Month: September 2014

The Joy of Flipped Learning

Flipping is a lot of work. It requires extra front load planning, constant checking in, planning ahead, and dealing with greater parental concerns. It is very hard, to say the least.

This begs the question: is it worth it?

I would answer with an unequivocal yes.

It offers many advantages, mainly by freeing up the time for me to prepare students for the traditional learning environment they will face in high school while also engaging them with hands on projects and interactive learning.

These are all important benefits, and we should not make light of them, but ultimately, the most significant change is the very culture of the learning environment itself. In a very short amount of time, I have made the full transition from Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side. I don’t feel the pressure to wow them with a dazzling lecture or presentation; I am merely here to help them. I am much more open to feedback and student voice than ever before. My entire outlook on teaching has changed: I no longer care about being a great teacher, but more about creating a great learning environment. I am still important, but I am more a learning helper than a distributor of knowledge.

THIS is why I flip.

The Joy of Project-Based Learning

Teaching can be a difficult job. We are constantly bombarded with gazillions of things to do, we make about 200 decisions per hour, we have to plan ahead, and we have to be present to the moment at hand.

Every once in awhile, we all might ask, “Why do we do this?”

To that I will answer: Project-Based Learning.

I’ve done projects for years, but it wasn’t until I started having students use iPads correctly that I was able to get the full Project-Based Learning experience. In my past life, I used to assign topics to groups of students, each group would complete a project, and we would all find a way to share with each other. What I have since learned is that students should find a topic of their choosing and investigate it before actually creating a product. Due to the ease of internet searching and the proliferation of information available on the internet, students learn a lot throughout the process and sometimes create amazing products.

That being said, the thing that makes it so rewarding for me is watching students huddled in groups, totally engaged. Some work on their products (perhaps Prezis, Google Slides, or video editing), while other search blogs and videos. If students are disengaged, it is very easy to redirect them. The other day, some students were playing around, and I asked them how their project was going. They said that they were going to create a Powerpoint at home, which could not be completed at school. I asked them if they had considered creating a Google Slide presentation. They jumped at the idea and immediately got to task.

Is there anything more inspiring than watching a group of teenagers totally engaged and excited about learning?

Small Group Grammar

I start every class with a grammar warmup, which provides formative assessment about how students are comprehending material we are learning. I finally enabled Flubaroo to send emails to students with their scores, and they were able to see exactly what they were getting and where they needed some work.

After I sent those to the students, I asked them on Socrative what they needed to do to learn the material. Currently, we are going over when to use who instead of that in a sentence, and when to use lie or lay. I asked them what they needed from me. Did they need me to sit and explain it again? Did they need extra practice? Did they need extra help in one topic and not the other?

I was then able to view the results as a spreadsheet. Some put the onus on themselves and said that they needed to work harder to master the material. Others said that they needed some extra explanation from me. I then sat down with students who needed extra help with who and that, and after some small-group sessions, I sat down with students who needed extra help with lie and lay.

Will this work?

The beauty of constant formative assessment is that I constantly check in to see their comprehension levels. Tomorrow morning, I will do another formative assessment, and we can see how they are doing with these concepts.

Leadership and Consensus

Today, while I was at an orientation for an administration program I am doing this year, I noticed that one of the standards for administrators is to build consensus around a shared vision.

This stood out to me because I FAILed to do this recently. At Back to School Night, I presented the idea of flipped learning to parents, and while some were extremely enthusiastic and encouraging about it, some expressed serious concerns. It ended up being a very tense evening, and many of those parents are still very apprehensive about what I am doing.

I was clearly ineffective in communicating what I was planning for this school year. The parents feel like I had dropped a bomb on them, that I was announcing sudden, unexpected changes. I can understand why they would feel that way. In short, I did not do a good job with the rollout.

Does this mean that any attempts at consensus-building are over? Have I irrevocably lost the PR, never to be won again? Did I blow my one and only chance?

I think not.

My new mission is to build consensus throughout the year. I will constantly update the class blog to broadcast what we are doing. Through this blog, I hope to keep parents fully informed of how and what students are learning. They will see that I intend to supplement–not replace–the social studies textbook. They will see that I will do everything possible to prepare students for the grammar portion of the High School Placement Test (a very important test for students applying to Catholic high schools). They will also see that we will read challenging books for the 8th grade that will prepare them for the literature they will read in high school. Innovative projects will also be showcased, so they will get to see the amazing things their sons and daughters are doing in class.

Perhaps “building consensus” means more than “building a coalition” before acting. Perhaps consensus needs to be built and fostered before, during, and after change has been put in place.

Tonight, I was reading some of my first required reading for my administrative program. The first required book is Moral Leadership by Thomas Sergiovanni. In the opening pages, it discusses one of the biggest problems with leadership studies: “An emphasis on doing things right, at the expense of doing the right things.” Although I realize that I did not announce flipped learning the right way, I know deep down that this new pedagogy is what is right for the kids. I need to improve my communication skills and build consensus, but I must also never lose sight of doing what is right for the kids.

THAT is what leadership is all about.

Thirteen Colonies, United as One

My first week in flipped learning was overwhelming, to say the least. I was suddenly blown away by the new reality I had helped to create. I was existing in a land that was far more student-centered than I had ever visited before. What was I to do?

As I struggled and adjusted and re-adjusted, I realized that I would need to do a project for the first unit in social studies. For years, I have done a project with every unit. In recent times, I have handed over more and more authority and direction to the class in projects.

This time, however, I felt like I couldn’t just say, “learn what you like and present it.” I didn’t think the class would be ready for it, and I felt that it would not be productive. I also know that I need to do more activities with maps in social studies, but the last thing I want to do is hand over a paper cutout and have them fill it out.

So as I wracked my brain trying to come up with what to do, an idea suddenly came to me: the class would create one giant map of the thirteen colonies, but there would be individual projects (videos, Google Slides, Prezis, or written documents) embedded onto the map through QR codes. There could also be trigger images for augmented reality interspersed throughout the map.

I presented it to my class today. Instead of calling it an “assignment,” I pitched it as a crazy idea I had. I asked them what they thought of it. Were they interested? Not surprisingly, they were totally on board (If they had said no, I was fully prepared to ditch it.) and some groups even volunteered to do two subtopics in order to have larger groups.

It will definitely require me to do frequent check-in to see how their learning is coming, and I will have to steer them in the right direction, but I am definitely excited about having a whole-class project that involves technology and paper and scissors.