Monday, July 25, 2011

How could we have been so foolish?

Parents used to smoke right next to their kids. Raw sewage used to be dumped straight into rivers and lakes. Gasoline used to be available with lead in it, as did paint. Doesn’t it make you gasp, and shake your head, and think, “How could they have been so foolish?”

When I hear things like this, I can’t help but wonder what we do, all of us, right now, about which one day, people will speak and shake their heads in disbelief. I’m pretty sure they’ll shudder at what cars did to the atmosphere, and how many trees were cut down to make room for more cows, destined to become burgers, and at how much water we wasted everyday.

What's this got to do with education?

Well, if we’re all lucky, they will also talk about the way we used to teach. With everyone doing the same thing at the same time, the teacher doing all the talking, learning only one subject at a time, and spending the year with a goal of writing down what you’ve learned during a three-hour exam. Yes, one day, I hope, they will shake their heads in profound disbelief at that. I hope they’re doing it now!

But the thing is, change is so tricky. Even those who want to change can be misguided about how to do it. Take me, for example. Being a technology enthusiast myself, I thought for a long time that the technology would change everything. Many times I would start by hearing about a certain tool and trying to force it into my class, just because it seemed cool or because someone else was all enthusiastic about it. Like voicethread – I first heard about it 3 years ago, and I had no idea how I could use it in my class, but I kept trying to make it fit. Googledocs, same thing, even though I had a better idea of how it would fit, like with online quizzes. I had a bit more success fitting the class blog in, but it still felt like I was forcing them to do it. And it was all very exciting, but it didn’t feel like a cohesive way of teaching or learning.

I was always starting with the tool or technology and trying to hammer it into the same old class model.

Then I tried the flipped class model, and that was the turning point.

My own breakthrough:

Once I adopted that model, the tools just lined up and marched into place to support it. I didn’t have to hammer anything in. Since the flipped class starts out based on ideas like: students need to move at their own pace, have some control over what they learn, and have access to a variety of people and resources, it just happens to work great with tools like voicethread, googledocs, and classblogs. It still seems an incredible coincidence how the flipped class opened everything up to make room for the exact tech I had been trying to fit in.

For example, I needed a way to record my lesson so that my students could listen and learn at their own speed. Aha – this is what I can use voicethread for! Then I needed a way to keep track of who did what when, and googledocs raised its hand and said “I can do that!”  It did it again when I needed self-assessments the kids can do to reassure themselves (and me) they’ve got the idea. And posting on the class blog became more of a natural consequence to the kids working at their own speed, rather than another forced assignment. They seemed to need to communicate with each other in the open forum that the blog provided, as you can see in this exchange:

I just listened to the Chasles Property voicethread. At first, I was a bit confused at where this was heading. But when I was at about half of the notes I got the hang of it! It’s pretty straightforward, like the rest of the unit.
Yesterday I also finished the EL activity C. I found it interesting that at the end, there was another connection to physics. These two subjects are decidedly very closely bonded!

Same here, I got confused at first, but then at the end it became clear. At first, I thought it had something to do with the magnitude. But then it wasn’t at all, just that the head(s) and tail(s) have to match! [=

Ya me too i was trying to figure out where this was going… i thought the law would be much more confusing then that! we already put it in practice without knowing it was a law!

Yeah, at first I thought they were going to give us an equation that we will need or a procedure leading to a law of physics, but instead it’s just a way to simply steps and expressions.

 It’s a law shown much more visually. I liked the four point theorem question, it showed me how Chasles Property is applied to find things that aren’t plainly shown.

Chasles Property is fun. It’s interesting when you have to think which way is the arrow and the tail should point. The four point theorem questions were also cool…

What's next:

The next thing I’m looking for is a tool for my online class that will facilitate the natural formation of workgroups during class, so that they can work together and be each others’ teachers. I don’t want to be the one always deciding who they will work with. It’s easy in the brick and mortar, not so easy online. I’m thinking maybe google+…we’ll see.

Just to be clear:

I’m not saying that anyone who wants to change has to use the flipped class model. I’m saying that you have to start with whatever model, or philosophy that suits you, and then let the technology support that. Chances are, there is something out there that does what you’re looking for. I think this is how real change will happen – start with ourselves, not the tools.

I’m also saying that “chalk and talk” will hopefully, one day, be spoken of with the same horror and incredulity as smoking around kids!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Thanks again, Mr. Schwen!

I have been using googledocs for a while now, and thanks to Andy Schwen, I have some major upgrades to add next year. I had been making online quizzes last year, but I didn't know how to fix it so that they could be automatically corrected. Now, thanks to Andy, my kids will know right away what they got right or wrong, kind of like the explorelearning assessments, except I will create the questions instead of the nice folks at explorelearning. Not only that, but I will get the most GORGEOUS data - about each kid, or about each class, or about only one question...the data and the display are just amazing! This is all thanks to Mr. Schwen, who has already put all these features into some googledocs files, which he is sharing with everyone. You just have to follow a few steps to get it working for you and your students.

Andy very kindly put together instructions for how to do this, both in video format and text, which you can find at his blog I, however, being of a certain age and tech ability, (guess which is high and which is low), had trouble filling in a few blanks in these steps, so I decided, with his permission, to put my own step-by-step together.

Overview in a nutshell:
  • You will get 2 different files (from googledocs) that were created by Andy Schwen.
  • You will input class/student info into one of these files.
  • You will input quiz questions and answers into the other file.
  • Thanks to Andy's expertise, these files will automatically be linked so that each will get information from the other, in order to make your life easy!
Here's what will happen as a result:
  • Your students will access your quiz online, and answer the questions online. Here's a rough idea of how the quiz could look to them:
  • Your students will know right away what they got right or wrong.
  • You will also know right away what were the results for everyone who did the quiz. 
  • You will also get gorgeous infographic results by student, class, or question. Here is a shot of a sample supplied by Andy:
  • You will be able to make up new quizzes during the year, simply by inputting new questions and answers, and the whole procedure will repeat itself. Students do the new quiz, then they find out how they did, then you get to see all the results beautifully summarized. All the links will kick in and generate the data using the classes and names that are already there.
  • You will be able to give the same quizzes (or whatever type of assessment you want) next year simply by inputting new class/student info. Of course, you will probably want to change the questions every year, as any teacher one ever reuses tests, right? Me, never......ahem.
Okay, now here's how you get all that happening:

Step One: Google account, chrome, and browser windows:
  • First of all, have two completely separate browser windows open, one which will always display these instructions, and the other which will retrieve the various docs or go to various sites. The window without the instructions should be a google chrome one, because I found things worked better that way. I am not enough of an expert to know why, but I found that not everything worked right when I used other browers. So you might have to download googlechrome, which is free, and lovely.
  • The next steps are all to be done in the chrome window.
  • Get yourself a google account. This is not the same as a gmail account. Gmail is an email account hosted by google, but the google account gives you access to googledocs, which is what you really need. You will be asked to supply an email address, and it doesn't have to be a gmail one. And it's also free.
  • Login to your google account
  • Click on "more" at the top of the screen, and you will see this:
  • Click on "docs". You will see this, except there will not be any files listed, since you don't have any yet. I, however, have several, because I am a big shot.
Step two: Getting your classlist template
  • Now you are ready to download the files created by Andy Schwen. At the top of the googledocs screen, there is a search box, next to which it says "Browse template gallery". Click that, then type, in the search field, "classlists". You will see:
  • Click "Use this template"
  • You will see:
  • This may sound strange, but you must now close this file. I do not know why. After you close it, go back to your googledocs homepage, and you will see, at the top of your file list, Copy of Classlist Template, like so:
  • Click on that, and you will once again see the excel sheet above. Now it's time to make a copy of it and rename it. Click file > Make a copy, and this window will invite you to give it a new name, my suggestion for which you can see here:
  • Click Ok. Give google a few seconds to save if needed.
  • Now it's time to put your students' names into the appropriate columns. If you're like me, you don't know them yet, so for now, just make up some names, so you can see how it all comes together. I put 4 names into the period one column, and 4 into the period 2 when I first tried this out. Give google a few seconds, or click save if you're impatient.
  • Once it's saved, select the part of the url address that is after the "key=" all the way to and including the "=en", like so:
  • Note that the highlighted text you see here won't be the same as yours, that's ok, you have different names than I do.
  • Copy that for use in a few steps. This will be the link between these two files.
Step three: Getting your assessment template:
  • The next file to download can be found using the exact same procedure as above. Googledocs homepage, search templates, but this time using "public assessment" in the search field, and you will see:
  • Click "Use this template" as before. You will see:
  • At the top right, click "See responses" and select spreadsheet view. You will see another spreadsheet, but this one's got lots of tabs at the bottom of the screen.
  • Make a copy and rename as before, this time calling it "Practice assessment template".
  • Click on the tab at the bottom right called "Setup and results" You will see:
  • in cell D11, paste the stuff you copied before from your practice classlist like so:
  • Again, remember that your code will look different, but it should end in the =en. I have no idea what that means.
  • Now if you click on the "all classes" tab, you should see your practice names, like magic! This file got them from the practice classlist file! Cool, no?
Step four: Making a quiz:
  • I was able to follow Andy's instructions for this part very easily, so you should check them out here. You will be amazed!
Thanks again, Mr. Schwen!

Friday, July 8, 2011

My summer assignments

My to-do list for the summer:

  • rebuild/create website for my students' to blog and access resources
  • check out how other people have done that
  • practice on new online classroom platform (Zen live)
  • learn or learn more about how to use:
    • tweetdeck
    • moodle
    • googleapps for education
    • geogebra
    • nota
    • evernote
    • vimeo
    • delicious
    • edmodo
    • flickr
  • take a break at some point
Wish me luck!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Flipping 101

I've been running into lots of teacher friends over the course of the summer, what with us all being on vacation, and as it turns out, lots of people are interested in hearing more about flipping the class. I'm also hoping to do a presentation about flipping at the next QPAT convention here in Montreal (if they accept my late proposal, that is), so hopefully this post will help me prepare for that. I'm sure someone else has already written something like this before, but here is my attempt nevertheless at outlining the basics of flipping, as well as ideas for more advanced flipping.

What is "flipping the class"?

What gets flipped are the time and place that the teaching and the homework happen. The teaching happens outside of class time, and the work is done during class time, which represents the opposite of what most of us experienced in school.

In order to do this, a certain amount of technology is involved.  Flipping the class isn't about the technology, BUT how successful it is certainly depends on access to and facility with technology. For example, computers with internet access for your students are a huge advantage, if not absolute necessities. The most common vehicle of delivery of the lessons is via some kind of internet site, although some teachers provide their students with CD's, which of course would still require a computer to be viewed. Then there are the many tools that the teacher needs in order to make the lessons and keep track of their students' progress. I hope that doesn't scare anyone off the idea, because there is a TON of support out there for anyone who wants to have at it, including my own humble blog. You are reading the ravings of someone who does not know a lot, but has been able to progress nevertheless!

Why flip the class?

Well, it turns out that this simple idea produces some pretty amazing results. For example:
  • You no longer have kids saying to you "I couldn't do the homework. I understood it when you did it in class, but when I got home I just stared at it and didn't get it anymore."
  • You have more time to help kids during class, and I mean kids at both ends of the ability scale. Those that need help can get it from you OR their peers, and those that are interested in going deeper can do the same.
  • Your kids become more responsible for their own learning, by virtue of the fact that they control the speed with which they work through the lessons and the assignments.
How do you do it?

I have just started, so I am a relative newbie. I started in March of this past school year (2010-2011), so I will tell you what I have done, as well as what some of the more advanced flippers have done. Keep in mind that it's all a work in progress for me and, really, for everybody. I have chronicled a lot of my experiences in older posts right here on this blog, so if you are interested in how it all actually unfolded so far, please see the archives beginning in March. For now, here are the basics:

1. Give your students access to a recorded lesson.

You can either find one that someone else has already created, like for example, one of the 2000 or so free ones at Khan Academy, or you can make your own. I prefer to make my own because I want my students to hear my voice. Most of the teachers seem to prefer making their own, or teaming with other teachers at their own school, for the same reason - familiarity and comfort for our students.
  • What tools you use to make this recording is up to you of course - many use Camtasia, which I would love to try, but for now I am using Voicethread. Here are some of mine from the week of May 16:
  • Voicethread: In an earlier post, I talked about how I make, use, and share voicethreads, so if you're interested, it's all there somewhere. Yes I am lazy. Or you can find out more at 
  • Smart Notebook Recorder: I would think that anyone with a smartboard would be able to use the built-in recorder to make their lesson recordings. Whatever you use, make sure your students can open it at home. As far as I know, the problem with using Smart Notebook is no kids have it at home, because it is SO not free. Maybe it's possible to export it to some kind of mpg format? Not sure.
  • How you make it available to your students - if you're creating a video you can upload it to a website, or give them a CD if they don't have internet at home. For voicethread, the recording is stored on the voicethread site, so I just give them a link to the recording. More advanced teachers have a class site like a wiki, to which they upload their lessons.
2.  At the next class, assign work for your students to do to process the lesson. 
  • For everyone who has listened to the lesson, you are now ready to give them something to do. You can just stick with the usual textbook problems, or worksheets, or you can get more creative. The point here is to get them to do something during classtime so that they have immediate access to someone - either you or another student - to help if they need it.
  • I  found very quickly that I was compelled to do more interesting activities in class, (see post "Flipping with Fun Audrey") as well as assigning them more creative tasks, like using geogebra, or getting them to generate questions for a partner. It just felt like such a golden opportunity to get them to do more interesting things than just drill and practice. You can see one such activity in an earlier post that I did - it's a doc called operations on vectors. Still lazy.
  • This is where you get to spend the most amazing time with the kids - individually or in small groups. You will find that the learning that happens is more authentic, because it will be tailored to the immediate needs or interests of the student. It will be a correction, or a suggestion, or an enrichment offered just in time.
3. Make it possible for them to go at their own speed.
This is why flipping has been called the magic bullet for differentiation. They can go as slow as they need to, or as fast as they want to.
  • Which means you have to have as many lessons and assignments as you can ready to go in advance so that the keener beaners can go ahead. This is quite a challenge for the first year that you are flipping, as it takes time to put together a recording that you are happy with. Some mixing of your stuff and other peoples' stuff will likely be necessary. Feel free to use any of my powerpoints/voicethreads, such as they are!
  • Next year, I plan to get them to watch a variety of lessons on the same topic, and get some critiquing from them. For the time being, I would still like them to start with me, then compare with other teachers. Maybe I am still a bit egocentric that way...
4. Check in with each student on a regular basis.
Of course you want to make sure they are working their way through the course in a timely fashion, and grasping it as they go, so you need to have some system of keeping track, for the purposes of evaluation and pacing.
  • Some teachers have a regular Friday check-in/evaluation routine. Zero for anything not done type of thing. I use an online checklist that I created using googledocs, mainly because I don't get to see my students face-to-face. Every few tasks in the checklist is something they have to hand in to me, so that I can mark it. I also include online quizzes for them to assure themselves that they are on the right track before they zoom to the next lesson. Some of these quizzes are found at explorelearning, and some I create also using googledocs. Here is a checklist from the week of May 16:
  • Next year I will be using the googledocs assessment system, created by Andy Schwen, about which I wrote in another post.
5. Share with other teachers who are flipping. Join twitter and/or the flipped teacher ning at 

Because, as I said, a lot of technology is really necessary, and a lot of time needs to go into creating good materials, and hey, we're all in this together!