Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Ten Stages of Flip

Remember how facebook introduced timeline a while back? Whatever your reaction to it, just consider that in a few years, people on facebook will be able to look back at the story of their own lives, the story that they wrote as it was happening, which, let's face it, will probably be way more accurate than any autobiography ever written.

This post is kind of my timeline since I started flipping. I looked back at all my posts since that first day, and it was quite the eye-opener, even though I wrote them all and I was there for the whole saga. I think it's crucial for everyone, flippers and critics alike, to let time enter into the discussion. You have to look at it all on a timeline to appreciate it. Toss it all onto a time graph, as individuals, as schools, even the whole movement. For example, I see my professional growth like this:



What can I say, I'm a math teacher, I'm into graphs.

If we looked at the movement as a whole this way, we'd see that the name is starting to not make as much sense, for example, "flip"  is starting to be replaced by "Flip 101", since it's really just a starting point, for those of us who are actually doing it. New labels are emerging that reflect the collaborative and higher-order-thinking natures of the movement, like coflip and metaflip. But the thing is, real change is happening, and it started with teachers.

But some critics just don't seem to be patient. They want it all to be perfect right away. But hey, if someone said to you:
someecards.com - You there! Improve everything you do! And make it snappy!

.....what would YOU say? We all need time, time to think, regroup, absorb, debate, compare......to learn. And that's what happens after that first venture into the land of flip, you become a learner right along with your kids.

So here are my stages so far, just under two years in. Whatever speed you move at, and whatever order you do things, I hope you recognize some of these, and please feel free to add.

1. Awakening and Courage: You hear about flipping the class and can't get it out of your head, but it takes almost a year before you have the courage to try it. You make your first recorded lesson and assign it to your students to watch.

2. Let-down: Not all of them watched it. You are shocked. You mean there are kids who don't do homework?!? You assign the same text book questions that you have always assigned. Few requests for help, and those from the same kids who always ask for help. Those who didn't watch either keep a low profile and struggle with the work, or watch during class, if there's a device handy of course.

3. Persistence: Repeat until you can't stand the quiet and the loneliness. You acutely feel the need to interact with your students over anything, preferably the content, to discuss, to hear their thoughts, to straighten out all the things that surely need straightening out.

4. Stirring it up: You start a class by asking if there are any questions from the previous night's lesson. There are a few. You think - this is not so different from traditional, it's the same few kids watching the video and asking questions. What's changed? Why am I doing this again?

5. Connecting: A student asks for help. And it's a good question. It's the kind that you wish every student would ask. It's not just Mrs. how do I do this, it's Why is it this way and not that way. You help them out. You really help them out. You see exactly where they need help, because you're having a conversation with them about it. You realize that even though you only helped one kid, it's such a powerful exchange that you are addicted to it. You wonder why this is the first time it's happened, even though you've been teaching for over 20 years.

6. Widening the radar: You start to initiate conversations with other kids, rather than wait for them to do it, because you know that most of them would rather not even be here, let alone talk to you about how they can't do the things you're asking them to do, which by the way, they don't want to do those either. You find you're getting to know these kids for the first time since they've been in your class. You feel a bit ashamed when you think of all those who've slipped under your radar over the years.

7. Speeding up/down: The stronger students begin to move ahead and ask for the next lesson before it's ready. You are like a deer in the headlights. Ummmm....do you have any other homework? you ask sheepishly. That night you spend a boatload of time queuing up the next few lessons and assigned work. You make it all available to them, from a website that you've only now understood what it's for, a content management system, or CMS. You start saying things like CMS. You try to sound casual, like, oh yeah, I just put it on the CMS, whatever.

8. Keeping track:  Since they're not all getting things done at the same speed, you realize you need to keep track more than you ever needed to before, but you can't keep up with the data. You start to use another website to do that, a wonderful one called google drive, and it is wonderful, for it is google drive. You start to say things like "I uploaded it to google drive" or "Did you update the checklist on google drive?" for you are now making these things called google forms. Your friends start to call you a technological genius. And stop listening to you because they think you must be some kind of technological genius, and anyway, they "don't have time" for all that tech stuff. You start to feel all alone.

9. Deepening thoughts: You feel like your class is becoming a ragtag band of math wanderers, then suddenly you remember a class activity that you were all fired up about 3 years ago from a workshop but that you never fit  into your class. You spend your evening designing it down to the last detail. Then you worry that it will only take 5 minutes of class time, so you design 2 more activities just in case.

10. More aha-ing: The first activity takes the whole period, because it was a good one, a REALLY good one based on research by Malcolm Swan, that got all of them talking about things you wanted them to notice....and things you didn't even think of, but are really awesome that they're talking about. With you. And each other. So now, during your class, there are conversations going on. About all kinds of stuff, including math.

I know, I know, I said ten...oh well:

11. Community: You join twitter and go through the ten stages of twitter. Then you join The flipped Network and start meeting other teachers. You stop feeling all alone.

12. Awakening of creativity: Everytime you take a shower 2 dozen more ideas come to you. You forget most of them by the time your hair dries. The one you remember you spend the rest of the evening putting together. You resolve to either stop taking showers or write these ideas on the wall with a grease pencil. (Thanks Kate Nowak.)

13. Reality: Your family alerts you to the complete lack of clean underwear anywhere in the house, and to the strange cryptic messages on the bathroom wall.

Bonus steps:

You re-watch your first video.

You begin searching for a large rock to crawl under because it is just so awful. Just. So. Awful.

And now the next stages, which will include making my "lessons" shorter and less and less necessary, another thing I can't get out of my head since hearing Graham Johnson speak at the Global Math Department webinar. Thanks, Graham. And thanks facebook!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Maybe we should call it the shifted classroom:

Please click through all the slides, this has consumed me for about 2 weeks. It's a visual description of the flipped class AND its benefits. Comments and feedback hysterically welcome (in case the scribd version doesn't work for you, see the slideshare version below): Flip o Graphic


Note: The scribd version doesn't seem to be working in chrome or firefox, so here it is on slideshare:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wanted: Ideas for "good" help

The very day after the class I posted about here, I continued in my quest to control my explaining habit. Math help was out of the question but I used the rule of thumb that they could get math help from a peer without any penalty. But I needed something to do....I mean I am the teacher! Thankfully, I found a few things I could do with a clear conscience. And if you have anything to add to the list, I would be eternally grateful:

Be a catalyst:
  • One student told me he got his solution in two different ways but didn't get the same result. He asked if I could help him find the mistake, because he had tried and was getting frustrated. I figured it would be better if he compared his results with someone else, so I asked for volunteers to put their results on the board. Not all students have the confidence to put themselves out there on their own initiative, so my role was to be the catalyst. Once one or two graphs were up on the board, the rest followed more easily. Comparisons were made, discussions ensued, mistakes were found. Strength in numbers! 
Help them find the hole:
  • Whenever I was asked for help, I started by saying "Tell me what you've done so far." First off, this helps them organize their thoughts. Also, while they do this, I have to be constantly asking questions, like, how did you get this result, how did you verify these calculations, what do you know, what are you looking for...and if the answer to any of these is I didn't do that or I don't know, it helps them zoom in on the hole in their work ethic, not their math.
  • Even those who are marching along at a good clip can benefit from explaining their work, to me or to a peer, because that can be a practice run at how they will present their solution.
Get them modelling:
  • One student, let's say her name is Claire, listened to one group's explanation of their procedures, then later, while working with a different group, said she hadn't understood the first group's work, and so had figured out her own way. I asked Claire to explain her way to the second group. That group then benefited not only mathematically, but emotionally. She used their own language, AND it was great modelling - here's someone who got stuck, tried out something else, then persisted until she found her own way. I can say "persist!" until the cows come home, but when they see a peer actually doing it, it's got gravitas.
Give presentation guidance:
Nice colour coding by a student!
I made suggestions for how their final work might look:
  • headings for sections
  • colour coding
  • introduction/conclusion paragraph
  • outline procedure first then give details
  • validate and show your validation
  • do the whole thing paper-free


Offer technical help:
  • A student was trying to read points from his graph, which he had created from excel using just a few data points. From his responses to my "find the hole" questions, I guessed that his graph didn't have the accuracy he needed (remember I can't see them, or their work instantly), so I suggested he do it using geogebra, which can produce a graph from a rule. I had already introduced geogebra, and I had told them they could use it for this problem, but I think he was stuck in a rut, always using the same tool, never considering that another might be better for this case.
  • Some were working on their final presentation and needed help like how to take a snapshot and paste it into a word doc or ppt, or how to get proper math notation and symbols into the same.
Final thoughts:

  • Of course, it all depends. Pretty much all of the above ideas came to me during and after a class with a highly motivated and active core group of students. They're the spark plugs in the problem-solving engine. But in a class without those spark plugs, where no one ever asks you for help, or no one offers help, none of this would happen without additional prodding from me. Which makes it all feel so old-school to me, so do-this-because-I-told-you-to-not-because-you-want-to. Maybe that's just a question of finding problems that are more engaging for that particular group....

More suggestions?

  • If you have any other ideas of what kind of help teachers can give students that will truly help them tackle problems, other than explaining the entire solution to them, I'd love to hear them!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Real bullying

So many tv shows and movies portray bullying as an overt, intentional, and violent act that's easy to spot. And it's easy to distinguish the bullies from the bullied. My own experience with it, as a kid and as a parent, is very different. Sometimes it's more about what doesn't happen, and what you don't see. And more importantly, on some level, at some point, everyone participates on the bullying side, whether or not they meant to. I'll explain with a few examples from my life:

Conflicting agendas

When my son was in grade 3 or 4, at a school I'll call ABC School, he witnessed his best friend being bullied. Kevin (not his real name) had hurt his leg on the playground, and as he was crying from the pain, some kids made fun of him and even kicked his leg, which, as it later turned out, was broken. My son came home extremely upset, told me about it, and I wrote a note to his teacher informing her of what had happened. I figured someone should know about it, and I wanted my son to know that he had done the right thing in telling me. I remember ending the note with something like "I know ABC school does not tolerate bullying," because that was the message that had come home in writing prior to this incident.

In he went the next day with the note. I went to work. Mid-morning, I received a phone call from an irate principal of ABC School. I will never forget this conversation as long as I live. I was scolded for using the word bullying, because that word is so strong and so negative, and could give the wrong impression of a school, so please do not use this word to describe what happened. I responded by saying that my son had certainly seen SOMETHING, and that I thought the school would want to at least find out more. He said, "I already asked Kevin. He said nothing happened, there was no bullying." Gee, I can think of a good reason why a bullied kid would lie about that, but anyway, that was the principal's story and he was sticking to it. He clearly didn't want bad publicity for ABC School.

Meanwhile, a very different reaction was taking place in the realm of the teachers. When my son came home that day, he told me that at morning recess, the teachers had gathered all the kids from the whole grade into one class, and no one was allowed to leave until the bullies confessed.

And they had! Interesting note - based on the timing, I was pretty sure these confessions happened at the same moment the principal was on the phone telling me no bullying had happened.

Quite a difference between the principal's reaction and the teachers' eh? Clearly, the principal's agenda conflicted with the teachers'. And Kevin's, and my son's, if kids that age can even have them. Being able to see what had happened was just not possible for someone who needed to not see it.

Bullying by compliance

Soon after my daughter started attending XYZ high school, she told me about a girl in her grade that everyone called, I'll say, Frog. The consensus was that she was obnoxious and unattractive. But she didn't seem to mind, in fact, she laughed whenever someone called her that. So no harm done right? Except that this girl was being dehumanized, and I was pretty sure it hurt, and that she was doing a good job of hiding it.

I was so upset to hear this, as a mother and a teacher, that I called the school, and told the vice principal about it. He was very kind, very professional, also very upset, and thanked me for telling him. He assured me he would do something about it. I'll never forget that conversation either, mainly because I had steeled myself for something entirely different.

Soon after that, I asked my daughter if anything had been done about it. She thought for a second and said, "Oh that must be what that talk was about in homeroom. The vice principal came in and told us that bullying is wrong and we should tell someone if we see it happening."

That was it. Now, I know he meant well, but let's face it, those words likely fell on deaf ears. How many times had they heard this? And why would they listen this time, especially when no one knew what specific incident had brought it on? But even more importantly, his voice didn't have the power to change anyone's perception. As sincere as he might have been, he just said what a vice principal is supposed to say. Even my daughter, a nice kid, who never called anyone names, still had the idea that no bullying had happened. So people were complying with not only the status quo, but with the perceived attitude of the victim.

Enter the age of the authentic voice

Last week @intrepidteacher tweeted this about one of his students:

It's an eloquent and painfully honest post by a brave student about being shunned, which is a form of bullying with which I am all too familiar. Here it is. Go have a read, I'll wait.

Now THIS is an authentic voice! It got my attention, it got the attention of a LOT of people on twitter, and you can see by the comments that it got the attention of OTHER KIDS! Imagine the relief, the shock, the introspection, the awareness, sensitization, well you get the idea, that arose from the writing, posting, reading, and reacting to this post!
  • This writer found out he was not alone in feeling this way
  • other kids found out what it felt like to be shunned
  • other kids found out that they were not alone
  • other kids had to face the undeniable fact that they were participants in hurting someone
  • teachers, administrators, and parents got a big eye-opening because this came straight from the victim

...and you cannot help but believe him, not only because of how it's written, but because there is nothing interfering with his message, no one spinning it or burying it or viewing it through a distorted lens for their own agenda. Ok, Jabiz tweeted it, but that's just more bravery.

Imagine if the girl in my daughter's high school had been given the opportunity to express her feelings like this? Imagine students in her school reading it, thinking, wow that's so mean of people to do that, and then finding out at the end of the post that she was a girl in their own class, and that they had unwittingly participated in her suffering? I can only hope that's happening right now in the school of this young man. And I can only hope that that poor girl at XYZ High has found out somehow that she doesn't have to play along with the bullies and laughingly shrug off hurtful comments.

More than ever, I am convinced that getting kids to write and giving them an audience might just be the best line of defense against all kinds of bullying, overt or otherwise. At least it's the best way to convince everyone, the bullies, the victims, and everyone in between, that it happens, it's real, and it hurts.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Hi. I'm Audrey. And I'm an Explain-aholic.

Here is my story. It starts yesterday.

Yesterday, I gave my students a situational problem to work on, which is the term we use here in Quebec for a problem that is rather complex, involves many steps, and has many possible correct answers. For example, design a house that has a total living area between such and such m², and costs no more than such and such to build, given these materials and constraints etc etc.  I've grown to love these problems, but they always seem to bring out one of my biggest weaknesses as a teacher, that is, as I've confessed, that I am an Explainaholic.

One of the things this type of assessment is supposed to measure is the student's ability to independently move forward in the problem. As such, I told the kids, as I always do at the beginning of a situational problem: "You can ask me for help, but if I help you, it's gonna cost you. Not money, marks."

But then I always fold like a house of cards as soon as someone goes all helpless and floppy and sad. For I am all too happy to swoop down and.....EXPLAIN.

Not this time. I just wrote a post right here acknowledging that I have a bad addiction to explaining the life out of everything, so I felt armed and ready to resist temptation. I faced my addiction like a Gladiator. Strength and honour.

So for each class, I put the kids into breakout rooms, which is equivalent to pods in the brick and mortar classroom. Then I waited and watched. In my first class, no major breakthroughs happened, and no one asked me for any help, which is fine, that's what I want, right? But not right somehow.

But in my second class, about 10 minutes into their breakout room time, I saw that a student in one room, I'll call him Evan, had made a breakthrough. He didn't seem to know that he had, and he didn't know what to do next, but he was onto something. So I let Evan and his group chew on it a bit. They asked me if I could give them a nudge, and I am proud to say, I said no. But I wanted everyone to sink their teeth into it and move it forward, so I moved the rest of the class into that room, one by one, and said, here you go, no marks lost if you get help from someone besides me.....

More progress was made, and there was even some checking of results using geogebra, at which point I began weeping tears of joy. Because geogebra is another addiction, but I think it's a good one, and I'm all too happy to create new geogebra addicts.

Then, in a moment of weakness...

....I buckled. Yes, I am sorry to say, I decided to give them a hint. Don't know why. I spoke. "You have 2 unknowns and only one equation."

And..........they couldn't hear me! Some glitch in our virtual environment actually made my voice not get through, but they could still hear each other! It was divine cyber intervention saying:

YOU. AUDREY. SHUT. UP.

Well that didn't stop me, of course, because I could still write on the board, which (cringe) I did, BUT all I did was to circle the equation they had written, write "equation #1" next to it, then "equation #2?" I heard and saw a lot of "OHHHHHHH!!" 's. Love that. Addicted to that too.

At this point I REALLY needed to talk, but not to explain, just to remind them about tutoring tonight, etc, because we were almost out of class time, so I did a few things to try to restore my audio, and by the time I finished that, the period had ended. But I seemed to be the only one who noticed, because they kept right on working. I'm not saying every single student was talking, but they were all still there, a good 5 minutes after class ended. There was a core of 4 or 5 kids who were doing the writing and talking, but the rest were still there.

There's more!

That's not the end of the story, though. It just so happened that last night at tutoring, which all students can attend, I had mostly customers from my first period, which, remember, was the group that hadn't really gotten anywhere. But I had ONE student from the second class, and I repeated what I had said, that if she helped them out, it was ok. I'll call her Courtney.

"Courtney," I said, "would you mind telling these ladies what happened in our class today?"

"Well, " she answered, "I didn't really understand what those guys were doing." she replied.

"@#!%#@$#^@^#%^" I said to myself. "Steady, strength and honour, hold the line," said the Gladiator. Sigh. My Russell. FOCUS AUDREY.

"But," Courtney continued, "I figured it out myself afterward."

My brain: "Sorry, what?"

And then she proceeded to show the others what she had done to get that second equation, which was actually a bit different than what Evan had done. More "OHHHHH!!!!" 's from the others. It gave me goosebumps. So proud of myself. Oh and my students too.

Thoughts/concerns:
  • In disallowing my help, but allowing their help, have I just re-routed my addiction, AND fed their's, so that someone else is delivering the goods? Or does hearing it from a peer, someone in the same boat as them, have a different effect that's worthwhile? Is that the social aspect of learning?
  • Did everyone get somewhere, or just the kids who were talking and writing?
  • Does this mean that next time we do a sit prob, some of the kids will just wait around for someone else to figure it out and tell them? I mean what do they care who it is that's explaining, as long as they don't lose marks, right?
  • How do the kids who made the breakthrough feel? Like everyone else benefited unfairly from their work? Or did it benefit them too, because as we all know, when you have to explain something you end up understanding it all the better?
  • How can I make transparent whatever skills Evan and Courtney used to make that first breakthrough? Is it something the others can reproduce? And what is it? Just plain math ability? Confidence? Organized notes?
Maybe today I'll spend some time letting them discuss/process how this breakthrough came about, so that everyone will have a better chance at doing it next time. Maybe later, not sure when would be best. Strike when the iron's hot?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Teaching Fixes

By fix, I mean something that I absolutely must have, but that isn't, strictly speaking, good for me. For example, I have to get my bagel fix once a week, and I don't mean just any bagel, I mean Montreal-style bagels.

If you have tried a real Montreal bagel, you know what I mean. If you haven't, well, you might be able to live a relatively happy life, I don't know, with support from your family and all. Or you could come to Montreal.

The thing is, it's an indulgence, especially the slabs of cream cheese....but I do indulge once in a while because it seems to quiet that inner bagel monster long enough so I can get on with my life. So.....

What are my fixes as a teacher?

Well, there are things that I need that I probably shouldn't. Somehow these things make me feel like I'm doing a good job, and I know, that's really about me, not my students, I get it. But maybe if I acknowledge it, give into it just a little, like that bagel, I can control it....

  • I need to make my students laugh.
  • I need to be creative.
  • I need to EXPLAIN SOMETHING TO SOMEONE.
  • I need to witness the moment when something clicks in a student's head, that "OHHHHH I get it now!"
  • I need someone to say to me "Audrey you are doing a phenomenal job." And that someone can be me, that's not a problem. It usually is.
  • I need their marks to be high THERE I'VE SAID IT!
  • I need a bagel. Oh sorry. Already covered that. With a metric ton of cream cheese.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Have a look at what online looks like to me

Online Education - How do you react when you hear those words? Be honest, at least with yourself - do you automatically lower your expectations? Or worse, do you stop listening? I hope you will listen for just a few seconds longer this time.

Some things I heard said at the iNACOL VSS 2012 conference have prompted me to write this post. The word online itself needs to be clarified first, and I have blogged about that here, but today I'd like to address what seems to be a perception that online education is somehow not as good as "the real thing". That it ISN'T, in fact, "the real thing". Now I'm not saying it's all wine and roses, and as I said before, there's good and bad on both sides of the fence, but I worry that a huge group of teachers who are immensely gifted and dedicated are being written off without a moments' thought.

First here's a video I made from my actual classes, from today. This is what online is for me and my students at LearnQuebec. I want to make sure everyone reading this (all 1 of you) gets what it is I do for a living, in fact what it is a lot of folks out there do for a living, and a video is worth a thousand words. And by the way, I taped this today, not knowing I'd be using it here, so I have had to block my students' names to protect their privacy. The purple callouts are my comments for you:



As you can see, it's a live class, and we do the same kinds of things you do in your brick and mortar, we just don't happen to be in the same physical space. I've had 20 years' experience in the brick and mortar, and the last 5 years online, and I love teaching online. Here are some pro's and cons:

Online pro's
  • Being able to have a private conversation with a student during the class, and I do mean private, not only does no one else know what's being said but no one knows that it's even happening
  • being able to have a class even when the roads are full of snow (this also appears in the con list)
  • can have way more kids writing on board at same time, most I ever had on chalk board was 4, and on a smartboard it's 1 (although I hear on the promethean one more than 1 can write)
  • all the kids are already on a computer, so all online tools available to me and them, no need to book the computer lab
  • not having to be constantly pulled away from teaching to do things like supervision, open house, detentions
  • I have my own comp, printer, phone, scanner, don't need to share with anybody
  • typing skills have grown exponentially
  • completely comfortable with online presence, twitter etc because it's so necessary for us, we go above and beyond to connect since we're deprived of f2f most of the time
  • so much more connected with my students than I ever was in the classroom and I'm not even sure I know why this is! Probably the flipping.
Online cons:
  • no f2f, which means a lot of communication is left out
  • hard to get kids who don't know each other and have never seen each other to work together and be comfortable with each other
  • there is no such thing as a ped day or a snow day
  • don't get to see other teachers everyday, miss those convos that happen on your way past someone's desk with ppl in other departments. I used to LOVE the french department, those ladies really knew how to live
  • miss out on school spirit since teach so many different schools
But here's the thing, what it boils down to is this: good teaching is good teaching, wherever it happens.

And some students do well in the online class, but not all, just like in brick and mortar.

But you don't have to take my word for it. At VSS 2012, we heard from some kids about why THEY love their online classes, and their reasons were show-stopping, ranging from escaping from bullying and drug addiction to an opportunity to be the first in a family to go to college. In our case, we are helping kids who would otherwise not get the credits they need to go to college. Our kids write the same end of year exams as everyone else in Quebec, no special deals for them.

Phew. That feels good to get that out. Now I'll wait for the barrage of comments. From my mom.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My presentation for K12 Online 2012 Conference

Doing this convinced me that learning by doing is absolutely the best way to go - I learned SO much about using Camtasia in the 9 - 10 days it took me to make this. That's right, to make a 20-minute video....I hope you enjoy it!

Monday, October 29, 2012

I teach online. And by "online" I mean.......

I was fortunate to attend the 2012 Virtual School Symposium last week, which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana. Thank you iNACOL for this amazing conference!  And, okay, blowing my own horn here, I was there because I and my colleague, Peggy Drolet, were presented with the "iNACOL Innovative Online Learning Practice 2012" award.  I have to say, I love this picture. Not only because of what's happening in it, and who I'm standing next to, and where we were, but gosh I love my dress and shoes....focus, Audrey.

Back to business: The symposium was organized by iNACOL, which stands for International Association for K12 Online Learning. Of all the things I feel compelled to write about and reflect upon after this conference, (stay tuned, it was awesome, gbl, pbl, mobile learning, Bourbon Street, links to flipped class....later), the most burning one is that word "online."

I already knew there were many different meanings to that word, but since VSS 2012, oh boy, I had no idea how many permutations and combinations there were. There's online, asynchronous, synchronous, blended, office hours, virtual, brick and mortar.....and now I see, kind of, sort of where I fit in. If anyone wishes to add, or make corrections, please feel free to comment below, I'm just trying to sort it all out in my head. Constructing my own learning, if you will:

The basics, about which there is little debate:

  • asynchronous = not live, not bound by time, whatever happens doesn't require that everyone be in the same place at the same time, for example, a recorded lesson can be listened to anytime, an assessment can be done by a student at any time, or a blog post can be written at any time.
  • synchronous = live, bound by time, whatever happens does require that everyone be in the same place at the same time, for example, a live lecture, a or a class collaborating to create a review outline, or students all writing as assessment at the same time
  • learning management system (LMS) = a tool that the teacher uses to deliver content, assessments, and to track what, when, and how students have fulfilled the requirements, for example, moodle
  • brick and mortar = the ultimate synchronous experience, anything that happens in an actual building, everyone is there at the same time AND physical place. Also called face-to-face, or f2f.
Now for "online", about which there is infinite debate:
  • online, to anyone not involved in education = anything that happens over the internet, learning or not, ie reading a blog, playing a game, using an online tool, social networking......as in, I'm chatting online
  • online, to anyone involved in education = teaching/learning that happens on the internet, and can mean any combination of asynchronous and synchronous, anywhere on this continuum:
    • At the left extreme, all asynchronous delivery of course content, with no synchronous component, ie students listen to lessons, do assessments, and don't meet with the teacher or other students. Teachers keep track of students' progress via the LMS. These classes tend to have huge numbers of students in them, sometimes over a thousand.
    • At the right, it's all live classes, 100% synchronous delivery of course content, ie everyone meets in a virtual classroom, such as Elluminate, Zenlive, or Adobe Connect. The course content is delivered to everyone during that time. Students may interact with the teacher and each other. Teachers don't need an LMS in this scenario, but the live lessons are often recorded and made available to students afterward. These classes tend to have small numbers of students, perhaps 15 - 25 kids.
    • In between these extremes seems to be where most people/organizations are, in any of the many combos. For example, many virtual schools use asynchronous delivery of course content and assessments via an LMS, with some synchronous component, ie students meet with the teacher individually or in groups during the teacher's office hours. The teachers make extensive use of the info in the LMS to tailor the meeting according to the individual needs of the students The meeting between the teacher and the student takes place in a virtual classroom environment, such as Elluminate, Zenlive, or Adobe Connect, where the teacher is often having private conversations with as many as 20 students at a time. The enrollment in these classes tends to be somewhere in the hundreds.
**(We heard some astonishingly honest, moving, and enthusiastic testimony from a panel of students about how they feel about their online classes, and teachers, more about that later.)**

Blended learning:
  • can mean online learning anywhere between the two extremes on the above continuum
  • can mean a combination of online and brick and mortar, or f2f  learning. Oh boy, how do I work that into the continuum? I won't.
Where do I fit in?

Definitely somewhere in between the two ends, but I think closer to the synchronous end. When I started teaching for LearnQuebec, I was all synchronous. I was doing pretty much what I had been doing for the 20 years prior to that in the brick and mortar classroom. I taught, kids took notes, I gave them homework, they came back the next day with questions etc, pretty standard stuff.

Then I started getting the kids to blog, which moved me away from 100% synchronous, because that took place outside of class. We talked about their blogging and commenting in class, so there was some real blending.

Then I started flipping my classroom, which moved me a bit further to the left. Things have evolved since then, so here's the breakdown:

Asynchronous components: Anytime outside of class, students:
  • watch lessons on voicethread
  • comment, ask, or answer questions on voicethread
  • blog and reflect on content
  • use gizmos on explorelearning.com
  • do assessments on explorelearning.com
  • do assignments to be handed in
Synchronous components: During class time, which we all have everyday by the way, students:
  • explore the content before the voicethread (often using geogebra, sometimes introductory problem)
  • reinforce the content after the voicethread (practice on eboard, discuss voicethread questions, make and present summaries) 
  • apply the content after several voicethreads (often using geogebra, solving situational problems, collaborate to make chapter summary)
  • get individual help/intervention from me
  • etc it's all still evolving....if you're flipping, you know how it is, it's pure magic and it's never done
Now that I've gotten that burning post out of my head, time to get to the wonderful ideas I heard about. I will next be posting about two fantastic sessions that I attended, one on game-based learning by Andrew Miller (@betamiller), and one on pbl as related to competencies, also by Andrew, co-presenter Rose Colby (@rose_rosecolby).

In the meantime, stay safe during this "frankenstorm"!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

When Your Audience is Loaded for Bear

Last Friday, I and my colleague Peggy Drolet (@PeggyONeillDr) , did a presentation on the Flipped Class for the CQSB's "This is I.T." ped day in Quebec City. It was almost the exact same presentation we did in June, at a conference called STEM Quebec, and we were blown away by the differences in audience reaction.

Rewind to last June: The group in June was a large one, over 40 participants, all math or science teachers. We had tried to flip it by emailing a short video to our participants ahead of time, providing hands-on things to do during the session, and giving individual help. At the time, it seemed to go well, we had most saying that they would try flipping, good reviews, but now I realize that the enthusiasm was nowhere near what we had Friday.

Friday's group was very small, only about a dozen people, from all subject areas and all levels. We hadn't had their emails ahead of time, so we weren't able to send anything in advance. Friday morning, as we rehearsed and got ready, we realized that we really didn't have any idea of who our audience really would be. So Peggy had this idea: We asked them to do something as they sat waiting for the session to begin.We left post-it notes on the desks, and had a single slide displayed on the smartboard as people walked in:

While you're waiting, please complete this sentence on the post-it:

"My one burning question about the flipped class is......" 

As we went around saying hi, we asked them to post their questions on the sideboard. Just before beginning our presentation, we had a quick look at the post-its. Only one question was "What is flipping the class?" The rest were very specific, like:
  • What do you do if a student hasn't watched the video?
  • What happens during class?
  • How do you find the time?
  • Is it applicable in grade 1?
This was our first clue that these people were loaded for bear. (More about what we did with those post-its later.)

Next hint came about 10 minutes later, when we started the first hands-on activity, which was to get them to try out voicethread. We wanted them to get the hang of the tool, not to spend time creating a lesson and slides. To facilitate that, before the session, we had created some really short and simple slides on various subjects, like history:



science:

,

and art:



We had uploaded the slides to voicethread, but we didn't put any comments, voice or otherwise, into them. That was the part we wanted them to do - to change it into a lesson! We used this website to deliver the links so they could quickly select a topic and start turning it into a lesson by adding their voice, drawing, or whatever they wanted.

Rewind to June: This was exactly what we had done in June, except that then, it was only math topics. At that time, there were issues with connectivity, and we may not have been very clear about what we wanted people to do, because I remember we were pretty busy going around and helping individual people. I do remember questions like how do you get this or that effect in powerpoint, or where did you get that virtual TI calculator, how much time do you have to spend prepping when you flip. Good questions, but now that I look back I realize they didn't contain a lot of "Wow I really want to try this out" subtext.

But on Friday, within minutes, there were people asking if they could upload their own powerpoints and make their own actual lessons, not pretend lessons just for today, real ones! Peggy did an impromptu demo of uploading to voicethread, something we hadn't anticipated people asking about! And people were asking questions like:

  • Do the students have to get a voicethread account too?
  • Are teacher accounts included when you get the whole school account?
  • Can you make it so that only you see their comments?
  • Can you upload other types of files besides powerpoint?
Now THESE had subtext - unmistakable subtext - you only ask these when you've already started flipping in your mind.

In fact, the questions just kept coming as we continued our presentation, which covered, among other things, using googledocs for collaborative activities, class management strategies, and student feedback. We had anticipated most of the questions and concerns in our presentation, which was a great validation for us. One thing we noticed was how quickly and frequently that golden question came up:

"What happens during class?"

My answer? Magic! Well, I said more than just that.

And about those little post-its:

One of the last things we did was to go through the post-its, and sort out the questions we had already answered from those we hadn't. Happily, there were more in the former pile than the latter. We then went through the as-yet-unanswered ones and addressed them. I LOVED this strategy! Peggy, you are a genius!

Final thoughts:

Reasons for the differences? 
  • Well in June, I suspect most teachers are fried. It's enough to get people to show up at a conference then, never mind getting them to do homework before a session. There was enthusiasm, but it was isolated.
  • We had a much bigger group in June, which automatically makes things more formal, which makes it harder to connect. I'm not saying we didn't connect, just that it was harder to happen and to detect.
  • We didn't use that post-it thingy in June, so we didn't know our audience very well. Mind you, it might have been a bit tough to manage with that many people, but we would have benefited from something like it.
  • We definitely weren't clear enough, either time, about the whole voicethread activity, got to fix that next time.
  • Our room was like a crucible for flippers on Friday. There were many sessions going on at the same time, and we had some fierce competition. There was one on Digital Storytelling (by my incredibly inspirational and insightful colleague Susan Van Gelder), one on Twitter for teachers, two on gizmos, one on vodcasting, and lots more. So the people who came to us were really there to hear about flipping.
For next time:
  • Ixnay on the googledocs activity, I think it applies more to our online situation than to the brick and mortar one.
  • LOTS more about class activities, suggestions:
    • ask participants what have you always wanted to do in class but never had time to?
    • groups making summaries of lesson, comparing/presenting
    • working on research projects
    • partner quizzes (will be trying that soon myself - tks @daliazygas for the idea)
    • activities to introduce topic before watching video
    • activities to deepen understanding
  • demo more ways to make lessons, eg recording with the smartboard while you're just doing your regular teaching this year, in order to be ready to flip next year
  • don't have a raging cold on the day of the presentation
One more thing, thanks to Evernote once again, all the ideas that keep popping into my head are so easily retained now that I can just say them into my phone, and they get filed where I can find them later, like, for example, when I'm writing a blog post. I love my phone. I love my job. I love my colleagues. Bet you didn't know there would be so much corn in October did you?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The power of the WSQ

My first attempt at Crystal Kirch's WSQ strategy!

This week I decided to try out the WSQ, sort of. It was more of a WQS, since my students are already required to leave a comment/question as they watch the lesson on voicethread. So by the time they got to the S, they had already done the W and the Q. I looked forward to reading their summaries, and to getting insight into their thoughts. But I have to admit that the idea of reading and assessing everybody's summary was a bit daunting, so instead, on the last slide of the lesson, I told them that their next task was to summarize the steps of the procedure (solve an absolute valued inequation) and be ready to present in class next day, rather than hand it in to me. Here's the voicethread:




But I don't want to listen to a dozen or so of those, so at the beginning of class, next day, I put them into groups (in the virtual class that's called a break out room) and gave them about 10 minutes to put their summaries together as a group. Two birds killed with one stone: those that had watched got to reinforce their learning, those that hadn't got a peer's version of the lesson. I also LOVE that in the virtual class I can spy on them while they're working....and not have them know that I'm doing that! Try THAT in the brick and mortar!

Then I brought them back into the main room and had them present, using the microphone, no texting allowed. More dead birds: we all got to hear other voices for a change, and that wonderful class cohesion started to happen right before my eyes. Kids encouraging each other, joking, imitating me, by writing "Sketch that puppy" on their board! To the virtual class teacher, this is pure heaven!

Here are a few shots of their summaries:


What a great activity! Not because everyone had perfect summaries, because they didn't. The point was they got to work together, discuss, debate, draw, question, basically reveal their thoughts. That has to mean that those thoughts started to evolve somehow, today, in class. To evolve toward something deeper, or maybe even more right. We talked about what everyone had in common, how there were a few steps that were different, some more detailed than others. One student had actually prepared her own powerpoint summary!

Things I noticed:
  • It doesn't really seem to matter that there were mistakes in the summaries, or that some were actually describing another procedure altogether. What was great was what it revealed, to me, and to them. Finding out that someone else thinks like you do can be really empowering. Finding out that you didn't really understand something that you thought you had....better to know now than later.
  • It was interesting to see how two people, or even two groups, each of whom had their own summaries, could put their work together to make something better than each had begun with. The girl whose summary is the second one above noticed that some of the steps in the first one could be put into hers to add more detail. Nice!
  • Some groups, like the third one above, started by working out an example, and then summarized afterward. It seemed to help to have a concrete example next to each step. A strategy to suggest next time, for those who have a hard time putting their thoughts into words.
  • It was crystal clear who had not done any kind of summary beforehand. And my hope is that now they've seen that I expect this, AND, more importantly, that there is a learning and a social benefit to doing it, next time I'll have more participants.
  • Most presentations were basically reading what they had written on the screen. Hmmm. Next time, I'll make a suggestion for an alternate way to present.
What's next?

Well for one thing, this activity solved a big problem that has been dogging me for a long time as an online teacher, how to get that class cohesion happening in a more organic way. I found that since it was based on something they were all already supposed to have done, and since they didn't have to present alone, it felt more authentic than the usual, here kids, here's a problem, you figure it out in a group.

Another thing that only occurred to me afterward is that now that they've done this, it'll be a great lead-in to their blogs, which will start soon, because one of the first things they will do is do a summary of a lesson. This gets them up to speed just in time. But of course, being the seasoned professional that I am, I'll pretend that that was my intention all along.....

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mobile Me

I think this year my teaching will be transformed by mobility, and not just the smart phone kind. All because I started to take seriously two health threats: heart disease and Alzheimer's. I'm going to fight them both off with some weapons of mass, um, healthiness. And along the way I think my teaching will be transformed. Again!

Weapon #1: Moving: 

Apparently, anyone who sits for more than 3 consecutive hours a day runs a high risk of heart problems. That's me. It's more like 4 or 5 hours actually, given that a) my job requires me to be online, and b) I am a twitter addict. There are so many days when the only thing that gets me to leave the screen is my growling stomach. So I decided to head off heart disease by becoming more mobile.

This summer I promised myself that I would get at least an hour of exercise per day, and that whenever I'm online, I would get up and move once per hour. So far, so good, I have more or less been doing that, by walking, cycling, gardening, or doing weights. I'm thinking of asking my son to hook up his Wii Fit in my office. Darn thing cost an arm and a leg, and he's sure not using it anymore, so I'll use it for MY arms and legs!

Another reason to get mobile is my brain. Alzheimer's runs in my family. Being physically active is apparently a good way to keep your brain functioning longer, for one reason that it increases the blood supply to the brain. The other reason, to which I can attest, is that while you're doing some types of exercise, your mind can wander like crazy. It's like recess for your brain to process, connect, imagine. I have come up with great ideas while walking or cycling, only to lose them once I got home. Which has lead to another reason to be mobile, but this time I mean the smart phone kind. More about that later.

Weapon #2: Training: 

Because of my family history, I need to be way more aggressive in my fight against memory loss, so I have joined Lumosity for daily brain-training exercises, which are like games. Totally addictive games. (Memory matrix is my favourite.) I spend about 15 minutes a day on them, and it's so much fun that I really don't have to discipline myself at all, unless it's to get off the ipad. Plus I get to see my progress, which is really encouraging.

I've also joined Mindsnacks to learn Italian. These "lessons" are also games. Some games are the matching type, some are to help with spelling. They're all appealing and very effective. Apparently, learning a language is great for fighting off Alzheimer's, and I've always loved the sound of Italian. I can speak French pretty well already, so it's not that difficult to recognize and remember the Italian words.

Fringe benefit to my teaching: What's really cool about doing these training activities is that I get to find out what works and doesn't work for me as a student. For example, the gaming is wonderful. No discipline needed, and I am learning at the same time. I also love that the variety of the games makes it easy to progress in my learning, from recognition, to proper spelling, to making a full sentence. Gonna use that in my own class activities. Finally, being able to go at my own pace, and getting regular feedback are huge. I know it seems like "Well, DURR......" but it's one thing to know something and another to know it from experience.

On top of all that, being a student will give me some street cred. I'm going to tell my students that I'm learning something too, so I can model learning for them, good AND bad. Hopefully it will pay off somehow.

Weapon #3: Smartphoning: 

I've had my Android since last Christmas, but it's only now that I am starting to understand it, and use it as a mobile device. Two recent uploads that I'm really excited about are Evernote and QR Droid.

Evernote is helping me organize my entire life. The first time I used it, I was on my PC, and I made a to-do list as my first "note". Then I turned off my PC, went upstairs, and immediately thought of something else to add. Instead of going back to the PC, or worse yet, thinking "Oh I'll just add that later" and then forgetting to do that, I picked up my cell, uploaded the Evernote mobile app, opened my to-do list (for it was already there, on the cloud) and added the item. Wait.....

CORE-ROCKING MOMENT ALERT!

Seriously. I went OH! That's why it's called Mobile App! And THAT'S what synching means! I know. "Well, DURRRR....."

I then read this blog post by Steven Anderson, which helped me get it from a beginner's point of view, and then happened upon this one by Nicholas Provenzano, which gave me a vision for the future. And the rest will be history. Thank you Steven (@web20classroom) and Nicholas (@thenerdyteacher)!

So now I am completely addicted to Evernote, and I would love to use it with my students, but that will have to wait another year, so that I and my colleagues can get to know it better. But I seriously think that this app will change my life, if for no other reason than that I will no longer need to have a bazillion lists stuffed into pockets, purse compartments, or littering desktops and drawers. I just have to keep my phone charged for the love of all that's holy.  Now if someone could just tell me I could charge my phone BY exercising, my world would be just about perfect!

But Evernote will also help with the other kind of mobility, because I'll use it for those mind-wandering moments when I'm exercising and a great idea happens. Because I can just talk into my phone and send the audio clip to evernote! Yeah! I know! Evernote takes EVERYTHING!

And as for qr codes, I have gotten a few ideas for using them while on my walks, and a few other ideas from the amazing Nancy Schunke (@NancySchunke) and Todd Nesloney (@TechNinjaTodd). Thanks guys! Plus I obsessively scan EVERY qr code I see, just for the fun of it, although there are surprisingly few of them around these parts at the moment.

Oops it's time for me to mobilize. Italian thought for the day:

Oggi sarĂ² sano!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Help! Stuck in Jurassic times!

Here's my problem:

Every week, I make work guides, like the one you see on the right. It's a word document, which I create for my students, and their schools (long story short - I teach online, not in one school), so they can get an idea of what's coming up in the week. I then send it as an email attachment.

This feels like Jurassic era tech to me now. Emailing attachments is so yesterday, plus it takes a lot of time to put in the dates, and it's so completely static, no links, no flexibility.... This year I'm thinking I want to do this as a google doc.

If it's a google doc, I only have to "share" it, instead of emailing it. Since it's an online document, I can put whatever links I want in it, and it will be infinitely editable as the week goes on.

I just can't figure out a way to get google to put the dates in for me automatically, using some kind of online calendar info. I've looked through the templates that exist for weekly agendas, and they just don't look the way I want them to. There must be a way to start with a design and have google do the numbers? I really hate sitting there and typing all the dates in by hand. It probably doesn't seem like much time, but multiply by three classes, and then by 40 weeks, and it adds up. Plus, I'm getting picky I guess, about time wasters like this.

Another time-waster I'll have to deal with is that I would then use all the bulleted items to make for the students a checklist, in the form of a google form. Still want to make the form, just want that to happen automatically also. Later, I guess, one thing at a time.

 Here's a first draft for our first week back. Any comments or help would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Thank you, Quebec Ministry of Education, for Beaucoup de cool student projects!

In Quebec, up until 2 years ago, all grade 11 students were required to produce, by the end of the year, a math project, called the Independent Assignment. It was to be based on their own interest, of course related to math somehow, and it was to be done mostly during class time, in 10 sessions, with guidance from the teacher. This was so that it would be good training on how to do a research project as well. (We were given some excellent scaffolding for implementing this.)

I griped and panicked about how I would fit these project sessions into my classes AND still cover everything on time, for this was pre-flip, when classes were all me, me, and more me yammering away. But I dutifully had my students do the project anyway for the first time in the school year 2009-2010. They pretty much all made powerpoints, which was fine. The projects were great, and even though they had taken up a lot of class time and energy, I found it was worthwhile having my students do something that interested or inspired them mathematically.

Then I went to ISTE in Denver, and I heard about all the bazillion other tools there are out there. And I heard a casual reference to something called "flipping the class" during a session about something called "Twitter." Hmmmm", I thought, "interesting," blissfully unaware that, in that moment, my entire world had just been rocked to the core.

Well, back to reality, the next year, Quebec dropped the project as a requirement, but I decided to keep doing it, partly because, I really wanted to have some PBL in my course, but also because I really wanted to try out some of the tools I had heard about. That year's projects were a tiny bit more varied, I think I had one or two videos and the rest powerpoints. It had still been a challenge to fit in the sessions. Plus I started flipping late in the year, when many of the projects were already well under way.

This past year was my first full year flipping. And just like that, there was zero issue about fitting in the sessions. Class time was all about what THEY were doing, not what I was saying! I could discuss with them about their topic, they could discuss with each other, show what they'd found, experiment....I even had a period at the beginning of the year that was all about investigating the various tools, which was inspired by Terie Engelbrect's brilliant blog, which I had found on Twitter. Yup. Rocked to the core.

Well, it's two years after the government started it all, and here is the latest batch of projects, just handed in after a year of working on them in and out of class. The variety alone is blowing me away - voicethreads, videos, glogs, googledocs, prezis, AND powerpoints! If, two years ago, in Denver, you had told me that my students would soon be producing these kinds of projects, uploading them to their blogs, and never mind the fact that I have a blog and I'm embedding the projects on it....I would have looked around and said "Me? You mean me?"

Most of these are embedded, but some you have to click on the link to see the actual project. Enjoy! I know I did, in fact, I have this math rap song stuck in my head now:

Arnold's rap video:


Brett's intro video to his project:
:
....and the guitar math voicethread:

Emilie's googledocs presentation:


Kaily and the End of the World:

Kaitlyn's stepdancing voicethread:


Katerina's sizes of infinity video....definitely channeling Vihart here! ;)

Laura's mathitecture glog:

Madison's origami video:



Olivia's snowboarding prezi:



Ricky's sizes of infinity slideshare:


Taylor's energy glog:


Melissa's hockey math:


Joey's drum math:


In my dreams

So now off they go to CEGEP, which is the Quebec equivalent to college. A small, selfish part of me hopes that at least one of these students will next year submit a project using one of these tools, or something equally cool, to an astonished professor, who will then ask:

"Who are you really, and what is this amazing thing you have done, and where on earth did you learn how to do this?"

And they will say, "Oh I had to pick a webtool from a googledocs list, and learn how to use it so I could embed it in my blog, for my math teacher, Mrs. McGoldrick."

The professor will eventually regain the ability to speak, then he/she will exclaim "BLOG? GOOGLEDOC? How have you come to know all these wondrous things?"

And then he/she will learn about all these wondrous things, from one of my students, who will get to be their professor's teacher, at least for a few minutes.

How cool would that be? Beaucoup de cool. Merci MELS!

Monday, June 4, 2012

A year of student blogs - Warts and all

Time to take a look at the way things evolved this year with my grade 10 & 11 math students' blogging. I have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone, because the potential for learning is HUGE. If blogging worked so well for me as a vehicle for growth, it should do the same for my students.

But it wasn't rosy for all my classes. Some kids took to it, some didn't, and in the case of one of my classes, it seemed that the entire class just didn't see the point. I do have at least 3 students, though, who now post simply because they love it, which makes me very, very happy for them.

First a look at the sequence of events, which worked out really well, even though I sort of made it up as I went along. So as not to overwhelm the kids, I gradually introduced the world of blogging. It began as assigned posts, then gradually morphed into optional use of their blog to publish their work.This sequence worked well, and the only thing I might do differently is maybe begin earlier in the school year.

Here are the milestones in brief, with more detail below:
  1. December 2011: Created the classblog, to serve as the hub for all the others. 
  2. January 2012: Sent out form for parents to sign so that kids could have their own blog.  
  3. January 2012: Had students create their own blogs, using either blogger or wordpress.
  4. Immediately after that: Get everyone to follow everyone else, and the classblog.
  5. Immediately after that: Assigned the first post. 
  6. January 2012: Showed other tools like codecogs.
  7. January - February - March 2012: Assigned a scribe post everyday.
  8. Simultaneously: Assigned other blogs to read and comment on.
  9. Simultaneously: Used hub, or classblog, to upload info - some fun, some business.
  10. March 2012: Assigned small homework examples to be posted rather than handed in.
  11. March - end of year: Some major assignments, like projects, could from now on be published on their blog rather than handed in to me.
  1. December 2011: Created the classblog, to serve as the hub for all the students' blogs.  I wrote about that here. Took me a while to get my head around this. Like till December. 
  2. January 2012: Sent out form for parents to sign so that kids could have their own blog.  Actually, my principal did this part to cover all the web tools and activities that Learn's students were doing. I wanted their blogs to be open to the world, because a real blog works that way. But making it open came with some risk, of course, and as a parent, I was worried about the weirdos out there who might make a comment that was inappropriate. The safest thing would have been be for me to moderate all comments on their blogs, but then I would have had to be the owner, which misses the whole point of it being their own space. So if they own it, they have to moderate their own comments, which meant they might see something inappropriate. Took the plunge, parents signed, we were off to the races. Fortunately, nothing bad happened, not that I know of anyway.
  3. January 2012: Had students create their blogs using either blogger or wordpress. For blogger, they needed to use their google accounts to do this, which they had already created earlier in the year. I took some time to familiarize them with settings and tools for blogs, like design options, and how to post/comment, but most did not need much help here. It's super intuitive on blogger. Once they had created their blogs, it was a simple thing to just link to them from the classblog using the "link list" gadget, which you can see on the right hand side of the above image. Next year, unless they already have a blog, I will insist on blogger. That's what I'm familiar with, and I still find wordpress, even the edublogger version of it, really difficult to learn and get stuff to actually work properly on.  Anyway it was a lot of fun to see the designs they used, some of which they custom-made! Jack Black backgrounds! Awesome!
  4. Immediately after that: Get everyone to follow everyone else, and the classblog. Next year I'll get the parents to follow their child's blog as well as the classblog. This will be an opportunity for parents to really, actually see, firsthand, what their child is doing in math class! Also, I will use the opportunity to help the kids with managing web content, for example, how to use google reader, rather than letting email accounts get cluttered up with notifications every time someone posts.
  5. Immediately after that: Assigned the first post. Everyone had to post about anything remotely related to math. This was just to get them to dip their toes in. Some posted at length about something on which they were experts, and some just posted a tiny little cartoon with a math joke. All good. But I found I had to assign it, because as usual, if you don't require it, and you just say "Post whatever you want" you will be waiting rather a long wait. Plus, if they're all doing it at the same time, it takes away any self-consciousness they may have about putting themselves out there.
  6. January 2012: Showed other tools like codecogs, or how to embed something like a voicethread or a video. Very quickly, I could see the blurring of lines between teacher and student. Eventually, learned about Cmap tools, and prezi!
  7. January - February - March 2012: Assigned a scribe post everyday, one person per class per day, so that everyone got a turn at this eventually. They had to post a summary of the current lesson. Again, some put in minimal effort, some had pictures, formulas, etc. You could see who was really sinking their teeth in. And some started to post things even when I hadn't assigned it to them! Not only math stuff, either, but other topics of interest to them, for example, this student's tribute to her beautiful hometown. Of course, to get conversations going, I required that everyone make 5 comments during a unit. The idea was to get them critiquing each other's work, so that the posts would get better and better. I gave some guidelines on commenting, for example, "Awesome post, dude" was NOT going to count, but that is one area that will need lots more coaching next year. And rubric-ing.
  8. Simultaneously: Assigned other blogs to read and comment on. Like betterexplained. Reading other blogs is inspirational, fun, and helps them get the point of blogging. When they see the kinds of conversations that go on out there, they see a new kind of community, that they likely have not experienced before, even on facebook or twitter. Also models commenting for them. Had a wonderful moment in one class in which one student's comment on betterexplained was replied to by the author during that very class, and I wrote about that here. Definitely went into my feel-good file.
  9. Simultaneously: I used classblog to upload info - some fun, some business. Fun stuff would be like one of Vihart's videos, business would be the week's video lessons, or how their work should look for a given assignment. I found this really useful for little how-to demos, reminders, and things that I hadn't had time to mention during class. But they didn't all get into the habit of reading the classblog, because of course they were going directly to their own blog, not via the hub like I was. Hmmm have to think about that.
  10. March 2012: Assigned small homework examples to be posted rather than handed in, gave choice about what example to post, and how to post, ie use codecogs or some tool that makes things look really professional. Some just scanned and uploaded their handwritten work, which was fine. If I start the whole thing earlier next year, this will be used way more for this. Makes a great homework checker. And gets them hooked, after all, it's work that they have to do anyway, so we're killing two birds with one stone!
  11. March - end of year: Some major assignments, like projects, could from now on be published on their blog rather than handed in to me. And now I see who really and truly has adopted blogging. You hated it? No problem. You loved it? I know! Next year - more reflection and self assessment on their blog, including - what tools can I now add to my portfolio to show prospective employers? Or universities?

I hope this is helpful to anyone looking to get their students blogging!