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!