Where is all the time? #ds106 #4life

I saw a post this afternoon about a new section of #ds106 starting for a five-week summer course. I’ve dabbled in the Daily Creates from time to time, which included my very first-ever animated GIF,

My first animated GIF.

My first animated GIF.

and I’ve enjoyed those a lot.

I’ve decided that I’m going to jump in these next five weeks as an Open Online Participant. Jim Groom is teaching the course, and he’s taking it on a Twilight Zone trip. I remember watching old episodes with my dad when the SciFi channel wasn’t spelled “Sy-fy,” and I was still young enough to be freaked out by “To Serve Man.”

Another episode stands out in my head…it had something to do with a stopwatch. A Google search later, I found what I was looking for. A man is given a stopwatch that can stop time. After becoming more confident in his new powers, well, let’s just say he ends up with a lot of time on his hands.

Who's got time anymore...

Do you have a second to spare?

Time is on my mind with this because of the time I’ll need to put into the class over the next month. And, with a house renovation starting Memorial Day weekend, I might be wishing I had a stopwatch of my own…

Adaptive Science Curriculum

I’ve been following Dan Meyer for about 15 months. I don’t teach math, but the way he talks about teaching math makes me want to teach it. If you’re not familiar with his writing and development of Three Act Math, you should read the linked post and go check out his site dedicated to free materials.

Recently, he’s moved into developing web-based “textbooks,” if they can even be called that. Essentially, he’s taking intuitive knowledge of math (draw a square) and then directing the user through the process of either confirming their previous understanding or correcting their misconceptions. What really caught my attention was this activity on squares. Stop reading now, check it out.

Dan teamed up with a teacher/programmer named Dave Major (who also wrote a post about the squares activity). I really began to think about how this could be done in science.

Flipped Learning is all over the web. I use it, my friends use it, and we’ve all seen some amazing things happen in our classes. Honestly, I think video is reaching a point where it can help move us into meaningful digital learning spaces, but it isn’t enough. We all know that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to move content into adaptive digital environments, much like the Better Best Squares activity. PhET simulations by UC Boulder are a good first step, but there is still a disconnect between the task (usually paper based) and how the student interacts with the program.

I’m wondering how we can begin to make responsive programs like the squares example for science. One thought, initially, is that simulation parameters could be set by a student, much like the square they draw. Every following step would be A) integrated with the class responses, and B) based on the initial setup.

How else could we do this in science? Are there any programmers that would be interested in trying to build some kind of pilot program? Any teachers that would be interested in writing curriculum for this project? Let me know in the comments.

Spring Service Projects

This spring, I’m asking my homeroom students to perform some type of service project. The type of project is up to them, but I’ve encouraged them to think as locally as they can. Whether that’s the school or the neighborhood they live in doesn’t matter to me.

I have a couple that already have ideas to build off of, but I’d love to see some other types of projects that were successful. If you have some examples (or know people with examples), I’d appreciate your feedback on the form embedded below.

Full Immersion

My wife showed me this video the other night. If you haven’t seen it, consider taking thirty seconds to watch it. I’ll wait.

At the time, I was entertained. The ending really surprised me, and the video itself was engaging. But, as soon as it was over, I wasn’t thinking about buying a refrigerator or dishwasher any more than I had been before the clip.

How often are our classrooms like this? For me, I’m constantly asking myself whether or not a particular tool or activity is a gimmick (edutainment, if you will) or if it really has substance. There’s a very fine line between the two, and I’ve definitely been duped in the past.

To determine if its going to make a long-lasting impact, I have to be able to connect it to the unit-at-large. How will the tool or activity come full circle from the initial hook? I think Dan Meyer does this better than anyone I know with his Three Act Math website. He begins with a short video or image that prompts a question from the students. Teachers then work to scaffold through the questions to help students build meaning. I’m amazed at not only how thorough his work is, but also that he shares it for free. (For proof that these aren’t gimmicks, check out Dan’s post from December 12.)

In science, I need to make the move to labs before instruction. Terie Englebrecht wrote a short post earlier this week about how she’s moved to labs before instruction. Students move through the unit having been exposed to the “real” part of the content. I stink at this, and as I work on bring labs to the front of the cycle, I need to really make sure to build a program that feeds back on itself.

If you have ideas or suggestions on how to accomplish this, I’d love to hear about them.

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.


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.

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 Fishbowl – Not Your Normal Discussion

As a science teacher, we don’t get many opportunities to discuss difficult topics. Sure, content discussion happen, but I envy the english and philosophy teachers who get to discuss the deep thinking questions. True debate is hard to come by with some of the other more “empirical” contents.

My AP Chemistry class was debating a particular concept (what is the pH of water) in class and I decided to see what we could do with it. I knew the “answer,” but a lot of students were struggling with the idea that water’s pH could be lower than 7 (neutral) at different temperatures. I decided we would fishbowl this question to try and come up with an answer.

In a fishbowl, there are two groups…the outside observers and the fish

Fried fish swimming

inside the bowl. The inside group is having a “traditional” discussion…oral debate and conversation. The outside group, on the other hand, is in a chat room (or public document) and they are having their own discussion about the inside group. Many times, these lead to two completely different discussions.

Some tips if you’re interested in trying out a fishbowl discussion:

  1. Your questions has to be open ended.  Discussions are no fun if everyone agrees.  Try having an open-ended discussion in which there is no one “right” answer.  I also have found that controversial questions lead to good discussion.  Some I’ve heard of: “Was Kierkegaard really an existentialist?,” “What is the most significant development of the 20th century?,” “How did the end of WWII change European and Asian history?”
  2. Be okay with arguments and disagreements. Students don’t always need to agree to find meaning in discussion.  Obviously, keep it civil, but if minds aren’t made up, that’s fine.
  3. Pre-assign groups (if necessary). This is not a come-in-and-start sort of discussion.  There needs to be some preparation by students.  Some teachers have half the students students blog the information and the other half reads the blogs and then becomes the inner discussion group.  This works well with particular concepts, but might not always be necessary.
  4. Have follow-up questions ready. Not all discussion will reach an adequate depth when they start.  Be ready to have some probing follow-up questions to push students to deeper levels.  Be willing to play devil’s advocate to get them thinking about topics form a different perspective.  Questions or statements that catch them off guard are always good, too.
  5. Pick an outside discussion medium before starting.  In other words, make sure the chat room works.  One good one is Chatzy.  Totally free, instant chat rooms.  One problem is that if you have a large group on a school network, Chatzy will filter the chat because the same IP address is sending information and it is marked as spam.  The way around this is to have students log in with their Facebook accounts…the IP marking is overridden then because it recognizes individual users instead of “guests.”  Another good option is TypeWithMe.  Not a huge fan because it isn’t as quick as Chatzy, but there are no IP limitations.  You can export chats from both to distribute to students after the discussion.
  6. Consider recording the chat.  With free recording software readily available, it isn’t hard to record a discussion for later reference.  Audacity is probably the most popular freeware for recording audio.

Discussion can lead to some of the most meaningful learning.  Consider taking a day to step away from cramming in content to give students an opportunity to find true meaning through debate.  Enjoy the struggle of learning first-hand.