Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Who I am NOT!

I have several friends, some of whom are teachers, who think I am some sort of technological genius. I tell them excitedly about something new that I have learned how to do with googledocs, or camtasia, or about a conversation I had on twitter, and they just say, "Oh Audrey, you are such a technological genius!"  Then they shake their heads, chuckle affectionately, and stop listening to me.


But I so want them to listen to me. Because of the fact that I am NOT a technological genius. There are many, many people out there who are WAY smarter than me, and who have figured out how to do all this really cool stuff, and what's more, they love to tell people about it, for free! And because of those people, look at what I, NOT a technological genius, can do!


This week's new thing I learned how to do:

Like for example, after last week's epic victory for one of my flipped classes that I felt was slipping away from me, I decided that one improvement to my whole modus operandi would be to give quick quizlets that would give me and the kids instant, online feedback. When neither explorelearning's gizmos nor khanacademy's practice questions covered exactly what I wanted, I realized it was time to make my own, using the assessment templates made available to the world at the blog of Andy Schwen. One of those really smart people I was talking about.

And here it is, my first attempt! If you're not sure what this is about, the quickest way to find out is to try the quizlet yourself. If you are willing to input your actual email address, then you'll get to see what the students see when they do this. Don't worry about getting anything wrong, it doesn't count! For "first name, last name" just put any name you want, and don't worry about "hour" either. Just make sure you click submit after you've selected your answers, then check your email. For the most interesting email, make sure you get at least one wrong, trust me.

If you did this, you should have received an email, from me, that looks something like this, which is the one I got when I did it, pretending to be one of my own students:

You should see the score, the questions that you got wrong, and an explanation.
(Once I really get going with this, the name and the hour will matter, because that's how you can give the same quiz to different classes, in whatever school year you want.)

Now for the real payoff....inspiration!

I know my questions and my explanations are rudimentary and not terribly deep. But I already have ideas of how to improve on it: instead of text explanations, a link to a better explanation on the web, and instead of text questions and answers, ones with pictures in them..... and I can't wait to try it out - how many people do you know who feel that way about their job?

Which is the real reason I want my friends to listen to me. They are missing out on so much, all because of the misperception that you have to be a technological genius to do this. They think I actually know how it all works! I'm pretty sure Andy Schwen would be able to set them straight on poor Andy knows all too well, I needed a lot of hand-holding, but with his help, I did it, which means anyone can! His instructions are amazing and easy to follow. And there are a lot of people out there who offer the same thing to the world - their own expertise and help, for FREE!
To my friends who don't listen to me: You owe it to yourself to try this, or SOMETHING! But don't listen to me because you think I am a technological genius, listen to me because I am NOT!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Don't MAKE me right-click you!

From my perspective, the class that had the most negative feedback about flipping last week went much better this week. In fact, I think it's that feedback that may well have saved that particular class from entering a death spiral. What's with the right-click? In the live, virtual classroom, it's all I need to remove a student. Significant to today's topic....

My week (why didn't I do this one day at a time?!?):

Monday: Face the music.
I let them all know that I had read their comments about flipping very carefully and taken them very seriously. I told them the main themes I had inferred, paraphrased of course:
  • too many voicethreads to watch in a week
  • too much work to do in a week
  • not enough time during class for questions and individual help
  • not enough teacher to go around for all the people who need help
  • foolish banter going on in the chat during class is very distracting
  • nobody wants to ask questions on the voicethread because nobody wants to look stupid
  • it's better to learn something live with a group so you can hear their questions
Then I gave them my pledge to do the following:
  • I will control my urge to talk
  • no more than 3 voicethreads per week
  • which will result in less work
  • I will give more time for questions during class
  • I will be more systematic about helping people
  • Which will result in more teacher to go around
  • I will remove from class anyone who continues to distract with foolish banter (everyone is one right-click away from that in the online class!)
  • I will mix things up so that sometimes we are doing a lesson and sometimes we are doing work.
What I ask of them:
  • control your urge to banter foolishly
  • ask for help only after you have made the effort - ie watched the lesson, or tried some examples, or something
  • take the responsibility to prove to me that you have made the effort - ie leave a comment on the voicethread, hand things in, keep your checklist up to date, use it to ask for help
  • if you are too self-conscious to post a question on the voicethread, make it a private question, which I will answer publicly, but without identifying who asked it
That little speech took a while, of course, so right away, on Monday, they did not have enough time to get the gizmo and the worksheet on distance formula done....oh well, I told them today is an exception. They worked well, things were quiet. Voicethread on slope for homework.

Tuesday: Taking it out for a test drive.
Started out with foolish banter! Incredible! Did Audrey do what she said she would? No. Wimp that I am, I scolded with "Seriously? After what I said yesterday?"  "Sorry miss". The rest of the period was work, questions, help, etc, great. I got to everyone that needed me, but not too many needed me. No voicethread for homework.

Wednesday: Right-click day
Foolish banter. Wow. Right-clicked one kid out of there. Did not even have to tell anyone why. Foolish banter stopped immediately. Did an activity on slope with everyone in the class. Because I need to talk to them as a class a little bit and because they need to work together and know what they are all thinking. And I thought it would give a visual on what we're doing next. But it took too long. Sigh. They had only 25 minutes to do work/ask questions. So I eliminated one item from the checklist. I figured I'm the one who should pay, not them. One girl immediately thanked me! Nice! Tonight: voicethread on midpoint.

Thursday: Turning point? Maybe?
No banter. I got an inspiration: I wrote the current tasks on the eboard and systematically went through them like "Who has questions about this?", starting with the least recent item. I then helped that group in a bor. Came back to main room, repeated for the next task. Answered everyone's questions, got in some practice with those who needed it. I had 8 minutes left at the end of the period for miscellaneous stuff, like questions about tomorrow's topic, from someone going ahead! Wow. That felt good. I also had a talk with the one who got right-clicked. All good. I noticed that one person had already filled in the feedback paragraph for this week, and she is very happy with the new structure. She even said that she likes having a place to give feedback! Can't ask for more than that.

Friday: Bring it on.
We'll see what happens. I hope I don't have to right-click, but I got my finger on the trigger. I enjoyed yesterday too much to slide back now, and I think everyone else did too. Last night they had to watch the third and final voicethread for the week, on division points of a line segment. So far, I see 5 comments (out of 11 students). I'll group them as yesterday, but this time I'll start with the most recent task, which is the division point practice questions. That way, the kids who are the most up to date don't have to wait for everyone else, and hey, maybe they'll even be able to help the others. 
Now that things are more organized, I can think straight. My deep thoughts are flowing.
  • Every week from now on, every class will be invited to give feedback. For now, I'll suggest a topic, but it will always be open-ended. It's absolutely invaluable. Thanks to just this one week, I feel so much better about this class. I knew it was getting off track, but I just couldn't get my hands back on the steering wheel. Thank goodness for these kids and their intelligent, honest, constructive words.
  • Immediately after each voicethread, their first task will be a super-quick quiz, like 4 or 5 questions, with immediate feedback for them AND for me, something that shows up at my end right away so I can see who is doing it and how they are doing. Like the gizmo assessment questions at explorelearning, or the khan academy practice questions, or, if I can get my act together, my own questions using Andy Schwen's assessment template. The key is- I don't have to spend any time checking their checklists, or asking them, to find out if it's done or if they're getting it. I just have to look at my computer screen. Then it is ON, and I know where to start to fix any basic problems before they dive into the fun stuff. It could even be a way for some of them to skip over a voicethread! I just thought of that - if they already know something, they shouldn't have to "learn" it from me!
  • Once a week, I'll have a period in which we all do the same thing, either all together or in groups, whatever, an activity in which we learn/discuss/react to/process something together. That day there will be no work to hand in or correct. So it will have to be on something that they are ready to go deeper into, or maybe an intro to what's next. There might be a voicethread for homework, but that's it. That will be their work for the day. Ideas for that:
  • Individual or small group presentations.
  • A Malcolm Swann activity in small groups.
  • Watch a video and react to it.
  • Read a blog and react to it.
  • A webquest.
Now I don't want to give the impression that I enjoyed kicking someone out of my class. My own reluctance to follow through with it is proof of that. I much prefer getting my message across by modelling the behaviours I value, like maturity, accountability, open-mindedness etc, but you know how it is. Sometimes people just need more than that, myself included, After all, I needed to hear the brutal truth from my students in order to grow as a teacher. It was kind of like being right-clicked. I didn't like it but it ultimately helped, which I hope is the same outcome for these kids.

Fingers crossed. And poised on the mouse.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Mind = blown

    I decided to use this week's checklist to ask my students for some feedback on the flipped class, and the result is "Mind = blown". Here are some really positive ones (I didn't edit for spelling):
    Frankly I LOVE evrything about it! I really like the fact that the VTs can be watched from home even if my internet is slow and hates me :) BTW cool checklist
    Wow! I just love Flipped classes.It’s great to be able to have group-work, or even class-work, without having to be afraid to ask questions about any of the work. And it’s great homework-wise because it gives us more time for other class’ homework and assignments.Flipped classes FTW!
    I like it, I like how i can look at the checklist and do a bunch of notes whenever i want and not have to wait to do them in class everyday. It makes things less stressful, because i don't feel like I have a bunch of homework when I know what is planned for the week and get it done as soon as possible. I'm happy with the flipped class, i can't think of anyway to improve it.  
     Coming to school and doing the work here, getting the help I need, and actually discussing the work with the other people in my class is awesome!:) :) I also like the fact that on nights that I don't work, I can go ahead and do the homework for night/days to come! :) Lovin' It!
    Honestly, I've been sitting here for a minute trying to think about what I don't like and I can't think of anything.
    And here are some that are mixed (my bold): 
    I like that we are able to ask you questions during class about work we are having problems with during class time, although i dont like that when we are sent home with homework we only have a voice thread to learn from and cant ask questions about the lesson. Nothing to be imporved.
    I think it is a lot easier not having homework in the evening, but it is a bit harder to take notes and do examples from voicethreads than it is during class.
     I like it but in class we dont have that much time to work cause we always have to go over something first so it only leaves us with like 30 minutes to do work. sometimes not even that.
    I like the voicethreads better than the khan videos! The voicethreads are not that bad its only when we have voicethreads every night plus the worksheets you give us plus all our other homework it really gets too much but one or 2 per week is fine. I also think the flip classroom works part time because seriously you have time to answer like 2 or 3 people a class and a lot more so i think this part dosnt work at all but doing the work during class i dont mind. I wouldnt mind either if it was the other way because i think it wouldnt really be different than what is happeneing now.
    So important for me to hear all of this. It makes me realize a few mistakes I've been making:

    • I have been talking too much. Partly that is because I can't see them, and I feel insecure about what they are doing or not doing. Why? I don't know. But they could have used more class time to work.
    • I also have been piling on the lessons in too short a time in one particular class. That class has a lot of kids who are very weak and need almost constant help, so I need to slow things down a bit. Letting that government June exam get the best of me I guess...
    • I have tried to answer all questions posted on the voicethreads asap but then I forget to tell them that. They could always check back themselves, but it would be nice if they could get a notification when I do that. SO remind them to ask questions but when they do check back.
    It also makes me realize a few things I didn't know:
    • That they actually ARE doing group work even when I haven't specifically asked them to.  It IS happening organically, at least in some classes, just as I had hoped!
    • How well flipping works, and the way it works in general, can be so different from one class to another. My Science Math kids seem to be almost 100% in love with it, but my Tech Sci kids, not all are lovin' it. All the mixed comments came from that group. Makes sense, because they need more time to get their work done, and they need more help, and they are not getting either. I can't honestly say I didn't know it, but I definitely didn't know THEY knew it!
    What I shall now do:
    • I shall renew my efforts to shut up.
    • I shall be more systematic helping individual students. 5 mins per, and if that's not enough, they work with someone else, or rewatch the lesson, or go to khanacademy for a video or a practice.
    • I shall ALWAYS include, in each week's checklist, a open-ended question, that gives them a chance to speak their mind. Maybe this will be a natural progression for them into blogging.
    • I shall tell them that was my evil plan all along. Then they'll have Minds = blown.
    (I sure hope that expression is ok, not some reference to something, well inappropriate!) 

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    You are not your mark.

    After a few weeks of flipping, and having time to actually talk to my students and listen to them, I now realize how much I've been missing all these years. I used to give tests, mark them, give them back, and that was it. No discussion, no probing to find better strategies for success, no insight gained into the child, only a number recorded. This week I asked for a self-assessment on their last test. I have read some pretty heart-wrenching entries, this one in particular:
    My results are poor. First, I don't really understand why i failed. I went to tutoring and really studied hard because of my other test result which wasn't that good either. I don't really know what happened. Maybe I need more practice I guess. 
    Another one that's hard to read, because he is being a bit hard on himself, but on the other hand, he is doing some self-analysis as a result:
    Extremely disapointed in myself...It was leagues below my self standards. That did not go well at all, some of my errors were just lack of paid attention but I'm a bit troubled by others that I was originally quite confident about. I suppose tonight I may need to ask you about them should the oppotunity arrise and you have time. I apologize for that
    Then there is the child who feels she must "redeem" herself, as if she has committed a crime:
    I was very disappointed with myself in this test because many of the mistakes should have been easily avoided. When I look at the test, I understand all my mistakes. I found it very easy while doing it but I am a very fast paced person so little details always escape me. If there is a way I could redeem my mark I would gladly take home an extra assignment or something.
    And I got to have a chuckle at this one:
    BOO YAH, little errors but still VERY HAPPY
    How many kids have I missed out on during my 20-odd years of teaching?

    Today I would like to say to my students, past, present, and future, that in my class:

    1. You are not your mark. Just like my salary does not represent me. I know that right now, to the colleges or universities you're applying to, it seems like you are your mark. But you know better. And I do too.

    2. The goal is not perfection, it's growth. And the growth doesn't even have to be in math, it can be that you learn something about how you learn best, or a better way to get organized, or you discover that you love factoring! Yes, factoring!

    3. When you learn something, and you share it, everyone wins. When you don't share it, it stops with you. Almost no point to that. What you shared with me in this self-assessment is WAY more important than your mark.

    4. When you answer your own questions, you get inspiration. You cannot attach a number to that. When you answer the test questions, all you get is a mark. I'm a math teacher, a number geek, and even I prefer the inspiration over the number.

    5. Math and science are not the most important things in the world. The arts are just as important. Just try living without movies, music, photography, books, poetry, dance. Or blogs!

    I guess this is what they mean (and I forget who said this) by don't teach the content, teach the student!