Monday, February 13, 2017

(Not) Fail! #flipclass flashblog

              Today’s #flipclass flashblog topic is about an essential teaching practice. There are many things involved in teaching. Reflection has always driving my practice, but I would have to say that when I embraced the idea that failure is just part of any successful process and let go of the idea that perfection was the measure of success, I became a much better teacher. This idea allowed me to adapt and meet the needs of as many students as possible. The plan was always to teach every student, but the execution was tough as long as mistakes were not an option.   

              This shift has brought much joy to my professional life as well as improved the classroom for many students. Flipping the classroom allowed time to differentiate, provide meaningful feedback, adjust strategies mid class period, and really help students learn and do physics. It has led to more opportunities to include collaboration, creativity, inquiry, and communication. I started this blog and after three years of trying, I was able to include student blogs in a second-year physics course. That same course evolved from traditional to project based learning to a whole year physics and engineering based service course. There was a time when I would not speak in front of a crowd of adults, now I am active in providing professional development in and outside the district. My students defended their proposals for projects to an audience of district administrators and experts. None of that would have happened without some risk along with colleagues and administrators willing to support my journey.  
              Be brave, ask questions, try new things, but be honest in your reflections and evaluations during the process to make sure the process is complete.

Monday, January 11, 2016

What’s In A Deadline? (#flipclass flashblog)

Are due dates important or is it more important students have the time they need to learn? Yes, both are the answer. Students need to know that both hard and self-determined deadlines exist. Cramming for an exam and time-management are both skills that will serve students as they move out of school to college and career. Students should have experience with both so they can build the skills they need to succeed with either situation.

In my project-based senior science there are few firm due dates. Things tend to change as students make choices and progress during the project. At the end of the fall semester we had an interesting situation that involved both a flexible due date and a very firm due date. I think you could predict the student reaction to either.

Students had been working in groups to prepare proposals for solar charging stations for personal devices. They would present to the class and the class would choose the 2-3 they wanted most to build. Then students would revise the presentation from what we can do and what we want to do as a class to what would administration want or allow in the school.

Administrators from all levels were invited to our Shark Tank and I wanted to give students 3 class periods to work on their revised presentations. 3 days before Shark Tank and students wanted more time, 2 days to go and they still weren’t done. When they got the extension, which they really needed, I explained the hard due date of the Sharks and the need to have 1 class period minimum to regroup and revise.

They presented to their classmates and were amazing. We chose our favorites. Students were divided into new groups to deal with administrator-type questions such as safety, liability, city codes and maintenance. One day to do all of that. Students had created their own high-pressure situation. The night before the Shark Tank a student emailed me wondering where his group’s presentation was located. Sadly, all that existed was a cover page. A few texts and messages and student work started to appear. Collaboration was occurring via Google docs and I was witnessing on-line miracles. I was still worried about the tank, but starting to feel better.

Long story short, they were fabulous for the Shark Tank and impressed the toughest critics. They met the challenge, answered tough questions, took critiques with class and learned from their experience. I can tell you that both the flexible due date and firm due date were correct. The important piece was students understood why they were different. It was not just a case of inconsistency, but reality.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Taking A Run At Project Based Learning

Teaching Scientific Research and Design as a Project –Based Learning course has been an evolution. What started out as short projects (2 – 6 week duration) has become a course with an intro project, a yearlong project and an end-of-year field trip and project. I am following Buck Institute’s PBL Model.

Challenging Problem or Question:  Design and build a solar powered charging station that can be placed in the school for student use.
Sustained Inquiry: Research requirements to build the station. Research building codes. Experiment to find the best placement of the stations Experiment with solar panels, circuitry. Experiment to create robust design. More experiments to come.
Authenticity: This is all done by the students. They have created the designs and plans, chosen the parts and will build the stations. They are excited about leaving a legacy at Allen High School. They will also chose the challenge for next year’s students.
Student Voice and Choice: Once again, it is all them. They were given the basic requirements and created designs that met or were so amazing the original requirements were adjusted. Students created their plans and will have to find their way to success.
Reflection: My students are blogging throughout the process. I want them to understand that they decide when the work is done. They can make the change and learn from their mistakes.
Critique and Revision: This is constant. The first round of proposals was for the class to choose some they want to build. The second round (with one day to revise) was for administration to have some input.
Public Product: The final stations will be our public product, but in the meantime student’s participated in an administrator’s sharktank and will continue blogging.
Key Knowledge and Learning Success for Students: So many skills fall into this category. Every day there is something new for the students to learn. Since my course objectives are scientific process skills there is not an issue with state objectives. Students are constantly planning and performing experiments, researching, working cooperatively, problem solving, revising, and communicating. They are also learning how to love learning.

We’re busy learning in my classroom. Every day is an adventure. I’m learning along with the students and loving every minute of every class.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Things to Learn in a Shark Tank

We have just finished the proposal phase for our Eagle Solar Charging Stations. The plan is to build stations to place around the high school that would charge multiple phones using stored solar energy. We chose 5 different stations from 2 classes to build and present to a panel of Sharks. The Sharks were administrators from the superintendent’s cabinet, school board members, principals and coordinators. My kids were amazing! In one day they changed their proposals to address administrative issues such as educational purpose, safety, maintenance and aesthetics. The Sharks asked them all sorts of tough questions and they responded confidently. Today I asked them to blog about the experience. I am sharing excerpts from the first few I read.

The planning phase of this build has taught me to keep an open mind about other people’s ideas. – Cole

Overall, I'm proud of how much we have done so far in the making and designing of the project. It benefits myself, while I research ideas and info about what needs to be done, to become successful. I'm mostly impressed by how much we've gotten done so far, and how successful its going. – Jacob

The shark tank was a great experience and i think it was a good demonstration of how ideas are pitched in the real world. Just like any project, the final goal is success. To get success I believe that we need to become organized into separate groups but maintain a clear line of communication between the whole class. More importantly we need to all stay focused at the task at hand, if we stay focused I believe we can make a functioning charging station. As of right now I am impressed by the creativity of all the proposals that passed the class vote. I am also proud of the way my class displayed a sense off professionalism during the shark tank event. – Grantferd 

I am also really enjoyed about how my teacher believed in us even if we were having a lot of trouble throughout learning on how to make a successful solar panel.  She didn't give up on our work and take over; she pushed us in getting to learn more about the project throughout ourselves which is something that i will never be more appreciated for. She pushes us in knowing we can do it, even if we don't think we can and that is something i find very appealing and very thankful for. – Janay

These are lessons that will help these students as they go on to college, careers and their adult lives. They need to understand how to work with groups, how to communicate and they can be successful. All of those things are hidden in science process skills. So, yes they are worthy of my class time.

(P.S. Looks like we’ll work on English skills some.)

Monday, October 26, 2015

Freedom to Fail (#flipclass flashblog)

Creating a positive environment starts within. Whether it is within the classroom or throughout the campus, my attitude is where it starts. It is amazing how much a simple smile and a kind word can change a room. While this may sound cheesy, think about how you feel when you enter a room and are greeted kindly or ignored. Where would you rather be? Once you have this started, you have to maintain a feeling of teamwork, worth and involvement through any struggle you face.

We have a common goal, great educational opportunities. As teachers we create and nurture these for our students to take advantage. Getting to those opportunities requires more than planning great activities; it helps to look at the process. With students or colleagues we all respond better when we are an included part of a team. All ideas are considered while struggles and critiques are acknowledged. It is important to let folks follow their path to reach the goal. My choices do not reflect those of others. As long as they are within the boundaries of the class or campus expectations, they should be valid options. With the freedom to choose a path, we need to approach others without judgement. Their path will be different, and we may not see how it will work, but it is their path and it might be a great choice.

With choice comes the opportunity to fail, learn and try again. When the path is not prescribed, we must take chances. It is much easier to do this in an environment that will support reflection and correction. It is nearly impossible to take those chances where failure is a possible final result. Choice and risk taking provides opportunities to learn and grow. Make it about learning. For students the grades will come, for teachers the process will be more rewarding.

 This year I have continued to teach high school seniors and work with teachers implementing technology. Both require the opportunity to try, fail, and try again to become successful. I have found that those moments where the success comes after struggle are the sweetest.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Creating an Environment for Learning (#flipclass flashblog)

We all know that students, especially high school students, will say whatever they are thinking.  For good or bad it is what it is. There have been some days when I was not happy about that. But I have had at least two days, one last year and again last Friday, where I wanted to hug the whole class and perhaps the whole world.

In both cases we were having a conversation about what makes this class different. Last year the students were creating a proposal presentation for administrators about our quadcopter project. This year we were just talking about what we learned from our first project, the big bubble, which would help us with our next, solar charging stations. Both times, without prompting, students described the class as one that learning and performance were most important. (This is where I wish I had a rewind button and could play it for you!) I teared up and really wanted to hug the students who said this.

I am still trying to figure out how I created this. It was always a goal, but I really didn’t have a concrete plan, just a lot of hope. Here are some of the things I think have contributed.

                I’m not the smartest in the room. Students have a say and are encouraged to be the experts.
                Late grades only exist if you don’t make an effort. Effort gives you the time you need to succeed.
                Most activities have rubrics. Students know what is expected of them before they start, while they are working and when they are assessed. They also know what they need to fix once assessed. I do let them correct their work if they wish.

                Students are allowed to choose how they show their learning.

Having students see the importance of learning is one of my goals as an educator. Students have reported other benefits of this learning environment. They include much lower grade stress, increased enjoyment of science and students choosing to perform at high levels.

I love what I teach and appreciate the freedom giving to me by the curriculum and support from my administration. It gives me the opportunity to try new things that improve student learning. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

My Dream PLC (#flipclass flashblog)

Wow, building the ideal Professional Learning Community (PLC), what a dream. I have been lucky to be part of some great teams. There are some common factors to all of the teams.
           Common Goal
In our case it was always “what is best for our students”. Keeping this in mind helped us be more objective and willing to have tough but constructive conversations.

This requires open and honest dialog without agendas. The positive presupposition is everyone is there to do the best they can for the students.

Share the Work
We are all pressed for time and there is always too much to do. Expect everyone to participate and collaborate. No one sits back all of the time and absorbs the greatness. On the other side, no one is the only voice or makes all of the choices for the PLC.
Set up norms and expectations as a team and hold members to those when you are together. It is easy to wander off on distracting topics.

A standard time to meet gives importance to the PLC.
A variety of voices and skills are best to encourage growth. We all have things we do well and activities we enjoy. Allow members to contribute as well as be challenged. Dissent can provide opportunity to improve.

Working with a high-functioning PLC elevates all of the members. PLC’s don’t have to be built from like content, skills, content teams, but they should have a commonality or shared goal.