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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Flipping Parents to Your Side (#flipclass flashblog)

I am going to short cut this blog and provide some resources that I have created, or helped create, to help get parents to be your partners as you work to innovate your classroom.

Lanier's Class Introduction video

Engaging Parents in Flipped Learning

More Tips to Engage Parent

Remember if you are new and this is new to your campus or district you can not over communicate. Do not use educbabble, use clear language to ensure parents that you are doing something that will benefit their student. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Class Vs Clas

The year has come to an end. My first real project-based-learning course with a single large project is nearly over. Two classes, two quad copters, same process throughout the year, two different results; I have summer vacation to figure out how to duplicate the successes and avoid the failures. The biggest success and the biggest failure are actually two sides of the same issue, success vs failure.

The project of research, choose, build and fly a quadcopter has created two completely different classes. One can see success even though we have failed a number of times and are still trying to reach the goal. The other has given up. I am not sure when the one class coalesced into a unit and the other class fell apart, but it happened this spring. It could be that one class if full of “glass half full” kids and the other is overwhelmed by the ‘glass half empty” kids. It could be that the unending rain in Texas made one class lose interest. But what kept the other interested? It could be that one quad copter is easier to work with than the other and success was attained soon enough to get them through the challenges. Classes always have different natures, the trick is to find the things that will work for all students and try to adapt fast enough for the others.

We ran out of time to do so much. Having a weather dependent project is a problem. Two months to learn to fly the quad copter was not enough when the two months turned into 3 days with repairs in between. The obstacle courses each class built may stay unused. My enthusiastic class is proposing to meet after graduation practice to run the course to complete the task. Purchasing technology based equipment in a 19th century system caused additional frustrating delays. Even now, I am buying replacement parts with my money to have things ready by Thursday for graduation.

I will say I am proud of both classes for going through this process with me. I know we all learned a lot and eventually all of my seniors will see the value in the project. They have learned to research, to trouble shoot, to keep trying (some are more tenacious than others), to repair, circuitry, team work, photography and so much more. Next year I will have two classes of different kids, a project and a goal. I hope that summer brings some insight!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Learning About Learning (#flipclass flashblog)

Any student leaving high school should know what they know and what they don’t know. Unfortunately we have spent 13 years telling them that filling out a worksheet and passing a multiple choice test is a way to prove of what you know. While that is a way to prove something and it takes information and knowledge to complete and pass, it doesn’t really show you can do something with your knowledge.

I have spent this year in my senior science class on a single project. Select, build and fly a quadcopter. We have completed the first two goals. And you could argue that they flew, but not for more than 45 seconds. We are in repair and relearn phase with only 7 class periods to master this task.

Today I asked students to define their own objectives for the day knowing the status and final goal. They did a great job, dividing and conquering. Weather permitting we can fly on Wednesday (this week N. Texas is not cooperating with weather!). When I asked the same question in January, I was met with blank stares. Students have spent this semester in a course driven by a task and executed with plans they have made. I have allowed them to stumble and fix the problem. It has been a challenge to step back and let them succeed or fail. We crashed both quadcopters with 7 days left in the year and they are fixing them and figuring out how they will get them flying for graduation. I know that when the success happens, they will feel triumphant!

I am hoping that this experience has helped them learn about themselves, their learning styles and how to learn. The reality is that I am still struggling with some that have learned to play school with expertise. I still have some who whine and complain that they “don’t get it” when the sad reality is that they don’t really know how to learn. Others have run with the challenge and it has changed their minds about their future (I win!). Asking students to prove they know something and write about their experience has changed my class for the better. The other important piece is allowing students who realize they have missed the mark to go back and learn. Both together have made my class better for me and the students. While I am adjusting for next year, one big adjustment will be more time to prove and think about what you have learned. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Learning from PBL - Not the Expert, Not Even Close! (#flipclass flashblog)

This year I have taken on my first big project in a course that has been primarily short (3-4 week) physics based projects. Each of my classes is building a quad copter. Since the opportunity was a pleasant surprise, I was not able to plan out the project as it should be done in a project-based learning (PBL) course. It has tested my flexibility and my creativity as well as my ability to think on my feet. I am a strong proponent for trying new things and being willing to fail and try again. My students are the beneficiaries of some wonderful modeling opportunities this year.

I offer up a list of things I have learned so far in implementing PBL:

Plan, plan more than you think. You will need plan B and probably plan C.
                This may seem obvious, but so many things go differently than expected in a big project. There have been variables that I could not have anticipated as well as some I should have known about. (21st century buying on the internet is not compatible with 20th century purchasing procedures.) Students do not always have a good measure of their skills when it comes to real-world experiences. Laws change and so do the limitations of the project when you are pushing limits.

Students need lessons in technology, communication and collaboration.
                Even my seniors, yes seniors, need time to learn how to create a good presentation, how to use technology to collaborate and create and even how to work together to achieve a goal.

Students need practice being self-driven.
                They have spent so much time in class being told what to do, how to do it and what the answers are that they are baffled when presented with a challenge and the freedom to solve the problem. Patience is needed with this as you want them to learn to love the learning process. This is new for them and they really want you to provide the answers or assign a worksheet that has a start and finish that is well defined.

You, the teacher, will have to step back and let them learn.
                Be ready to coach, ask leading questions and help them discover a path. It is often tough, but honesty is good. You do not have to know everything. My students are used to the response “that is a great question, let’s go find the answer”. Coming up with a great question is something students are proud of now.
These would apply to any innovative technique for a student-centered classroom.  Most of all, be ready to have some fun. There is something amazing about students who choose to learn and achieve a goal that they have set for themselves.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Caution: Planning in Progress! (#flipclass flashblog)

So, this week I will start with some disclaimers:

                I am the type of teacher who can change plans at the last minute if I have a better idea. I am also the type who does better under time constraints.
                Even though I try my best, I am comfortable with making mistakes and fixing them as they are found by students.
                I want what is best for my students and I am willing to be honest about the work I design.
                I see planning as a continuous process and part of continuous improvement. (Can you tell I was an engineer in a previous life?)

Planning is the key to success for a classroom and I realize that without a plan, the lesson has little chance of being successful. On the other side, a lesson that cannot be changed to meet the needs of the students will also miss the mark. One of the pillars of flipped learning is to be a professional educator. An educator has a plan, with objectives, tasks, learning goals and assessment in mind before the lesson starts. A professional educator starts with those same things, but is capable of making adjustments as the class progresses.

It is impossible to anticipate all of the needs of the students in a class. Will they understand the instructions? Have all of them mastered the prerequisites and needed skills? Are they willing to give this a try or will they need extra motivation? How quickly will they grasp the concept? Each student will have different learning needs as the lesson progresses. They will change from the novice to the master and back again to novice. As time progress, you may notice that a well-executed flipped classroom has naturally differentiated, planning has to include flexibility, remediation and challenges to address all of the class needs.

In a flipped classroom, students have the opportunity to arrive in class with the framework of knowledge for the day. The planning comes into play when handling the wide variety of student ability, interest and level of mastery. For those who follow the plan exactly as it is written there is no challenge. They will do the work, get things done, learn, enjoy and be ready for more in the next class period. These students need some attention, periodic checks, and are willing to get your attention when they need it. For those who struggle, time to digest, practice and make mistakes with the content is as important as a plan for delivering the content. These students may need you to convince them to let you help them. They cannot feel like they are holding others back, so everyone must be working on something while you work with this group. It is also important that they have the opportunity to do the ‘cool things’ once they are ready. For those who master the content quickly, some nice tricks and ‘cool things’ up your sleeve are necessary so that you have time with the students who need extra help and attention.

                So, flipping your class requires planning. Lots of it, but it also gives you time to make adjustments to plans that might never happen in a traditional classroom. With lecture you may never know if students really understood the lesson. With flipped learning, you have the opportunity to help your students really learn the topic and watch your students work with the material. Plan, but do not be afraid to really teach! 

Monday, March 30, 2015

What are Grades Good For?

People think grades show a student has learned. Perhaps in some cases that is true. Grades are a measurement system. And just like any other system there are benefits and rules. They are good to show that a student has completed work and performed sufficiently on exams. It is rare that grades show the whole picture of a student. I have three different students, each has skills and challenges, I have taught or coached each one of these students and know how they think and learn. Mark, Jessie and Danny are great kids. Mark is in the top 20 out of 1500 students. Jessie graduated in the top 25% of her class and Danny is currently hovering right above dead last.

Mark is brilliant, he has an eidetic memory and his ability to reason is impressive. He excels at standardized tests and makes difficult subjects look easy. He is not the top of his class because he does not really know how to make himself learn. It just happens. If he is interested in the topic, he puts more effort into thinking and dissecting the ideas. In those instances he learns and learns well. If the topic is not to his liking he will use his skill and hope for the best. He does get A’s on most everything, even things he has long forgotten.

Jessie is similar to Mark in that much of her learning comes easy. She has a difficult time reading and processing writing, and struggles to communicate. She did tutor most of the top 10 students in physics and calculus. She knows when a teacher is not covering material she needs to learn. Conversations with her show she has learned a great deal, but when she sits down to fill in a bubble response, she jumbles her answers. If answers are similar (like choices on APUSH exam) she only sees 4 of the same choices. She does not do well in the grading system that has been set up for high school, but she understands learning.

Danny is a work in progress. He does not like to do work that does not mean something to him. Most teachers think he is just lazy. I got to see him go from lazy to inspired one day in class. All it took was a hands-on building project to make him shine. It was obvious that he knew what to do, could communicate it to his classmates and even went home and brought back information and better ideas. Unfortunately, getting him to pass by turning in work is not going to get him to graduation. He is starting to see that life has hoops to jump through to make it to certain milestones. He is even adapting to the idea.

Three different students who I expect will be successful in the future. They are all very different learners being measured by the same system. Is Mark better than Jessie who is better than Danny? Grades and class rank say so. I doubt it. As I focus on the importance of showing learning in ways that meet the needs of the student, instead of completing papers, grades have become secondary. These three students can all do well or do nothing in the same class. Their grade will show what they have learned not when they have complied. It is a slow evolution, but I believe I am on the right track.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Adventures in Presenting - Wallflower to Evangelist (#flipclass flashblog)

The great folks you meet at conferences make all of the difference.
 (Bingo from Kate Baker)
Flipping my classroom not only changed my class, but it actually changed me. Before flipping I would die if asked to present information to peers or administrators. Now, I am quite outspoken when it comes to innovating classrooms to improve learning. If you stand still long enough I’ll be happy to share.

The first presentation I had to make was with 5 other colleagues who had also flipped their classes in our district to over 150 administrators from around the north Texas region. Even with a minimal portion of the presentation, I was intimidated to the point of panic and perhaps a call to 911. Fun fact, it didn't kill me.

Since that experience I found that I have something to say. Not everyone will want to hear it, but there are some that find it helpful. Now I plan professional development and present to many folks within and outside my district. Summers are full of professional developments on flipped class, 20% project and integrating technology into the classrooms.  So here is a quick list of what I try to incorporate in any presentation.

                Story – Tell stories about what you are talking about, why it matters, who it benefits.

                Interact – Find out what is important to the people taking the time to listen to you. Respond to their questions and comments. Adjust to their needs. (yep, sounds like a class J )

                Time – give time to the attendees to digest the information and make it their own. The best workshops I have given have been long enough to let teachers work with what they have learned.

Yes, the list is short, but so often the time we have to convey information is short. I’m sure there are more things to include but it is always hard to fight the information overload. There is always so much more to tell than time. Choose carefully and give the attendees a taste and something to work with. As an attendee who loves to learn, I appreciate those times when I can do something real with the information presented rather than file it away in the “good idea” file.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

What Can You Do?

As we approach the end of the year, the crush of content, testing, grades and other pressures can become overwhelming for teachers. It is important to step back and ask what I really control. States and districts set curriculum and standards and have seemingly endless testing requirements. In the next twelve or so weeks I have to help my students meet the objectives of the courses. So, this is my answer, I control how we get there. I control the timing, the amount of pressure, and the methods that I use to get us to graduation in June.

While my tool box does not seem like much, the ace up my sleeve is I know my students will make it. They will make it because we are on this journey together. At this point in the year my students know that I want them to learn and I will give them time and assistance to be successful. They trust me to be fair and listen to them. They know that I value what they think and will adjust or explain why things must remain as they are.  

Here’s the key, hold them to high standards, expect great things and help them get there. They may need more than one attempt. Be patient with explanations and make sure they really understand. If they miss the mark, explain again and give them the opportunity to be a success. Sorry this isn't the “big answer” you were hoping to get, but I guarantee if you build relationships with your students, the difficult times will be easier and stress will be less for everyone involved. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

It's All Up to the Students - Yay or Yikes!

One of the great things about the senior science course I teach is that the state curriculum standards are primarily science process standards. Understand problem solving methods, create a hypothesis, design an investigation, perform the investigation, and communicate the results. Intertwined are skills such as data analysis, research, and error analysis. One of the most difficult things about the class is that it is so wide open. This could actually describe any course where students are trying, failing, trying again and communicating their efforts.  

In past years I have incorporated art, comics, building, music and engineering into the applied physics class. The results have always varied from the bare minimum to knock-your-socks-off amazing.  This year the class has been focused on the Eagle Squadron project where they research, select, propose, build and fly a quad copter. We are now at the ready to purchase stage of the project and hope to have it soon for building and flying. Yes, this is project-based learning. No, I did not have the luxury of creating a detailed plan before starting. It has been a little bumpy, but the results of the experience are starting to show in the students.

The students presented a proposal to the class on their chosen quad copter. The two best from each class presented to a Shark Tank panel of administrators, including our superintendent, to show they could do this project and how it would benefit the school and their education. They researched laws and safety issues to create a presentation for our risk management director who responded appreciatively to our attention to the real-world issue. Now they are setting up flight training, building plans, communication plans as well as an obstacle course to conquer when it is all said and done. All of these have been driven by the project needs as well as what the students need to learn to be successful.

I could have given concrete rules for each of the steps, but the reality is if I give a minimum expectation and guide the students they usually arrive at something so much better than I could have described. This also gives the interested and gifted students room to do their thing while others still participate and succeed during times when the work is not to their personal liking. 

Some days take some pushing to get through the work, they so want to get the quad copter in a build. Of course if no one gives me a list of tools, building is going to be a little tough. We have embarked on a journey that I am not the expert, I can’t even pretend. I can guide, I can anticipate needs so they don’t get frustrated and we can all celebrate together when the copters arrive and we build and fly them. Wish us luck!

Monday, March 2, 2015

What's a Weird Lesson? (#flipclass flash blog)

Ever since I flipped my physics and Scientific Research and Design (SRD) class it has become increasingly difficult to find a day where the lessons are “normal”. Over the years, my SRD students have launched marshmallows to study projectiles, build a Rube Goldberg Machine and build roller coasters to examine energy transforms, dissolved M&M’s to learn how to observe scientifically, design and perform a lab at Six Flags with a movie trailer report, build a mobile to study torque and every Friday they get class time to learn something new to them in their 20% project. Not necessarily your usual science class, but it works for my high school seniors.

I am quite partial to all of them including our current journey is to build quad copters and obstacle courses to fly through, my favorite is the first activity every year, the big bubble build. In a professional development we were shown a bubble to use a classroom activity, a cell, a planetarium, etc. I decided to let my senior high students to design and build one for elementary classes. They are told to build an inflatable bubble that will fit 20 5th graders from 500 sq ft of plastic, zipper, duct tape and a standard box fan. Create a design and a model, prove that it meets the requirements and redesign if needed. The class chooses the winning design. Winners become the project lead and must make everything and everyone work to create the bubble.

They don’t believe it will work and are always amazed when it goes up! They learn to work together, plan, trouble shoot, communicate, fail and succeed together. They also experience the engineering process from beginning to end. This year they will deliver our bubbles to an elementary and explain the process to the students who will get the gift. They ask to blow up the bubble and work inside it and are proud of their work. Who would have imagined so much learning with students building big bubble from plastic.

Who would have imagined so much learning with students building big bubble from plastic. We talk air pressure, geometry, structure as well as proposals, models and specifications. My students declare themselves “The real Breakfast Club” after working together. After this project they are ready to work with any of the students in the class. Considering some of them have never met, not unusual in a high school with 6000 students, this is a huge achievement.

Monday, February 23, 2015

What Do I Do Next?

This year my senior science class has embarked on a learning journey. This class has been evolving from a traditional second year physics to a project-based learning (PBL) class that applies first year physics to real world situations. This year, we are researching and choosing a quad copter to build in class. While I am familiar with smaller projects, this is my first time to try a big project on a topic that I am learning along with the students. Since this opportunity was unplanned, I am working to stay one step ahead. (Not good practice for any class, especially PBL.)

Students have been made responsible for learning about flight along with real word skills like creating proposals and researching legal, safely and liability issues. I do not have the answers and often cannot affirm the students without some of my own research. They have become accustomed to the phrase “let’s look that up and see what we can learn”.

Notes froma class discussion
Recently students have struggled with what to do next. Our work takes multiple days and varies from research, labs, and communicating results. Students are asked to show what they have learned. This often makes assignments open ended. Students are given expectations and rubrics for guidance and assessment, but are more comfortable with concrete questions, blanks to fill and multiple choices to make. With assignments, students submit work and I assess and give feedback. Students are encouraged to add or correct based on the feedback.  Since we need to have the knowledge to succeed, it is not about the grades. They have not adjusted to the idea that submitting and assignment might not mean you are done. They have been trained to complete and move on.

It is taking work to fight this idea. Some of the students understand this is a different class. They love the freedom to learn. They like the real life experiences as well as the choices they have while we progress through the project. They are excited that this is all their learning and work. The lost students will be found and they too will being to appreciate the opportunity to make this their own class. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

How Deep? How Wide?

Each year I am part of the curriculum team. We work together during summer and mid-year. Our team is tasked with setting the pace for the course as well as defining the depth based on our state standards, TEKS. Our TEKS define the topics and concepts to teach. We cover all of them to some extent. The struggle starts with how long to give students to master a topic. In Texas every high school student is expected to complete a physics course to graduate as one of the four required science courses. The next struggle is deciding how much math should be required to solve the problem and   complexity of the problems.  So many variables make this a difficult balancing act.

Over time, the transition from a traditional lecture-based class to a fully flipped classroom has helped increase the depth of learning. Basic concepts, equations and examples are delivered through a video lesson done prior to class. This leaves our entire class time to apply and explore the ideas presented. Instead of having 30 minutes to run through data collection, we have 90 minutes to complete a lab and discuss the results. Other days, instead of sending students home with 5 – 10 practice problems, they have time to try activities that are designed to engage as well as provide the important practice needed to understand how math and physics come together with the guidance of their teacher and peers.

As activities are improved and students rise to the challenge of more thoughtful activities we are encouraging students to dig deeper into physics without overwhelming them with impossible tasks. I would like to see a model where students are given the information and can choose how they create depth. There will still be practice problem, but the amount could be tailored to the student need, not the length of the worksheet. Students will still have multiple choice tests, but they could also show learning in other ways.

Every year, things are tweaked and adjustments are made to make the course better for the students. With the right changes and the encouragement to innovate, we can move towards enough depth without the feeling of being rushed to cover content.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Slogging Through the Mud in PBL

In October I was presented with a marvelous opportunity, building quad copters in my Scientific Research and Design (SRD) class. My classes and I enthusiastically started off on a journey that would end with a cool result. The plan is to evaluate our skills, define our needs/plan, find an appropriate quad copter, create a proposal for administrators, purchase, build and execute the plan. It all sounds interesting, to me. To the students, some of it has been more work than fun. (They were expecting fun!)

The work becomes hard when students are asked to do something that has usually been provided for them in the past. Deciding which quad copter and defending the choice was the first big hurdle where student interest started to dwindle. By suggesting we don’t just present, we “Shark Tank” the presentations with administrators as the panel got the students re-energized. They even tried to get Mark Cuban to come and Shark Tank their projects. Mr. Cuban didn't make it, but our superintendent made a last minute appearance. Having a real audience helped students see the importance of their work. 

Now we have chosen and are finding out that what we are going to do is dangerous and there are possible legal issues. They are doing research for our principal to present to risk management. To keep them interested, we’re doing small experiments that will help with the quad copters later on. Propellers and shapes in wind tunnels, parachute design and air resistance. We are nearing the end and should be able to order our parts soon.

I anticipate the build to be exciting. I’m sure that there will be struggles. Keeping a whole class going on the one project is interesting. We will have a blogger, a safety planner, a flight trainer along with the students who are digging into the actual build. Wish me luck as I try to avoid another mud puddle.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Practice It, Check It, Prove It - Flipped Classroom Hack

Photo: Mars Hall Packing Papers
I have always struggled with giving students valuable feedback in a timely manner. I also want my students to focus on learning not grades and completion grades are quick and easy but do not focus on learning or provide meaningful feedback. With flipped learning the additional burden of the quantity of work students do now that I’m not lecturing for half of every class period. It is possible to walk around and get a sense of how students progressing, what they understand and where they struggle, but the reality of giving a meaningful grade was something I found very difficult. I also found that my due dates were no longer tied to the beginning or end of and class period. They were driven by the students. I needed a new system to acknowledge student effort, give meaningful feedback and handle a large quantity of work.

Inspired by conversations with other teachers using flipped learning, I decided to let students grade their daily work like practice problems, concept checks and then ask them to prove they understand. Students work on their problems alone or in small groups while I walk around and help as needed. Once done they show me the work and then have permission to check the detailed key posted on the front board. It is placed in a spot that is easy to monitor, where students do not usually go and they are not allowed to have cameras while checking. They check their work and then have the opportunity to ask any questions. At this point students have some great questions. They know what they don’t know. We can work extra examples, clear up math problems or move on to the next thing which is the proving point. Students that get to this point have a 70% for the activity and can keep their work for studying and reference. For the remaining 30%, the student is asked to prove they have learned. I give them one of four problems, or problem sets, to solve. Each student at a table will have a different problem to solve. They can still work together, but they cannot copy the work. They turn in the single problem or set and move on.

This simple system has changed my classroom. Students have more responsibility for learning. They know checking is part of the process. They ask questions before checking because they know that they will have to ask eventually. They know I expect them to be able to do the work on their own when ready, but are happy to have the support getting there. Students get feedback without consequences. Mistakes are expected, fixing them is the trick, and understanding is the result. I no longer hold important work hostage until the end of a unit and can grade “the prove” it portion quickly. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Flipcon TX - A Weekend Full of Connecting and Energizing

On of the best ways to get unstuck from any educational rut is to find some enthusiastic, innovative educators and spend a weekend with them sharing and learning. Allen ISD just hosted a regional Flipcon with Flipped Learning. It was crazy getting things ready for the two day event. Friday’s schedule was class visits, student panel and then the keynote. Saturday was made up of three sessions and a reflection.

Class visits were amazing. I am so proud of my colleagues and their hard work. We were able to show English, Physics, Chemistry, Algebra 2, AP World History, Government, ASL and Anatomy and Physiology. Each of the teachers had a different style and used flipped learning tools in unique ways. ASL uses student recordings to show learning and teacher recordings for reference and missed work. Government, World History and English used flipped tools when it makes sense. They deliver basic information that will be used in class for activities. Algebra is basic flip. Physics and Chemistry are fully flipped. Some Chemistry is moving towards mastery and Anatomy and Physiology are in their second year of flipped mastery. The touring teachers were engaged in the learning, often more so than the actual students. They asked questions, observed and more importantly made connections with what they had envisioned. The variety was a helpful reminder to our visitors that there are many ways to use flipping to help students learn. Since seeing is believing, visiting classes that are amazing should help teachers see how to get their flipped classes started. 

The student panel was incredible. It seems that flipped learning, when done correctly, is beneficial for all types of student. Students like having control of the content delivery time and place as well as frequency. They like having the help in class and the ability to really work with the information they have. They don’t like long videos and miss the ability to interact with the instructor while the content is being delivered. They did agree that the trade off to get a teacher’s help with the tougher stuff was a good idea. Flipped learning had made a difference in the ease of learning for chemistry, physics and algebra. They would encourage teachers to give it a try. Their honesty describing challenges and experiences would inspire anyone to keep trying to make the classroom a better place. 

Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams were the keynote speakers. They were inspirational and entertaining as they shared their thought on what makes learning better for students. Their journey is a good model for many and understanding how and why they started makes it easier to jump in and try the method. Even though I have had the privileged of hearing them a number of times, I always come away energized and ready for more hard work.

Sadly, I was not able to attend sessions since I presented twice on Saturday. I can say that the attendees were enthusiastic and wanted to do something to change the environment in the class. The folks were friendly. We had lots of great conversations during and between sessions. I hope they all went home brains stuffed full of new ideas. Having attended Flipcons during summer, much of the atmosphere was present at our regional conference. It was much smaller, but I can see it growing in the future. I hope it does. I could use a refueling station available during the year.