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.