Bragging on Students

I love opportunities to brag on students that do some great work.  As often as I can, I’ll send something in to Twitter or other teachers in our school.  It’s always great sending something out, but it’s even better when it is a student that blindsides you with an amazing project…and that happened to me today.

I assigned a research project where students picked any topic, as long as it related to chemistry.  They chose three essential questions and then did a project sharing what they learned.  A lot of students build a Blogger site or a Wix page, and some did powerpoint presentations in front of a small group of students.  Others chose to do videos, and the video I’ve linked below from a student really blew me away with its simplicity and the personality of the student that comes through.

Take a couple minutes to watch these…I’d love to be able to pass some comments along to this student about her work.


Loosen Up

We see more clearly in retrospect…sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not so good.

Thinking back on this year, I realized that I’ve gotten lazy with some of my favorite chemical demonstrations.  They’re small things, but in a flipped class, it is so easy to come to school, remind kids of the benchmarks they have to meet, and then move away.  Mark Siegel wrote about this and how he also missed this aspect of chemistry.  He implemented Demo Wednesday to make sure he still included all of the fun stuff for chemistry that is too dangerous for labs, but still great illustrations of chemical principles.  I loved this idea, but never really implemented it.

A good friend of mine is an English teacher at our school and he has had a hard time with one particular class.  This morning, I decided it would be fun to go in, interrupt class, and have a brief chemistry teachable moment. I did a demo with potassium permanganate and glycerin.  It produces a lot of smoke and bright purple flames.  I had fun, he had fun, and his class seemed to wake up a little bit when it was over.

I say loosen up because we get so caught up in the content that we forget that school is supposed to be fun.  Should we wait until the end of the school year to do this?  I don’t think so.  I wish I had done more like this during the year, just to build relationship with other teachers and help spread the fun in school.

It is so easy to go day by day and think about content…getting it in for the sake of doing it.  Be sure to connect with your colleagues.  Take 5 minutes to do something fun with the kids on a random day.  It is all part of having an open mentality about education.

Don’t limit yourself to your classroom.

I’m Open For Business

As I continue musing and thinking about the last year using a flipped classroom, ideology and philosophy changes that I’ve made flood my thoughts.  At the beginning of the flipped class, I really sold the idea hard to parents and students…harder than I had to sell it to administration (a HUGE blessing).

I think the biggest selling point of the class is that I was going to work very, very hard to make sure students have every opportunity to succeed in my class.

John Martinez Pavliga, Flickr CC

Once the ball got rolling, students realized that this would not be a walk in the park class and that I meant business.  They were still expected to work hard to learn the material and that leaving their work until the last minute would hurt their progress.  I mean business in my classroom…and now my students mean business about their learning.  They are not content to be fed information…they want to be challenged and pushed to their potential.

Another major shift I’ve had is that I want people stopping by my room…interrupting students…asking questions.  I remember prior to flipping, it would be a major inconvenience to me if someone stopped in.  Now, I can’t get enough people to drop by!  I’m trying to show people how powerful this tool can be, but the interest isn’t there or I’m selling it wrong.

This isn’t just a whimsical idea that putters out after a year.  I feel more on fire for teaching than I was after graduation from university.  I want to share ideas and create new ways of doing things.  I want to collaborate, challenge, question, and encourage other teachers interested in the same things.  I want to have a classroom that is open to discussion, dissonance, and new ideas.

I do my best to encourage other teachers to open up and share through “unconferences,” meetings, or even lunch.  But, its going to take more than that.  We need to change the entire attitude about sharing our materials and really work to make connections to help kids.

Lessons Learned in Soccer

It has been an insane three weeks for my wife and I and I am just now getting back to writing and following Twitter again.

Coaching has changed my life.  I am the varsity soccer coach for our school and I had the opportunity to take our team to a tournament with schools from all over Korea and Japan.  We ended up winning the tournament (one of the team goals this year) but there was also a lot of good time talking with players about school, soccer, food…you name it.

The most poignant moment came when one my seniors called me out during a halftime meeting.


We were in the finals and our first half was a little rough.  During halftime, many of my players looked angry, so I asked what was wrong (thinking they would be working things out with one another).

Jona (in white), a senior on the team, told me that the game wasn’t fun because all I had been doing for the past few games was telling them constantly what they had been doing wrong.  He also said a few guys on the team (underclassmen) had been down because I had ridden them pretty hard in one particular game.

I didn’t expect that at all.  Our midfield and defense weren’t working well together and I expected the conversation to focus more on that…not on how I was acting.

It made me think about my attitude in the classroom versus on the field.  In the classroom, I’m a teacher…I’m supportive and encouraging to kids that don’t “get it.”  I wouldn’t ever dream of telling a student they keep blowing assignments or tasks and that they’d better get their head straight.  Why do I do that on the field?

One [cop-out] answer might be that I’m an American and American coaches are big and loud.  Another might be that I see coaching and teaching as two different venues that need different personalities…and in one sense, that’s true.  I do feel more free to “ride” players a little more vocally or to call someone out on the field.  But, my players are still students and I need to teach them the game…I can’t expect more than what I’ve taught, and that’s something I forgot this season.

I’m grateful for the relationships we form each year.  I’m very proud of all my students and very proud of my team this year.  I’m more proud, though, of the leadership shown by Jona and that he was willing to call me out and speak for his teammates.  It was a simple statement and correction that changed the way I think about coaching.

Needless to say, the second half was much quieter from the bench and we went on to win.  The victory, however, was built on trust and open communication…and that’s a sweeter feeling than anything.


Jona Park is a senior graduating this year.  He plans on attending and playing soccer at Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL next fall.

Letting Go

As we head into the end of the school year, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the content I was able to finish this year.  I am fortunate in that I don’t have standardized testing to worry about and that my principal is very “hands-off” and lets me try new things with my class.

From frankh, Flickr CC

We’re down to 3 weeks before exams and I decided that I’ve taught enough this year.  I’m going to be letting my students direct their own learning on a topic of their choice.  They still have to apply it to chemistry, but apart from that, it is totally up to them.

I got this idea from Jabiz Raisdana (twitter @intrepidteacher) as he posted links to student surveys and questionnaires during their chosen unit of study.  He was kind enough to send me links to his own unit plan for turning the learning over to the students.

I do have to admit, I am terrified of this backfiring totally…like riding a bike without using the handlebars.  But, I have faith in my students and that they’ve learned enough about their own learning styles to really grab on to this project.  You can follow the updates from my class website if you’re interested in seeing my framework.  I’m sure it will also inspire multiple blog posts over the next couple of weeks as I figure out if this was a good idea or not.

Don’t Miss the Forest

Any time the iPad is mentioned, mouths start watering and eyes well with tears as they think about the possibilities…myself included.  The iPad has some amazing features (not to mention the iPad2 upgrades) for education and the accessibility of content has opened up enormously.  I’m encouraged by teachers that are blogging about their use of iPads and engaging students in new ways.

However, there is a line we need to be aware of.

Image via

I read a column this morning by Mike Elgan as it flooded #edchat on twitter entitled “Why Every Child in America Needs an iPad.”

Naturally, I was curious, so I clicked on the link and began to read.

And my heart fell.

Granted, the post was on a website called “Cult of Mac,” so I wasn’t terribly surprised about the tone of the post.  The author leads in with,

Everybody’s asking: Are iPads healthy for children?

I’m here to tell you: That’s the wrong question.

The right question is this: Is the iPad a healthy *replacement* for TV? And I believe the answer is a resounding yes.

He then goes on to make good points about content control available and how games, books, and other interactive content can be used.  But, I think he blows right over the questions that arise about constant connectivity.

What happened to tossing kids outside during the weekend to get dirty, run around, and interact with the physical world, rather than sitting inside on their iPad (instead of TV) watching a nature show?  I think there is inherent value in figuring out how to climb a tree in real life than how to climb a tree in the game they’re playing.

Why don’t we teach our kids to use technology in a responsible way and in certain contexts instead of handing them a shiny screen and walking away?  It is our responsibility as teachers (and especially as parents) to teach discretion.  I feel like this post is encouraging parents to disconnect from their kids and allow the iPad to become an “iDad.”

Don’t get me wrong…I would love if someone wanted to give me an iPad, but I would be much more interested in using it in the classroom rather than handing it straight to my kids to replace television.  The potential is much larger than using it to entertain…let’s not miss the forest for the trees on this one.

Note: I am simply a teacher, not a parent…yet.  This is purely my own opinion and in no way do I mean any disrespect to Mr. Elgan or his opinions.

What Makes Me a Great Teacher?

Ok, so the title is a little self-indulgent, but don’t judge me just yet.

I was thinking back about student teaching earlier this week and how my cooperating teacher made me reflect on everything and how I got so tired of it by the end of student teaching. She was constantly pushing me to reflect in writing on every single lesson I taught, which was significant in and of itself. What made this really special to me was the fact that she always made me take the time to identify strengths before weaknesses.

It seems like a little thing, but how often do we sit down after a lesson and immediately think of the things that went well? If you’re like me, probably not very often. I’m usually thinking about what didn’t go well before the lesson is even over. I don’t usually take the time to think and reflect about what made a lesson or unit succeed. Hence, the title.

I know teachers can be afraid to affirm too much for fear of a “feel-good” class where students don’t need to face reality. That’s not the point of this. The whole idea is to take some time and identify what things you are doing on a daily basis that probably go unnoticed, but really impact your teaching and your drive to become a better professional. These are my top three:

  1. I talk to every student every day.
  2. I take time to reflect and make notes on each unit I teach.
  3. I ask other people for help when I know I’m in a jam or when I could do something better.

It isn’t vain or conceited to say these things make me a great teacher.  I am not saying I’ve reached my pinnacle…these are things I did well this year and things I hope to continue to do well.

I suggest you take some time to think about things you do that make you a great teacher.  I’d love to see some thoughts in the comments.


Heidi Anderson is a teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, KY and was one of the most influential people in my teacher training. Thank you, Heidi, for your hard work with me and for all the lessons I learned when you handed me your classes.

The Flipped…High School

Greg Green, Principal

As I was browsing the internet this morning, I noticed a new discussion has been posted on the Vodcasting and Flipped Class Network. It was a forum post by Greg Green, principal of Clintondale High School in the metro-Detroit area. With all of the work I’ve done with building a flipped class, this quickly stood out to me and I immediately began reading in earnest.

Some background: Greg’s school is 72% free and reduced lunch and has a minority base of 65% African American and 35% Caucasian in the school. He didn’t provide many details about the project in his original post, so I wrote him an e mail.  I mentioned that I had done some presenting on the flipped class and that I was curious to hear about the decision making process that was involved in deciding to flip the entire school in one go.  Here’s what Greg had to say in his response:

We actually developed a pilot class in Government/Economics with our most at-risk students. This class flipped and we kept a less at-risk class more traditional.  At the end of the pilot we found the at-risk class outperformed the regular class. We used the same teacher and the same assessments.  Every student did every assignment!!  Next we decided to flip our most at-risk group of students…9th grade.  Within our 9th grade we have reduced our failure rate in ELA by 33%, Math 31% Science 22% and SS 19%.

This is evidence of the flipped classroom at its best.  Greg has given the support to teachers to make an effective change in a difficult situation.  He went on to say:

With our flip, I have found that the flip classroom aligns our school resources with our students needs.  In a traditional school, we ask students to process, inquire and develop their skills outside of class.  However, with an at-risk student how do they do that[?] So it was pretty clear that we had to flip our classrooms to meet the needs of our students.

This is a man I want to meet.  Greg understands that the entire purpose of education is to meet the needs of the students, not to have comfortable, routine-driven teachers.

One of my biggest questions had to do with the enormous undertaking of recording the entire curriculum for the next school year.  Greg explained that the school (as a whole, cooperative unit) was “…creating screen captures as departments and automating the delivery of those captures out to our students.”  Cooperation in this task is essential for effective implementation and I want to commend the entire staff for setting a great example of a functional, cohesive school working together for student growth.

For those crying out “standardization is bad!” here is some food for thought:

This keeps teachers from varying from the curriculum and allows us to effectively evaluate our learning within the classroom because our delivery of our message has not varied.

Standardization of content helps students make long-lasting connections that will lead to higher order thinking.  This is a great example of standardization at its best.  Teachers still have the autonomy to make their own decisions about the class, but now, the entire faculty knows what to expect from every student at the completion of every year.

Finally, if you’re thinking, “This would be great if I were in a 1:1 school, too,” this is Greg’s closing thought:

We do not have a 1:1 student to technology ratio. Technology and presentation tools have been purchased for the classrooms instead of textbooks to stay well within budget.

The money is there.  The technology resources are available.  All it takes is a vision for something bigger and better than what has done in the past to make significant changes in kid’s lives.

Congratulations Greg and staff of Clintondale High School.  You are modeling effective education and I hope, someday, to be able to set as good an example as you.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Greg and Clintondale [Flipped] High School, you can follow their journey here.


The Problem With Writing

I recently had a discussion with other science teachers about the role of writing in our classrooms.  The discussion that ultimately emerged revolved around the idea that science shouldn’t be teaching students the writing process…that is the English teacher’s job.

I highly respect the opinions and views of my colleagues, but this belief blew my mind.  Perhaps I’m naïve (second year teacher) or an idealist, but I don’t see how we can “teach” writing without teaching (or at least reinforcing) the process as we go.  To me, this is the same as saying “Meet me at my house, but I want you to get directions from someone else.”

The problem with writing (or rather learning how to write) is that it is quarantined to the English classes.

I do agree that the bulk of writing is learned and practiced in the English class. But, if we’re trying to teach the whole student, why are we ignoring their other learning? Schools are always pushing teachers to make cross-content connections with kids and writing should be one of the easiest ways to do so. There are a multitude of tools teachers (not just English/Language Arts) can use to help students become better writers.

One in particular I like is the 6 +1 Traits of Writing, written by Ruth Culham. I had a college professor use this book in a class called “Reading and Writing Across Curriculum” and I instantly fell in love with the model.

Ms. Culham’s premise is that writing is not a static process and that all writing can be broken down into 6 [+1] traits that are easily taught, improved, and assessed. The traits cover “Ideas” to “Sentence Fluency” to “Voice,” and the teacher has students focus on one trait at a time until students have developed that writing skill and they are ready to add another layer. The book includes rubrics that help us assess their writing in quick, effective manner and students can get meaningful feedback on their work. Do note, that this is not a summative process…this is formative and should be used to build their writing skills.

In science, we like to “focus on the content” rather than the actual writing and I am challenged by teachers to show how I effectively teach writing without sacrificing content.  Well, I use 6 +1 in AP Chemistry all the time because readers want clear, concise answers to questions and this is an easy way to improve student word choice, organization, and ideas while still communicating the content.  In General Chemistry, I can tell students to focus on the idea of the paper (how chemistry has changed over time) or the voice (passive voice of a lab report vs active voice of a persuasive essay).  Again, the content is there and at the same time (with minimal “extra” work) I can require them to improve their writing in an applicable and meaningful way.

We can teach students to use good writing habits while assessing the content. If we are teaching students to make connections between content, we should be modeling that with our teaching and our assignments.