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?!