Back to the Flipping Basics

Ken Bauer has more energy than I know what to do with. I met him two or three years ago (something like that) and ever since, he’s taught courses, advanced in his university position, joined the FLN board, and really just been a great friend.

Ken is running an open course (a cMOOC if you want to get technical about things) on Flipped Learning over the next eight weeks just because. He organized everything, set up the website and syndication, promoted, and is now managing 40+ people going through the course. I helped out last year by hopping into a hangout or two with some folks to talk about the Pillars. But, I wasn’t in the classroom – I was an invited guest.

This year, I’m back in the course because I’m back in the classroom, trying to work out a lot of the same problems I thought I already had answers to. Kudos if you can follow that deeply meta line of thought.

I’m hoping to reevaluate what I think about flipping. Paul Andersen talked about his love/hate journey with flipping last year at the annual conference. We continued the discussion on a boat. I think I’m paralleling his journey now…I like the idea, I’m frustrated with the implementation and bottle necking (some of which is definitely my fault), but I think it’s still the right thing to do.

I want to find balance. I want to rework my understanding of what I do and why I do it. I want to articulate what flipping looks like for me in more concrete terms when I’m asked. I want to see what other people do. I want to be challenged.

I’m really looking forward to the next eight weeks.

Into the Deep End with Circuits (and Batman)

I’ve been looking forward to teaching electricity all year. I’ve never done it before and I was excited about the hands-on stuff you can do. Who doesn’t want to play with batteries and light bulbs?


I split the lab into two days. Rather than prescribing circuits, I knew I wanted to make it inquiry-based. There are limited variables with simple circuitry and I wanted students to find the connections and patterns on their own.

Day 1

I put together kits for students with a D cell battery, some Christmas lights I cut up the night before, and aluminum foil to serve as a “wire.” Each group was challenged to make five working circuits.

bring the light

The struggle was real. The success was even more real. Smiles all around; shouts of joy when the bulbs lit up or turned off when they were supposed to. Plus, lots of shrugging and smiling from me as I avoided answering anything, which was fun.

Plus, I got my favorite answer ever from someone on the last question…


The circuit diagrams were based on a model on the board with unlabeled components, which helped them struggle through drawing a nice, clear design. At the end of the day, most students could draw a diagram based on the apparatus they had built.

Day 2

Time to put the learning to work. I still haven’t taught anything about how to split the voltage across a series because I wanted them to make the leap of faith themselves. This lab required the students to read a circuit diagram to use the voltmeter and ammeter. To simplify (and reduce the stress of lab time) each group had to choose to measure volts or amps. If they finished early, I let them finish taking data on their own rather than swapping with another group.


Again, I refrained from answering direct questions as much as possible because I needed them to not only be able to draw a diagram, but read an unknown given to them. They rose to the challenge and, for the most part, were able to get at least one data set completed by the end of lab.


The struggle was real and the payoff was satisfying. The goal was achievable and success came quickly, which spurred more effort on the harder challenges. This lab is definitely a keeper for next year. To improve, I’m going to make a better connection between the labs…some groups said they didn’t see the pathway I was trying to set up. Either way, it worked great and I’m already looking forward to putting the pieces together next week.

To top off the great day, Batman swung by with a friend.


Running WordPress Without Jetpack and Why That Matters

I gave up using Jetpack a while ago on my blog because I couldn’t control where it sent information. I wish it was more modular in nature because it is helpful. But, I don’t want visitor (read, your) information sent off to unknown folks to do unknown things. So, I turned it off.

I’ve slowly added functionality back since turning it off one plugin at a time. Plugins are nice because all of the data is hosted right with the blog – there’s no sending things to third parties. At the same time, it’s a little more upkeep on my part to make sure a plugin doesn’t break and send the site all wonky.

Right now, I’m using the following:

Akismet – Essential for spam blocking. As of right now, it’s blocked 17,000+ spam comments since I installed it way back when.

Email Subscribers – Some folks still like ye olde notifications via email when a new post is published. This plugin lets me set up custom emails for those notifications, which is nice.

Send email only on Reply to My Comment – I love how straight to the point these guys are. “What does this plugin do?”, “Read the name.” This adds comment notifications back in but allows users to choose when they want those emails. These are also personalized in the settings.

WP Power Stats – I write for me. But sometimes, it is nice to scratch the “how many people visited this week?” itch. It’s also nice because it shows browsers people visit on, which helps me make decisions about updates.

Typewriter – This lets me write in Markdown because I like Markdown. Do I need a more valid reason?

WP-Gistpen – I’ve been posting more and more code lately and this little guy lets me grab snippets from Gist, which is a super-handy snippet repo from GitHub.

Nothing fancy. And only what I want. All managed by me, on this site, with no third party reaching in for that information.

This is the third anniversary of Aaron Swartz’s suicide. He was a champion for data privacy and the idea of a free and open internet where ideas are shared. I didn’t hear about him until two years ago, on the first anniversary.

Maybe his story stands out because he did things like co-author RSS (yes, that RSS which syndicates just about everything on the web), start a non-profit (Demand Progress) which successfully, among others, beat the cable lobby for substantial Net Neutrality rules, or maybe it’s because he was my age.

Whatever the reason, data is important, and it’s not something I take lightly any more. Yeah, it would be easier to just use Jetpack, but at what cost? Information is a commodity, but it’s not one that benefits you or me.

The fact of the matter is that we are all responsible for the health of the Internet each day. This is my little part.

Quickly Format Articles for Annotations

We’re working very hard with students on annotating articles in preparation for the new state test sections. The goal is to help them find pertinent information in multiple texts which can be used to construct thorough written responses. We have a standard format…circling unknown words, underlining main ideas, etc, which help students transfer the skill from class to class.

Finding relevant articles means lots of searching online. Once you find text, it helps to format it for use with students. I like giving students wide margins for notes as well as nicely laid out paragraph numbers for reference in discussion and writing. It took a long time to copy and paste each article into a table cell and reformat, so I wrote up a simple Google Apps Script to do it for me.

It works through the document, checking paragraphs (line breaks in Google-land) for text. If there’s text, the script copies it into a numbered row of the table and then deletes the original. What you’re left with is a nice copy of the article to print out and use with students.


Here’s a template document you can make a copy of and play with. If you have questions, send me a tweet, @bennettscience, or leave a comment below.

Play in Class

We’re playing with magnets this week in class. (We’re actually finishing playing with magnets now.) It’s been great and this is by far one of my favorite units to teach because everything is so hands on. We’ve done lab activities every day. Magnets are accessible. They’re approachable by students. They’re easy to put your hands on and learn from.

Play in science is crucial to the learning process. Mess with something, see what it does. Mess around again.

Today, some students were really playing with ideas and others were just playing.

There must be a balance. Finding that balance in allowing for play alongside play is hard to strike because they can switch so quickly. Intentional situations (good design) help maintain the balance. Finding ways to make students think they’re just playing around is a good way to have them really play with ideas.

It’s frustrating when that opportunity is missed.