Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Potential of the FLIP Meets Workflow & Tech Issues Head-on: week 1 reflections

It was great seeing my new group of 8th graders. After working through some projector issues in the morning, most of my introductory lessons on day one accomplished my goals: explaining the Flip, intro to the course, workflow and tech tools. I do admit to explaining the Flip at the front of the room and definitely understood the irony. Despite interacting with students during this introductory monologue, there was a moment of clarity which reinforced my decision to flip. I couldn't say with certainty which students were listening, understanding or day dreaming. I felt relieved to say that this will hopefully be the last time I lectured at the front of the room. I'm trying it cold turkey. 

With that being said, I did employ some flipped strategies on day one. Students worked through a introductory course scavenger hunt, where they learned about the course, important tech tools and workflow. They produced a google document containing screen shots and information about the course. Of course, they had to watch introductory flipped videos. This worked well. Not only did students demonstrate that they knew how to use the tech tools and information about the course, but it had the added benefit of finding out which students had problems with their google drive accounts, wireless access or iPads. Since the scavenger hunt was flipped, I was able to spend class time on tech troubleshooting and helping students one-on-one. I learned most of their names on the first day! 

After day one, we jumped right into the content. We started a data-rich lab with tons of moving parts. Students put what they learned immediately into practice, whether it was collaborating on a google spreadsheet or navigating through the Mentormob playlist. There were questions but less than I expected. I walked around, talked, joked, and quizzed myself on names. I answered questions, asked (sometimes begged) how I could be helpful, demonstrated tech tricks on the iPad, and ran around a lot (the lab required some students to use hallway space.) Needless to say, I was so tired but had fun and was not stressed at all. 

So far, I've gotten positive feedback about the helpfulness and clarity of the videos. In addition, some of the students are starting to realize the potential of the Flip. For example, a student mentioned to me in the hallway that he went ahead because he had a sporting engagement later in the week. What a testament to this student but the model made that possible. Students are working in random spots in the classroom and in the hallways. They are helping each other. Another student received permission from me to skip a video because he already knew how to do something. I also have a high-achieving student who is considering blasting ahead in order to learn some concepts beyond the scope of the course. There is great potential in this model. 

The iPad is new to 8th graders this year so a good number of questions stemmed from that. I need to learn the Reflector app to screen cast how to do certain things on the iPad. I imagine I'll get fewer of those questions in future years since the younger students now have iPads. I might also consider documenting all of the quirks of iPads; for example, you can't insert images using the Google Drive app, there's a way to switch from the mobile to the desktop version of Google Drive, or editing a cell on Google Sheets in the mobile version opens the edit option for the entire row - not good if other students need to edit the same row. I won't speculate how much data had to reentered because of this ridiculous quirk in Google Drive.
My plan is/was (still not sure) asynchronous units with ultimate deadlines. So students will work through the content at their own pace during a unit but must complete the entire unit by a deadline. Throughout the unit, perhaps once per week, there will be synchronous full-class activities like peer instruction, lab set up or data collection. But I decided to shrink down the asynchronous time to a week rather than a unit. Students will work at their "own pace" during the week, deciding the best use of daily class and homework time, but must have their work completed at the end of the week. I'll keep this model for the first few weeks until I feel students have a good handle on this new type of control. I worry about students who typically have issues getting work done. But I do want to transition to my Mastery Learning Cycle model to give students more say in their education. I'm hoping students will appreciate this change. 

I added due dates for activities, which basically means the end of the week. I only recently added estimated duration times to give students some help with planning. I'm embarrassed this didn't occur to me sooner. How did I expect students to plan days ahead if they had no idea how long activities would take? Of course, I'll stress that these guidelines are my best estimation of uninterrupted work time. I'm eager to find out if these estimations are true.

It also became clear that I needed to make videos outlining the weekly tasks. Each week's video will explain the tasks, known obstacles and pitfalls from previous years, and some workflow suggestions. During this week, students watched the video in class but I'm convinced this ought to occur at home during the weekend. So I'll set a date for publishing and sharing the videos with students during the weekend. Even though I'm concerned with keeping up with video production, this change should prove to be useful. The video will be current, based on the flow of the class, potentially geared to individual sections and can also keep parents in the loop.  I'll post the video to the top of the course website homepage (week #1 video is below.)

A student's question pointed out something I hadn't considered. While this is my first full year of flipping, I do have some videos that I made in previous years. This year, I changed the order of some content but neglected to edit past videos. Unfortunately, one video I shared took certain facts for granted that the students did not learn yet. Urgh! I definitely will have to pay attention to past videos.  Anyhow, I was able to edit the video and add the missing parts within 30 minutes. The silver lining is this was an example of "Just in Time Teaching." I made and shared a video in response to a question. (Yes, the question stemmed from my mistake but it is still a demonstration of the potential of flipped learning!)

Student questions really are an indication of the effectiveness of a lesson, instructions or general clarity. This week I received several email messages from students unsure about which graphs to make for the lab. They told me that they understood from the videos HOW to make the graphs (good!) but not WHICH graphs to make. At first, I concluded that the confusion stemmed from students neglecting to read the packet, which is probably true for some students.  However, when some messages started with the disclaimer that they read but did not understand, I knew the problem was on my end. Instead of editing the lab packet, I just edited the week one video and added more information then sent an email telling them where/when in the video to get this information. This might be more effective because the screen shots also provide examples of graphs and the location of the data to be graphed. Again, this intervention did not hold those who understood hostage. I'm so happy about the Flip because students who already figured out which graphs to make can continue working in class, while the other students can get up to speed by watching the video clip. Everyone getting what they need! 

One of the email messages I mentioned previously was interesting because it asked if I was going to "teach" tomorrow. I might be sensitized to that phrasing because veteran flippers warned me that some students and teachers will not equate flipping with actual teaching. 

After fielding some questions related to workflow, I also made some tweaks to improve the clarity. For example, I made the error of over sharing Google Drive documents and folders. The accounts of my students were flooded with documents that they did not need yet. I unshared several folders. I also added a sign to the homepage indicating which learning cycle and unit we are investigating. I'm hoping these tweaks and more time students getting accustomed to my workflow, will lead to more clarity. If not, I've also sent a Google feedback form so that I will stay aware of emerging issues. I suspect that the workflow will need to be greatly condensed this weekend. I'll take a look at what worked well last year and student responses from past feedback forms to reconsider what I'm doing with workflow. I'll be sure to share my thoughts on workflow in next week's reflection.
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