Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The software I would like to use for my Flipped Class

Inspired by JD Ferries-Rowe's (@jdferries) recent blog post on the software he would like to use in his Flipped Class, I decided to take a shot at throwing out some things I would like to see. It is Christmas after all.

JD wrote his ideal software from the prospective of the average user. I certainly understand that perspective. Just as I don't want technology to be so difficult it gets in the way of my students' projects and objectives, I also see the need for not-so-tech-savvy teachers to be able to create videos without a lot of technical know-how. I agree with many of the features JD was asking for, so I didn't put those here unless I felt I had more to add.

However, it is difficult for me to come at this from a novice perspective. Here's why......I spent nearly 10 years as a Video Writer/Producer/Editor. I haven't worked in the field for 8 years now, so I'm not current enough to be considered the whiz I once was. I used to work in six figure editing suites with Avid Media Composer (at the time, and still is I believe, the dominant industry standard for non-linear editing). I also used Media 100 and was an early user of Final Cut Pro as it was just being introduced in the marketplace when I left the field. There are three categories of video and editing products: professional, consumer, and prosumer. Having previously been considered a professional user, it is difficult for me to use consumer level products and thus find myself falling more satisfied with prosumer products. So, my wish list will include items that aren't necessary, but having seen them in other non-linear editors, something I'd like to incorporate.

Another disclaimer is that I use Camtasia Studio's PC version. I had an interesting conversation with Dave McCollom from TechSmith at the Flip Class Conference last June about tools I'd like to see in Camtasia. Many of them he said are or may be available in the Mac version at some point. I have not used the Mac version. If you see things on my wish list that are available in the Mac version, feel free to let me know.

With all that said, following is my wish list for a software product that I would like for my Flipped Class:
1. Simultaneous multiple outputs:
As many flippers do, I output to a few different platforms in order to provide my students multiple ways to access content. This requires me to render, produce, share, create (whatever term you use for final output of video) multiple times. I would love to have the ability to select multiple platforms prior to output and that will happen one after the other without my having to continually return to my computer. In addition, if someone could add the ability to upload the video to multiple websites at once (and produce a hard copy in a selected location on my portable hard drive, that would be great.
2. Built in feedback feature:
As JD mentioned in his post, I would like some kind of interface built around the video that would allow the student to submit feedback, fill in a form, maybe even attach a document, all with the same user interface. Many of us have found ways around this by implementing blogs, Google Forms, etc. into our students' viewing process. However, I would like this to all be done in one program, through one interface, and synced together for simplicity.
3. Multiple layers of video:
I don't expect unlimited layers of video as with many professional editors, but 4 or 5 would be good. And don't tell me what has to go into each layer (i.e. Picture-in-Picture). Just give me 4 or 5 open layers and let me build what I want. If you want to incorporate nesting, that would be a nice feature. I anticipate rarely going about 5 layers, so nesting would be more of an organization tool than anything else.
4. Multiple layers of audio:
Just as I would like multiple layers of video, I would like the same with audio. I'd like to be able to split the audio across channels allowing me to clean up and blend audio better across tracks. I rarely would use more than 3 layers as a music bed isn't a highly-used tool in screencasts and teacher videos. However, the ability to overlap audio tracks and dissolve between them would be a nice feature.
5. Audio Scrubbing:
This is a time-saving feature I would love to have. Audio scrubbing, for those that don't know, is the ability to hear the audio while you drag your slider along the timeline. An experienced scrubber can quickly find a point on the timeline they want to get to more efficiently. I can use the audio waveforms in Camtasia to pinpoint places on the timeline, but still not as quickly as if I could scrub my audio as well.
6. Motion Path Keyframes:
OK, I'll admit this is a big one and a bit greedy to ask of a simple video editor, but I would love the ability to motion path my keyframes. Put simply, if I make a keyframe and then place an image at that keyframe, then I go 1 second down the timeline and create a second keyframe and move the image to a second position, my editor should path the movement of the image from one keyframe to the next for me. Right? I know it's possible in After Effects and professional level non-linear editors. Can someone give me that, please? And, since it's Christmas, throw in some bezier handles too?
7. Easier customizable transitions:
Let's face it. The only transitions we need are cut and dissolve. Seriously, good editors know this. Don't give me star filters, shutter wipes, and spin outs. Just give them the ability to easily place a dissolve and determine the frame length for it. And, since I'm being greedy, don't default it to 1 second and ask me to change it every time. Default it to 15 frames, which is what I consider the best length for most dissolves, and then I can change it if I want from there.
8. Multiple multimedia format import:
As JD mentioned, the ability to easier import a variety of common multimedia formats would be beneficial. And please, if you could, allow video and/or image alpha channels. I'm not a big fan of the performance of consumer level chroma keys, so an alpha channel would help me create much cleaner layers. But, back to the imports....allow me to import video, audio, images, etc without having to convert and give me the ability to plug them into my project seamlessly.
9. Multiple timelines in a project:
Maybe I'm missing this in Camtasia, but I frequently want to create videos from the same media bin. The videos may be similar in content or part of a series. I would like the ability to work in one project, but create multiple timelines. This would allow me to work more efficiently by sharing resources in one project, but still creating multiple videos from those resources.

I don't think I'm asking for too much really. If you can give me this product at a low price, that would be wonderful. How about you? In the spirit of Christmas, I'd love to hear what others are searching for in the perfect flipped class software suite. Maybe an elf is working on it right now and will make it happen!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms?

Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms? or Why has English instruction avoided the Flipped Classroom model?

I attended the NCTE convention in Chicago the last few days and these two questions, virtually the same, have been bouncing around in my head.

What led me to really begin asking these questions?
Up until 2 years ago, I had been gradually introducing more technology to my classroom. One piece this year, another piece the next. However, I decided one of my strengths as a teacher was my ability to infuse the curriculum with technology. I worked formerly as a Television Writer/Producer and was required to continually learn and be on the cutting edge of technology. I was stupefied to come into the classroom and see such an aversion to technology in a lot of areas. I decided to take the leap to more technology by cannon balling in and stop the piecemeal disorganized way I had done it in the past.

I already used the Writing Workshop model. Then I read "The Digital Writing Workshop" by Troy Hicks and got inspired to forge forward. Last school year, I also attended the NCTE Convention in Orlando. One of the biggest highlights happened on day 1 when I saw Troy Hicks, Bud Hunt, and Sarah Kajder present in a session titled "Creating Opportunities for Learning with Newer Literacies and Technologies: Three Reports from Cyberspace". Hearing these speakers not only gave me great ideas and inspiration to bring into my classroom, they also validated my decisions on the uses of technology.

After that, the convention sessions where informative but not mind-blowing until day 3 (Saturday) morning when I lucked into a session called "Using Google in Ways That Haven't Even Been Invented Yet: Visionary Reports From Cyberspace." In this session, I watched Andrea Zellner, Sara Beauchamp-Hicks, and again Troy Hicks talk about their uses of Google Apps. I sat in that session seeing small snippets of what they could do and said to myself, "I want to do that." Their presentation inspired me to become a Google Certified Teacher, which I accomplished this past summer in Seattle.

One of my biggest take-aways from the convention was there were people doing what I was trying to do. And, these people were getting respect and adulation for that work. There was hope!

As my teaching and technology infusion progressed, I came across the Flipped Classroom. As I researched this, I saw it as a way to effectively implement the Writing Workshop model. I previously blogged on my decision to move to a Flipped Classroom, so I won't rehash all that here. However, up until this point, the most support I've found in building my Flipped Classroom PLN has been from science and math teachers.

A few weeks back, in a twitter #edchat, the topic of the Flipped Class was discussed. As I have done some presenting on the Flipped Class and had been researching it extensively, I followed the chat and contributed when I felt I could. Brian Bennett was going a great job of answering many questions. Then one of my responses drew criticism from Bud Hunt. Yes, the same Bud Hunt that I had admired just 11 months ago (and still do). It seemed to me that Bud didn't agree with the Flipped Classroom model. I felt he was oversimplifying the issue, but in his defense, in 140 characters, everything is oversimplified. I don't think I swayed his leaning much, if any. I told a colleague the next day that it was difficult for me to have someone whose work I admired be against something I had so embraced. I hoped maybe I mis-interpreted Bud's argument because of the concise nature of twitter.

When the online program was released for NCTE11 in Chicago, I immediately began searching for sessions that I would like to attend. I typed "Flipped", "Flip", "Flipping", and any other variation into the search box and came up with zero results. There were still many other good sessions I planned to attend.

On Thursday evening, I participated in a Google Plus Hangout with a handful of Flipped Class gurus (Aaron Sams, Brian Bennett, Dan Spencer, Jerry Overmyer, Ramsey Musallam, and Karl Fisch) discussing a project. I was the lone English teacher in the discussion. All the others are math and science. I was the "red-headed step-child" of the group. Here I sat in a hotel with 6000+ English teachers and I was spending my time talking with math and science teachers. It didn't quite seem right (no offense, guys).

I sat in 8 hours of sessions on Friday and got some good information. Almost every session, I noticed, brought up Google in some way. I saw presentations by fellow Google Certified Teachers, and learned small tidbits of useful knowledge here and there. But, nothing was said about the Flipped Classroom anywhere.

Things changed in my second session on Saturday. I have been considering implementing a NaNoWriMo project with my students. For those that don't know, NaNoWriMo refers to the National Novel Writing Month and helps writers gain the skills to write a novel in one month. I attended a session that included Tracy Becker. She seemed very knowledgeable and well-read as she quoted John Jazwiec, John Steinbeck, and others. Her work was clearly researched based. Then it happened....she mentioned the Flipped Classroom. My ears perked up and my tail started wagging like a dog hearing its name. Tracy was looking for ways to get more in-class work time and had decided to try the Flipped Classroom model later this school year. There was no reaction from the audience. None. Almost as though they hadn't heard her. And, like that, she was on to her next point.

I listened to the rest of her presentation and the two presenters following her. After the session, I introduced myself to Tracy and told her about my experience with the Flipped Class. (Jon and Aaron, since she is from Michigan, I also told her about the Flipped Class Conference coming to Chicago in June!) We only had a few minutes to talk, but listening to her verbalize her decision to move to the Flipped Class, I saw she was where I was about 7 months ago. I was thrilled to meet another English teacher, a respectable, intelligent one at that, come to the same conclusion about the Flipped Classroom that I had. Coincidentally, she got the idea from some math teachers at her school.

This leads me back to my original questions: Why has the Flipped Classroom evaded English Classrooms? or Why has English instruction avoided the Flipped Classroom model?

I'm not saying the flipped class is right for every teacher. But, I'm surprised more English teachers haven't embraced or even tested the Flipped Class in a small way. I was discussing with a parent early in the school year the amount of English teachers that have flipped. I said, "I realize that if I am one of the few people doing something, I am either 1) extremely progressive or 2) terribly misguided."

The Writing Workshop, while a great method that I am still implement, wasn't fully meeting the needs of my class. So, I toil forward, either being extremely progressive or terribly misguided, hoping to find more English teachers willing to try Flipped Instruction. Thank you, Tracy, for giving me hope. Thank you, Bud, for challenging me to really assess what I am doing. I am still committed to the Flipped Classroom because I am seeing great learning happening in my classroom and wonderful work coming from my students.

I've proposed a session for ISTE in June titled "Flipped Instruction in the Language Arts Classroom". I am considering a similar proposal for next year's NCTE. I know it's a gamble (that's a joke for the NCTE folk as they know the conference is being held in Las Vegas). But maybe it will put the Flipped Classroom on more English radars.

So, in answer to my initial questions, I have no idea. Do you? I'd love to discuss this with any English teachers either for or against the Flipped Classroom. Comment here, tweet me @tcockrum, or accost me at an upcoming conference.

Friday, November 18, 2011

21st Century Skill: Adaptability

Currently, I am in Chicago attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention. The events of the day made me really think about what we should be teaching our students. I decided to write this post. And, although some people may take offense to parts of the post, as all good blog posts, it is intended to generate thought and discussion.

We hear this term "21st Century" learning/tools/skills/etc thrown around a lot in the educational field. The implication being we need to teach children skills that will help them in our ever-changing world.

In Adam Bellow's Tech Commandments, he asserts that the most important 21st Century skill is Collaboration. He argues the tools we use aren't that important because tools will change, the skills needed will not. I agree with Adam. After the events of today, however, I believe adaptability should be right up there with collaboration.

As Karen LaBonte said in her session, "The first rule of technology is something will go wrong." Those of us that use technology frequently in the classroom understand and accept this.

Reliance on Paper
I use Google Docs extensively with my students. Before I left for NCTE, I told my students their most recent assignment needed to be submitted to my by printing it on paper. My students were stunned. I explained to them that I would be traveling and may potentially not have access to the internet and I wanted to be able to grade their work regardless. I was planning ahead for my own sake, but also modeling that skill for my students.

The first session I attended today was called "Power of Audience: A Collaboration in 21st Century Literacy". I will admit, it wasn't my first choice, but that session was full when I arrived, so I moved to my next choice. To my delight, it was an excellent session by Tom Zuzulock and Perri Sherrill from Bozeman, Montana on using Google Docs for collaboration. Their presentation was well organized, demonstrated at a level I thought was appropriate to the audience, and gave some good "take-aways". They opened the last 10 minutes up for questions and the very first question was, "Do you have a handout available?" The presenters handled the question well and responded, "Send me an email and I will send you a Google Doc." I wanted to scream, "Have you not been listening to this entire presentation?"

Why such a reliance on paper? I was taking notes on my iPad2 and saw many others as well. I saw some taking notes with a notepad, which is fine if that's what works best for you. But, to sit through a "21st Century" presentation and expect a paper handout seemed unreasonable to me.

Until the next session that is. I won't mention the session title nor will I give many details as I don't want to insult the presenters. They seemed to know their content well and were very qualified to be presenting. However, their presentation relied heavily on paper handouts. When many participants didn't get a handout, they had no back up plan. If you didn't have the paper handout, it was difficult to participate. So, I left the session and went to an informative session on using video games with writing.

The next session I attended was titled "Fly Me to the Moon: Making That Giant Leap Into Digital Pedagogy". One of the presenters was Jen Roberts. I knew Jen from our time together at the Google Teacher Academy and knew she was technologically very savvy, so I expected a good presentation. I was not disappointed.

The first presenter was Karen LaBonte and her main message was that we need to embrace technology. We need to embed it (pun intended) into our daily lives. Jen Roberts followed. Her main message, which I whole heartily agreed, was that our goal as educators should be getting to the moon (she made an analogy to Apollo 8), but many of our colleagues aren't even in orbit. Therefore, we need to help them get "into orbit."

Along these same lines, tweeted by Carl Young during the day was the statistic that only a little over 5% of teachers are using technology for writing instruction. And, the main technological tool is an overhead projector. He got that information from a session by Arthur Applebee and can be found here. It seems we have a significant amount of teachers that aren't even looking up, let alone preparing to be in orbit.

I wish our paper reliant colleagues had seen this presentation. I felt it was a gentle push in ways teachers could get into digital pedagogy. I have a Masters in Mass Communication (from a life before I was a teacher) and there are some principles of advertising known as the push strategy and pull strategy. I won't spend time explaining them. I think you'll figure them out using context clues. But, applying them to education, I'm more of a pull strategists. I move forward at a fast pace and expect my colleagues to be "pulled" along with me or to drop out. These presenters did a better job of using a push strategy than I could have. They are "pushing" colleagues through the process. I certainly admire that. I just don't have the patience to do it. And, again, no paper handouts were provided! The presenters instead posted a link to their presentation and also encouraged the use of twitter to communicate with them and others.

My afternoon sessions were great, but don't really apply to this post, so I'm not detailing them here. However, I did find out the Jon Scieszka was a very humorous individual and had great interplay with M.T. Anderson and Chris Van Allsburg. I hope to attend his session on humor tomorrow.

What? No Wifi?
Speaking of Twitter, I was following the hastag #ncte11 all day. The "trending" complaint of the day was the unavailability of wireless. Many of the tweets seemed to imply NCTE was to blame for this. Many pointed out the irony that the title of the convention included the phrase, "writing the future".

Granted, lack of WiFi was a bit frustrating, but it is far from NCTE's fault. As a matter of fact, NCTE books their conferences 5 years in advance. I'm basing this on the fact that they have the next 5 years published in their program. Could NCTE have known 5 years ago that the Chicago Hilton wouldn't provide free and/or reliable WiFi? WiFi could be purchased for like $15 for a day. I didn't check the actual price because I didn't need it. My hotel right next door had free WiFi! But, that is what I think I heard someone say. I'm sure NCTE will make a note when booking their conferences 5 years away to get WiFi included if possible. But, by then, we could all have 14G technology in our mini-tablets or whatever device is the popular choice at the time.

I heard one attendee complain that a session put on by two very good presenters ran awry when they couldn't access the WiFi for their presentation. My thought was, "What was their plan B?" Would we accept this excuse from our students? I don't. Every time my kids give a presentation, I tell them to have a plan B. If the technology fails for some reason, they should still be able to give a reasonable good presentation given the circumstances. I've presented at conferences with spotty WiFi and I downloaded the Google Presentation to my computer in advance just in case.

Interestingly enough, I just wrote an extensive grant to get multiple Chromebooks for my school. One could argue that, had I brought a Chromebook to this conference, it would have been virtually unusable. I love working "in the Cloud." I'm a Google Certified Teacher, so I embrace new technologies before many others do. I love to see technology perform the way it was intended.

However, opposite to our paper reliant colleagues, we also seem to have many WiFi reliant colleagues. This is why I believe adaptability should be looked at as a vital 21st century skill.

What do we teach our kids when we allow lack of access to frustrate us? What do we teach our kids when we panic when technology doesn't perform as expected? What do we teach our kids when someone gives a presentation and doesn't present it in the manner we prefer (no paper handouts)? If we're teaching students to be good learners, we must to teach them to be adaptable.

What do you think? Is adaptability vital? Or, should it be realistic to expect certain givens in our field? Should NCTE have provided us with free WiFi? Let me have it if you disagree. Let me have it if you agree. As I said, I want this post to generate discourse. That's how we improve our field.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Digital Anne Frank Museum Final Thoughts

Previously, I wrote about the process behind converting my Anne Frank Museum project into a Digital Anne Frank Museum. This is my follow up post to let you know how it went.

Here is where you can find the Digital Anne Frank Museum final product. Overall, I was pleased with the outcome of the project.

Creativity: I didn't specify the technology that needed to be used in order to encourage the creative use of technology. I was pleased to see some impressive projects I myself would have never thought of. Two students created the Annex residents in Sims 3 and then recorded some of their daily interactions. Two other students used Minecraft to build a model of the Annex. I am familiar with both of these programs, but would not have thought of tying them in with Anne Frank. Two groups used Glogster and one took those Glogsters and embedded them into webpages without any help from me.

Content: I felt the students did a good jo of showing understanding of content. Only one project, although very creative and artistic, failed to show a solid understanding of the book. I use the project in lieu of a test to assess understanding. It appears the majority of the students came away with a firm grasp of what Anne Frank is all about. However, I don't just want content understanding, but also a clear understanding of the significance of the book. In my opinion, that was achieved.

Death to Powerpoint: Like I said, I didn't specify technology as to allow creative uses. However, I strongly considered banning Powerpoints. Forty percent of my projects were Powerpoints. All of them had good content, but just weren't very original. Also, all of them had a technical issue the students couldn't solve. Some didn't get their fonts or images to appear as planned. Others couldn't get their audio to work correctly. I would say that this was my biggest disappointed. I encourage them to use Google Presentations (this was prior to the recent Google Presentation upgrade), Slide Rocket, Keynote or some other presentation tool. I, personally, can't remember seeing a good Powerpoint presentation, or actually any Powerpoint presentation at many of the conferences I've attended over the past few years. I've been to NCTE, ISTE, and a few smaller conferences and just don't see it. Maybe its my personal bias, but Powerpoints always looked dated and cluttered to me. Recently, I saw on YouTube Adam Bellow giving his Tech Commandments at the 140 conference. The MC implied Adam used Powerpoint for his presentation. I was surprised how good it was and didn't think Powerpoint could do many of the things he did. However, I asked Adam what he used and apparently he used Keynote '09 for his presentation. I assume the introducer was using Powerpoint as a generic term, like Kleenex.

Another teacher at my school recently assigned a Powerpoint specifically (even though we are a Google Apps school). I believe that is a lot of the problem. Too many teachers are still assigning Powerpoints, making students believe making a Powerpoint is an important skill. Presentation skills are important, the ability to make content presentable is important, but the actual Powerpoint program, I believe is counter-productive to that goal. Feel free to disagree and send me wonderfully produced Powerpoints that prove me wrong. I just haven't seen them.

Classroom iPad: We have a classroom iPad2 that the students share. I was hoping to see some students use it for something extremely creative. About halfway through the project, I had one group that was having difficulty with getting video to a mac to edit. Since the iPad has iMovie on it, I suggested they record video with it and edit on it. They got all the video complete and did some work in iMovie, but ended up exporting it and editing on a Macbook in iMovie because that is what they were familiar with. One other student used it to search for images for his Powerpoint. Oddly enough, he moved the images to his Google Docs account, so he could work on his Powerpoint at home. Disappointingly, other than that, no one came up with a creative use for the iPad on this project. At the point, students still see the iPad as media consumption only and are not seeing the production capabilities it has as well.

Overall, it turned out to be a good project that I will continue into the future. Some of my disappoints will require a cultural shift in thinking, not only amongst the kids, but also other staff members. Small steps I guess. Small steps.

Feel free to let me know what you think of the project.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reading and Discussing is not a Flipped Classroom

I had read the USA Today article about Stacey Roshan's Flipped Classroom a couple of weeks back. This morning, while going through some other sites, I came across a video of the same story. What jumped out at me was a quote by Ms. Roshan where she said, "In an English class, you send the kids home to read a passage, and then in class, you discuss that passage."

As I wrote this, Jon Bergmann tweeted out a story in the Virginian-Pilot about Megan Edwards's Flipped Class. This article reads, "She compares it to English teachers asking students to read a piece of literature at night, then having them discuss the work in class the next day."

Before I continue, let me say, I don't know Stacey Roshan or Megan Edwards personally and I'm not being critical of them at all. I agree with much of what was presented of them in the story. Having had a story done on my flipped classroom recently, I realize you are at the whim of what the reporter decides to use.
In addition, I am a huge supporter of the Flipped Classroom. Many proponents that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for have also presented this argument to support flipped instruction.

The gest of this argument as I understand it is that teachers in English have done the flipped method for years by assigning a novel or other reading to be completed at home and then discussing it in class. I guess at a basic level, it is similar, but I would argue it is not the same thing.

Here is how I would describe the flipped class at its most basic: a method to free up class time to individualize instruction in the classroom. Those of us who use the flipped class know it is so much more than that, though.

Using that basis, sending the kids home to do their reading is the same as sending math students home with math problems. In other words, we are still asking students to use skills at home which they may not possess yet. I'm referring to reading comprehension skills.

In my school, we have reading and English as two separate classes. In English, I teach writing and grammar. In reading, I teach reading comprehension and vocabulary acquisition. Discussion is a common practice in many Language Arts classrooms. I believe discussion is used for three main reasons: 1) to promote higher level thinking, 2) to assess understanding, and 3) to link basic text to societal, historical, or cultural context. These are all great goals, but is there a better way?

I'm not proposing I have all the answers. I just know, if my students don't have solid reading comprehension skills, discussions aren't productive, nor are they the best method for students to learn.

Last year I was meeting with a parent about her daughter. My 7th graders were reading A Chrismas Carol at the time. The parent told me she liked how I posted the pages to be read online, because she would look them up, read the assignment during the day, then sit with her daughter at night and help her understand the passage. The parent wasn't complaining, but rather praising me for listing their assignments online. But, I couldn't help but feel like that parent was doing my job for me. Wasn't it my responsibility to make sure that child had the ability to read and understand the material? And, if the child didn't understand, was it not then my job to identify what skills she lacked and help her get them? How could I do that if the student was primarily reading at home?

Based on that situation and other similar ones, I am attempting to flip my reading classroom. I have successfully flipped my English classroom and am enjoying great success with it. I'm still bouncing around ideas for successfully flipping my reading class. To this point, I've added video content of terms or ideas that would come up in a reading discussion....like antagonist or plot structure. I've also given days were students read entirely in class and I circulate to have individual discussions to assess understanding. But, the individual discussions don't allow me the time to have deeper meaningful discussions that can be attained in a collaborative group setting. I've also considered and dabbled with a Socratic questioning method to ignite better understanding.

When I was interviewed for the NPR article, the reporter asked me if there was a "light bulb moment" where I knew I was going to flip. I couldn't think of a particular moment. It happened gradually as I researched it more. I attended The Flipped Class Conference and had multiple "light bulb moments" if you will. However, something of this magnitude, I explained to the reporter, isn't something that just happens. It takes time to grow and develop. I believe I'm trying too hard to force flipped instruction into my reading class. I need to take my own advice, it seems, and let it grow more organically based on the students' needs.

I've preached to many that no two flipped classes are alike. Well, it appears even for the same teacher (me), no two of my flipped classes are alike!

So, back to the main topic of this post that got me thinking: I'll say it again, simply reading at home and discussing in class is not the same as the flipped classroom. I cringe when I hear that comparison, because saying that, I believe, takes away some effectiveness in one's argument. Please, keep that in mind during future flipped classroom discussions.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

ELA Problems, Explore-Flip-Apply Solution

Last summer at the Google Teacher Academy in Seattle, I had the pleasure of sharing a table with Ramsey Musallam and heard him speaking about different models of the Flipped Classroom. Of particular interest to me was the Explore-Flip-Apply model. Currently, I am doing the traditional model (isn't it odd to call a flipped instruction method "traditional"?), where I front load the information and then assign a project or activity to assess that content. I liked the concept of the Explore-Flip-Apply for the Language Arts class and decided I eventually wanted to move to this model. I wanted my students to get familiar to flipped instruction first and transition them into what I would consider a more difficult model.

Ramsey Musallam recently posted a more detailed explanation of Explore-Flip-Apply and gave some examples from his Chemistry background. This post really got me thinking more about how I can use the Explore-Flip-Apply model. The more I think about this, the more I'm realizing this might alleviate some of the obstacles I've seen in English instruction. I realize every discipline has its own set of challenges. Following are some that I've seen in English Language Arts that many struggle to address. And, after each problem, I've presented an Explore-Flip-Apply solution.

1. Show your work
When was the last time you heard a teacher talking about all the extra English tutoring she did? How often do kids come in before or after school for English help? At my school, our principal runs after school math help (he was a former math teacher), but kids rarely ask for after school English help. My point being, for the most part, kids don't think they need extra help in English as often. If a student has trouble with an English assignment, they will call a friend and get the answer. There isn't the need to show your work as would happen in a math class. There doesn't seem to be an expectation to show your work in English. Sure, we teach writing as a process and may require rough drafts to "force" kids to show their work. But, students used to doing English work at home in isolation, tend also to not to see the need for showing their work.
On a similar note, I love the "revision history" in Google Docs. I can see my students' writing process and "rough drafts" right there in the document.

Explore-Flip-Apply Solution: This model seems to be based around "showing your work". I'm envisioning a lesson in which I present a problem or task. Ken Shelton presented an awesome activity at the GTA on Google Search tools that required us to work in groups to fill in answers to some questions in a short time period. I can see doing something like this initially as exploring. Give the students a short time period to answer some questions. At the end of the time period, hopefully, no one will have completed the activity. Then, have the students brainstorm how or what tools they needed to be more efficient. That's the Explore.
Next would be providing a video, screencast, podcast, or other digital means for them to be provided a list of tools and their uses. Maybe you could even demonstrate finding the answers in the allotted time emphasizing what tools you used. That's the Flip.
Finally, the students return to class and are given a similar, but possibly even more difficult, task. Again, they are given a specified time limit to find the solution using the tools they learned about the previous night. Once they've shown progress in their search efficiency, assign a larger research project. That's the Apply.

2. A lot of writing is collaborative

If we think about times we use our writing skills in really life, many times it is in a collaborative process. Right now, I am working on two presentations and a conference proposal with other teachers. We are collaborating the writing process. Unfortunately, when we ask students to collaborate, all students don't learn or focus on the same skills or content. With some projects, that's acceptable. However, even when students contribute equal work, they still contribute to different tasks. Students will work toward their strengths, which is what real-world collaborations are, but we need them to work on their weaknesses.

Explore-Flip-Apply Solution:
I can see doing a project where students teach each other as part of the explore. For instance, I assign a presentation. The presentation has to teach the class a skill or topic on which the group has a lot of knowledge (sound like a conference presentation?). As a group, they have to brainstorm what topic they will be covering and then proceed to determine what skills they need for a successful presentation. If you want to narrow it more, it could be a topic of some content related to your class. Students determine what they are going to need to complete this project successfully. At the same time, they have to identify and document what each partner's strengths are. That's the Explore.
Next, they watch a video, podcast, or other means and see which skills they really do need. Here, I might throw in a twist and require them to perform a weakness of theirs as opposed to a strength. And, at the same time, they need to teach their other group members their strengths and learn from the others how to improve their weaknesses. That's the Flip.
Then, they use all the tools they learned and put together their presentation. That's the Apply.

3. Authentic writing
In English, we always want to work on what is known as authentic writing, or real-world applications. While I love this idea in theory, I don't always see it as attainable. Maybe it is the fault of standardized testing, but students struggle sometimes to make that connection between what they know and how it applies to the real-world application. For instance, I do an advertising unit with my students to cover some media literacy skills as well as persuasion. Rarely do I get a student that makes the connection between the formal persuasive essay they write for class (either my class or other teachers' classes) and persuasive advertising. Here in lies part of the problem. On a standardized test, they are going to asked to write a letter to their principal explaining why school uniforms are bad or good, or some other contrived "real-world" problem. It is simply asking for a persuasive essay in the form of a letter. Some kids don't get that and write these long drawn out letters with poor organization or supporting evidence. I've even had some kids ask if the principal was really going to read the letters. Do you think that kid is formulating good ideas and focusing on the writing process? Not likely. And that is the crux of the problem. If we focus too much on formula writing that the tests want to see, kids miss real-world applications. If we focus too much on real-world applications, kids can struggle to make the connection needed for standardized test type writing.

Explore-Flip-Apply Solution: Well, both my other examples were real-world solutions. However, in this case, I may use a similar contrived assignment that could be seen on a standardized test. I could assign writing a letter to our principal about some topic that needs persuading.
In class, students brainstorm on what skills they need and what steps they'll take in the writing process to compose a solid letter. That's the Explore.
At home, they'll learn the links to other assignments they've had in the past.....persuasive essay, compare/contrast, cause and effect, etc. whichever one I want them to apply here. Or, I may just give them videos on these types of essays and see if they make the connection on their own. That's the Flip.
Then, they compose the letter in class. That's the apply.
Note to self: this exercise might be good to try a couple weeks before we begin statewide testing.

4. Common Sense or "I've spoken English all my life"
Students oftentimes see English as common sense to them. English content is what I like to call cyclical. Or so it appears. As opposed to math or science, in which you build on each topic, English content comes back around and is re-covered time and again, year after year. I can look at my school's 5th grade textbook and find many of the same concepts as my 8th grade textbook. We begin talking about nouns, for instance, and my students say, "We already know what a noun is. We had it in like 5th grade." What they don't realize is that nouns in 8th grade are subtly more comprehensive than in 7th, 6th, and 5th. They might be thrown some collective nouns or gerunds. But, they have their blinders on and are thinking "I already know nouns; I can tune out for awhile." Therefore, they aren't going to ask for help understanding nouns because they haven't even realized there is new content being presented.
Many teachers believe, as do I, that grammar is best taught in context. Meaning skill and drill worksheets, while possibly good for picking up terminology, don't improve grammar in writing. And, isn't that where we want to see good grammar? In their writing? I've always been a bit bothered by our standardized tests that say, "Identify the preposition and object of the preposition in this sentence." My students can write wonderful and correct prepositional phrases with ease. Yet, some of them come to that question and can't identify the preposition. When they get older, will they be more aptly served writing prepositions or pointing to them?

Explore-Flip-Apply Solution:
This might be bit harder to pull off in the Explore-Flip-Apply model. I might be reaching here, but I'll still give it a go.
In class, students might be presented with a problem. Explain what goes into writing an effective paragraph. Maybe even focus it more by adding nonfiction or fiction. Let the students brainstorm what makes a good sentence, attempting, at the same time, to use proper grammar terminology. While they are throwing out what they think are grammar terms, asked some pointed questions like, "does the type of noun we use matter?" Or, "why might introductory clauses be important?" At the end of the period, we should have a list or guide to writing an effective paragraph, with what they believe is proper terminology (but not telling them if they are correct or not). That's the Explore.
At home, they watch a video explaining all they really need to know for writing an effective paragraph, confirming some of their previous work or dispelling any myths or misunderstandings. That's the Flip.
Next day in class, use my list or guide, maybe even spend some time comparing the two guides and coming to a common agreement about certain items. Maybe even have a discussion on why my guide is wrong and theirs is correct. Ultimately, you have them write a paragraph using the guide they learned, at the same time, identifying prepositional phrases, introductory clauses, etc. That's the Apply.

In this post, I solely covered the writing part of English Language Arts. I didn't tackle the Reading Comprehension part at all. That's down the road some time for me. As I stated earlier, I'd like to move my students to the Explore-Flip-Apply model away from, or complementary to, the Tradition Flip model. I have my sights set for doing something like this after Christmas break. We'll see if it happens. In the meantime, I'd love to hear other suggestions on using the Explore-Flip-Apply model to solve the problems I presented. I would also love to hear your problems (content problems that is) so I can help brainstorm solutions. If you have ideas or literature units using the Explore-Flip-Apply model, let me know those as well. I see this model having so much value in the ELA classroom.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Flipped Class Week 5

My thoughts on Week 5 of my Flipped Class

1. Pages of content...
It's official, based on my students' notebooks, I have delivered as much content as I did all last year. Well, that's not entirely true. However, last year, students took notes on my lectures, but I never really had the time to check the quality of their notes. I checked a students' notebook I had from last year. It had 36 pages of notes. No, I didn't count them. I have my kids number their pages and put in a table of contents. I noticed this week that several kids are easily to 36 pages already. By that standard, I will deliver at least 4 times the amount of content. I'm not sure that is true, but I know I am still delivering significantly more content than I've ever been able to in the past. As I'm planning my videos, I've already finished my list for 2nd quarter and have made most of the videos. I am beginning to plan 3rd quarter videos and am having a bit of a struggle filling out the video list. I know some content I traditionally cover in 3rd quarter. But, with the extra time flipping provides me, I am stretching to come up with content. I'm worried I may run out of material in the 4th quarter. I'm realizing that I will have the ability to teach the kids material that I haven't even considered in the past.

2. My new toy...
I mentioned in my last post that I received a Livescribe Pulse pen. I found an excellent use for it last week. Many of my students were struggling to determine the difference between linking verbs and action verbs. As I circulated the room, I was getting many of the same questions. I went home that evening, pulled out the Livescribe pen, and created a quick pencast explaining an easy way to tell the differences along with examples. The pencast was 6 minutes long. Including upload time, the whole process took maybe 20 minutes. I offered it to the kids as extra credit. The feedback I got from the kids that watched the pencast was that it was very helpful.

That's all the thoughts I had for this week. I'm really getting into a groove with the video process. Most of the kids are as well. I did have a kid say one day, "I hate this flipped class, online thing." She was actually saying,"I'm not organized enough to keep up with my work and that frustrates me." Her and I had a short conversation about her organizational methods. I plan to follow up this week. Just one more benefit to the flipped class!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Flipped Week 4 - Are Middle Schoolers Mature Enough?

I was out most of last week with my 7th grade homeroom at an outdoor leadership camp. That was a positive experience and is always worth the time taken away from school. So, I returned for week 4 of my Flipped Class anxious to see how things would be when I returned. Here are my thoughts from Week 4.

1. Is it the Middle School age?
I remember at the Flipped Class Conference this summer, someone said that most Middle School kids don't have the maturity to handle the independence of the Flipped Class. I knew some of my kids would struggle, as mentioned in previous posts, but I thought most could. My belief is that if you make the expectations clear and reasonable and hold them accountable, most Middle Schoolers will meet that expectation. Many have told me they like the independence they're given and appreciate being trusted to do their work. They like being treated "like high school students" since they are getting older, as opposed to the teachers that still treat them like "little kids".
Well, before I left for the camp, I gave the kids all the work they were expected to complete in my absence. They had ample time to complete it in class. I left the list with the sub and asked her to remind them everyday what they had to complete. In addition, they had other assignments that they could work ahead on if they completed the due work. When I returned on Monday, I expected every student, with the exception of maybe 1 or 2, to be ahead of schedule. I got no notes from the sub about any disruptions to class, so I knew they had 3 full class periods to work. She also said the kids were well-behaved, so I went in to school on Monday very encouraged. Unfortunately, that was short lived. I have all my 8th grade classes early in the day and it turned out roughly 75% of the students completed little to none of the work. I was baffled. How could so many students have 3 full class periods to work complete absolutely nothing? Even worse, they didn't do the work over the weekend to have ready on Monday.
They came to class and seemed to expect to be allowed and capable to complete all of it during that period. I was very discouraged to say the least. True, this isn't a product of the flipped class. But, up to this point, most of my students have shown excellent responsibility in completing their worked with flipped instruction. What this told me is that these students (and maybe most Middle School students) can't be trusted to complete their work without me checking in with them almost daily.
I gave the kids zeros for the work they didn't complete. I did get one parent email that claimed her child should not be responsible for the work because, according the her daughter, "the sub told them they didn't have to do it." But, don't we always have one of those regardless of the instruction method?
I'm going to be out for a day in October for a conference. My thought right now is to assign a worksheet due at the end of the class period. No computers, no ipods, nothing can be used during the class period. Just their textbook and a pen.
What do you think? Do Middle Schoolers have the maturity to handle the flipped classroom?

2. Textbook is still available....
With each video, I include the textbook page number for the same content. I got that idea from Aaron Sams. Most kids payed no attention to that part of the list and have kept doing the videos. Which is fine. On Wednesday, I saw a student diligently working from a textbook. At first I thought she was doing work from another class. As I made my way towards her, I noticed she was using my English textbook. I was pleasantly surprised by this and asked her what she was working on. She said the video didn't make a lot of sense so she was trying to learn it from the textbook. "Great," I said. "Let me know if you have any questions." I normally keep the textbooks stacked in the classroom for their reference. At the end of the period, she asked if she could take a textbook with her to keep at home. Certainly, I told her I had no problem with that as long as she returned it at the end of the year. The next day, another student asked a question and she suggested he use the textbook. His surprised response, "You mean its in there? Cool!" I was thrilled that one student is figuring out optional ways to learn the material. I was disappointed that the other student was amazed that the content would actually be in the textbook. I have to remind myself that its a process and they're still learning.

3. Excuse to be a bad teacher?
I will have to say, on Thursday of this week, I was extremely tired. I had made a couple videos on Wednesday night and was up later than I should have been. As the day went on, I was dragging more and more. My classes were working quietly and being productive. By the time my afternoon classes rolled around, I realized I was doing a lot of sitting and not engaging with students. With the flipped method, it became easy to sit doing nothing, just watching the students work and become a bad teacher. Now, this was only one day, so I'm giving myself a pass this time. But, it is certainly something to be cognitive of in the future. I went to this method so I could have more meaningful conversations with kids about their learning. I need to make sure I'm doing that even on the days its easy to not.

4. New technology - Livescribe Pen
I received a Livescribe pen this week as part of their Educator Ambassador Program. I saw Jason Kern at the Flipped Class Conference discuss ways a Math teacher at his school used it. I would like to find a way to use it with grading students' work. I plan to do some pencasts and turn them into video lessons, but haven't figured out the topics I want to use it for yet. I'm also considering having some of my better note takers take some of their notes using the Livescribe pen and notebook, having them talk through their thought process as they decide what to write in their notes. Then, I can use that as a model for some students that need help with note taking skills. I showed the pen and some of the things it could do to a few students and 1 other teacher. By the end of the day, I had 3 other teachers come ask to see the pen in action. I'm talking with our Resource Department about putting together a grant to get more of the pens.
I can think of a lot of math pencasts using the pen, but am struggling with Language Arts pencasts. Any suggestions?
If you haven't seen these pens in action, Google them. They're pretty cool.

Those are my thoughts for Week 4 of my Flipped Class. I was concerned the kids might start getting burned out on the videos. I asked a few kids for some informal feedback on the workload and videos. The ones I talked with still liked the system and didn't feel the workload was too demanding. Our 5th grade teacher wants to try some flipped methods with her math class. Our GT teacher is considering doing this with her 3rd and 4th graders. Her and I brainstormed some ideas for lessons that it might work with. I showed her Ramsey Musallam's Models of Flipped Instruction and she really liked the Explore-Flip-Apply model. I want to move my students towards this model more often, so I will be interested to see how it works in her class.

I'm still very encouraged by the results I'm observing. I'd love to hear your thoughts to the question I presented above. Do most Middle Schoolers struggle with the maturity it takes to handle the independence of Flipped Instruction?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Flipped Class Week 2

Week 2 of my fully flipped English class is now complete. I'm still very encouraged by what I'm seeing. A new benefit of the flipped method seems to jump out at me almost every day. Most of the kids are adjusting well. I've been informally asking kids for feedback. I will do a more formal survey later in the year, probably right after first quarter.

1. Hiding from view...
You always have those kids that are slippery. They always seem to know how to slip under the radar at important times. The flipped method allows me to catch those kids quicker, because I am making 1 on 1 contact with almost every kid every day. I've created a checklist where I record assignment completion as I circulate the room. I noticed today that one student was 4 videos behind. As I thought about it, he would conveniently ask to use the restroom when I got near him, or move to a different part of the room as I worked in his direction, or claim confusion over the topic, ask a few questions, and promise the notes later in the period. Turns out, he was working the system. He had slipped through the cracks purposely. I believe I caught on sooner with the flipped method though than I would have in a traditional system.

2. Note taking skills....
I've always thought I did a poor job of teaching kids proper note taking skills to prepare them for high school. It was always difficult to help kids know what to take notes on while you were lecturing. Sure, I could say, "Write this down." But, if I did, some would write only that down and nothing else. There were also those kids that wanted to write everything word-for-word and kept asking you to slow down or repeat things. Then, holding them accountable for the notes was difficult. I had to try to give value to their notes by making tests or assignments open notes. Some kids are just good at taking notes. Many Middle Schoolers need help though. I didn't really think about this when I decided to flip, but it is a benefit I am pleased to pick up. If anyone asks, I planned it all along. I can now examine each students notes thoroughly. If I am unsatisfied with the quality, I can ask them to watch the video again before I will accept them. I give them partial credit and the opportunity to re-do the notes better for full credit. I can also spend a couple minutes watching part of the video with them and point out content to write down and why. I anticipate, overall, my students will be much better note-takers at the end of this year than they've ever been.

3. Ahead of schedule, behind schedule? Not quite sure yet.....

I'm using many of the same writing projects I've used in the past. I've definitely delivered more content at this point that I would have in the past. However, my writing projects still have similar time frames as in the past. So, I'm not sure I'm ahead of the pace in that regard. As a matter of fact, the students that had my class last year are actually falling behind. Or, I should say some of them, not all. There is a group of these students that hasn't adapted to the fact that things are different from last year. They get behind on the videos and then use their writing/work time to catch up on the videos. Their first big writing project was due Friday. Some were really scrambling on Friday to finish. A few I looked at were poor quality work because they didn't allow sufficient time for revising and editing. I'm hopeful a few will realize their folly and manage their time better heading into the next unit. Some, unfortunately, will not. They are content turning in sub-par work as long as they pass. However, many of those kids did the same thing last year, so I don't believe that is a product of the flip.

4. What don't I like about the Flipped Class....

At Back-to-School night, I gave a separate session on the flipped class. I've been pretty open with the parents, so many told me they felt comfortable with what I have communicated and didn't attend the session. But, I had a small handful of parents. All seemed encouraged, but had a few questions. One question was, "So far, what DON'T you like about the flipped method?" It was a good question that I hadn't even thought about. I told them, quite frankly and selfishly, it was a lot more work for me. The other thing I said was that some days it was hard to resist the urge to lecture. I have to be confident they are getting the content from the videos. I also have to remind myself that even in the lecture format, I can't guarantee they'll get the content there either. At the moment, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.

5. Creative Commons...

Another question I received was from a lawyer parent that asked how I was protecting myself legally. I asked her to clarify and she said another school could "take" my entire curriculum and then not hire a teacher. She said, "Have you thought about where all this is going? I mean, you could be putting yourself out of a job."
I explained to her a few things. I remembered the discussion at the Flipped Class Conference this summer about the potential to abuse this system. Administrators could use this method to put 60 kids in a class with one teacher or even a "facilitator". Teachers could use someone else's videos and not teach at all. I also explained, as an educator, we tend to want to share and help other teachers. If another teachers asks, I will share. Now, if I put a lot of time into developing a project or unit, I may ask for small compensation for my time. But, even that is rare. I know of some teachers that copyright their videos, and I should probably do that as well. I put many of my videos in the Creative Commons, because I certainly welcome other teachers to use my videos with credit if they want. If you find a way to make millions of dollars off of my work, please share. I really don't think I'm putting myself out of a job promoting the flipped method. If anything, I believe I'm opening up more opportunities for myself.
I also explained to her that the system isn't about the videos. The value is what is happening in the classroom. A teacher that uses all my videos will not get the same results as me because he/she is not teaching in the classroom the same way that I am. It isn't a prepackaged format that any one can just adopt.

6. Staff/Student Feedback...

My principal just asked me to present at our staff meeting on Tuesday about what I'm doing. He said, "People should know what you're doing," in an excited tone. I felt it might be a little too early for that. You never know, I could have a major parent revolt next month and be forced to drop it all together. At the moment, all I have as results from my own class is anecdotal, informal observations. My principal is most excited because the kids are giving him very positive feedback. I convinced one of our Middle School Math teachers to flip as well. His kids are saying that they feel Math makes more sense than ever before and they appreciate not having to spend a lot of time on homework they don't understand. My English kids are enjoying the ability to choose what they want to learn when. Most are also feeling more productive in the quality of their work. (Most, but not all, as mentioned above.) It should be noted that some kids are overlapped in both our flipped classes. The kids that are struggling in both classes (the same kids I mentioned above that are behind on their work), are the kids that have some difficulty being held accountable for themselves and their work. One student already asked to be moved out of her math class to a lower class. Of course, the same teacher is flipping the "lower" class, so she would be in the same situation. It appears to us that she was looking forward to blowing off her 8th grade year and do the minimum to get by. With the flipped method, they have to look the teacher in the face every day and admit they didn't put in much effort. We'll see where that goes.

Those are my thoughts from Week 2. We will be taking our 7th graders to a leadership camp for most of this week, so I won't be in the classroom much. I anticipate having some more thoughts on the flipped though. I'm especially interested to see how my 8th graders manage their workload with a substitute. Through Google Video, I can check to see who watched a video and when. I won't be able to check their notes until I return, but I'll know if they are keeping up with the work. I'm still very encouraged and looking forward to meeting all the challenges (and opportunities) the flipped class presents.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Flipped Class Week 1

I fully flipped my 2 English classes this year. When I say, "fully flipped" I mean I am delivering my content 95-100% through videos. I've used it on a smaller scale in the past, but this year I decided to fully flip 2 of my English classes (I'm flipping my reading classes about 25% of the time this year for now). I've made enough videos at this point to get me through the first quarter. My goal is to lecture 5 time or less this entire year. That doesn't include the lectures I had to give on the first two days of class explaining how the class will operate and model taking notes on a video. I also sent an email to the parents explaining the flipped method and provided links to some resources. At Back-to-School Night next week, I intend to use one of my 15 minute sessions on the Flipped Classroom. As of now, I have 5 positive responses from parents and 0 negative responses. That's not saying there aren't some doubters, but, at the moment, they aren't expressing their opinion to me.
I teach Middle School kids. I am concerned with some kids struggling to be motivated to keep up with the videos. I realize I would have that problem with any homework. However, the independence this process allows the students could be difficult for the maturity level of some Middle Schoolers. I anticipate at least one student using "confusion" over deadlines as an excuse to why they did not complete their work. We'll see where that goes.
Following are some of my observations from Week 1:
1) Too Many Choices?
Giving kids too many choices to start seemed to overwhelm some. I thought having many ways to find and watch the videos would eliminate reasons for kids to not watch them. They may get the hang of it soon, but having too many options seemed to confuse some kids. I provided them with the option to watch the videos on YouTube, but since it is blocked at our school, I also uploaded them to our school's Google Video account through Google Apps. In order to find the videos, I created a website in which I embedded a Google Spreadsheet with all the videos listed and their Google Video link. I also shared the Spreadsheet with the students into their Google Docs. Some students picked a method that fit them right away and were watching videos in minutes. Others seemed overwhelmed by the amount of choices (which I really don't think there are that many options yet), and it paralyzed them. They didn't know where to start, so I guided them to the method that seems to work best for them. Once they found the video in at least one method and began watching it, I stepped back and let them go. I also had a small group of kids that didn't write down the instructions or website and then had no idea where to find any of the videos. To be fair, no matter what I do, there is always going to be a small group that doesn't write down or pay attention to instructions. I plan to make the videos available through Apple OS on iPods/iPads/iPhones, but that is down the road when the kids get into the groove of watching videos and begin asking for more mobile ways to view. Most of my kids don't have SmartPhones yet (many don't even have cell phones), so I'm not concerning myself with making sure the videos are optimized for mobile phones. I plan to give them multiple options to watch the video, but I never suspected 2 options would be too many for some kids.
2. Alternate Assessment
On day #3, I already found the benefit of alternate assessment. For this first year, I'm requiring the kids take notes on the video and I review their notes for them to get credit. Truthfully, most students notes are more comprehensive than if they listened to me lecture in class. That was something that impressed me. A student was watching a video in class on Tuesday told me she already had 3 pages of notes and she was only about half way finished with a 7 minute video. The same student would probably only have 1 page of notes for a 20 minute in class lecture. I hope the students maintain this amount of workload. However, I saw a wonderful benefit early in the week. I was circulating the room checking notes for one of the videos. Two students who are normally pretty good about turning in work didn't have their notebooks with them. Both were concerned they were going to be counted late. In the past, I had a 50% off policy for all late work. Both students very genuinely claimed they did the work, but considering it is the first week of school, they left their notebooks in their homeroom (and that teacher doesn't allow students back in the room to get anything they've forgotten). I could have said, "Sorry, you don't have the work, it is late." Instead, I gave them both an on-the-spot oral quiz. Both students were able to answer a few questions easily and also repeated almost word-for-word things I said in the video they found interesting. This easily proved to me that they had watched the video and understood the content. And, truth be told, in the past, I don't think these two students would have been able to repeat as much or answer the same questions the day after I gave a lecture on the same topic. My informal assessment, in this case, showed me they retained more information than they would have in a traditional lecture class. I asked both students to show me their notes the following day to confirm they did them, and I gave them credit for the assignment based on their knowledge. They both came back later in the day to show me their notes as "proof", but seemed very appreciative of the trust I put in them. I'm not sure how I am going to handle students not coming to class "prepared" as this is a skill they need learn. But, as per the content, they did learn that and that is the ultimate goal.
3. I'm on Vacation...
Inevitably, you have a family that decided to take a vacation and pull their kids from school. Well, I had a parent do that on the first week of school. Two days before classes started, I get an email from a parent telling me her son won't be at school the first week because they will be on vacation. "No problem," I replied, "Here is the link to all the videos he needs to watch." Whether he'll come in with the videos viewed, I don't know. However, catching him up won't be much of an issue because he can watch all the content at home, so there is no need for me to have to take my time re-explaining key concepts or topics because they wanted to go on vacation the first week of school.
4. I watched the video, but....
Had a student on Tuesday, when I approached him to check his progress, he couldn't find his notebook. So, I asked him some basic questions from the previous night's video. He was able to sort of answer the questions. What that told me was that he watched it, but didn't pay close enough attention to retain the information. I asked him to watch it again and show me his notes the next day. He was upset because he didn't feel it was "fair" that he had to re-watch the video. He wanted the chance to prove to me that he watched the video, but I explained to him that I had no doubt he watched the video, but he needed to focus closer to the information. This is also a student that likes to work ahead. I'll have to keep an eye on him and a few others that might just go through the motions of watching videos to say they competed the video, but they aren't learning the content.
5. Impromptu lessons, or can I add another video?
Wednesday, while reviewing some students' writing, I noticed a trend on several of the kids work. In the past, I would start the next class with a mini-lesson on the topic for the group. Now, I was conflicted. I wasn't sure I had time to put together a video. And, if I did, how would students react if I assigned another video on top of the ones they already need to complete? Or, do I move one of the videos to a later date and replace it with this video? Or, do I bite the bullet and do the lesson in class, as I previously would, and thus lose one of my 5 lectures in the first week of school? Here's what I decided to do. I took one of the kids writing, removed their name and identifying information. I recorded my comments on her work then modeled how to improve the work. I uploaded the video to Google Video and Youtube but left it private until I spoke with the student and got her permission to share. I then assigned it for the rest of the students to watch it over the weekend. There was a little grumbling over the added work. But, the video was 13 minutes (a little longer than I anticipated). But, I was really only adding about 15 minutes of work for them. The whole process took me about 30 minutes.
Here's a link to the video.
6. The videos don't stop
I have made enough videos to get me through the first quarter. Its tempting to relax and not make videos for awhile. However, if I do that, I could quickly get behind. Therefore, I think I'll spend this coming weekend deciding my videos for 2nd quarter and then developing a schedule to produce them. One thing I heard many times at the Flipped Class Conference in Colorado this summer was that many teachers hit a wall around November because they are so burned out from making video after video. I'm hoping to prevent that. However, as I make my video lists, it continues to grow and it can seem like there is no end.
However, I found out on Thursday that I will have a college student visit me once a week for an hour as part of a work study. I plan to use her to create my slides for upcoming videos and then I can just record the video as I have time. If she is comfortable, I will allow her to make some videos as well. If she can't do that, I will have her go through my current videos and make a guide notes handout to include with each video.

The response overall has been positive, which has kept me encouraged. The kids seem more engaged in class working on writing projects and/or watching videos. My principal sat in my class unprompted on Wednesday. He only does that when there's been a complaint or he is curious about something (good and bad). I didn't ask the reason because I wasn't really concerned. He saw me going around and having a conversation with each kid. Some conversations were "on-task" as we educators would say. Other conversations seemed random, until I worked in a small writing tip or lesson into the conversation. He asked a few kids what they were working on and they all easily told him what they were doing. I could tell he left very please. It reminded me of the video of Aaron Sams floating around his classroom. I think next week I may video tape a class period to show the amount of engagement to the parents at Back to School night.

That's my early cogitations from week 1. I have some thought brewing that I'm interested to see how they play out next week.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Digital Anne Frank Museum

I'm starting a new section to my blog, thanks to some advice given to me by Colette Cassinelli of edtech Vision, and will be documenting some of the literature projects that incorporate Google Apps this school year.
My first post will contain a summary of my thought process and development of the projects. I will then post updates during each project and refections after the completion of the project. My hope is that other Language Arts teachers can use these projects as is or adapt them to meet their needs.

Anne Frank Museum
I read "The Diary of Anne Frank" every year with my 8th graders. One of the concepts I want them to get from reading this is how a book (and a single person) can have a profound social impact. We spend a lot of class time discussing the significance behind Anne Frank and I wanted to choose a project that would hammer that message home.
Here in Indianapolis, we are lucky to have a very well done exhibit at The Indianapolis Children's Museum called "The Power of Children." It is centered around Anne Frank, Ruby Bridges, and Indiana-native Ryan White. The Children's Museum is only a few blocks from the neighborhood where most of my students live. Most of their families have memberships and have seen the exhibit. In this time of limited field trips, I decided not to "waste" time on a trip to this museum. However, I offer extra credit for student that do visit and complete a project of their choosing on it. Last year, two of my students made this video for me to share with other classes around the world that couldn't make it to the museum:

For 3 years, my culminating project for Anne Frank was a Student Created Museum. The students would work paired or solo and create an exhibit for our museum on a topic related to Anne Frank. They have to get my approval on their topic and medium choice, but, for the most part, the creation is their own. In the past, I have had students create video re-inactments of "scenes" from the book, a mock radio broadcast that Anne might have heard, a full scale floor diagram of the actual size of Anne's room (along with furniture), a display of a backpack that someone like Anne may have taken into hiding, and many other creative ideas. I haven't been disappointed with the quality of exhibits. However, we display this museum for a few hours in our school's gym. Other classes in the school, as well as parents and community members, would come through and view the museum and interact with the students acting as guides. If the parents or others we wanted to see all the projects couldn't make the museum times, they were out of luck. And, I also wanted to be sensitive to other teacher's class time and not take the students out of other classes.
So, I wondered, how can I increase the viewership of the creative projects and also, if possible, reduce the amount of out-of-class time?
An idea came to me this summer while visiting Second Life. I'm not a frequent visitor to Second Life, but drop in every few months to see what's going on. I found out the United States Holocaust Museum has created a "Virtual" Holocaust Museum of sorts in Second Life.
I immediately began searching for a way to build an interactive 3d gallery with clickable items. The clickable items would be the students' digital exhibits. I could then share this with other classes worldwide, parents, and community members all to view at their leisure. I've experimented with SketchUp and Flash but haven't gotten the results I wanted. I can create the 3d environment in SketchUp, but can't make it interactive with videos or other presentations being viewable. If you have suggestions, or the programing know-how, to do this, please let me know.
The students' multimedia choice is still up to them. After they create their projects, I will collect them all into a Google Site. Our school recently started using Google Apps. I anticipate some students will use Google Presentations for their project, others will upload to Google Video, maybe use Picasa and/or Picnik to create a photo collage, but I'm allowing them to make those choices in order to foster their ingenuity. I'm sure at least one of them will come up with an idea I would never have thought of.
I can then share this Site to the parents, to other teachers, and even the world via twitter and other social media.
The project will take place in October and I will update my blog with progress and results. I'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I'm Googlefying(?) My Life

I've been thinking all summer about ways to make my life more efficient. I read a book about minimalist living by Francine Jay that helped me unclutter my household. I moved to a house 3 blocks from my school to save commute time (nearly an hour round trip everyday).
Inspired by +Cory Pavicich's Demo Slam at GTAWA on "How to Tie Your Shoes", I realized there had to be some better ways to do a lot of the things I do on a regular basis. My mother calls me religiously every Sunday night. It isn't uncommon for her to ask me what I did all weekend and I can't really tell her much, because I wasted a lot of time being inefficient.
So, I'm committing myself to Googlefying my life. Google products are designed to make one more efficient. Products are concepted, simplified, and streamlined to be more productive in less time. This, I realized, is what I need to do. I am now in the process of auditing a lot of my weekly tasks and determining where I can Googlefy. All the way down to brushing my teeth while still in the shower saves me about 2 minutes a day. So, how about you? What can you do to Googlefy your life?
My next project is to figure out how I can Googlefy my grocery shopping. I go way too often for my liking. Maybe I can Google that?!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

"We don't use Google"

I returned from the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) yesterday. Today, I went to the baptism of my cousin's daughter. My mother told my aunt (who is a first grade teacher) where I had been. I'm not sure how my mother explained it, because I'm not sure she understands most of what I do with technology, but my aunt responded, "Oh, I don't use Google." She then continued to say, "Well, maybe sometimes to do a search, but my kids are only first graders....they don't use computers."
As I'm reflecting on my experiences at GTA and trying to make sense of my next steps, this revelation from my aunt angered me a bit. I teach at a K-8 school and sometimes hear elementary teachers say, "We won't use this or my kids can't do that." But, I've seen it. My 5 year old niece regularly plugs away at my brothers old laptop. I don't pay attention to what she is doing, but she is certainly doing it with purpose. While directing my school's musical, a parent that was helping me would regularly bring her 3 year old to rehearsals. That 3 year old would take her iphone out of her mom's purse and knew enough to open a video app, choose, and play the video she wanted to watch.
How do these kids learn to do these things? Their parents give them access and the freedom to use and learn. Unfortunately, some parents do not. And thus, it is important for teachers to give kids that access.
A kindergarten teacher I talked to recently was getting an IWB the same brand as mine (Interwrite). She was asking me what tablet she should get to control her board remotely. Rather than use the tablet provided by Interwrite, I told her I use an iPad2 with VNC to control mine. No sense in getting an Interwrite tablet that only does one function when I can get an iPad and use it for multiple applications. Her response was, "Well, my kids couldn't use an iPad. They couldn't hold it and use it right." I told her I was sure there was a case that you could get that makes the iPad kid proof. And, low and behold, there is. She still went with the Interwrite pad.
We even had a 3rd grader this year get a Facebook page (with his parents' permission) and began messaging all the older kids.
That is the problem I foresee by assuming elementary kids can't or don't use computers: if they aren't taught appropriate and productive uses for them, they will find the inappropriate and unproductive uses.
Elementary teachers out there who aren't using computers with their kids, get on it. They are using computers, tablets, and devices. And push them. Don't just play typing games. Let them collaborate, let them produce original content. It is possible. And, it will make my job easier when they get to 7th grade and I don't have to spend so much time breaking bad habits.
People like Rich Colosi, who was at the GTA with me, and Diane Main, another GCT, have done a lot of amazing technology projects with elementary kids, among many others.
If you are concerned my aunt will recognize herself in this post, don't worry, if she "doesn't use Google", she will never find it. And, if she does, well then hopefully it will convince her to connect her students with technology.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thoughts on Flipping my class....

Ever had one of those moments where you can’t remember when you first heard about something? I’m flipping my classes this year and get asked a question a lot lately….”Where did you hear about this?” Well, I can’t remember. It was one of those late nights when I was surfing the web looking for something else. I don’t remember what it was, but somehow I landed on a Youtube video created by the Camtasia folks with Aaron Sams.

Now, let me preface this by saying, I already flipped my English class in essence. I use a version of the Writing Workshop model, where the majority of student writing is completed in class with my supervision. However, if you are familiar with the Writing Workshop, it requires a 10-15 mini-lesson to start most class periods. With 40 minute class periods, I just didn’t have the time for that on a regular basis.

With that being said, I still didn’t make the connection that the flipped class could work for me. I did, however, have a co-worker looking for ways to differentiate his math instruction. I forwarded the video onto him and left it at that. He got very excited about trying it for a variety of reasons and began asking me questions, because it sounded very similar to what I was already doing. It was at some point during those discussions, and subsequent research, that I realized I could blend the flipped model with the workshop model and buy myself more in class work time, while still delivering the necessary content that would have been in the mini-lessons.

As I researched more, I followed the ning, and came across the flipped classroom conference. On a whim, not really expecting to get it approved, my co-worker and I showed it to our principal (including all associated costs) and to our surprise he said, “Go for it.”

Attending the conference was the best decision I could have made. I absorbed so much information from @jonbergmann, @chemicalsams, @bennetscience, @agudteach, and several others at the conference. It brought a great deal of clarity and confidence to this model being possible. Unfortunately, I haven’t found another English teach doing the flipped class the way I’m electing to do it, which is fine. I met @agudteach and got some ideas from her and also realized I could not only flip my English class, I could flip my Reading/Literature class as well.

The last couple weeks, I’ve been producing videos almost non-stop. I was averaging about 2 a day for awhile. I decided to take a break for a vacation and to clear my head. I’ll be back at the videos late next week, but then I head to the Google Teacher Academy in Seattle for 3 days. My goal is to have every video needed for 1st quarter created before school starts, which I estimate will be in the range of 40+ videos. Since I teach both 7th and 8th grade, I can double up some of the videos for more than one class.

I’m still searching for an English teacher to collaborate on some videos with me. I recruited the help of a former student to make some and she’s done a bang up job. She wants to be a teacher (why, I don’t know) so if you want to hire her to help with your videos, I’ll put you in touch with her. You can check out the videos I’ve made so far on my Youtube channel. I know some of them aren’t very good. My plan is to go back and re-do some of these after I get better and quicker at making these videos.

I’ll keep you updated on my progress using the flipped class. And, if you know of an English teacher that wants to collaborate maybe through Skype or just dividing the workload, let them/me know.

Getting into the Google Teacher Academy

I’ve been meaning to write this post for quite some time now. I’ve been travelling quite a bit and used that as an excuse to not sit down and write. Reading Brad Wilson's post about not getting accepted to the GTA in Seattle and others posting on their experiences leading up to GTA, I decided it was time to put fingers to keyboard and output my thoughts on my process to getting accepted to GTA.
I knew that thousands of people applied world-wide and resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t get in. I wasn’t so much concerned about putting together a good application. Moreso, it was the fact that as a second career, I’ve only been teaching for 5 years now. My school is small and really doesn’t have a reputation for being innovative. My principal, however, allows me a great deal of freedom, so I have done a significant amount of technology integration and cloud computing in my classroom. So, while encouraging other teachers to join me (it pains me to walk the halls and see posters and dioramas littering the walls and eventually the trash), I haven’t had a lot of success in that regards. I participate actively in National and Local professional organizations (NCTE, ISTE, NWP, etc.), but I was concerned Google wouldn’t see me as enough of an educational leader yet.
I mentioned that teaching is my second career. Well, my first career was as a television commercial writer and producer. So, the video part of the application didn’t concern me at all. Many GTAers complained about having to condense into 1 minutes. Well, for a man who spent 10 years writing 30 second commercials, 1 minute was about 30 seconds longer than I needed. I put the video part off until last. I also consider myself a pretty good writer (kind of comes with being an English teacher) and therefore attacked the application as I teach my students to do!
My first steps were to pre-write. So, in true Google fashion, I created a Google Doc and copied all the questions into it. Then I began listing everything I wanted to incorporate into the answer. I decided the best approach was to just be honest. Now, when I say honest, I’m not saying I considered being untruthful. I just felt a lot of people would get into the trap of trying to write what Google wanted to hear. If I did that, I might leave out some of my assets. I also chose to write in a somewhat informal tone as though I was speaking to someone at Google personally. I will admit, the word restriction was a bit difficult. I could have probably used about 50 more words per question. But, remember, I used to write 30 second commercials for a living, so being concise has never been much of a problem when necessary.
Like I said before, I wasn’t concerned at all about the video. I was most concerned about writing an application that made Google realize I was worthy of this opportunity. After I wrote my answers and edited, I shared my Doc with a co-worker and asked her to do one thing: read my answers and make sure I answered the question. How many times have we as teachers read answers to questions on a test or assignment that are well written, contain a lot of information, may even be entertaining, but doesn’t really answer the question? With that step complete, I moved on to the video.
I would speculate that most applications (and probably most video producers) start with a script of what they wanted to say or at least an idea. And, on some projects, I would to. On this project, I treated it like a commercial and went for an image or a single message I wanted my viewer to come away with. I knew it would be impossible to “say” a whole lot in one minute and also make it engaging and memorable. From my television experience, many local commercials are bad simply because the product or store owner wanted to get too much information into the spot. Thus, you are left with a talking head or voice over boringly droning on about this or that. National commercials focus on an image or an impression they want you to walk away with. Think of soft drink commercials or car commercials. The goal is to get you to recall their product and investigate more when it comes time to purchase those items. Not to get you up off your couch to go to Ed’s Mufflers because they offer this and that and those, etc, etc. I hope I don’t insult some of my cohorts, but I wanted Pepsi, not Ed’s Mufflers. My message being: in my classroom, motivation is created by the kids being allowed to experience innovative and creative means (ie technology).
I took a different approach to this video. I decided to do the music first. For two days, I listened to music on my ipod, on my sirrius radio, I asked kids what some popular songs were and listened some more. One song kept catching my attention and that was “You Just Can’t Get Enough” by the Black-Eyed Peas. I really liked the intro female’s voice in the song. So, I downloaded to my ipod and went for a run. I put my ipod on repeat and ran for about 45 minutes. I focused on what images came to me as I heard the song over and over. Eventually, it hit me that stop motion fits well to the beat of this song. Long story short, I decided to use a series of “scenes” in which a student is so engaged in using technology the world goes on around them without them even noticing. Note: if I had a more time, I probably would have done a day into night into day kind of thing, but I was working with free talent and I didn’t want to take up too much of their time.
To make the video, I didn’t even use a video camera. I used a Nikon D-40 that I use for our school’s yearbook, put it on a high shutter speed, and took a series of high quality images. I then edited the music bed to include the intro to the chosen song, but only play the music the rest of the time. I experimented with a few different edits, but couldn’t smooth them out enough for my liking.
Last, I needed some audio to fill the void left by taking out the lyrics. In a moment of inspiration, I decided to have several of my students read some lines about being addicted to innovation, technology, etc. Then, I planned this big cameo appearance at the end in using stop motion to reveal my message on our school marquee. That failed miserably, but was salvageable enough to keep in the video (mainly because I had nothing else and no time to create anything else).
For those curious, I edited this in Video Pad. It is a free download program that does some simple video editing.
Here is my video:

Then, it was time to wait. Fortunately, I had two conferences to keep me occupied. I attended the flipped class conference in Woodland Park, Colorado and then almost immediately turned around and attended ISTE in Philadelphia. I was eating my lunch at ISTE sitting on the patio outside the convention center when I heard a woman at the table next to me say, “I got an email from Google saying I didn’t get accepted.” I immediately took out my phone and checked my email. There it was, the email I’d been waiting for. And, I was in. I’m still finding it hard to believe I was accepted. I’m getting to know many of the people via Twitter and now Google Plus. I’m sure at the end of #GTAWA, I’ll be singing the chorus from my video song….”I just can’t get enough.”