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.

Virtual vs Tangible Labs

At this moment, the AP Chemistry exam is in 19 days. I have about 1.5 chapters to cover with class only 3 times per week.

I was at this same point last year, but the exam was a week later, so the situation wasn’t as stressful as it is this year. But, that’s the nature of the exam and I have to work with it.

Currently, we’re discussing applications of aqueous equilibrium…specifically, titrations. This is one of the great topics for labs, but how does a time-strapped teacher work an entire titration into one class period? I feel like a lot of teachers at this point would just skip it and do what they could to get all of the content in.

Because there are so many people on the internet much smarter than me, I was able to find two fantastic titration simulations. You can see them here and here.

The first is a good introduction. I had students use it for a strong acid – strong base titration to get the idea down.  Students can select the type of reaction, which to titrate (acid or base) and what chemicals to use.  They then run the titration and calculate the molarity of the chemical in the buret and check to see if their answer is correct.  The mechanics of the simulation are the same as an actual titration and they can get instant feedback from me as I wander the room and from the web when they check their answer.

The second simulation is more in depth (designed by a college Ph.D) and is more skill-based than the initial titration they ran. There are more variables and require the student to really understand what is happening in the chemical reaction.  I really like the real-time pH curve that is displayed for the students and the instant feedback the simulation gives.  This particular site also has 3 different experiments students can choose from…acetic acid titration, unknown weak acid titration, and determining pKa of an unknown solution.

If you’re running out of time, don’t be afraid of virtual labs. My kids have now done 4 different titrations and I didn’t “lose” any class time. This is the Google Doc procedure my students used today if you’d like to use it.

Another great simulation resource is the University of Colorado, Boulder physics department website sims made for chemistry, biology, physics, and math.


Update 4/2/2012: After receiving some questions about my procedure and the websites, I am sad to report that the second titration simulation from the University of Pasadena is no longer available. Also, I have accidentally lost the Google Document procedure I linked in the original article. If you find other titrations that work well for you, I would love to hear about them in the comments.

Student Nuclear Chemistry

I love being a teacher and I love being a soccer coach. But, those tend to get in the way of one another.

Being an international school, we compete with other international schools from all over Korea. I travel at least once a week, which means I need to miss school more frequently than I would like. It used to be very difficult to keep all of my classes engaged for an 85 minute period if I’m not there. But, because of the availability of great resources on the web, they become opportunities for students to be creative while learning something new.

I recently gave an assignment relating to nuclear power, and specifically, to the events in Japan. There is a lot of confusion about nuclear power and its role in society. There is a great webquest on nuclear energy put together by Ms. R Wadsworth and Ms. M. Shuck at Claremont Secondary School that I used and added to for the assignment.

The first part was a collaborative Q&A document students created and shared. This was simply the information gathering and served as a single location students could go to for information.

Second, they had to create a newsletter that could be given to someone that had zero prior information about nuclear power. They used the information from the GoogleDoc to build the newsletter. You can see some of the best ones in the slideshow below.

Third, I asked them to create an infographic on nuclear power as it related to Japan…not necessarily the tsunami, but in general. Many students had a hard time being creative with this, but some of the better ones are here…feel free to look through them and use them as exemplars if you’re interested in doing something similar. They used this website to begin building the graphics.

You can look at the slideshow or you can go to the album.

Jeopardy in class

I’ve written a lot lately about general chemistry, but I’m also using technology in my AP Chemistry class when I can work it in around all of the podcasting.  That isn’t a great excuse (I don’t even feel like that’s the right word) but the podcasting has definitely taken up most of my technology time.

Anyways, I decided to play Jeopardy with my AP Chemistry class this year.  Now, the funny thing is, none of them (well, very few) have never even seen the show…all they know about it is what their American or Canadian teachers say about it.  So, after I finished trying to explain the whole answer-in-the-form-of-a-question concept, we got going.  It went really well because I put together a hyperlinked PowerPoint presentation that linked each question value to the slide.  There was no back-and-forth, searching for the slide, etc.  I ended up liking it so much, I’m posting it here if you’re in need of a quick time-saver for a review game or for whatever else.  Just click and download the file.  The file is set up such that all you need to change are the category titles and then add-in your questions for the appropriate unit.

Right now, I only have single Jeopardy.  I’ll get a double template posted this week (hooray Thanksgiving) so if you’d like to do a double round, you don’t have to go through and change every single slide.

I hope some of you find this helpful…enjoy!

Jeopardy! (Template v2.0)

The Mol Project

I started teaching the concept of the mol (not the animal…the amount) in chemistry this week.  The problem is, the mol is such an impossibly large number to comprehend (6.02 x 10^23, or 602 sextillion, or 602 followed by 21 zeros) students often don’t grasp the quantity of things we are attempting to count.  So, I had them do a quick project on quantifying the number of things…anything…in a mol.  They had to relate one mol of an object to a concrete idea for people to visualize.  Many students just looked at the length of an object like a pen or a keyboard key.  Some others measured area, and still others measured volume.

For the project, they gave an example of a dozen, a gross (a dozen dozens), one million and one billion.  I got some great projects from this…better than I anticipated when I assigned it.  Below are some of the projects I had students turn in for the assignment.

Periodic Table of Cereals

Update 9/18/2012 – Unfortunately, the videos no longer work because the students closed their accounts. Feel free to use this Google Doc for the activity.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about students putting together a periodic table of cereals for a project.  Well, the final drafts are in and I got some work this year that blew my mind.  Some of the best are shown below if you’re interested in browsing through some.

As an overview, students picked 25 cereals and then had to organize them in a comprehensive table.  It had to classify both rows (periods) and columns (groups) as well as 3 other properties of their choice.  Some students opted to use this as a test grade and were also required to submit a video answering some questions other students chose to write about.  Anyways, enjoy their work!

These are two of the videos that stood out amongst the rest.



Coming Up: Student Periodic Tables

Part of the mastery system is assessing students through their own, unique work.  For this next unit (beginning today) students have an opportunity to show me what they know through their own digital periodic tables based on…cereal.

While this isn’t true student-driven assessment, it’s a step in the right direction for my class.  I’m hoping to be able to do something like this for every unit…I’m just not there yet.  For this project, they have to do a lab in which they produce a periodic table based on different cereals.  They have the option to turn in a supplementary video to be used as their chapter assessment.  I’m really hoping I can get some of the more creative students to jump at this opportunity.  We’ll see in a week or two what I get.