Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Work at home

Was reading #edchat on twitter tonight where they were discussing the value and place of homework, as well as reading some other stuff on the equity of schools. homework and all of that.

First off, I gave up on homework for most of my classes (outside of AP) a couple of years ago, largely just from the POV that kids at my school weren't by and large doing the work.  One might think this was acquiescing in a bad way, but I prefer just to consider the realities.  I am as happy as anyone to get on a soapbox and rail about the way that things should be, I'm sure a lot of that will come out in the blog.  But ultimately I am responsible for getting my young ones to learn the material.  Yes, I said learn the material which is blasphemy in most educational circles today.  What I should really worry about is inspiring students, instilling a love of chemistry and all of that.  Don't get me wrong, that stuff would be nice...but my actual job responsibility is to try to ensure they know the 74 or so course level expectations that I have around 80 or so days to instill in them.  I try to be inspirational, I really do, but cold facts sometimes get in the way.

So how does this relate to flip class.  An article I read tonight was telling people to say no to the flip class because it just highlights the same inequities that lead a lot of kids to not do their homework either, and that time outside of school is their time.  The argument often made is that the kids give us their all during school, why should we expect more outside of school.  That by the way is a highly debatable topic, whether kids give all, but a topic for another day.

I worry about the inequity, I really do.  When I tell kids that they can watch the videos on their phone, I assure you, I hurt for the ones that can't.  I have read and internalized the arguments against BYOD and all of that and consider a lot of their points really valid.  But then I think...so I'm not going to use technology because some of my kids may not have 24 hour access to it?  That is somewhat similar to saying I shouldn't do a lab because I have a homebound student who will miss out on it.  I don't stop doing something because it is hard for a student to do, I try to help them do it.

That's why I mentioned that I copy dvds for all of my students.  I'm at school almost an hour early every day to help those kids who get there early (who are not the mythical rich kids by the way, not at my school).  I generally have not only my departmental ipad, but bring in my personal one and my personal laptop as well.  Today I had just explained to a visitor to my room all the ways that the kids can watch the videos, then as soon as we started, 6 of them came up, got the devices and watched them.

Ira Socol has a good blog where he poses some really tough questions, particularly in this article.  I think that a lot of it is based in a political philosophy that I'm probably not all that supportive of in general, so take anything I say about it with the obligatory grain of NaCl, but I think that the idea that equity has to be everywhere, right now, or you are a hater who is not doing it right is a little off.  I don't think that's really the point of his article, but as a new flipper, it sort of felt that way.

So again, back to the flip.  I don't "require" that any student watch the videos outside of class.  Contrary to what is said, I don't "reward" the students that have smartphones.  Should I hamstring them and not let them use them in the interests of equity?  I work with every student individually as much as I can, I try to figure out how they can get the information, how I can facilitate that, and what we can do to work everything out.  So far it seems to be working, but then again, I'm all of 17 days in at this point in the term.  Maybe it won't work and will go the way of my old HW policies.

I hope not though...the value so far has been awesome.  We've had great activities, labs, discussions, and problem solving in class, about half of which would have had to go before the flip for me.  Sure, that may just have been inefficiencies in my old way of teaching.  I'll agree that I am not the best teacher out there.  But I would like to get better, to be able to try out new things that I actually have researched and carefully considered.

And I'd really like to do that feeling that other teachers are supportive of trying out new things, not for the sake of being new, but for the sake of the students.  Again, the data will show what it shows at the end of the term, but as for anecdotal evidence, I'm overworked and stressed, but happier every day in class since I've made the change, and I have yet to have a kid be upset about the way it has gone so far.

Monday, January 30, 2012


One of the biggest hurdles for me in attempting a "real" flipped class this term is the fatigue level.  Lecturing is taxing no doubt, but frantically running around the room in each class all day long is even more so.  And then when you throw in the multiple retests of an SBG system and such, it is taking a little toll on me.  I've been running full speed since the beginning of the new term in January and feel like I've hardly spent time with my own kids at home.

And that simply is acceptable.  When I got back into teaching, I promised myself that I wouldn't put more time and effort from home into my students than I do into my own family.  That's a recipe for disaster, because in 4 years max, those students are gone.

So I have to reach equilibrium...so far my reaction is running 100% to the right...hopefully it evens out pretty soon!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Videos (part 2)

Again, I just want to reiterate at the outset of this post that flipping is not all about the videos.  I think they are an important part of the execution, but not at the pedagogical center all all.

With that being said, let me address a lot of the questions that I had at the beginning and that folks have asked me since then.  As always, there are folks out there with a lot more knowledge than me.  I'd highly recommend the vodcasting ning site  which is a great resource for all things flipped, not just the videos.  There are folks like me who are just trying it out up to the real pros who led the charge in this movement on that site.

On to the questions:

What do you use to make the videos?
I use an awesome program called Camtasia to make all of my lessons.  There are a lot of programs out there, varying in price, storage, editing capabilities, etc.  I tried a few like Screenr, screencast-o-matic, and camstudio. These are all free and work fine...a lot of flippers use them and love them.  I do like free, but none of those made it as easy to edit (if at all) after recording the way Camtasia does.  Also, they don't all let you control where the videos go.  A lot of times they upload them to their own site, sometimes to youtube.  I use youtube, but I want control over the videos at all times.

Camtasia is pricey, around $200, though thanks to my awesome tech guy (@techcoor), I found a deal for $99.  Well worth the money in my book.

I'll make a statement that generally holds true for me and my philosophy on these things.  I'm not a tech snob by any stretch, but if I'm going to make 60-100 videos, I want full control and editing tools.  I'll pay for the ability to do that.  If you don't want to, I think that is fine too, this whole flip hasn't been cheap in my case, but it can be done cheaply.

I also make my shorter videos on working out problems using an absolutely amazing ipad app called Explain Everything.  Conceivably you could do your main videos there as well, but I find camtasia better for the longer stuff.  There are a lot of screencapture apps out there for the ipad, Screenchomp (which is from the camtasia folks), Show me, and Replay Note being notable.  Again, what made me actually pay for Explain everything is the ability to take files from a variety of places (dropbox, evernote, etc) as well as to export to a variety of places, including myself.  The others don't do that.  Additionally, EE is coming out with an update that lets you capture while browsing the web, which is making me drool a little.

This is one of my first EE videos, for my AP class:

What do you write with in the videos?
I use a Wacom Bamboo tablet when I make the camtasia videos.  On the ipad I have a stylus, though I've had kids make great videos just with their fingers on the ipad.

Again, it was an expense, and there are some cheaper options out there as well.  For a few of my early videos I actually used my smartboard at school and then went back in and added the audio at home.  The writing was a lot better that way, but obviously is more cumbersome.  That isn't possible with all of the capture programs.   And my PC at school definitely did not like camtasia, I think I heard it cry a couple of times...

Definitely takes some practice and I don't have the best handwriting in any case.  I did a couple of lessons by typing in the problems and revealing them as I recorded.  Takes a lot more prep, but if you don't have an input device that lets you draw, is still doable, just not ideal.

Since this post is getting super long, I'm going to sum up with the biggest question/stumbling block that I had when considering the video route:

How do the kids get the videos?
One of the things that almost made me not do this is that I don't teach in the toniest school.  I love my school, kids, parents, teachers and everyone, but I know for a fact that some of my kids don't have access to a computer, much less the internet on a regular basis.  This makes this a lot more complicated, believe me, and if I was in a 1:1 ipad school or something, I would LOVE it!  But I'm here to reach and teach the kids I have now and I'll come back to all of this tech divide stuff in a later post.  For now, here is what I did, thanks to the amazing advice of Sams and Bergmann:

1.  All of the videos are immediately posted on our school website (my teacher page for each class). This is not the best as it does some odd things to my vids in the compressing and uncompressing and all.
2.  I post the videos to YouTube.  They are under arnoldscience vodcasts if you want ot check any out.  This is my preferred medium and probably that of the kids.  HD quality in most cases and once I realize halfway through the term that I could do longer than 15 minutes, it made a big difference.
3.  Copy the videos to a jump drive.  On the first day of class I tell kids that if they bring me a jump drive with at least 2gb of free space, I'll copy all the videos for the semester to them.  I've had several kids take this option, or something similar, like the one that just brought in a laptop and I copied straight to it.  I love this option because it means they always have them with them, regardless of any internet issues.
4.  Make playable DVDs of the lessons This is the killer for me personally.  For each unit I make a DVD player ready DVD of the vodcasts.  To my eternal thankfulness, the TV production teacher at my school has his students burn 10-15 copies of each unit for me and I check these out to students who don't have access to a computer at all.  It also means that they can still pause, rewind, etc.  I could burn them myself, but his students have taken to it, and they even put awesome graphics that I supply on the dvds.

To this date, this has taken care of most of my issues.  I also make sure that I'm at school a little early every day and offer the option for the kids to come in and watch the videos on my ipad or they can hit the library in the morning as well.  I haven't had a student yet that we haven't been able to figure out something.

Okay, more questions next time, but this post is reaching novella state as it is!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

About the videos (and why they are a good idea even outside of flip)

First off, I just want to get out there that the videos are not the most important part of the flip model.  They are pretty common, but not the heart of it.  I've heard it explained and have myself explained it to people that it is much like an English teacher having students read through parts of the book or play at home so that they could discuss it in class instead of reading through it as a group.

The videos work much the same way for me in my chemistry class.  Instead of me giving notes or having them read the book in class, or whatever method is typically used to just get the terms, main concepts and how to work the problems to the kids I do videos.  The idea is that they watch those at home (or more often at school), then when they come to class, I do a short review/answering question section, then we hop into whatever other things are going on that day.  Typically this involves activities and some part of the class doing what for me a year or two ago would have been homework, like practicing problems.

That isn't the only way you can do the flip, but is I think one of the common models.  But let me tell you why even non flipping (heh) teachers should make some videos, at least in a setting like mine.

As I mentioned in my first post, I teach in what most would term an inner city high school.  My students are often out of school, for a variety of reasons, some beyond their control and some not.  Almost 3 weeks into my new classes this term and I already have a few students close to double digit absences.  I've had a couple suspended for nearly a week at a clip, or students in ISS for dress code or other stuff.

You can see where this is going.  When a student comes to me and asks what did they miss, or to give them a quick rundown (of something that took a week to cover in class!), I direct them first to the videos.  Please note that I said first.... I am never, NEVER, unwilling to help out a student individually.  But what it does do is give them a place to get the baseline knowledge so that when I help, it is with how things actually work, not with defining things.

And for review, they are also a lifesaver.  I had a student at the end of the term last year that checked out a DVD of every single section to review for the final.  I don't know how much they watched, but I know that even if I reviewed a full two weeks before the exam (I wish!), there is no way I could tailor it to that student's individual needs.  They, on the other hand, could concentrate on where they knew they were weak, and skip stuff they had down pat.

Oh...and another big deal that I should have mentioned at the beginning.  The videos are under the control of the students.  They can pause, stop, rewind, etc as much as they need to...at their own pace.  I may talk fast in a video, as I often do in lectures.  But unlike in a traditional lecture, they can pause, rewind, and hear exactly what they missed in that last problem.  Let me quote a few examples from the feedback on the very first video we did (collected in google forms...Mr. Schwen, you are amazing!):

It is a lot different, but i really enjoyed it, because i can go on my own pace and not be rushed. It is awesome, I'm glad you came up with this idea, because i can watch this video at home or something, and have more time to do other homework, because your would already be done. And I'm a very visual learner, so this is new and exciting! Thanks for putting the time in to create this videos!!

i think it will be hard to keep up with them. but it is a great idea for a class like chemistry for the reason that it gives me the freedom to go back and look at some of the ideas i may have missed.

I think this is good idea because anytime I forget what the teacher said I just got to watch the video again because I can't tell teacher to repeat what he or she said at all time

I'm not cherry-picking those quotes either, I made the students all comment on the very first video they watched, on the first night of the new term. Almost everyone of them said something similar, that it would take some getting used to, but they liked the idea.

Student control of their learning...that will be a recurring theme...we'll come back to that, and to part two of the video stuff tomorrow!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beginning Anew

So, as with many other teachers across the country, I decided to flip my classroom this school year.  After using some videos from Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman last year in my AP class, I decided that videos were a great way to reach out to students today.

I did my due diligence and spent a lot of the summer researching, scouring blogs, watching videos, and basically getting my mindset right for such a drastic change.  And it is a big change.  I've been teaching science for 12 years and Chemistry specifically for 11.  I have a hard drive that I carry around like a security blanket with 11 years of accumulated tests, lecture notes, worksheets, labs, etc.  When we get a new chem teacher at my school, I can easily set them up with a ton of prepared stuff to help them out.

Not to say that all of that just gets thrown out of the window, but flip classrooms aren't like other classrooms in a lot of ways.  The pedagogical philosophy behind it is far different than I've ever used.  I've always been a sort of traditionalist in the classroom, a lot of lecture, a lot of practice, really hard tests, all backed up by a willingness to help any student out at just about any time.  And to start a theme that will probably be constant in this blog, I'm a pretty good lecturer.  I'm usually one of the favorite teachers of most of my students...and did I mention that I teach Chemistry?!?  One of my best compliments from a student was that I am able to speak dumb...which I took to me that I can bring stuff like quantum numbers and stoichiometry down to the level where the average student can get it.

But to flip my classroom, I was going to have to drastically change all of that.  I've been moving away in some baby steps for the past couple of years, dabbling with things like PBL and whole class inquiry that have a lot of awesome potential and will always be a part of what I do.  Still, the bulk of class has still centered around lecture.  I've switched from giving lots of homework to doing more in class, but with the lecture there everyday, that doesn't leave a ton of time for homework, group work, and more importantly, just allowing some fun back in the chemistry classroom without being stressed about time every day.

Flipping is the thing that is really going to change that I believe.  If you don't know what flipping is, there are far more elegant descriptions of it out there than I will ever manage.  Guys like Sams, Bergmann, Bennett, and Musallam are amazing at what they do and such great advocates for it.  There is a great infographic out there too that really spells it out.

What I've decided to do is try to do weekly updates this semester as it is the first time I've been able to fully implement the flip model, along with some other stuff like using google forms for assessments, doing standards based grading and all of that.  I intended to do this in the fall term last year, but there was no real chance, as I spent most of the semester actually making the videos, not that the videos are what the flip is about, but they were pretty vital for the overall plan that I wanted to put into effect.

I'll be sure to post the problems and trials as well, as I know that what happens sometimes is you hear how awesome it is, but no one tells you how much effort it took, or how 8 other things didn't work first before they got to the current method.