Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Weekend of #EduAwesome

Last weekend was a weekend of semi-organic awesomeness. Extended discussions about classroom practice ensued, to the tune of an 11,000 word, 25 page Google document edited by people all over the US and Canada. Google Hangouts happened. To get to hear the thoughts of so many smart people over the weekend was incredibly revitalizing.

Much of the conversation that occurred dealt with the recent more strident criticism of flipped classrooms. Others have written about this more eloquently than I can - see here, here, and here - and while I echo their sentiments, I won’t repeat their arguments.

I will say this: my conversations, with six amazing, inspiring educators, would not have occurred without my involvement in the flipclass movement, particularly my active engagement with that community on Twitter - I wouldn’t have met these great, thoughtful educators without conversations around the flipclass hashtag.

So say what you will about flipped classrooms. Define flipped classrooms narrowly. Demonize them. If a movement that teachers come to of their own volition that pushes a mindset of organizing a classroom around student ownership of learning is the antithesis of good teaching to you, that is fine.

But know this: I will continue to be involved in the discussion of flipclass. Troll the hashtag and the people involved in it. Attack and demonize flipclass. Attack and demonize teachers who make the choice to flip their classrooms. If the best target of your (in my mind misplaced) vitriol is reflective teachers who are looking to improve their practice and are willing to take great risks to do so, well, there is not much I can do about that other than be supportive of those teachers who are willing to take these risks.

But I will continue to be involved. I will continue to share with flipclass teachers around the world. Say what you will about flipclass rooms, or flipclass teachers creating PLNs that are echo chambers. I know when I hear the stories from Carolyn Durley or Cheryl Morris of how they are placing student interest and authentic learning at the center of their classroom, I am embarrassed at how far I still have to go.

But I also know that by continuing the conversations with the amazing educators involved in flipclass I will be driven to be a better teacher. I will be forced to continue to innovate in my classroom, to continue to push on what a history classroom is and can be.

So say what you will. I’ll be here, looking to do the best for my students that I humanly can. And to continue to try to help other teachers do the same.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Realization

Friday was a rare day in my class where my students were all working on the same thing. There are always several days in each unit where, regardless of where students are in terms of working through a given unit, they come together as a class and we work through a bigger question that is at the core of the unit. Sometimes it is through a Socratic seminar, other times a Humanities paper. This Friday it was a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC).

At this point in the semester, my freshmen are finishing up their second self-paced world history unit, a unit that covers the Industrial Revolution. Given the freedom and lack of daily structure in my class - like I mentioned previously, students work through units at their own pace - students are making strides at owning their learning. As the semester winds down, I have seen flickers of hope from students who had spent their time in my class less wisely than perhaps they should have.

But Friday was an eye opener. Students were familiar with the structure of a SAC - they had done one earlier in the semester. They are used to looking through primary and secondary sources to find evidence to back up a thesis. As I wandered class Friday, because there were so few questions, I just got to listen to a lot of conversations about what the best evidence was to defend whether or not the Industrial Revolution was good for the people of England.

Students were on task. Though not the most engaging task, the ability to work in groups to learn collaboratively as well as the contextualization I did of the task - how the question they were wrestling with for the SAC tied into the unit question as well as their in-class written final exam, a Humanities essay - seemed to engage students enough. And with no (or far fewer) hurdles than in a normal class period, the level of discussion among groups was very impressive.

As I stepped back and thought back to other years I have had freshmen, I believe that a part of the reason that the conversations around evidence were so advanced Friday was due to the level of independence and control I have given my students this semester. They have become more used to managing their time with less structure than in other classrooms. This ‘used-to-ness’ showed itself in my class Friday.

I’m excited for the thinking that I’ll get to see in class tomorrow. And I’m excited for what my students will do with their second semester of self-paced, mastery-based learning.

Friday, November 30, 2012

A Day in a Flipped History Classroom

People always are curious - what does a self-paced, mastery-based flipped history classroom look like? What does your classroom look like? What do you do in class?

The simple response? I talk to kids. All of them. Every day. Some multiple times a day. That still isn't the most clear answer though. To get a better look, I took a timelapse video of two of my 88 minute block history classes on Thursday. Check it out below!

Thursday, November 22, 2012


NB: Capitalization Conventions borrowed and used out of solidarity.

A good friend of mine has spent the last week under withering attack. Over the internet. From people they don’t even know. And probably will never meet. Regular negative tweets and blogs posts popped up every single day.

How’d it happen? Misinterpretation. A request for help from a PLN was interpreted wildly incorrectly. Questions weren’t asked to clarify meaning - attacks were made. Repeatedly. Regularly.

What does one do? Without portraying the internet as the old west saloon I’m at a bit of a loss. There is not an easy way to go talk to folks when people Just Want To Yell And Condemn. Reasoning doesn’t work. There was also a power gradient at work: one of the people who chose to get involved had a significantly larger platform upon which to broadcast their anger - this was one of the people that Just Wanted To Yell And Condemn.

What actions were taken by us, The Good Guys Who Didn’t Want Our Friend Slandered? Many. Discussions on Google chat and over a Google doc (that stretches over 30 pages) happened. There were side conversations and backchannels. To the backchannel discussion we were having. Some (not the attacked party) tried commenting on blog posts only to be (again) rudely told that They Were Wrong. That my friend Hated Their Students.

I write this not to minimize the pain my friend was (and still is) dealing with. My frustration is not comparable to theirs. However, it was incredibly trying for me to be so powerless. Could I offer encouragement? Help strategize? Certainly. But I didn’t know the Internet Cavalry or how to get them on the scene. I didn’t know what to do to Make Things Right.

Many comments were drafted by me. A myriad of tweets were written. And deleted - what was the point of making them yell louder?

That feeling, for lack of a better word, was a tough one: you have a friend whose professional reputation is being called into question and all you can do is support and help, but not really do anything that will make things better, that will make things change. And again, this is not written to minimize the frustration and anguish my friend was dealing with, to pretend that my struggles supporting my friend were as bad as these withering personal attacks (they weren’t even close) - this is written to try to get into words the feeling of powerlessness that I felt. That I feel. I don’t have words for how they were feeling.

So what happened? Someone had a good idea: bring in Important People Who We Kind Of Knew. Maybe then the Angry People Yelling At My Friend would listen. Comments were written. Ground was stood by the angry people. Twitter conversations ensued. No progress seemed to be evident. My friend was, according to people who Just Want To Yell And Condemn, still a Bad Teacher Who Didn’t Think Kids Could Learn.

So where does this end? When does the Internet Cavalry come in and swiftly dispense Internet Justice? How do I send out the Bat-signal to said Internet Cavalry? I still don’t know. And while there is that cliche about knowing what you can and can’t change as well as having the wisdom to know the difference, well, that is kind of a load of doodoo right now. I want to help change things for my friend and I don’t know how to do it. I can be supportive and offer counsel, but I can’t Make Things Right. And that, my friends, is frustrating.

Monday, November 19, 2012


I haven’t written anything in like forever. It seems a little weird, to be honest. Life, like it sometime does, has gotten busy. My history class is also busy. I have seen increase in student ownership of learning. That makes me excited - I had a lot of students fall behind in their first taste of a self-paced, mastery-based classroom. Why the catch-up? A few reasons, I think.
  • Provisional zeroes in the gradebook: Students who didn’t demonstrate mastery of the democracy and revolutions content on the timetable I suggested received provisional zeroes in my gradebook for the classwork as well as the summative assessment that they weren’t ready to complete. I think these provisional zeroes increased the tangibility of my students’ inability to manage their time while in my class.
  • Contracts for success: These students that received zeroes also filled out contracts for success, linked here. These were a good initial reminder of what exactly needed to be done, and gave students a schedule to complete classwork they had fallen behind on.
  • Individual conferences: About a week after students filled out the contracts, I had individual student conferences with students who were still on the previous unit. These typically lasted two to four minutes. Some classes I only had five meetings; in other classes the meetings took most of a 50 minute period. This was not something I could have ever done before I moved to a self-paced, mastery-based flipped classroom. These meetings set specific goals for students to demonstrate mastery of parts of a unit and culminated with a date students would be ready to complete the summative assessment for the unit. Students have done a good job staying faithful to this second date of completion. Nothing like a little #EduHarassment to get some of them back on track.

So what’s next? Despite the fact that more students are owning their learning, there is still one class period where the feeling is just a little off. Students are viewing their classtime as something that is to be played with, not something to be taken advantage of. I am still working to come up with changing the dynamic of that class.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

History #flipclass Discussion #3

I got to chat with David Fouch and Tom Driscoll about flipping history classes last week. Check it out below!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Student-Created Test Review

I ran a test review in class today with my kids, and it went well - they were thinking and engaged in what they were doing. Plus, they created a giant collaborative review sheet to be used for studying for whenever they choose to take their unit test. I figured it would be useful to write it up and get it out there. A big thanks to Lisa Highfill - I took some ideas that I’ve seen her present at the Silicon Valley CUE conference and tweaked them for my 9th graders. I like how it turned out.

First, I identified the ‘big stuff’ from my unit: in my case it was a unit about the old democratic revolutions of the late 17th and 18th centuries. This list had about fifteen terms on it: revolutions (American, Glorious, and French), Enlightenment thinkers (Locke, Rousseau, etc), and documents (English Bill of Rights, US Constitution, etc).

Students were divided into groups of three or four. I did a bit of rearranging to make sure someone in each group had a public Instagram account to post pictures to while creating the groups. After choosing an initial term from the list above to create a picture of, they went off to various parts of campus to create their image. Each image was uploaded with a specific hashtag - in my case, #LShistory - so I could find their picture once it was posted. After their image was uploaded, groups completed the Google form - shown below - to explain what their picture was portraying as well as how their picture showed this thinker/document/revolution. As various groups finished at various times, I sent groups back out with another of the unclaimed terms to create another image.

We spent the last fifteen minutes of class with groups explaining their images to the rest of the class. I used Gramfeed to track pictures associated with the hashtag and show them to the class - a group’s picture would appear and they would explain how it showed the idea to the class. I also created another column on the spreadsheet the Google form was feeding into and added the link to the specific picture that each description was for. What came together was a spreadsheet that my students had created that grew as the day went on. I published this spreadsheet as a web page and gave all my students the link to it for perusal at their convenience to prep for the test. Check out the spreadsheet here.


  • I liked this activity. It was engaging, but it also made students think. How will I represent the Declaration of Independence in a picture? What about the French Revolution? The knowledge that had to show (or come up with) to understand the unit then compose the picture hopefully helped to solidify some of this information in their head.
  • The explanation portion was good for the students, but the questions they got from their peers about their pictures was even better. Groups were pushed to explain their pictures on a deeper level as their peers asked clarifying questions. Some groups even said they wanted to go and change their picture based on feedback from their peers - it was nice to see students really pushing other students to clarify the meaning behind their picture.
  • I liked this activity and will definitely do it again. I also want to incorporate video into this review activity. With the direct mobile upload that you can do with YouTube - log into YT then click ‘Upload’ then click ‘direct mobile upload’ for an email address that will send movie clips from mobile devices directly to your YT channel (see below) - at some point this year my students will make videos for concepts and upload them directly to my Youtube account for test review.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Are you available to answer student questions?

A former student - now a freshman at University of California-Irvine - tweeted this Saturday night:

I push back on the definition of a flipped class as lecture screencasted and viewed at home as often as I can. I think that definition is limiting and propagated by people who don't completely understand that the flipped classroom is a mindset, not a pedagogy.

The rationale for having students watch screencasted lectures at home is a sound one - offload the lower levels of Bloom's taxonomy out of the classroom and spend your face to face time with students focusing on higher order thinking skills. But what supports are you providing for students if aspects of a screencasted lecture are unclear? Do students have a way of contacting you to get misconceptions cleared up? Will they have the stamina of my former student and rewatch a screencast three times if they don't understand the material the first time? It seems like without that communication loop, the gains of pushing lecture to the homework space are lessened if time is needed to clarify student misundertanding.

I don't stake any claim to knowing what to do about this conundrum. In my history class, there is some lower level Bloom's work that my students must do: they need to build a contextual understanding of historical events (lower Bloom's) in order to do the work of historians in my classroom (higher Bloom's). Students have the option to watch screencasts, read the textbook, or find resources online to build this lower Bloom's, contextual knowledge.

However, I also want to make sure I am available when my students have questions or are stuck, regardless of what they are stuck on. This desire - how I try to maximize my use of face to face time with students - as well as the desire to flip the ownership of learning in my room from teacher to student pushed me to a self-paced, mastery-based history class where I do my best to ensure that my students have adequate classtime to complete the tasks of a given history unit in class, without having to do homework. This way, I'm able to deal with the misconceptions and misunderstandings of my students whenever they appear.

There are certainly other ways to flip your class and assign video as homework while still being available to answer questions from your students. Ramsey Musallam wrote up a great blog post about using the branching structures of Google forms as well as the FormEmailer script within forms to provide feedback and reflective opportunities to students - check that out here. Crystal Kirch's WSQ structure - outlined here - also provides a way for students to ask questions and get the answers they need in order to be successful in her math class.

This is by no means an indictment of the flipped classrooms, more a question for people to ponder. Though the concepts teachers choose to screencast may be lower Bloom's, there will still be students who struggle with that content. How are you ensuring you are available to students to help them with the content of your class when they need your expertise?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The Google form mentioned
After a week of self-pacing, I had the general feeling that my students were working at about the speed that they should be. I wanted numbers. I gave my students a quick Google form to complete to try to figure out where they were in the unit based on my calculations of where they should be. The results are at the bottom of this post.

What I see:
  • I’m excited that 54% of my students are on track or ahead of pace. A lot of people - including my former students who did not have a self-paced class - say that self-pacing wouldn’t work with students so young. I’m happy that so many have managed the responsibility and control of their learning so well thus far.
  • The 41% that are a day behind are a bit of a concern. However, most classes lost about half a class period that was supposed to be worktime as we finished up the Flip section of the Explore-Flip-Apply framework I am using for this unit. Do I wish that number were smaller? Certainly. For the first unit of self-pacing these students have ever dealt with, I am happy that there aren’t more people further behind.
  • I’m curious about the 9 students that didn’t complete the survey. Three were absent today. Who were the other six? I haven’t cross-checked against names on my rosters yet, but these six people aren’t a statistically insignificant group. If all of these students are two or more days behind, I would be less optimistic.
  • And obviously, the elephant in the room, the 7 two or more days behind. I saw one at office hours today - this student is back on track and seems motivated and ready for class tomorrow. I see a place in the future with an un-self-paced requirement for some students: success contracts for students to make sure that they demonstrate mastery on the following pieces of a unit on any given day. We’re not there yet, but the writing may be on the wall for some students.
Where my students are at

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Thoughts on Week 1 of Flipped Mastery

Having finished off the first week of self-paced, mastery-based world history, I think it is useful to get some thoughts out there. These have been percolating all week, as events unfolded in class.

There were actually a lot of positives that came out of this week. A lot of people I really respect, people I interact with on Twitter, people I look to for intellectual inspiration, have had some issues moving their classes into a flipped-mastery model. They have gotten students who have not used classtime well. I was ready for a really bad week this past week. I was excited that that didn’t really happen. Getting to speak to every student every day was a good thing. More importantly, out of these conversations, I was able to really see what my students were thinking throughout last week. Occasionally, a check-in would be brief, as student were on the right track or just needed a brief redirect about what to do next.

Other times, conversations lasted closer to five minutes: what did the student see? What was I looking for? This ability to see what kids really knew - not ‘I swung by your group and your answer looks good’ but more along the lines of ‘I can have an individual conversation with you about what you know’ - was really neat. Another positive was that the vast majority of my students used their classtime well. I had a couple students have bad days come back and recognize their mistake and apologize for wasting time - that hadn’t happened before in my class. More importantly, both students who did this showed up the next day and were productive.

Those students off task also were a negative. Though I was ready in my head for more students being off task and not owning their learning in a productive way, I am hopeful that next week is more productive for all of my students. Also, I need to make a couple changes moving forward. I need to be clearer on an ideal order for task completion, a way through the work of a unit that makes the most sense. That will happen next unit (I’ve already done damage control for this unit). I also need to remind students that screencasts are only one option for getting the content of the course - textbooks work fine too, as do internet sources. This mistake is correctable next week.

The less-than-ideal use of time one? That might be a longer process. I am hopeful that it can be corrected, and I am glad that it is a student or two in each class, not entire classes that have lost their ability to manage their own learning.

Finally, an anecdote: I was sitting out in the hall helping a couple students - my classroom is tiny and students often escape to the hall - when my principal came by. She asked me what my students were working on. It was kind of neat to say, “Well, I’m not really sure. Ask them.” Flipping the responsibility for and ownership of learning over to students - I like it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Who Are We Serving?

To what end does our educational model exist? What are we trying to prepare students for? There are plenty of intelligent people who have written things the factory model of education, the crushing weight of state standards, the exorbitant amount of time (and money) that is spent on preparation for high-stakes testing. So who are we serving?

The statistics about high school dropout rates are staggering. This is a sizable population that is clearly not being served with our current educational model. (Yes, I acknowledge there are a myriad of other factors behind student dropout rates.)

But what about the other end of the spectrum? The high fliers, the students taking 5 AP classes so they can go to a good college to get a good job to have a good life? A former student, currently a junior, stopped by today and we chatted about how junior year was going. My former student said the following things:

  • “I don’t have time to read anymore. I love to read and I can’t anymore.”
  • “I had to quit playing tennis because I was too tired to go from school to school to play and then do homework.”
  • “Well, then I have four hours of SAT classes every weekend.”
  • “I wanted to run track, but my mom said do you have time to do that with all your AP tests?”
  • “I’m going to bed at 11:30 or 12. Most of my friends are up until 1, so I’m doing okay.”
  • “Might as well take the SAT this semester – I’ve got AP tests and SAT IIs second semester. Don’t want to be overloaded, right?”

I’d argue, vehemently, that we aren’t serving these students either. Not sleeping? Dropping extracurriculars? When do kids get to be kids? When they are 30?

So as educators who among our students are we serving? Who are we preparing adequately for life outside of a classroom? What are we preparing our students for? What choices can individual teachers make in their classrooms that will help prepare students for life? Because this system isn’t going to just up and disappear over night.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

How I Tried To Successfully Start A Flipped Class Year

There have been a couple great posts in the past week by Brian Bennett and Glenn Arnold about how to NOT start your year with a flipped class. Cheryl Morris wrote very openly about issues that she has had with her flipped English classes this year. It is always great when teachers are willing to put themselves out there, the way Glenn, Brian, and Cheryl did, and openly air their struggles and why things aren’t working for them. It makes them better teachers, but by publicizing their blog posts it makes me a better teacher too.

By no means do I pretend to know more about flipping classrooms than Glenn, Cheryl, or Brian. All have flipped longer than I have. I am in my first year in a self-paced flipped world history class; all of them have done what I am doing for years. But as I read their thoughts, I thought over the choices I made to start my year. I figured I might as well share them.

So how do you prepare ninth graders, who have at least nine years of ‘this is how school works’ beaten into them, for a self-paced mastery-based environment? They know school where teachers control the pace and structure of the learning of students. Where students lack choice in gaining or demonstrating their understanding. Where creativity is drilled out of them.

So what’d I do? Again, I make no claims to knowing what I am doing. (I do, however, make the claim to knowing less Brian, Glenn, and Cheryl.) But the more information that is out there for teachers looking to flip - or to move into a self-paced flipped environment - the better. Without further ado:

I spent my first six weeks not self-paced. We focused on the skills students will need to be successful in my classroom. I focused on collaborative skills as well as some intense literacy and historical thinking skills done around multiple conflicting textual accounts of historical events. Finally, I tried to build my students’ comfort with and knowledge of the technology pieces they would be using over and over during our two years together. This focused around Google’s tools, particularly collaborative projects using Presentations. Students also learned to use Blogger and became more familiar with using Google Forms to submit answers or feedback to me or URLs for blog posts they had written.

My early screencasts for my students dealt exclusively with explaining the technology tools I mentioned above. They were non-threatening (well, in a content way) and relatively straightforward. Also, before I sent students out to watch screencasts independently, we watched a screencast together in class. We talked about what I would be looking for from them to prove that they watched the screencast - notes, a Google form, etc. I also created a ‘how to watch screencasts’ video that my students will watch and add their own ideas to.

Several times in the first six weeks I talked openly about how things were going to get ‘weird.’ We discussed self-pacing and what it would look like on multiple occasions. Students saw the first unit plan - and the three week stretch of ‘worktime’ that was ahead of them - multiple times before they received a physical copy of it. I also made every attempt to reinforce the positive things I saw in my room - groups being on task and collaborating well together, people asking good questions, groups pushing beyond the bounds of what I was asking for and delving into new areas - things that students would need to do in order to be successful in my classroom once they took full control of their own learning.

When students finished their collaborative tasks early in class, they got worktime on other homework. A few times, groups got solid chunks of free worktime at the end of their history class. I wanted students to get used to occasionally using history to do work for other classes. Again, if I am going to trust a student to take control of their own learning, I need to trust their judgment that at any given moment their English homework is more important to them than work they can do anywhere, anytime for my world history class.

Students have gotten (more) used to using technology in class. Slowly, students are becoming comfortable having their phones or iPods out on their desk and using them to look up information they need. (Yet another thing they need to unlearn - or learn: using all available tools to learn should be encouraged, not repressed.) I still occasionally have students ask questions then look blankly at me when I tell them to look it up. But slowly they are getting used to the technology mantra of ‘if I see it I assume you are using your phone/iPod to get smarter’ - students are getting used to my assumption of positive intent around their technology usage in my classroom.

I didn’t assign homework for about five weeks during this introductory period. Again, I wanted my students to get used to doing their thinking in class, not in at home. We talked as a class about part of my job being to cut down the ‘stuff’ they had to do, to figure out how to get them to think deeply in my classroom and then get rid off the superficial aspects of my class that pushed tasks into the homework space.

I pushed students to excel and think more deeply about class assignments, but since so much of the thinking I was asking students to do was skill-building, I didn’t grade their work using a mastery/standards-based system - I was looking for completion. How I get them used to mastery-based grading is the subject of another post... But I didn’t try to institute that from day one. Or even month one.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I built support for my flipped-mastery classroom with my administrators - at a summer meeting I called to explain to them what I would be doing and so I could answer their questions - as well as with the parents and guardians of my students at Back to School Night.

And now? Well, now here goes nothing. My classes will get the outline for my class through the end of October tomorrow. Hint: it says ‘worktime’ a lot on the plan for any given day. We shall see how things proceed from here...

My board on Back To School Night - how I introduced my flipped classroom to parents

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


"No Homework" from Flickr by SA_Community
Thanks to some thought-provoking blog posts I read this summer, I have coupled my move to a full self-paced, mastery-based flipped classroom with a desire to eliminate homework for my ninth grade world history class. I thoroughly thought through my rationale and got administrative backing for my no-homework (well, very little homework) class. Parents were enthusiastically supportive when I explained that I believed it was my job to carve out the less meaningful parts of my curriculum to make room to do the critical thinking that is so much a part of history class in the classroom and not at home in the form of homework.

The first six weeks went well - students had two small homework assignments that they needed to complete in the first week of school, and most got these done in a relatively timely manner. I did a small simulation Friday that necessitated a reflective piece for all classes. Unfortunately, this needed to be done at home - reflecting in class on Monday would have been, in my opinion, less useful than reflecting more immediately. (Yes, I’m aware that some students may have done the homework on Sunday night, making this argument somewhat less relevant.)

I was intrigued to come to school today: how many of my students would do the homework over the weekend? I had heard from other teachers that my freshmen hadn’t shown a great motivation to complete work outside of class, but I had asked for very little out of class work from them. Well, I got my answer: 58% of my students did their 10-15 minute reflection over the weekend.

This was the only homework I had asked my students to do over the last month. Looking back, I should have tried harder to fit in the simulation earlier in the week and allow my students time in class to process what had happened in the simulation. I still stand by my no regular homework stance: if my students use their class time well, I don’t anticipate my students doing out of class work until late October. And I think that is how it should be.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse

Publicizing student work!
So in an attempt to do several things, all very sneakily, I had my students create collaborative Google presentations that defined the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse. Students then had to offer a couple solutions for places to retreat to before finally concluding with one ideal location to head to to survive said apocalypse. It was an attempt, through a high-engagement topic, to get them more comfortable with collaborative Google tools, introduce a watered-down version of citing sources, learn to get copyright-friendly images, and to start, very loosely, weighing arguments against opposing arguments.

It went well - students were certainly engaged. The feedback I got was good - more is still coming in, but see below. Also, as a bonus, I learned that Flickr, a great site to get copyright-friendly images from, was blocked at our school. After talking to our IT guy, I was able to get it and almost all other websites at our school unblocked. Not Facebook or YouTube (but I’ve got a YouTube workaround that works) yet, but progress.  

Check out the project description here and the final products here. Enjoy them!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

History #flipclass Discussion

I was lucky enough to get to hang out on Google+ tonight with David Fouch and Tom Driscoll and talk about what the early year in a flipped history class has looked like for us. We also talked a bit about what flipped-mastery looks like in our classrooms. Some cool ideas and questions came out of this discussion. Check it out below!

Friday, September 14, 2012

I'm Excited

Why? Several reasons, actually.

First and foremost, by all appearances I have had the privilege of receiving a group of freshmen that are willing to engage in intellectual work and are willing to put their conceptions of a history class aside and engage in history. Those are excellent signs - I’m excited!

My students have completed five of the six weeks of my introduction to history unit. They have been introduced, on a basic level, to the critical thinking strategies and some of the technology tools that they will need to be familiar with in order to succeed in my class. It seems their conceptions of what a history class is are starting to swing away from their previous experiences - also exciting.

I’m excited that we are currently immersed in a week-long mini-unit/project that has students collaborating to create the context of a zombie apocalypse that threatens their safety, then weighing the pros and cons of escape locations. Students are engaged and are learning to collaborate more effectively in person and online. They are increasing their competency with collaborative Google tools and (excitingly) turning to each other for tech help, not me. This last one is kind of awesome, because it has happened organically in a couple of classes, without my pushing students to ask each other before they come to me with a tech problem or question.

I’m excited because initial feedback from parents at Back to School Night and in emails about the changes I am trying to make in my classroom has been positive.

But I’m most excited to start (in a week) the all-in flipped mastery democracy and revolutions unit that I’ve been scheming about for most of the summer. (Yes, I’ve also thoroughly schemed my Industrial Revolution unit.) I’m psyched to try out applying Ramsey Musallam’s Explore-Flip-Apply framework in a history class. I’m curious - and very optimistic - that time spent in the Explore phase will create some desire to know and understand our democracy and revolutions unit, and that the thinking done in the Explore phase will create some great schematic hooks for the remainder of our unit.

I’m excited to see my students really start to own their learning, and to be held accountable for mastering what they know. I’m looking forward to more intentionally and explicitly integrating current events into every unit I teach. I’m anxious to see what sort of creative products my students create this year when they are given the opportunity to show their learning in diverse ways.

It’s a good place to be in. Am I low on sleep? Yes. Will there be struggles as freshmen start to deal with autonomy in the classroom for the first time in their lives? Most certainly. But I’m excited to learn with my students, and to keep thinking about how to best challenge and engage all of my students.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Definition of Learning

Thanks, Snagit!
My mom visited my classroom on Friday. She came in and watched my second period class start a structured academic controversy about whether or not Abraham Lincoln was racist then stayed and got interviewed by my advisory about all sorts of things. Most questions were along the lines of “What bad choices did Mr. LS make when he was in high school?”

Towards the end of the period the questions got a little slower and my mom asked my advisory a few questions. One of the things that she asked my advisees was if they were learning anything yet in history. Only one student answered the question, but his answer was no.

I wasn’t overly invested in what my students would say in response to that question - I didn’t know my mom was going to ask it. And I’m not tied up in my students seeing the value of the work we’ve done in my classroom - YET. We just finished our third week of school and we are halfway through a six week introductory unit. Given that the focus of my two year world history class is based around inquiry, with students doing the work of historians in class as much as possible, there is a pretty reasonable chunk of skills that need to be introduced: metacognitive and history-specific reading strategies and processes as well as embracing the ambiguity of history have been the focus of my class thus far.

Instead of being offended or angry that this advisee didn’t feel like he had learned anything in history class in three weeks, I’m sad. (Sorry, but I don’t think it is possible for him to have learned nothing in three weeks - there is no way he was effectively using metacognitive strategies to talk to the text, or that he knew about sourcing or contextualization or how to effectively look for possible bias when attacking a source.) Look at what nine years of school has done to this student - unless he is learning discrete facts he thinks he isn’t learning.

But then on the other side, look at the climate he has gone to school in: high stakes testing has been a concern of all of his teachers, who (most likely) did some pretty serious Freireian banking in order to ensure that their students learned the state-proscribed facts that could appear on the state test. So it isn’t really his fault at all. But it sure is sad as hell.


While defining racism with my fifth period class, I shared a story about my time in Namibia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. My students had quickly laid out a definition of racism involving negative actions about people based on their race. This class seems to really like to think, so I decided to see where the story drove the discussion.

For two years in the Peace Corps I was the only white person in my village. Some of the residents of my village assumed that because I was white that I was rich. This was a race-based assumption, but it was positive. Was that racism? For about fifteen minutes the discussion flowed around the room. We brought over my students’ English teacher, who had a prep that period, and she shared her thoughts. My student aide, a junior and former student, shared her thoughts.

As the discussion was drawing to a close, a student said his head hurt. This is exactly what I hope to make happen in my class every day. And I bet my advisee, were he in that class, would have said he didn’t ‘learn’ anything in that discussion.

It’s early in the year for my freshmen. And I have them for two years. But it looks like I need to do some reframing on what real learning is and how that compares to memorizing faces. Because having your head hurt from a complex discussion - without any factual content gained - should be the kind of learning all of our students look forward to and see as valuable.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

First Two Week Reflections

My first two weeks were a whirlwind: new students, hosting EdCampSFBay, checking out my favorite band in San Francisco three nights in a row – lots going on. Here are the nuggets I’m left with after my first two weeks of this school year:

I’m excited about my new students (I’ll keep these ninth graders for the next two years). Granted, it is really early, but they are asking a lot of really good questions in class. They have responded well to the structures we’ve established in the classroom. They are engaging in the work of historians and are willing to think in class, willing to wrestle with the ambiguity that so often gets glossed over in history classes. Thinking and questioning – I like it; a good start.

My first unit is also unlike anything my students will do for the rest of their time with me. Their two years with me will be self-paced and mastery-based. This first unit, where we build historical thinking skills, history-specific literacy skills, and group norms is done together, where everyone in the class is working on more or less the same thing everyday. However, this isn’t something I feel bad about or am even second-guessing: looking at what is the best use of my face-to-face time with my students, I feel strongly that working through this unit together, building the skills to help my students succeed for two years in my class, is absolutely the best way to use the beginning of our two years together.

Diane Main opening EdCampSFBay
Finally, EdCampSFBay. Despite some internet issues – we didn’t have it – it was an enormous rush to be part of an event like that. After attending EdCampSFBay last year, I was hooked. I got involved in organizing EdCampSFBay this year and even talked my district into hosting it at my school. It was neat to see 130 dedicated, talented educators willingly spend their day working together to be better for our students. Anyone who says American education is broken needs to go to an EdCamp.

Week three and beyond? That’s tomorrow.  I think I’m ready. I know I’m excited for it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My First Weeks Challenge

So I am about halfway done with my second week of school and at the beginning of my first week, I issued myself a challenge: for at least the first two weeks of school, I pledged to make make at least two positive contacts with the parents/guardians of my students every day. (Well, I’m taking weekends off.) Thus far, I have met my challenge, and it has been awesome. Parents are so happy to hear positive news about their students - one student came into my class the next day saying his mom confronted him about his behavior in history class as she opened the email from me, then changed her tone once she read it.

I like this challenge because it is already building student and parent allies for me as the year goes on. I’ve got students on my side because I’ve said good things about them to their parents and I’ve also made a positive first impression with a few parents.

Hopefully there will be other positive benefits, but I am definitely enjoying this challenge. I’ll pass the challenge along to you: go out and make a parent/guardian’s day - tell them their student is doing great things in your classroom.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Students Set the Classroom Expectations

I just finished my third day of school and tweaked my usual routine for establishing the expectations my students and I have for each other for our two years together – there are a couple cool tech tools integrated, and my kids responded to it well.

I don’t like rules – I like expectations. There is one rule in my classroom: we don’t make fun of people for the way they are born. Race and gender aren’t an issue, but now my kids know they can’t drop phrases like “That’s so gay” of “That’s retarded” in my classroom. Ever. So we come up with expectations for our time together. Well, they come up with expectations for our time together.

The expectation strand starts with a think-pair-share around two simple statements: In a classroom, a teacher’s job is to: and In a classroom, a student’s job is to:. Students individually completed these two statements with several bullet points. Next, they shared out their responses with their group members to create a ‘super-answer.’ Finally, students accessed a Google form with these two statements on them via a web browser on their phone or iPod touch, a QR code on the wall in several places, or on the shared classroom computer and uploaded their ‘super-answer’ to a spreadsheet.

The next day (today), I explained how Google forms worked and copied and pasted the entire ‘student job’ column and created a Wordle out of it. After explaining how Wordle generated its word clouds, students collaborated with their groups to create phrases that expressed their expectations for themselves and for me based on the largest words in the cloud. After getting an expectation from every group and recording them, we repeated the process with the ‘teacher job’ column. Finally, after collecting information from all of my classes today, I compared the lists and came up with a list of seven student-generated expectations for themselves and for me for our two years together. 

Tomorrow students will have the opportunity to approve or modify the list of expectations that they created. Once I receive final approval, the expectations will be put up on a poster in the room for the rest of our time together. So what is the list for tomorrow – what did my students come up with? The list of student expectations is to listen, ask questions, respect everyone, work until you understand, participate, be productive, and learn from everyone. I am expected to grade fairly, help students problem solve, be patient, make learning interesting and fun, help students understand material, listen, and learn from everyone. Needless to say, I’m psyched with how these lists turned out.

I like this activity for a couple reasons: we are talking about expectations, not rules. Students are generating everything – they set the expectations, not me. And finally, students get used to using technology in my classroom.  Thoughts? Tweaks? What do you do to establish expectations in your classroom?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Classroom Applications From CUERockStar

I was lucky enough to spend three days this week at CUERockStar, a teacher technology camp. The learning I was able to do there was great and will make up the bulk of the post below. I also continued my summer theme of introducing myself to my PLN – it is always cool to walk up to folks (at CUERockStar it was Jon Corippo, Danny Silva, and Robert Pronovost) and introduce yourself. Connecting a face with a twitter handle is always fun.

So what’d I learn? I’m going to stick to practical applications in my classroom. Check them out!

Edit confirmation in Google forms: When students submit something, anything, in a Google form, they get a page showing their response that looks like this:

Ramsey Musallam showed a way to edit the text of this ‘thanks for your submission’ textbox. To do this, while on your Google form, click ‘More actions’ then ‘Edit confirmation.’

This is especially useful for teachers who are flipping their classroom. If students are aware of the topics they had difficulty internalizing, either based on their responses to questions on a Google form or just through their own metacognition, teachers can use this ‘Edit confirmation’ tool to link to an extremely quick (like 20-30 seconds) video explaining the answer to a particular question from the Google form. Another strategy here could be to link to a specific point in the video students watched that goes over the content that the question dealt with (for instance, at 1:45 of the video I discussed the causes of the French Revolution).

Additionally, if teachers link these short explanation videos with URL shorteners such as goo.gl or bit.ly that track the number of times that URL is used, teachers would then know what areas of content students are self-selecting to review (in addition to the feedback the teacher would get from the answers students submit on the initial Google form). Pretty awesome – and easy – tweak to implement!

Instagram test review: I’ve been lucky enough to see Lisa Highfill present before, at the Silicon Valley Computer Using Educators conference. She has been greatly influential in pushing me to use social media more in my classroom. I was lucky enough to go along on a photo walk and class in Yosemite National Park at CUERockStar that she co-led with Nicole Dalesio. I learned more about cool photo editing apps on an iPhone (my favorites, all paid apps: PhotoWizard, Snapseed, and PhotoToaster) and also heard about application of Instagram in the classroom.

Lisa talks a lot about using Instagram to document learning in her classroom, and I plan on doing this. However, she teaches 5th graders. I am hopeful that I can build on the fact that I have students who have their own Instagram accounts. Using her ideas, I came up with an idea for using Instagram for test review with my 9th and 10th graders. Students get assigned a topic out of the unit – I’ve outlined this project for my first unit of the year about democracy and revolutions. Assume there are seven student groups who draw for the topic of their photo: one for the French Revolution, one for the Glorious Revolution, one for the American Revolution, three for the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers, and one free choice photo topic. Students review the content of their assigned topics then go out and take their pictures from somewhere on campus that represents, to them, the topic they chose. These pictures would then be posted to Instagram and Twitter using the class hashtag so I can locate the pictures.

After giving the students about 20 minutes to review their assigned content, wander campus, and take and post their group pictures they will return to my classroom. I will upload the hashtagged Instagram posts and each group will present their picture as well as an explanation for how their picture shows their assigned topic. I am hoping that this emphasis on the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy will help students to internalize more of the content than they would individually.

How to apply Explore-Flip-Apply in a history class: However, the coolest classroom application that will come out of CUERockStar for me? I’ve written about what Exlore-Flip-Apply (EFA) might look like in a history class before, but to get to pick Ramsey’s brain for a half hour about this topic was a real treat. This will become a subsequent blog post – I need to finish off my democracy and revolutions unit plan before I write about it, but here’s the teaser for you – the picture that came out of our discussion:

So there are my CUERockStar classroom applications takeaways. Clearly, the last one – EFA in a history class – has the largest ramifications for my teaching. For the West Coasters that might stumble across this post, CUERockStar is well worth checking out. As a final note, I’ll let you know what tech tools I’ll be buying based on my experience at CUERockStar.

·       Upgrade my MacBook Pro to Mountain Lion
·       Reflection app for my MacBook – this will allow me to mirror my iPhone 4S to my computer screen (which can then be projected to my class through an LCD projector), creating a mobile document camera. What a cool way to show student work. Or elicit feedback. Or do any number of super cool things!

Screenshot of my MacBook with Reflection showing
my iPhone 4S's screen on my computer

·       A Wacom Bamboo Splash pen tablet