative as what they really hated were things that were not totally integral to the flip class process.  This response to the what changes would help was illustrative:

  • A full lecture in class with personal help. Less use of edmodo at home. Having different ways to remember the difficult things easily, like rhymes or something.
What I found ironic here of course was that the whole point of flipping is to give more personal help, there just isn't the time to do both full on lecture and all of the personal help.

A few of the positive responses were:

  • "Even though I have a 'C' in this class, I always look forward to coming here. I definitely have to work in this class, but it doesn't feel like the work is too much. I've been in advanced classes for years, but this class is the only one that equally feels challenging and doable. This is also the only one where the teacher doesn't expect some stupidly ridiculous amounts of extra work in order to prove that we know how to do the exact same thing that was on the board two days ago. I guess I'm saying that the amount of work is more reasonable and realistic than most any of the advanced classes that I've ever had.  I don't really have anything negative to say about this class. The way you teach is very inspiring and I really wish other teachers would at least try to set up a teaching style that is at least similar to yours."
  • I like the fact that you can pause or go back because I know that during traditional lectures, I can't always get everything I need down in order to stay on top of what's being said to me because they're going to fast. I also like it because if there's a concept said that takes a minute for me to really grasp, I can pause it instead of having to hurry and write stuff down without hardly even thinking about it; I can mull it over without feeling rushed.
  • I like the more openness of the classroom and how it prepares us for a college atmosphere in a way of being more independent and junk like that.
This was my first really formal attempt to get feedback other than just a conversation in class and I really enjoyed it.  It highlighted a lot of flaws in my teaching this year that I knew I needed to fix and brought up some other things to examine as well.

  • Ton of requests for more discussion of the video topics in class.  I will admit that while I intend to do a Q&A session at the beginning of teach class I often get sidetracked or just jump right in to whatever fun activity we are doing.  I have felt this lack all year long and this gives me the right kick in the pants to really refocus.
  • Organization for the students- A lot of requests for calendar/scheduling. I use edmodo, which does a lot of this, but since I post videos well in advance (for Chemsitry at least) they sometimes aren't sure which one we are doing on a given day.  I plan on syncing a google calendar with them to assist in that.
  • Groups- Always a bane.  I have systems in place for groups and tend to switch up the groups on an almost daily or lesson basis.  I actually like the kids to choose their own groups, but I don't want the outliers to get left out, which is typically they case there.  But a request that was a good one is to allow them to stay in a group for a more static time.  That's absolutely valid and will start soon.
All in all, it was a good experience and will definitely bring about some needed changes in the classroom.  At the same time, it lets me know that the fundamentals of my system are working and helping students learn and build more of an independent learner habit.  

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Overload of Personal Expectations

Usually when I mention overload, I mean me personally, trying to teach 4 preps, trying to create content for 2 of them, juggling my own 3 little hellions, much like all of us.

For me this year though I have a lot of overload from the amount of things I want to implement to make my kids better learners. I read some awesome stuff over the summer about ways to get kids thinking in visible ways, about making them become better questioners and I was seriously fired up with full intent to jump right in and make it a focus of the classroom day to day.

I haven't....maybe 5% implementation.

Inspired as always by @crystalkirch, I started to implement a WSQ system in my class, hoping we would spend good time each day examining their questions is a collegial, collaborative atmosphere.

We do WSQs, but the real meat of it in the classroom, maybe 10% implementation.

The plan was to have a great mastery gradebook and system set up for each student so that they could monitor their own progress and we could work together on their progress.

So far, I still give my standards based assessments and with a few exceptions, keep trucking along. 

I wanted to do amazing labs and activities each and every day with the kids, then really examine the ins and outs of each in detail, with reflection and analysis by the students.

About half there, we do a lot of activities, but I've found myself becoming the worst parody of the "hands-on" teaching style, that we do a lot, but don't spend enough time tying it in, making it concrete.

I promised myself that I would personally be a lot more reflective this year, blogging, talking to others, etc.

It's Friday on my "fall break" and I just finished a video, and am blogging about my failures this year.

The weird thing is that despite what it sounds like, I'm not really down on myself.  We as "21st century" teachers talk a lot about being the chief learners in our classrooms, but that's not really what we expect.  We assume, like the kids do, that we will have it all figured out, that we know what's up every single day and are masters at the art and science of teaching.


Last year was a super productive one for me as far as learning new stuff as a teacher.  But you know what, it was really tiring....there was a point last fall that I would not have been shocked had I passed out from exhaustion.

This year has been that, but more...I'm doing what I did last year, but twice as much, with 8 times the parent load and expectation, with 10% of the equipment (outside of tech) that I had last year.

My wife is a super-teacher and I'm trying to be one here lately, but it is pretty rough.  Today on our off day we were both feeling guilty about not doing school work.  I tried to do this video tonight at school on Wednesday, but that is almost impossible because of interruptions, so I did it tonight, on break...

The point of all of this navel gazing is that it is ok to not accomplish everything right away.  We are 25% of the way through the year, and yet I seem to expect 100% mastery of all of my teaching goals.  I don't expect the kids to master that way, but I kill myself trying to achieve it.

My goal for the rest of the is to not overload myself, to better the classroom for the kids, to be a better teacher with cool new strategies, but more to the point, to be a better teacher by being sane and happy.

Word to the rookie teachers out there, or to the rookie flippers, don't beat yourself up when you fail.  Despite the well intentioned but wrong idea that failure is not an option, nothing gives better lessons than failure sometimes, both for students and yourself.  I've failed at a ton of things this past couple of years as I try to go from a teacher centered to a student centered model, from a hard line,"if you don't get it you aren't trying hard enough" teacher to a hunt my students down and pursue them with knowledge until they learn to seek and find it on their own.

I still want to do all of these cool things, all of these things that I genuinely believe are best for my kids, and I will....but not today, maybe not next week, maybe not til next term.  And that's ok...

My wife was having a mommy guilt day where she was upset because on our off day she wasn't giving painting lessons to our boys or crafting with them or whatever.  I told her, look at our boys...are they healthy, happy, smart, and full of life?  She said yes, and I said then we are doing OK today as parents.

I don't want to be just OK as a parent or a teacher, but you know what, on an average day, my students learn, they have fun while doing it, and most of them don't hate my class or subject, even though I teach Chemistry, the class that makes people recoil visibly when I tell them what I teach.  So you know what, I will keep it up and strive to get better, but also try to sleep knowing that I'm doing ok, and that trying to do it all at once is just my ego writing checks that my body can't cash!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I had an article written up about my flipped classroom in the local paper last week.  Since then I've had a few emails from folks in the county interested in the method and will have a few visitors checking it out the next couple of weeks.  I felt pretty awkward about it in some ways since I don't have any delusions about being the best teacher or that my classroom is the model for others.

Aaron Sams said in one of the Flipped Learning network podcasts that he views flipped classrooms as a bridge and I totally took that to heart.  At the last inservice day I presented to other science teachers in my county and we were a good 25 or so minutes in before I mentioned anything about videos at all.  I focused almost entirely on pedagogy, on the idea of diving deeper, of having students focus more on inquiry each day in class, of setting them up to seek out their own answers. I expressly stated my belief that the flipped classroom is a good bridge to get from a traditional classroom to the totally student centered and driven class that does PBL and inquiry most of the time (if not all).

So on my twitter feed I see a lot of folks who either don't get that or perhaps just hate the idea of flipclass, maybe because they perceive it as the flavor du jour in education because of Khan Academy.  Now I ask for some of this as I purposely follow some critics of the system.  I don't want my PD experience on twitter to be an unquestioning echo chamber by any stretch. What gets me is the idea that teachers seem to think we have to sign up on teams for or against everything.

Are you for Team Flip or Team Modeling?  Team Inquiry or Team Lecture? To me it seems almost as ridiculous as the Twilight thing a couple of years ago (and maybe still...) Team Edward or Team Jacob, let's fight about it...

Two things really brought it up for me, this blog post by Shelley Wright was the first of them.  I read through this article saying yes over and over again, except for the idea that she would never go back to flip.  As I read through the whole thing my conclusion, I was like, wait, I thought this was a flipped classroom, student centered, self paced, students seeking out knowledge with assistance when needed.  This part in particular hit me

I talked to every student every day. I could look at their work, have them articulate their thinking process, and see where they were struggling. I could spend time helping those who really needed it.
I thought to myself, wait, that is what I do every day too, and I thought I was doing a flipped classroom.   From the sound of the article it was that starting out with the videos and that concept led to other pieces of student driven education.  Which I think is what most flippers out there, at least the ones I converse with are after.  Are there folks out there that just do videos as lecture and then "homework" in class and have that as their whole idea of what it is?  I guess so, but that definitely isn't the center of it.  Join #flipclass chat any Monday night at 8est and that is one of our taglines "it's not about the videos".

Don't get me wrong, I don't think Ms. Wright's article is wrong, it was very edifying to me, I love seeing stories of teachers who actually did it, who are there where I think I'm headed too, offering the best for their students.  But I think I'll always consider myself a flipper, because the real flip is not the homework/lecture flip, but the teacher first to student first.  That's the essential thing.  It's the first thing I talk about whenever I discuss flip.  My mechanic for doing that is some videos at the moment, but that is the praxis, not the pedagogy.  And I can easily anticipate a day when they won't need the videos, in fact, a lot don't right now, and that's great!

The point of my whole post is that I don't get why we have to divide ourselves up into teams.  Didn't we learn anything from the whole language/phonics thing?  The only winners of that fight were companies selling stuff to schools.  We need to spend a lot more time listening to each other and learning, sitting down and getting what is best for our particular classrooms, schools, and most importantly, the students.

As an example, this past Saturday I was a little upset at some tweets by @irasocol about homework.  To me it was as though he was saying HW was always evil.  So we engaged in a dialogue and while I can't say that I fully agree with his view, I did learn a lot and he pointed me to a lot of really thought provoking stuff.  I came out of the conversation smarter and with some new ideas.  I also got reinforced that when you actually engage with a person they become well, a person, not just some random things in your feed that get you going.

We need to quit choosing teams, or at least demonizing the other side.  I root for the Steelers, but if the Ravens beat us it isn't that they are demonic or evil (well...).

Get exposed to a lot of views of education and make informed decisions about your pedagogy for your students.  Don't join a team, team up with your students.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Other Mistakes

If you haven't read Brian Bennett's excellent post on "How NOT to Start a Flipped Class", then go there now and read it first.  It hit me pretty hard as I was a big failure in point number one of his post, and if you want to get more of that, jump to the last paragraph.  I wanted to hit another couple of mistakes that I've made doing Flipclass this and last year so that others might not make the same error.

Mistake #4 (I'll keep Brian's numbering, it was great!) Don't think you have to flip everything, every day, for every class.  I believe strongly in the pedagogy behind flipclass, I've presented on it a few times  since class started and think I'm pretty passionate about it.  But as a high school teacher with 4 different preps, two of them brand new to me, my unyielding adherence to the model is hurting me, and likely then my students.  It's hard enough to keep up with coming up with new activities for one class that you've taught for 12 years.  To do it for 2 brand new preps that I haven't taught in almost a decade is leaving me at a loss (mostly for sleep).  Those November blues that are common for a lot of teachers are already hitting me.  I didn't even mention the videos, but trying to make 2-3 videos a week for 2 separate classes is just about impossible.

You'd think I would have learned my lesson from doing it for Chemistry last year, but I'm pretty hard headed apparently.

Mistake #5 This one is pretty obvious and I'm a little embarrassed to even put it here. You have to ask questions and do formative assessments after every single video. I have found myself in a cycle this year of hopping right into an activity that had to do with the lesson, a lab, some practice, etc, all without answering the questions that I make them write in their WSQs.  This is me slipping into old ways of assuming if it was covered, it was learned.  That isn't good teaching, flipped or not.

Mistake #6 Not reflecting on a daily basis. In his post, Brian chastised himself for not doing long term reflecting, but doing an awesome job of daily reflection with his journal.  I, as usual, am in awe of him and others like Crystal Kirch who blog consistently about what is working and not working.  I love to write and really to blog, but I just can't seem to squeeze out the time to do this daily.  I really need to though, because that daily reflection is what makes my practice in teaching so much better.  I don't want to wait for the end of the year or the semester to change things for the better, I need to do it now.

I would add one caveat to all of this.  Don't beat yourself up for the mistakes, just recognize them and fix it....that is good teaching flipping or not.

Back to my mistake in SBG.I have been a wishy-washy supporter of SBG since mid way through last year.  I ran my 2nd semester classes that way and while I had some reservations, I continued it this year.  Some of my reservations come with my particular way of implementing it, but it some ways I just felt like I was locked into it and couldn't give the flexibility I needed.  For instance, this year, I've been doing WSQs for all of my classes, but a lot of students weren't watching the videos and doing what needed there.  I can enforce the in class work in class, but the outside videos weren't getting watched.  The SBG part of me says, oh well, that will be reflected in their grade on that standard.  But the fact of the matter is that I'm new to this school, its students, and their need for a little underpinning.  So I changed it up and am doing a biweekly progress grade (biweekly as we are on alternate day block).  To be honest, first results there aren't good either so far, and I may adjust that as well.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


I see a lot of folks on Twitter talking a lot about learning spaces and how much they affect the environment. Part of me wants to disagree with that, mostly because I'm one of those relational sort of guys, who believes that it is the relationships that matter, that the physical context isn't as important.

And then the 16 year old in me that planned on being an architect pops up to disagree, remind me of how I always hate the fact that schools, churches and other buildings have become these bland boxes.  We spend millions to make sure a stadium looks impressive to lure recruits and fans, but a school?!?  From the stucco boxes of Florida where I grew up to the brick boxes of Tennessee where I teach now, there is a lot of blandness.  One thing I loathed at my last school (which I loved in many ways!) was how dark it seemed in the hallways, that sort of institutional hallway that has never seen a spot of sunlight, brightened only by the lifeless glare of fluorescence.

I teach in a beautiful school right now, one with such a ridiculous amount of natural light that it is almost hard to see the smartboards in the afternoon because of the sunlight, even with the blinds.  That's a good problem to have of course.  The view 20 feet from my classroom is below, so I have no room to complain now of course.  And yes, that is the Sunsphere, but it looks a lot nicer than in the Simpsons episode where they chant "Knoxville, Knoxville..."

Our school looks amazing from the outside too, but what was one of the selling factors for me is the inside.  And I'm not even going to talk about our main building, which has ridiculous amounts of historic character in every nook and cranny, and I mean that in the good way, not as a euphemism for destroyed and decrepit.

But in the depot, as my building is called, we have this simply amazing upstairs space that I wish I had the foresight to have taken photos of, a long 3 open connected classrooms, all with a smart board, and all of the technological goodies.  That's awesome enough since it gets used all the time, as regular classrooms as well as for some unique classes like our 76 student STEM class (3 teachers).

What worked so well for me this week though was our "App rooms".  You know how in colleges and libraries you have these small rooms that you could fit a table and 4-6 people easily, sort of private study rooms.  That's what our app rooms are for, all 7 of them.  I had my APES kids making videos of cycles of matter, split them up into 7 teams and upstairs to the app rooms we went.  Each group had their own private space that was still academic in nature, but they could plan, brainstorm and record with just their group (and their teacher skulking around).

In my own room I'm locked in since my "classroom" is the Chemistry lab, with tables that ain't moving no matter what and chairs that move no matter what.  I'd love to have some beanbags, comfy chairs, different sized tables etc.  But the fact that there is still flexibility to be found and that is actually accessible and not taken up by whatever normal craziness goes on in a school on a day to day basis is great.

It really made my week and made me again think of the context, the environment, as well as the relationships.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Confessions for the newbies

Hopefully no one takes offense at the title, if so, I apologize, I am only slightly past the newbie stage in this process of flipping myself and am happy to journey with a lot of more experienced people.

I'm going to summarize a few thoughts that were brought up by the panelists at tonight's 25th #flipclass chat, particularly with reference to advice for first time flippers.  None of these thoughts are mine alone, but are from the panel and the twitter community, I just can't remember enough specifics to attribute properly right now.  Almost every single week on #flipclass chat, someone asks for help on how to get started, or is interested but not sure where to go or is just plum afraid to give it a go.

Karl brought up the point that there needs to be a lot of research that goes into the idea behind flipping your classroom.  I'll be perfectly honest, I did some of this, but not nearly enough.  The summer before last I had been toying around with ideas of Whole Class Inquiry, POGIL, PBL, etc, just knowing that I wasn't very satisfied with being a straight up lecture teacher.  I think I was fairly effective at that, but I knew I wasn't reaching enough of the kids and definitely not all of them!

I poked around online and saw the videos from Sams and Bergmann that I had run across a year or so before and it really intrigued me.  After watching their explanations at learning4mastery and their other sites, I mentally jumped right in.  I started asking my tech buddies and the tech coordinator at our school about screencapture, tested many out and bought the bullet for Camtasia.  I bought a bamboo pen and tablet, a webcam, etc, and started recording.

Note that I didn't say much about my intense research into the pedagogy of flipped classrooms.  I knew two basic things.  My old way wasn't working and that Sams and Bergmann had more time in their rooms each day to help students.

Yeah, as Danny Glover and Mel Gibson would say, "pretty thin"...

You know what though, that was enough at the beginning.  A month or two later as I was up to my ears in producing videos, I looked at my class every day and was like, wow, I'm sitting down with each student, and  whoa, we have a lot of time for activities that I always wanted to do.  It was awesome.

As my principal and a couple of others asked me about it and I explained it, I felt more and more passionate about the every kid every day part of it.  I knew for a fact that I had a lot more time each day.  And I knew that my kids were not nearly as frustrated working chemistry problems because when they stumbled, I picked them up...right then.

So I'm going to sound like a hypocrite because I said in the panel tonight to be sure you know why you are doing the flip before you do it.  I still believe that, I think that as we enumerated tonight, if you just think it is about videos, it will fail, if you just link to Khan and then keep giving out your old worksheets, it will fail.

But I will say that if you know you need a change, that as Aaron Sams said in the flipped classroom podcast a couple of months ago, the flip is a great bridge.  Flipping is something I'm passionate about, but it didn't stop there for me, it was a gateway drug into a variety of new and I think better teaching strategies: standards based grading, mastery, self paced, more inquiry, incorporating a whole range of cool technologies.

And I think that is also part of good teaching, being willing to change not because you were terrible before, but because you could be better, because the kids deserve better.

Don't let good enough be the enemy of the great, especially not in your classroom!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Out of the chute

So this year is a big step for me.  I left a school with people I loved, students I loved, and where my reputation preceded me with students that didn't even know me.  Even though I was a little burnt out when I left, my time there was the most formative of my 12 years of teaching as far as becoming a better teacher.

At my new school, I'm a newbie. I went in the cafeteria today and had to figure things out.  I'm occasionally not sure where the stairs are and I have yet to get a key to get in my room, as opposed to having a janitor's set worth at my old school.  Almost everything is different here for me, I'm the new guy, I have no reputation to fall back on and it's no longer a guarantee that I'm the one trying really weird stuff.  I have 4 preps, 1 of which I've never taught before and is an AP class, and another that I taught so long ago I think it was 3 iterations of curriculum ago.

All of that said, I love it.  Cutting myself loose from the sure thing and instant respect at my old school has made me really know that I have to get after it each and every day.  On every other day I don't start teaching until 11am because of plan, but I'm there at 7am in any case, and I work frenetically that whole time.

I'm at a school that has 1:1 technology and we use it every single day.  The only paper I've taken up has been signed syllabi and even half of those were sent in digitally.  I'm working with students every day to fully utilize the tech we've been gifted with.  For the past two days our network has struggled under the load of doubling the student population from last year.  So in one of my classes today we had no access at all.  No big deal, I made a few copies, but rather than them writing on them, they took pics, converted to pdf and wrote on that the same way we've been doing for the past week.  We've done new stuff that I borrowed, stuff that we made up and some things that were decided on the fly.  It's exhilarating!

I have some issues, some just with trying to generate my video content for two new classes while trying to wrap the curriculum into my head at the same time.  But wow, it is nice to get out of the chute and start to limber up the creativity.  I can't wait to get around the first bend and really hit my stride!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Questioning (by students)

After the success and transformation that researching flipping and associated things last summer, I decided I was going to spend part of this summer trying to shore up a few other deficiencies in my teaching style.  I've dabbled a bit with inquiry the past few years and wanted to head a lot more down that road.  As I was looking for some books to enlighten me (I know, books...we all learn in different ways, books are it for me!) I came upon a couple of good ones that I really feel will further transform my classroom the next couple of years.

The first was a book called Making Thinking Visible that I'll post about later in the week, it was great and my wife agrees, so it must be true.

The second really amazing book is Make Just One Change , with a subtitle of Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions.  It really hit me on the head with a gaping hole in my teaching.

I'm no teaching rookie, this will be my 13th year, and my 12th year of teaching Chemistry which is the bulk of my day.  A year or two ago, it came into my head that despite what my students and others may have thought, that I was not that amazing a teacher.  My kids love me, but we've all know a teacher at the school that the students love who isn't a good teacher.  One of my great fears is being that guy, hence the trying to improve a lot the past couple of years.

The subtitle pretty much explains the idea behind the book. It revolves around the QFT or Question Formulation Technique, which as presented is a pretty straighforward and some might say restrictive way to teach students to ask questions.  The essential path way is:

  • Produce your own questions
  • Improve your questions
  • Prioritize your questions
Behind each of these is a fairly strict method, for instance, for producing, there are four rules: 
  1. Ask as many questions as you can
  2. Do no stop to discuss, judge, or answer the questions
  3. Write down every question exactly as it is stated
  4. Change any statement into a question.
Let me say right now that I abhor restrictiveness and anything that smacks of a program in general.  To me a great flaw in education is that we find what works in one school and try to adopt it wholesale in another school, to mediocre at best and horrific at worst results.  So as I'm reading through the book and thinking about my classroom I'm chafing a little because the authors keep emphasizing how at least at the beginning you need to hew to the rules.

As I got further in though and thought more I remembered that students tend to excel best when they have a ton of freedom within a structure (one could make that argument about people in general I suppose).  I began to see how doing this for 45 minutes once at the beginning of the year to get them used to the structure and guidelines could have an amazing effect.

Fits in really well with a lot of philosophical constructs we use in education today like inquiry and flipped classrooms, but the focus is really on fostering independence and evaluation skills in students.  It doesn't just say, hey, have students ask their own questions, that would be good.  In fact, that is the smallest part of this. Instead, the bulk of the book is on developing evaluation skills and discernment to sharpen their questions to the best possible questions.

I realize that I talk a lot about wanting students to learn process as much as the right answers, but I have remarkably few things in place to support, encourage, and even demand that.  I think this method will make a big difference.  I'm sure my anti-programmatic self will rebel against a few parts of it, and am sure my kids will too.  But for anyone interested in making a small but significant change that doesn't upset all of their apple carts, this is a great resource that teachers should check out!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Homework or not

You know, as I watch the Olympics and see athletes getting in trouble for saying dumb stuff on Twitter, I'm like, seriously, don't go on Twitter, or at least maybe not during the pinnacle moment of your career.

Then as I'm waiting for #flipclass chat to start up, I see a lot of folks that I follow and respect on Twitter commenting on homework.  Really, I started to get a little heated and really wanted to comment, but since it was specifically in #sschat and I don't teach ss (though I do have a degree in History, maybe that counts) I hesitated.

After a few minutes the benefits of age and experience kicked in for me and I recognized what I always do, which is that if I feel that sort of visceral reaction, I should back up and examine my own thought processes and convictions.

You see, one of my great beliefs in life is that we diminish things when we make everything a solely two sided issue, a false dichotomy.  I will grant you that there are a few things where you are on one side or the other, and that one can make the argument that one side is plainly evil.  But let's be honest, most things are a bit more nuanced than that.

I think that is especially true in education.  I don't think I'm ever a worse teacher than when I get some philosophical idea lodged somewhere and believe that I must act it out in every class every day.  I'm a fan of PBL, of flipped classrooms, of inquiry based learning and am beginning to do some tentative explorations of modeling for my classroom.  But the second you tell me that I have to pick one of those teams and stick with them no matter what, every day or I'm a heretic, then I tune it out.  In fact, it generally makes me want to go the other way (it did with PBL for a while).

There was a comment about the hubris of a teacher assuming that they control a kid's time outside of school. I think there is no small amount of hubris in one teacher telling another what is best for his kids in his classroom.

Example: I've taught AP for the past 4 years, and will teach a different AP class this year.  If I assign my students no homework, I am actively doing them a disservice, their chance to do well on the test is pretty minimal then.

This obviously is an extreme example, but the idea that all homework is evil is rather extreme also.  Let me lay my cards on the table.  I essentially agree that I want my kids to have lives outside of school.  The assignments that I give to be done outside of my classroom are pretty minimal.  In fact, for the past 5 years, most of my students did very little work outside of class, maybe on the order of an hour a week (excepting my AP students).

So at heart, I agree that we shouldn't have students up til 1am every night doing work for me.

What I don't agree with though is that by assigning 10 pages of reading or a 15 minute video that I am draining the souls of my students.  I don't say this blithely or without thinking.  I have 3 young boys myself, and I want them to enjoy themselves when we are home at night together, so I hope they don't get overloaded with homework.

Another comment said that teachers doing work at home isn't the same thing, that we do it because we want to excel and improve.

Yes...complete the analogy...

True, one could argue that the work teachers do isn't required, but I've been at schools where your plan period was called a duty period, and so the only time you ever had to grade anything was outside of school, essentially required.

To sum it up since I'm taking my wife to work in her room in the middle of the summer two weeks before school starts, I can get behind the idea that we shouldn't burden students with boring, meaningless homework assignments just to get grades or whatever.  I agree that assignments should be relevant and that in many cases can be made optional.

But I don't believe that assigning homework makes you a bad teacher or a dementor of student spirits.  My best teachers were ones that gave tough, challenging assignments, to be completed at home usually.  Under the new regime I guess they'd be behind the times and maybe even evil...I refuse to buy into that.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Bridge

So it was probably around this time last summer that I decided I was going to flip my class for last school year. To any prospective flippers that read this, it wasn't easy, partially due to my own quirks.

When I decided to follow the Sams/Bergmann model of flip and prerecord my lectures (the pre-vodcasting model) I spent two-3 days researching the proper program to record with, eventually landing on Camtasia. I bought a flip cam and lots of stuff specifically for the videos.  I spent probably 200 hours or so making videos last fall, all for my Chem I classes. To be honest, they aren't very great videos, though I think they helped a lot of kids, especially as I was at a school with some attendance issues last year.

Still, my jumping into the flipped classroom and the movement has been probably the most beneficial thing I've done in my career as an educator, far more so than any class I took, any PD I've ever been to, or any meeting I've endured.

I was listening to the podcasts for the Flipped Learning Network last week and heard Aaron Sams very accurately depict just why that is.  He described the flipped classroom as a bridge between standard teacher centered models of the classroom and the student centered model.  That might seem like a bad thing for the "movement" that one of the progenitors of the idea says that it is not really the end goal.  But it was such a revelation for me, really hit me.

A couple of years ago at my old school we implemented a program where every single teacher in the school had to do a PBL project, preferably a week or more in length.  There was panic, frustration and I can pretty safely say as one of the people who checked up on them, that the projects and the idea didn't work as well as it could have.  Wasn't really the administration's fault, we had several days of PD on it, so it wasn't like they just threw it at us and said do it.

Here's the thing though, PBL is a very student centered model (or can be) and it is a giant leap for teachers to go from teacher centered to student centered.  I'm getting pretty interested in the modeling movement for teaching science, but it is a big leap too, as were my ill fated attempts at inquiry stuff in the past few years.

This then is what flipclass has done for me, it has allowed me to try out something that was at once radical and very different, but at the same time still had enough of the old elements to keep me comfortable while I make the transition to a student centered classroom.  I felt like I still had "covered" all of the material while having much more time to do a lot more things in class, to sit down with students and help them through everything, to experiment with standards based grading and google forms submission of work, things that I probably wouldn't have tried without flipclass.

I'm not done with flipclass by any means, I'm pretty sure it will be the main paradigm of my class for a long time.  But that is because it is the foundation for so many other things that are about the kids, about finding ways to help them learn, not just record, to prepare them, not for a test, but to be thinkers and doers.  Ultimately that is the point, not to have videos or do homework in class or whatever the critics think flip is about, but it is about getting to the point where I can spend time with every kid every day, where I can make sure they are truly learning, not through some stock assessment or some fist to five 2 second thing, but through conversing and relationships.

Happy to be on the bridge!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why Making Videos is great!

So it's been over a month since I last posted, and about 3 weeks since I meaningfully participated in any stuff like twitter.  The doldrums toward the end of the year have been hitting me pretty hard, perhaps moreso than a lot of years, for a lot of reasons, not all of which have to do with school.

I've spent most of this semester trying to concentrate on implementing SBG and flipclass without actually making new videos, since I made 60 or so last term.  But as I was finishing up gases I realized that I didn't have a video at all for partial pressures.  Then my AP class clearly did not remember anything about buffers from a month ago.

That made me decide to make two videos tonight even though the past few days have been pretty rough for me personally.  I don't even normally make videos for my AP class and in doing so, I realized a couple of things.

When I'm generally teaching stuff in my AP class, I have to work a lot ahead of the kids.  It's been a long time since I was in college and so when I started teaching AP 4 years ago, I had to relearn a lot of stuff.  And what I've noticed is that even though I understand a lot of stuff, I haven't been doing a very good job of getting that across to my students.

Which of course is what teaching is all about.

Making the videos though does something other than all of the stuff that I've touted in previous posts though.  It actually makes me a better teacher, because I really make sure that I know my stuff before I present it.  I think about how I want to present it, in what order, about what things I know will trip them up.  Then when I edit it, I think of more stuff, so I add in the callouts and things to help out there.

I'm not high on myself, I know my videos aren't the greatest, I hope in 4 or 5 years to have some truly amazing ones, with more student than me.  But for now, I realized tonight that while I was burned out on the process last semester (did I mention 60 videos, of 10-20 mins each...yeah), that I actually enjoy the process, and feel a lot better about it when I have something that students can take home and go over again and again if need be other than the textbook (which they won't btw!).

In my honors class today, when I realized that I had no vodcast for partial pressures, even though we had done a phet and talked about it, I decided to lecture on it in class today for 15 or so minutes.  The students were attentive for the most part, but afterwards, one told me that I had to make a post a video tonight because I had gotten her used to doing it that way, and she needed a video.  Whether that is good or bad is another discussion, but at least it made me feel some validation for the travails of making them!

I did notice that I lost my time edge a little though...the AP one was 20 minutes long...ah well, more refining to do!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


As I set up my Apple TV at home over spring break and used it to integrate a ton of different things, like any good teacher, I thought about the ton of different ways I could use it in the classroom.  There are a lot of good articles out there about "untethered teaching", using ipads wirelessly to replace smartboards, so I am definitely not original in my thinking.

When I started at my current school 5 years ago, we had a couple of computer labs, but they were mostly used for recovery credit and things like that, which were definitely needed as we had a grad rate around 43% that year.  For my part, I had my notes on transparencies that I put on an overhead projector.  I was okay with that since I'd worked at a small private school that wasn't on the cutting edge of technology.  I had done the blogging, bulletin boards, help students through IM for a few years before that, but I was ok with leaving it behind, after all, most of my students at my new school didn't have the same tech at home that my private school kiddos did.

In my second year, we had a smart board for the science department and since no one else was really using it, I appropriated it and began to use mostly power point to replace my old notes.  Yes, I could have done that with just a projector which I would have been fine with.

Year 3 rolled around and we got a massive technology grant at our school, and began to add what will eventually be something like 8-9 computer labs in our school.  Every single classroom got a SmartBoard and projector and some cursory training.  I kind of liked the Smart Notebook software so I spent that year of 4 preps turning all of my notes into Notebook presentations.  I loved the ability to play videos, etc easily without a TV in my room.  The system was spottily used though...most of us did not (and still don't) have the speakers  hooked up.  Most of the teacher computers are about 7-8 years old and thus are slow to be as generous as possible.  I would guess that for most teachers, the actual "Smart" parts of smartboards don't get used a whole lot (recording, clickers, etc).

But here's the deal.... we spent who knows how much implementing this system, with very little teacher input, though we were excited to get the chance to do it.  But we're locked in now to some degree.  Now that it is apparent that you could replace the $3k or so for each smartboard with an ipad, an apple tv and a projector and be able to move it wherever you want for around $1k-$1.5k max, it seems like a bad investment.  Soon at least a 5th of our school might be getting ipads for the students (hopefully for teachers too).

Of course we are totally not prepared for it either...we have an ipad lab this year, but most don't know what to do with it.

My point behind this long ramble is that school systems seriously lack any sort of flexibility, spend hundreds of thousands on teh new hawtness and then lock everyone into using it to justify their expense.  I have a way to make it a little cheaper and more flexible:

Ask teachers what they individually want/need in their room.  Provide funding for that instead of ridiculous amounts of money thrown into a school or system wide solution that will be passed by and outdated in 5 years (at best).  Teachers would have to be reasonable and work within the confines of that system, but I bet it would save in a lot of ways.  There could still be some school wide things, but if a teacher says that 6 ipads or chromebooks would make all the difference, that is probably a cheaper solution in the long run.  If they need an airport to allow kids access to the wireless in their room on their own devices, let it roll.

And what matters more to me is that it is a more flexible and probably pedagogically sound solution in the long run.  We want to teach students about the eduspeak term "21st century" skills and then stuff them into a computer lab that hasn't changed its basic setup since I learned basic in 1984 or so on TRS-80s.

I'll admit, I know that there are tech issues and perhaps more soul crushing, legal issues that interfere with all of this.  I'm going to state something that is going to make me a jerk and unpopular...I don't really care.  I want to educate my students, I want my urban students to be on an equal technological footing with their more affluent peers on the other side of the county.  I can't do that if I have to submit a form in triplicate to install an app that would take me 20 seconds to download.  I'm all for protecting the kids from things they shouldn't be doing.  I'm about as conservative as a public school teacher gets, I don't want the kids viewing pron or any of the other dangerous stuff that's out there any more than anyone else.

The problem is that the legal part of all this is decades behind the technology, as 19th century copyright law in the 21st century illustrates.  The kids I have now can't wait 10 years for us to figure it out.

Trust your teachers, make the system flexible, fear graduating uneducated and unprepared students more than lawsuits.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

First time presenting

Been about a week and half since I last posted, due to a number of factors such as illness etc.  I didn't get around to talking about it last week, but I got to do my first flipclass presentation last Thursday.  I felt like it went pretty well considering that I was sick and that a lot of our folks don't show up for much PD at this time of the year because they already have their hours in.

When I knew I was sick the night before I debated what to do about the presentation and even considered "flipping" it by making a video and trying to skype in for questions.  But since I knew skyping takes an act of congress at our school, I just came in anyway.

I did eventually decide to make a video because a lot of folks that wanted to come couldn't make it.  I'm a little unsatisfied with the video, as I often am when they are done, but also just too tired to spend another hour or two working on it.  Hopefully it will at least spark some thought for some of our teachers.  We have a good bunch who are usually willing to step out and try some new things, at least on a limited basis, so I'm hopeful that this will assist some.

Oh, and I forgot to comment on this in the video I think, but it's not about the videos...=P

I also apologize for my still messed up voice.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Class Size

Today was a Monday, that's for sure.

Actually, my first block class went pretty well...took a SBG assessment, did pretty well, those that were ready and took it, the rest will take tomorrow, briefly reviewed the video stuff on orbital notation, that seemed to go well also, kids working at different paces, the way I want it to go.

My AP is not being I won't mention them other than the, wow, if I was this unfocused in school in my AP classes, I am soooo sorry.

But my last last class.  This class is Honors Chem I and they are a bunch of pretty good kids.  One of the things that happens a lot in my school though is that a lot of our honors kids have some good brains but aren't very used to using them.  Since they can coast by in most of their classes, they aren't used to having to really apply themselves, and just like when I start up running again after a 5 year hiatus, it takes time to stretch out those muscles.  That is killer hard, both for them to learn and for me to be patient with.

What makes it a little more challenging for me is that I have a larger than normal class for our school.  One way that we are blessed is that overall our class sizes are pretty small, especially in the lower two grades. I generally have around 25 or so students on my roster in a normal class.  In this one though I have 30, and one  constant that I've always noticed is that all of my honors kids have tended to be a bit more chatty than others. Couple that with the newness to them of flip and of SBG, they are struggling and I am struggling with their struggles....

S:  "Mr. A, I didn't watch the video last night, can you come show me how to do this?"

Me: "Ok, did you read over the note packet?"

S: "No"

Me: "your partner seems to know what's up, did you ask them?"

S:  "They don't want to help..."

S2 (the partner): "I tried...she doesn't want me to help"

And so on...I want to help, that's what I do, what I'm there for, what makes having a real teacher different than just watching videos and such.  But me a third of the way.  When your honors kids don't want to plug into an equation with n trickeration, that's frustrating...for both of us.

I was tempted on the way home to just scrap flip for this class, stick with SBG and switch back to my normal DI lecturing, at least for a week.  But then I thought, if I really believe in the flip, which I do, why would I switch to what I feel is an inferior pedagogical model?  To prove a point?  We already know that they hate lecture in general....

Part of the problem of course is that I feel I've been falling a little apart in my planning, so the ones that really want to zoom ahead, I'm not fully prepared for.  So I spent extra time this weekend in between starcraft viewing to really flesh out more fully this weeks plans.

And then on the way home I get an email that says my team will be out of the building all day Friday for the hot new model of thinking we are doing next year.


Okay, I can do it...

Anyone out there with ideas on how to make flip flow smoother sometimes, send my way, I'm going to try out some new stuff, but always love to hear what others are doing!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Affirmation and Questioning Oneself

So we're a third of the way through the semester.  I had my last evaluation of the year last week and while I'm never one to worry a ton about them, this time was a little different.  This was my first real, fully flipped classroom evaluation.  I had two evals last semester, but I was in that weird in the middle part where I was making the videos and wasn't fully flipped yet.

I actually didn't think the evaluation went that well, and even after the post, I can think of a thousand things I should have done better.  But you know what, it didn't matter that much because while I was discussing it all with my principal she brought up how the classroom was truly student centered, how they spontaneously helped each other, how they knew what to do and that I barely addressed the class as a whole, instead was working with individuals or small groups.

The response in my head was "Yes! It works...."

I'll be honest, I'm still questioning the flip model a bit in my head each day.  I think that's because it is so much work on me and with sick kids and wife at home, it is hard to focus at night on putting the energy and time required into getting everything done for all of the demos and activities that I want to do.  I'm still not there yet, that's for sure.  I've had particular wonders about my honors class, which is a good class, but I can tell that they would much rather I just stood up there and lectured, gave them work and graded it.  I've done that for a long time and am pretty good at that as far as it goes, it would work.

But "it will work" is not really the mantra of trying to improve my classroom. Lots of things "work" but don't really, or just serve to gloss over a lot of stuff.  As I look back on my career so far, it's not that I think I've been a bad teacher, just that wow...I could have been so much better.

I think that's what I'm looking to pull out of the kids too.  In my Honors class in particular, they can all do the work and get "works" for them in that way.  But I really don't just want them to get by, to just work...I want them to learn, to grow, all of that pollyanna crap that I can barely believe I'm even typing, but that's really what I want.

I was sitting in a room of teachers in a leadership meeting a couple of years ago and we were doing some activity where we were writing down why we were in teaching or something like that.  My answer was that I didn't want to change the world, that I wanted to make a ripple, to have my kids make ripples too.  I got pretty roundly ridiculed for that, probably because I'm a pretty prickly sarcastic dude and they thought I was full of feces.

But it's true....and I think I've been making ripples before, but I feel that the stones I'm throwing in the pond now with the new way of doing things have a lot more heft, and hopefully, create bigger ripples.

So I'll stick with it...I've been pretty adamant about not slipping into my old model from last semester of showing the vodcasts collectively to the class during class time...I'm still sticking to the SBG thing even though I'd really like to shell out some points for other things.  But I think in this discomfort is growth for me and hopefully for the kids as they are uncomfortable at times too, not always knowing the correct answer, but hopefully starting to think a little more.  I'd hate to get to the end of the term and wonder what if I had stuck it out.

And yes, that little boost from administration, just showing that they like what is going on and will be willing to back you when stuff gets nuts, that is needed as well!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Microwave Changes

Something I've found very hard over the past few years in education is the speed at which changes are supposed to take place, speed demanded by administration or ourselves.

  Last school year we had a couple of days of PBL training and were then supposed to incorporate it into our semesters that very term, meaning that a week or two before school, bang, make the switch to a totally new pedagogical technique that will take up somewhere around a sixth to a third of your term. The examples were minimal at best, those of us presenting it were hardly briefed on it before being expected to teach it.  Then those of us who were responsible for teaching it with no prior PD to train us were then expected to show up at department meetings and "check in" on PBL progress.

Last semester when I decided to start flipping my class, I canned most of the first unit before school started.  That was nowhere near enough.  As we reached the 2nd unit, I realized that I just didn't have the time to make the videos far enough ahead to burn the DVDs and such.  That being the case I did a weird deal where I showed the videos in class, like watching myself lecture and explain from outside of myself.  Very odd, and of course it wasn't as effective as I would have hoped.  I beat myself up for it pretty severely.

The issue was that I decided to make a change and put some planning into and expected it to be done and good to go.  I've done sort of the same thing this semester with google docs and SBG.  The problem is that even the best changes in the way we teach take time.  If Sams and Bergmann took a few years to perfect their version of the flip class, why do I think I'm going to be a guru in a semester or two?

One of the things that drives me that way is that you see posts and tweets from people who seem to have made changes and bang, results the next week, scores and learning soaring.  A lot of those same teachers promote their ideas like they are simple changes that can be done by a simple mindshift after reading a post or watching a video.  It does not work that way, any more than teaching in the classroom does.

I'm competitive, which I know is anathema to a lot of the modern education movement, but that's who I am.  I want to be the best, I want to have all of the answers right now.  And when I don't, I'm aggravated and defensive.  Last semester I was asked to present on the flip class idea and I was so upset at where I was with it, I demurred, probably rightfully so.

All of this came to the surface a bit more for me because at the school I'm at, drastic changes happen almost every year.  Just last week we became a magnet and this whole new way of teaching that is supposed to be the new default for every teacher in my school within a school was presented.  I have faith that we'll have some PD on how to do it, but decide in what seems like a couple of weeks that all of the teachers involved will suddenly adopt a new pedagogical plan seems quick to me.  

Maybe our microwaves need a new button next to the popcorn one called "instant pedagogical change"...

I'm willing to change, I pull new stuff in every year and this year of course I've thrown it all out and started from scratch.  Of course I think I'm a lot more willing to put the time and effort in when it is bottom up, meaning that the ideas are teacher spawned rather than admin spawned.  No doubt I'd feel the other way if the shoe were on the other foot.

A word to all teachers out there trying to change things up, and to admins wanting to make big changes, give yourselves and the teachers time to work it out, don't expect it all to be done and mastered in a semester or a year.  Kids minds don't learn in the microwave model, and neither do educators.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Getting Over It

There are several significant adjustments that I've had to make in my own mindset to do the flipped class.  As I noted early, one of those is having a lot more to do every day.  I can't skate by on my old lecture notes and personality (which my peers will laugh at!).

One of the first things that is tough to deal with is the feeling that I'm not "teaching".  The actual content is delivered via video for the most part, with a few minutes of review at the beginning of each class period (or more as needed).  Students are then engaged in an activity, working on problems in groups, making videos, etc.  While all of this is going on, I'm circulating around the room, helping groups, offering advice as needed, asking questions to see if they really know what it is that they are doing.  Some days it feels like I should be doing more to directly deliver content.

The reality of course is that I'm delivering content in a much more effective way.  One could argue that it is not as efficient because instead of standing in front of 30 students and answering questions, working problems and lecturing, I'm working with small groups of 2-4 students doing some of the same things.  Sometimes I end up working the same problem multiple times.  That makes me want to get up and work it for the whole class, which I do occasionally.  But a lot of times, I just push each group through the problem in their own way.  And that is the thing with the method of me sitting down with them in a small group.  I'm not working the problem...I'm asking pointed questions, and in a very small group they can't really hide in the way that they would in the whole class setting.

You know how it is, you ask the whole class a question while you are explaining a problem and the same 4 kids respond, or they respond corporately and you can't really tell who knows.  There are ways around this, yes, like popsicle sticks and random student methods, but still, you get a couple of responses each time.  With the way I'm doing it now, I am trying my best to stick to my mantra of every student, every day.  I am not at the point of giving individualized problems to work on, but I think I am going to try some of that out later in the semester as it is definitely the best model I think.

The other big issue is that my classroom is often chaotic.  We are now at the point in the year where some of my students are starting to break away from the pack a little bit, working a day or two ahead.  So that means that I might have students watching videos to get ahead, some working on an activity from 2 days before and some working on "that day's" assignment.  I so wish I had the ability to do more lab stuff in class as well, which I'm headed towards once my demo table gets in.  That of course will only add to the chaos.  

I'm ok with the chaos, it is often integral to learning, and certainly necessary to most student centered learning.  But not everyone likes it.  I'm pretty fortunate that I have administrators who are not only comfortable with kids not being in seats, but encouraging of it.  All it takes is one admin change to foil that though.  Also plays havoc with the planning part of our new and complicated evaluation system.

All in all, I'm learning to deal with it, making the adjustment with as much grace as a chubby, bald, middle aged guy can muster.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tear down this wall

So we received some exciting news this past week at school, which is that my school within a school is going to be one of the few county magnet programs, in our case, for Communications.  A lot of thoughts about that, and about my school in general, but let me focus in on one thing tonight.

Along with becoming a magnet comes some pretty cool news that at some point next year we'll be 1:1 in the School of Communications.  Since I'm flipping, using google forms assessments, having students make videos and tutorials on Explain Everything, etc, that is pretty good news.  In fact, one would think that I would have jumped up at the announcement.  And honestly, I am fairly excited about it.  But I have a bit of trepidation as well.

First off, let me just say that even though I teach in an urban school, we have a ton of technology.  We won a huge grant a couple of years ago, and since then have installed I think somewhere around 6 new computer labs in our school.  Wifi went up in the whole building this year.  Every room has a smartboard and projector.   There is an ipad lab in our media center.

We are truly blessed at our school, and having taught in a school where my computer lab was all of 6 computers, I know what a blessing it is.


  • The iPad lab is officially speaking, to be used in the library only.  The thin portable tablets meant to be carried around are in one place, essentially anchored.
  • Even though I like to think I'm one of the more tech savvy teachers, I had no working computer outside of my ipad for over a month last semester.  The IT guys had replaced parts in my computer no fewer than 4 times, and yet it would not even run 20 minutes without rebooting itself spontaneously.
  • My new computer by the way, won't play video through the projector...which is a bit of a problem since I spent a significant amount of time creating my 60 or so videos last term.
  • I said I used my ipad at the end of last term, which I did...with a connector cable that I purchased on my own.
  • The iPad lab only recently actually got useful apps on it....6 months or so after we got the devices...and about 2 months before the next iPad iteration comes out.
  • At the height of my frustration last term I noted that right across the hall from me was the room that is to be our next computer lab, stacked with Dell boxes for that new computer lab...that have been there for months waiting for furniture.
  • Officially, I can't use my personal iPad on the school wireless...which begs the question of what it is actually there for...
I actually have more, but I should sleep at some point.   Let me be perfectly clear, this is not the fault of our Tech coordinator (@techcoor on twitter) who is one of the kindest, most solicitous people on the planet.  And really, it's not even my biggest complaint, because most of that is about me and my tech issues.

So let's get to where the rubber meets the road, the kids...

All social media is blocked...why?  I have 60 videos on youtube, educational videos that are essentially their first go to part of the curriculum.  Oh yeah, put them on the slow frankenstein school website...done...I'm a team player.  Guess what, even though one of the 3 formats I made them in is especially for iOS, they can't be watched at school on the ipads, because the school website converts them to flash... Even youtube/edu is blocked on most of the computers.

So you know what my kids do instead...they pull out their phones and watch them on youtube.  So do I when I need to use something.

I went to a meeting a year ago where the IT department folks and science folks were tauting the benefits of Skype in the classroom, and then proceeded to explain the forms in triplicate and weeks notice we would need to use them...

A few of the teachers use twitter to do connect with students or parents...but of course the only way the kids can access it is on their phones.  They can't use the school computers, which becomes a real problem for those students who don't have internet at home...

We have this crazy new evaluation system in Tennessee this school year, that we actually piloted at our school last year.  I'm ok with it since I'm an arrogant jerk anyway, but a lot of folks are nervous.  One of the biggest focuses is on grouping, creating, thinking in teams, showing knowledge in ways other than tests.  I'm actually down with this, I think it is a good idea.  Teh new hawtness in edubabble is that of 21st Century skills... but what good does that do if the system is walled?

We're in the middle kingdom, trying to peer over the wall into the celestial kingdom.

I understand fully that there are privacy concerns and laws out there that require filters...I just think they are mostly ill-informed and crazy in some ways.

Here's what I it your teachers to moderate.  Even better, expect your teachers to help teach proper ways to use these things.  Are kids occasionally going to watch something on youtube that they shouldn't?  Absolutely...and when I see that, which I will, because I moderate my room, I'll stop it.  Will fights get arranged through twitter?  Probably...someone could get stabbed with a pencil, do we ban those too? (thanks #pencilchat !)

You want me to have my kids create, innovate, be prepared as much as possible for the 21st century, fine...I'm all for that...I want to be on the bleeding edge of that stuff.  I'm prepared to be the guy taking the hits to pass my knowledge of what doesn't work to others.  I have no problem with stuff going wonky as the students and I figure it out.  

But I can't...we're stuck on the wrong side of the Brandenburg gate, able to see what is over on the other side, but kept back, because the stuff over there is dangerous and we can't be trusted with it...

Tear down this wall...