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.