Friday, January 20, 2012

What does Apple's Announcement Mean for the Flipped Class

I'm sure most tech savvy educators have heard about Apple announcement Thursday regarding iBooks 2 and iBook Author. I received an email from my cousin, who works at an Apple Store, early on Thursday highlighting the announcement. I got the impression from his email that he was buying into the Apple hype that these products would revolutionize education.

It's still early and all the details aren't fleshed out yet. Initially, I wasn't particularly impressed. Sure, a multimedia textbook on an iPad can be more engaging than a traditional textbook. However, from my perspective, in the past 5 years, I've used my textbooks a total of maybe 10 times. That doesn't mean I don't follow a curriculum and meet standards. I just don't believe the textbook is the best way to do that. Would iPad textbooks change that for me? I believe, as Jac de Haan of Technology With Intention said in a recent blog post, "It is still a one-way delivery system." Or, as Ronnie Burt of puts it in his recent blog post, even with iBook textbooks, "(s)tudents are still thought of as 'content consumers' in this scenario as opposed to active participants."

I had this discussion with a Middle School math teacher at my school. He has joined me this year by flipping his class, but he uses textbook publisher provided video tutors. He still sticks strictly to the content provided by the textbook. I asked him, or rather challenged him, to see if he felt he could teach his class without a textbook. He wasn't sure that he could.

I expressed my concern to him that this announcement by Apple didn't revolutionize the way education would be delivered. It just revised how textbook teaching could/would be delivered. My co-worker made a good observation. He pointed out that, when it comes to infusing technology and a student-centered learning environment, I was ahead of the curve. He speculated that the ability to have pre-packaged content on a device like the iPad could pull more teachers into a better teaching environment. Maybe? Maybe not?

I have an iPad that I use personally and a classroom iPad the kids share. I also have laptop carts that creates almost a 1-to-1 environment. I've implemented a small BYOD program and approximately 15% of my students bring their own device. So, I certainly have the ability to use multimedia textbooks. Given Apple's history though, I do have concerns about the cross-platform compatibility of the iBooks textbooks.

As I read another Jac de Haan post, I began to think about the use of iBook Author with my Flipped Class. Currently, I used Google Apps for Education to organize my classroom content. I am very happy with the ease of the management system I've developed and the students and parents are as well. However, there is an outside possibility I could move to a 1-to-1 iPad environment next school year (those who know me personally, please don't start speculating or spreading rumors). That aside, I am intrigued by the possibility of using iBook Author to, in essence, create a textbook for my class. This "textbook" however would be populated with content that I have created for my Flipped Class along with other resourceful content that ties in. In addition, I could place in assignments, interactive elements, etc. specific to my class. I still need to explore this idea more in order to determine all the applicability of this process. But, I'm thinking it could become a Classroom Management System of it's own.

In addition, if I'm distributing my content via iPad, I could, in theory, shoot my video with the iPad, and even edit content with my iPad if I choose, making everything more streamlined and compatible. I can see a not very tech savvy teacher that is hesitant to flip his or her class finding this method appealing.

I'm still holding out judgement on the ramifications of this announcement by Apple. I'm not sure the iBooks textbooks are a huge game-changer quite yet. However, the ability to create a one-stop Classroom Management System for Flipped Classroom teachers in the form of a textbook could be a real bonus, especially if you're already working in a 1-to-1 iPad school. In the meantime though, I'm certainly taking notice and plan to begin experimenting more to see the potential of iBooks Author.

Where do you think this could go? Could this development help or hurt the Flipped Class momentum? Feel free to weigh in.

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Google 20% Project

This summer, I got to attend the Google Teacher Academy in Seattle. I came away with multitude of ideas for my classroom. I had one idea inspired by Google's "20 Percent Time" policy. If you aren't familiar with Google's 20 Percent Time, in a nutshell, it is that Googlers can spend 20 percent of their work time (and resources) on a personal interest project. The idea is to give their employees more autonomy in their work environment and foster more motivation/inspiration for creative work.

With that in mind, I wanted to motivate my students in the same way. I was implementing too many other new concepts/projects in the first semester to add this into the mix. I decided to work the project through in my head for a few months and introduce it in the second semester, which began last week. Coincidentally, almost the same day I introduced my project, AJ Juliani blogged about his 20% project.

I introduced it to my 7th and 8th grade Accelerated English classes as a "20% Project". Initially, I didn't cover the Google part (and, for the record, Google isn't the only company to do this, nor was it the first company to do it) right away. I explained to my students that they can do any project they want related to English and use 20% of their class work time (or 1 day per week) to work on that project. The other 80% of their time should be devoted to assigned work. Since these classes are also flipped classes, having plenty of in-class work time would not be a problem.

I didn't say how the students would be graded or even if they would be graded. I told them I only ask that they blog about their progress weekly. I gave them no rubric, no accountability lecture, nothing. Just said that I'm hoping to get some creative and unique projects from them.
My 7th graders were the first to learn about the project. Tons of questions began to fly. What do you mean any project we want? I threw out a few ideas (screenplay, documentary, etc.). How do we tie it to English? My answer was, "Why don't you just decide what it is you want to do for a project, and I'll help you tie it into English?" I didn't want to tie their hands at all. There were a lot of questions about what they could do, but not one single question about grades, points, rubrics or anything. I was surprised and impressed that my students were already embracing the idea.
My 8th graders had the same initial response. Really? You mean, we can do anything we want? Yep! Finally, a student asked, "How many points is this worth?" I just responded, "I'll get to that." and moved on. The question didn't come up again. Later in class, while the students were working on their current assignment, I pulled the student aside and explained to her why I don't want her focused on a grade. I just told her to focus on the project and have fun with it. She got it once I explained "the research" behind it. Quite simply, I told her, I want this to be an outcome or learning goal and not a performance or grade goal.

My 7th graders have really taken to it. As a matter of fact, they are spending more than 20% of their time on their project right now. I'm allowing them some time to develop that balance. I love to see them excited, but I don't want them to forget their assigned work.

My 8th grade was a slightly different story. About half of them were immediately excited to get started. The other half were working diligently on their poetry anthology due at the end of the week because they were behind on their work. During class today, there was a group of 3 girls looking at a laptop screen and one said, "He's so cute." I wandered by and saw a Google Image Search of the boy-of-the-week. I reminded them to re-focus on their work and one of the girls blurted out, "20% project!" I treated it light-heartedly this time and said, "I'm confident you'll come up with something better."

I'm sure this will be a problem for a few of the students. And, I can probably tell you exactly which ones will try to take advantage of the freedom. How I will handle that yet, I don't know. If it becomes a problem, I will have specific conversations with those students.

I'm excited to see what projects the students come up with. I'm also hopeful the students will learn to balance their time between multiple projects. They already do that with my flipped class, but this will add a level of independence they've not had the opportunity to explore. So, as I take on this adventure, I'll blog more updates. I may also share some of my students' blogs, with their permission, down the road. In the meantime, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the show!