Friday, October 25, 2013

Introducing Alternative Assessment & Peer Instruction in the Flipped Class: Week 7 reflections

Students only had an exploration, video, problem set and Moodle quiz  because I wanted to add some breathing room for students to catch up to my pace. I also instituted peer instruction at the beginning of lessons. Students are all over the place - anywhere from one week behind to one week ahead. The number of ahead students has increased in the last day or so. After next week, I plan to speed up the pace a bit and offer more synchronous activities.

One cool thing that has emerged from post quiz conferences is pin pointing each student's conceptual issues. In previous weeks, I suggested struggling students to work through pre-planned remediation modules after a quiz. The pre-planned modules are divided into topics, so students always had the choice of how to spend their time. But these conferences have better equipped me to recommend certain tasks or to create remedial tasks on the spot. A few examples will make the point. Two students struggled on the same quiz but had different issues. One student couldn't couldn't decipher the difference between codominance and incomplete dominance, while another student had some issues solving blood typing Punnett Squares, which included codominance. For the first student, I told him to create a list of traits (the weirder the better.) He had to imagine the appearance of a heterozygote, in situations where the trait displayed codominance and incomplete dominance. I pointed the second student to a blood typing reading and online practice quiz that was already part of the remedial module. I'm also adding more remedial activities to the modules because these conferences are uncovering areas of confusion that I did not anticipate in the planning phase. It would've been difficult to identify and offer specialized remediation without the post quiz conferences built into the class period, courtesy of the flipped model. My eduwin for the week is using post quiz conferences to suggest tailor made remediation.

I really love adding a synchronous activity to the beginning of class. It changes the feel. It's slowed things down a bit and made the class feel whole. I'm glad that I opted to go with peer instruction instead of a tracking journal at the beginning of the class. The tracking journal could've helped with goal setting and slowed down the pace but it would not have the added benefits of peer instruction. I posted a scenario with a multiple choice answer. It was an engaging and conceptually rigorous question. Students thought about their answer individually, with no help. They jotted down their answer and closed their eyes to vote. I recorded the class results. Then students found someone with a different answer and tried to convince them to change their answer. After a few minutes, students re-voted. I shared the results of both votes and asked students to explain their reasoning. I made sure to include students who were convinced of the correct answer. I revealed the answer and had time for explanations and clarification. Once the session was over, I let students resume their work. Students were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about this change. We all craved for communal time. I'm ecstatic that the communal time was a research based approach that was still student-centered. It was the best of all worlds. 

I expected a two year roll out of the flipped class; year one is flipped videos and associated guided notes and forms, explore flip apply, Moodle quizzes and asynchronous learning, while year two will be standards based grading, blogging and voice & choice. I'm starting to question whether I should institute voice & choice earlier. I have a student or two who have struggled with the Moodle quizzes, despite post quiz conferences and retaking them. Even though there are some real issues with learning the material, the lack of partial credit has been a real detriment here. Moving forward, I will have a paper version of the quiz to administer to a small number of students who struggle. In addition, I ought to institute voice & choice sooner for students to display learning in alternative ways. I've already opened things up a bit. I've asked some students to create their own problems and solve them to convince me of their understanding. Even though I've done this informally and on an as needed basis, it has worked nicely. I ought to build in these alternative opportunities more often and eventually, allow all students to choose from a menu of ways to demonstrate knowledge. 

The other change I'm thinking about instituting a year earlier than originally planned is an element of standards based grading. In a recent response to a my ongoing course feedback form, a student mentioned that all of the activities were unnecessary to understand the material. I, of course, agree; this is one of the main reasons that I planned to institute SBG next year. In the interim, I've decided to reach out to individual students and discuss making certain activities optional. I won't open things up for all students just yet until I've thought through effective accountability and grading systems. At the very least, I can tell students to complete as many or as few problem set questions that they need. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Experiencing the Strengths and Weaknesses of an Asynchronous Course: Week 6 reflections

In a shortened week, students completed an exploration, took notes on a video, conducted an online lab and a majority of students needed to catch up and/or take last week's Moodle quiz. 

So far, I've focused on the benefit of the asynchronous flip in the context of students moving ahead. But now I'm seeing the benefits of allowing students to work at a slower pace. The most obvious benefit is for absent students. We are approaching a notorious time of the school year for illnesses. Some students have missed multiple days. Sure, a good number return to school behind the schedule but a few haven't missed a step. In the traditional model, all of these students would be behind. But some of my sick and/or absent students were able to watch videos, take notes and even complete problem sets at home. I rarely have to schedule individual tutorage outside of class time. This week's #eduwin is the number of absent students who were able to remain on pace, courtesy of the flipped class. Just as important, since I run an asynchronous class, these students aren't forced to make unreasonable demands of themselves. One student has mapped out a plan to add small chunks to his nightly homework assignments to "catch up" in a week.  

It's interesting how some students get ahead during one week and a different set of students get ahead in other weeks. As of today, four students are a week ahead. It was wonderful because I paired up these excelling students with the students who did not pass the last Moodle quiz. It was a great sight seeing my students provide the one on one tutoring to their classmates that I typically do in class. Aside from using these students as peer tutors, I'll start to recruit lab assistants from this consistently ahead crowd. Again, these opportunities only existed because of the flipped class.

I still have not worked in synchronous full class activities and discussions. On a related note, I want the beginning and ending of each class to have clear routines. I loathe to take time away from my students working on assignments because they have been effectively using this time. However, I worry about the frenzied pace of the class and wish to avoid a "study hall" feel. The combination of synchronous discussions and activities with clear daily routines at the start and closing of each class should help with these issues. Since my students work independently, the first few minutes can be used for students to decide and record their goals for the period, then assess their progress at the end of the period. This could help their metacognition and executive functioning. I suspect most students are doing just fine without this requirement but it might uncover poor habits in some students. It will also build in a way to begin and end each period with silence, a major value of our school and a way to slow the frenzied pace of the class. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Spreading the goodness of the Flipped model: Week 5 reflections

This week, students had a video, problem set, lab challenge, their first POGIL and a Moodle Quiz.

An english teacher randomly visited my class today. A few students were watching my blood typing video in the hallway and he stumbled upon the students. He engaged my students in conversation. During one of my frequent hallway check-ins with these students, my colleague inquired about how I run the class and if he could enter my room. He observed and talked to students. He asked me a few questions. He gave me positive feedback and even suggested that there was a part of his class that he could flip. Interestingly, this was the first time a non science teacher observed my class. Even if he doesn't decide to flip his class, this was a success story. An english teacher observed the process and seemingly felt positive about what he saw. Flipped educators can use as much positive advertisement and word of mouth as possible. Another 8th grade advisor told me that students are really starting to get into the model, even though they were apprehensive at first. This is my #eduwin of the week. 

In my department, I instituted a peer observation lunch initiative. Pairs of department members observe each other's lesson and have lunch together to debrief. This week, my partner observed my lesson. I initially thought about rescheduling when I realized that most of my students did not view the blood typing video during the weekend. I knew they would have to watch the video during class. A class of students watching a video on their iPads wouldn't make for an interesting observation. For several reasons, I decided to let the observation happen anyway. I'm happy with that decision. Many times we make sure an observation occurs during a spectacular lesson, in order to impress the observer; however, we don't actually need feedback on the wonderful well-prepared lesson. Rather, we need feedback on the everyday unspectacular lessons. This was a success because I got over the fear of someone seeing an unpolished lesson. If other folks can stop by at any time without advanced notice, I can get really helpful feedback on my craft. Others can point out what I am unable to see, rather than telling me what I already know. 

The POGIL and modified inquiry labs are stretching the thinking of my students. As I reported last week, I've removed data tables and procedures from most of my labs. With the added time for collaboration, this strategy represents an effective use of time. When a student is able to complete the writeup of these labs or complete the POGIL activities, I'm confident that they really understand the material. 

The biggest source of stress in class is students forgetting to bring headphones to class. First, I should admit that I prefer students to watch videos, take notes and complete the video form at home. Whenever a critical mass of students are watching the same video in class, especially at the beginning of the week, I point out how it's an ineffective use of class time. However, it appears that most students are working at an acceptable pace and an overwhelming number submit work in at deadlines. (I have to remind myself that it's about what students need and not my personal preference.) Anyhow, even if students choose to use class time to watch videos, they ought to bring headphones. It's just not possible to have several iPads blasting asynchronously and students being able to pay attention and think about the material. They really need to bring headphones to class and I promise that the issue isn't about affording headphones - most of these students own iPhones and other equipment that come standard with headphones. I think I'm going to use school funds to purchase a class set of headphones. I'm not sure why I haven't done that yet; it might be a stubborn teacher thing, "they need to take responsibility for being prepared for class!" At this point, I've given up on that and decided its just not a battle worth fighting. Things are going well in my class, even despite the initial apprehension and resistance. If this is my biggest gripe, then I'm lucky! 

Another source of tension is perhaps an over emphasis on collaboration in my class. It's actually a beautiful thing to see students helping each other, dividing the labor and setting schedules and priorities together. However, I've noticed students sharing headphones and one person recording notes in a Google document, presumably to be shared with their partner later. In one sense, it doesn't bother me so much. If a student were absent from a traditional lesson, they would need to copy notes from a classmate. One argument against a traditional classroom is the temptation for students to cheat on homework problems. So many students have been caught copying math homework, for example. I suspect that copying "homework" happens less often in the flipped model because those assignments happen in class in the presence of the teacher. A student copying a problem set in this case would have to be audacious. So aside from the major labs and assignments, students have the best opportunity to copy video notes in a flipped model because those usually take place at home. As a presenter at FlipCon 13 stated, I'd rather students copy the low Blooms work like video notes than the higher application and problem solving work. But with that being said, I still want students doing the work behind taking video notes and not relying on peers. One, there is actually some thinking in the video notes; I have students pause the video at strategic times to answer questions and resume in order to reveal those answers. Two, on principle, a student ought to take credit only for the work they have completed - this is an important lesson in academic integrity. I've mentioned this concern with students that I've "caught" working on "collaborative" notes but I think I ought to address this with the entire group.  

A student inquired about the next quiz and wondered if it would be a "real quiz." After I asked some followup questions, I realized that some students think the traditional one-take quizzes are "real" while the multiple trial Moodle quizzes are not real. I suspected that this was the case, especially when I discovered during post quiz conferences that some students had not memorized the vocabulary required to solve the problems. This conversation confirmed my fear that some students were not taking the quizzes as seriously as I hoped. I suppose this is both a success and an area of needed adjustment. On one hand, the test anxiety is low. One the other hand, I want my students to prepare and make a true effort, even if they have the safety net of multiple trials. I think my response will be to limit the retakes to two, instead of three. I already made the decision before this conversation affirmed the decision. I do have some trepidation though. It's important to me that I give each student what they need to be successful. Some students might actually need a legitimate third chance. I think I will change the default setting to two chances, then a third chance for students who convince me that they need another chance. I might require an email stating how they prepared, what they learned from our post quiz conferences and what they will do to prepare for a third chance.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Screencast 101 - a Comparison of Screencast Apps

There are tons of screen cast programs. A person new to flipping could be overwhelmed with the choices. Hopefully this post will prove to be helpful.

(feel free to edit the spreadsheet above to add programs, features and update outdated information. Since this is a publicly edited document, I can't attest to its accuracy.)

My favorite desktop program: 
Camtasia is hands down the iMovie of screen casting. It is a powerful feature-rich program. It has a longer history on the PC, so it has fewer features on the Mac. I hear ScreenFlow is the powerhouse on Macs but never used it. Nevertheless, it is an amazing program. It is costly though and has to be downloaded to your desktop. It has tons of editing and annotation options like zoom & pan, highlighting and even custom animations. You can export directly to YouTube, as well as TechSmith's Unlike the simpler alternatives, Camtasia supports recording from the webcam with a picture in picture option. 

My favorite web-based program:
Hands down Screencast-O-Matic is the best web based screen casting program. Assuming you have Java enabled, this free app is a great alternative for someone who doesn't want to download software. With an inexpensive upgrade, there are some nice editing and annotation features. Like Camtasia, you can either download the video or export to YouTube or a propriety website. Screencast-O-Matic also supports webcam recordings. 

My favorite iPad program:
Explain Everything is a feature rich video producing app. For only $2.99, you can import images, videos, and presentations from cloud based accounts like Google Drive, Dropbox and Evernote. You can export to YouTube and pretty much everywhere else. You can even import a website into your video. In addition to the annotation options, a cool useful but undervalued feature is the customizable laser pointer. And as expected for an iOS app, it integrates well with iTunes and the iPad's native photos and videos. 

Simplest/Easiest to Use
Jing (harddrive), ScreenR (web) and Quicktime Pro (harddrive) are the simplest and easiest to use screen casting programs. The drawback to these programs is that they produce one-take videos without editing and any helpful annotations. I use Jing for screenshots but not for screen casts because the videos are recorded as swf files, which do not upload to Youtube. Quicktime Pro has a relatively unknown screen recording feature. It's as easy as selecting "New Screen Recording" on the File menu and pressing record. This is my go-to program when I wish to do a quick one-take screen cast.

Giving my Students what they Need: Week 4 reflections

During this week, students took their first Moodle quiz. They also had two videos, a lab challenge and two problem sets.

I'm not sure if this comment is a success story in the normal sense of the phrase, but rather it's an interesting share. My #edwin this week is a quick anecdotal. I own a love bird who chirps all day. In some videos, he is happily chirping in the background. I do what I can to minimize the distraction but some students noticed the sound. It made for an interesting discussion with a few students after class. We exchanged bird stories and had a few laughs about their seemingly notorious way of making the most noise when you need quiet. Perhaps the bird chirps were less of a distraction and just another way to help me connect with a few students. I'm just a little bit more human to those students who exchanged bird stories with me. 

I can feel students, who were once resistant, are starting to buy in to the flipped class. A parent emailed to let me know her student has done an 180 degree turnaround on the flipped model. 

So far three students have taken advantage of the opportunity to work ahead. They are almost a week ahead. I'll be interested to see how, or if, they continue this trend. One benefit for me is that I'll have at least some students ahead to point out issues. One student informed me of an incorrectly phrased question on a problem set. I was able to make the change before any other student saw it. This will force me to set up materials and learning cycles at an appropriate pace. (Getting fruit fly cultures, which require ample time before shipment, will be an organizational challenge for me.) I'm even thinking that students who are ahead could help me set up labs; they will learn new laboratory skills and I will get much needed help. This could be a great situation. 

The wonderful thing about my class is that I'm gaining real insights into the thinking of my students, especially through their questions. I'm taken aback by how many questions I get in a period. I wonder how students got their questions answered in the traditional model; there just isn't enough class time in that model. I bet there are just more questions now because I've made myself available for them. But what about the other questions? Did students call a classmate, talk to their parents or a tutor? Were these people able to help them without doing the thinking for them? Did my former students copy someone's work? I'm happy to answer these questions. I'm even more ecstatic that I can redirect questions to help my students think through their confusion. Usually my first response to a student's question is another question. It must be frustrating when you're used to someone giving you what you want as soon as you want it. My approach is to give you only what you need, not necessarily what you want. Whether it's asking a question to remind you of a step you skipped, what improvements can you make, or what was your motivation, it's important that my students are doing the hard work of thinking. 

The flipped model allowed me to provide one on one feedback to every student after this week's quiz. For each student who performed under the set benchmark, I had a conference with them to look over their incorrect answers. They resolved each problem in front of me after our check-in. I was able to see patterns in mistakes. I saw students who skipped steps, did not study vocabulary, did not use scrap paper, did not read the entire problem and took short cuts. I gave stern but, hopefully, encouraging feedback. After reworking each problem, I made them explain what they did incorrectly. We even had time for take home messages - where they identified what caused their unsatisfactory score. This is where students admitted to rushing, skipping steps, etc. I'm sure there are teachers who conference with their students after assessments to discuss errors. The english teachers at my school are excellent about meeting with students to look over their papers; there's hardly a period where I don't the English teachers in a case conference with a student in a random crevice or classroom. The difference here is that I was able to use class time to conduct my case conferences without falling behind in the curriculum or giving busy work to students. And more importantly, for most students, the quiz scores rose significantly after the conferences. The flipped model opened up class time to make this happen.

The other beautiful thing that happened was the video form responses proved to be helpful to me in a practical, not just theoretical, way this week. The students watched a video on chi squares, which I knew would be difficult. Next to protein synthesis, it is always the lesson that gives me the most anxiety before doing it. This is a difficult concept, especially for 8th graders. The lower than normal video ranking (2.4 compared to 2.75 out of 3) is clearly an indication. However, I see this as a success story because I wrote down all of the student names who indicated confusion and we spent the first few minutes in a small tutorial group going over chi squares. I knew going into this process that some students would struggle with some of the video lessons - this is why I use class time to provide remediation, tutoring, etc. The part unseen is the majority of students who understood the concept from the video and can now move on, without being slowed down by their peers. In my opinion, this is exactly what should happen in all classes: students getting what they need!

During the first day of post quiz conferences, I made a list of students and called them to me when I was ready for them. I was stationary that day, so I probably didn't do a great job managing subtle behaviors like students working too slowly. Perhaps I'll be more strategic about which problems I go over. Next time I should jot down notes about each kid and prioritize which problems to discuss during the conferences. I worry that these conferences can start to become a time drain. I also need to stress that students should be more strategic about when they take their quiz, only take it when they are ready. I don't want to spend time in a post quiz conference with a student who just didn't study. The other students need my guidance; it shouldn't be wasted in that capacity.

A large number of my students are not updating their tracking sheets. I sent an email to them explaining changes to policies in order to encourage them to update tracking sheets. 
Excerpt below:
I'm seeing a lot of red on the tracking sheets, even the simple inheritance one which most people have finished. Starting tomorrow, I won't allow quiz taking until your tracking sheets are filled in. You also won't pass a check-in without showing me your tracking sheet. Please update. 
Quick explanation: this is really important to me because I need to know where you are in the learning cycle. If you are behind, I need to figure out a way to help you. If you are ahead, then I need ample warning to set up and order lab supplies, make photocopies, etc. You might be ready for the next step but not have any materials. So please, I implore you to update those tracking sheets.

In a related note, I believe that I've identified a student who has not been watching videos. I won't get into how I know for fear of spreading a way to game the system. The take home message is that I designed my accountability systems, like mandatory check-in and tracking sheets for a reason. I need to hold myself accountable for relying on these designed systems. My attitude moving forward is that the steps of the learning cycles are designed in such a way that students either need to demonstrate they don't need the step or that they have completed the steps. I will need to do a better job holding all students accountable for this. Most students are doing quite well with completing the learning activities. I just don't want any student falling in between the cracks. 

Now that students are starting to get the hang of asynchronous learning, I do want to build in time for full class activities, like peer instruction, jigsaws and Socratic seminars. I want to harness the power of rich discussions, especially when confronting ethical considerations of the science they are learning in class. Even if I have to supplement these discussions with online forums, I will carve out some time to start these talks during class time. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

100 Flipping Ways - Comparing Models of Flipped Learning

The media portrays an oversimplified version of flipped learning. Media Synopsis: videos teaching content done for homework, while traditional homework assignments completed in class. In the early version of Flip 101, I suspect the majority of these in-class activities really were normal homework assignments like worksheets and problem sets. But as Aaron Sams and Jon Bergman stated throughout FlipCon13, Flip 101 is the entry point to flipped instruction and most teachers move beyond the "traditional flip" (irony of this term is not lost on me.)

A brief summary of some Flipped learning models:

Traditional Flip - synchronous course where students watch videos at home to learn concepts then apply their learning in class.

Mastery Flip - an asynchronous course where students view videos and complete learning activities at their own pace. Note: videos can be watched in class. 

Explore-Flip-Apply (EFA) - inspired by the learning cycle and inquiry instruction, students synchronously engage in hands-on exploration of concepts, which are explained in the videos that follow. Students apply their learning after the explore and flip stages. Consistent with "just in time teaching," these videos can be created in response to deficits, questions and misconceptions identified in the explore phase.

Flipped PBL (project) - students complete projects to learn concepts in depth and demonstrate learning. Videos are offered as supplemental aids in completing the projects and/or direct instruction of required content.

Flipped PBL (problem) - similar to the other flipped PBL but the focus of the course is to solve "messy" problems. Students identify concepts they "need to know" in order to solve the problems. Videos and other materials are shared to provide students with the content they need to solve these problems.

Mastery Learning Cycles - inspired by the Explore-Flip-Apply and Flipped Mastery models, students engage in asynchronous learning cycles. They explore concepts before watching videos. After videos, they apply their learning and can choose to demonstrate "mastery" of concepts by completing higher order tasks. 

The irony is there is so much diversity within these models and some teachers might even disagree with these definitions. Many of these paradigms are not mutually exclusive, just like the Mastery learning cycle model is a blending of EFA and mastery models. Not to mention, the addition of Standards based grading, student Voice & Choice, Understanding by Design and Universal Design learning can add limitless flavors to flipped instruction.