Friday, November 1, 2013

Making Time for Synchronous Activities in an Asynchronous Flipped Class: Week 8 reflections

After last week's successful unveiling of peer instruction, which my students now affectionately refer to as Pi (pronounced "pie"), I instituted a few more beginning of class synchronous activities. This week, I added Metacognition Monday and Controversy Thursday, in addition to Pi Tuesday and Wednesday. Friday is a full work day since many of my deadlines are at the end of the school day on Friday. At the beginning of class on Mondays, I'll have students journal about metacognitive topics: how they are doing in the course, which topics they feel great about or not so great about, mapping goals for the week, etc. On Controversy Thursdays, students will discuss controversial topics related to the current unit. The middle of the week will be dedicated to peer instruction. 

I cheated on the first Metacognition Monday. Instead of a reflection, I asked students to organize their materials from the current learning cycle. This is in response to the loose papers and handouts I've noticed left in class. Now that students got the clear message that they'll be held accountable for keeping materials, I expect some of this lackadaisical behavior will change.  

Both attempts of peer instruction were successful. In both attempts, students were highly engaged. Generally, 8th graders seem to love debating each other. It was great to harness that desire to argue and apply it to science concepts. Who would've known that Punnett squares can elicit such vigor! In all attempts, incorrect responses decreased and correct responses increased after the student discussions. My favorite part of PI was the post voting discussion. I was impressed with my students's ability to explain why the incorrect choices were incorrect; more importantly and my eduwin for the week, they were able to explain the confusion that led to incorrect responses from other classmates. These discussions were informative; some sources of confusion were predictable but others were interesting. Most issues were those related to either reading comprehension or a conceptual misunderstanding. 

Near the end of the week we had our first Socratic Seminar. This was our first full class synchronous activity since the course scavenger hunt on days one and two. These discussions were a treat to facilitate and changing the pace for the synchronous discussion was the right move. Some students made interesting comments that their peers had not considered. I need to incorporate more of these rich discussions. 

I'm considering making most assignments optional for the students who are excelling. I mentioned in last week's blog post a student mentioned frustration about be required to do all of the assignments because he/she felt all of the steps were unnecessary to learn the content. I will reach out to a small group of students who demonstrate strong ability and will inform them that the video forms are now optional; in addition, they will no longer need to complete every question in the problem sets. I might denote specific questions as mandatory but otherwise they'll be free to pick and choose questions. I won't offer this option to all students because I want to see how it works first. There are logistical things I need to work through, like setting up exempt or optional assignments in calculations of grades. Of course there are pedagogical reasons to have some mandatory assignments. All students will have to perform the labs and participate in the exploration and revisitation of the exploration phases. Eventually, I want to make most assignments optional but I'm just not there yet. Some flipped teachers make their videos optional. In principle, I agree. In practice, this is difficult because my course is a hybrid of different levels of biology. Some topics we cover specific aspects that are closer to a 9th grade course and others are 11th grade and even above. My students learn Punnett squares at a basic level yet they perform chi square analysis. They learn of protein synthesis but not the names of specific steps. It's difficult to videos and readings that will be appropriate to my course unless I create them. I worry about students learning of vocabulary and details that we will not address. It's easier to find readings because I share links  and tell students to skip certain sections. My long term project is to write my own e-textbook tailored to the content of the course.