Friday, December 20, 2013

Borrowing Old School Lessons - Test Corrections in Flipclass - Week 14reflections

In my capacity as Department Chair, I have the wonderful opportunity to witness a variety of pedagogies and strategies. I'm so thankful to work with a group of outstanding individuals. I was recently reminded of an important metacognitive strategy I had long forgotten: test corrections. My colleague has her students fill out a sheet after exams where they identify which questions were answered incorrectly, provide an explanation of their mistake and cite the correct answer. I will definitely use this strategy because it solves two problems in my course.

The first problem that test corrections, or at least quiz corrections in my course, solve or minimize is the phenomenon of students repeating the same mistakes on future quiz attempts. I've had post quiz conferences which were eerily similar to previous ones from the same student. I have come to believe that allowing retakes without reflection encourages repeat mistakes. Why do the hard work of reflection when you are assured three attempts on a quiz? 

The second thing solved by quiz corrections is minimizing the length of post quiz conferences. Earlier in the school year, I spent so much class time conferencing after quizzes. If I have students attempt the corrections first, then the conferences should take less time; many of those conferences might only take the amount of time it takes to read the corrections. 

The first trial will be the Moodle part of the Genetics exam. In order for any student to take a second attempt, they will have to submit all outstanding work, make test corrections and write a message explaining why they should be allowed to retake that part of the exam. My rationale goes as follows. They need to submit all outstanding work because the assignments teach or reinforce the content, which should help prepare for the retake. It will also give a clearer picture of the actual grade. A student might not want to retake an exam if their grade is "high enough." The corrections will serve the function of metacognition and avoiding repeat mistakes. The mandated message is to help guard against the student who earned 97% on the exam and want to shoot for 98%. I will outrightly deny any student who can't demonstrate why they should be able to do a retake.

It's easy to get caught up in new and flashy strategies and tools like flipclass, augmented reality, and gamification but sometimes old fashioned and battle-tested techniques like test corrections can make a big difference.  

Rethinking Unit Exams in an Asynchronous Course: Week 13 reflections

My students took their first major exam last week. Scheduling a synchronous exam in a largely asynchronous course is difficult. I've changed the date of the exam at least two times. My strategy has been to schedule the exam once the slowest or close to slowest person has finished the bare minimum of assignments in order to take the exam. Balancing that desire with making the sure the fastest students are also fairly tested has proved to be a major obstacle. I think next year I ought to rethink the synchronous exam. This is especially possible since part of the exam is online and are different for each student, so there's no real need to have at least part of the exam occur on the same day. If I can construct enough written questions in a bank, then perhaps the entire exam can be asynchronously. On the other side, the one benefit of keeping the exam synchronous is it behaves as a catch up point for slower students. It puts the pressure on students to push ahead and not become complacent if they lag behind. It is a tough call. The entire purpose of going asynchronous is to meet the needs of all students, to give each student the ability to work at their own pace. I fundamentally believe this ought to be true. Unfortunately, the wild cards are students who have the ability to work faster but choose to slack off. I want the students who work behind to be those who normally struggle, not just because they behave in a lazy way. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Students taking Responsibility for their Learning in a Flipped Class

One important difference I see between students this year and in previous years is the amount of responsibility students take for their learning. In previous years, students generally took responsibility by completing their assignments and following directions. However, when I moved to a flipped model, all students were forced to take more ownership of their learning. A simple example is that students have to watch the videos to learn the content; they can't just show up to class and take notes. They actually have to visit a site to learn content. It's a minor example but it sets the stage for everything else. 

I have an asynchronous mastery model where students work at their own pace. However, I do have suggested weekly benchmarks. Most students treat them as deadlines but the deadlines are my way to inform students whether or not they are on pace to finish the entire course. To help with forcing students to stay close to my desired pace, I do have hard deadlines on lab reports and the 3 unit exams. Students decide which assignments to complete during class time and which, if any, to do for homework. I only get involved in these decisions if a student is a complete disaster. There are students who plan ahead and map out their week in science in order to compensate for an after school rehearsal or a family outing. Students who are absent no longer reach out to me for help but adjust their homework plans to catch up. 

Students decide when they take their quizzes. At the beginning of class, I poll the class for individuals who plan to take a quiz. It's their responsibility to decide if they are prepared to take a quiz, not I. If they want to use class time to study or push off the quiz for next class, it's all in their power. 

I post answer keys to most assignments. When students complete assignments, they have to check their answers and decide if they need help from me or a classmate or make small adjustments on their own. I also provide optional remedial assignments. They have to decide which, if any, parts of the remediation plans they need to complete.  

Students also take responsibility for their groupings. The groups are fluid and ever changing. Some students work with their friends, others work with whomever happens to be on the same step and some work alone. Some students might work in a group for one step and alone the next step. Some students jump in and out of groups. I only intervene when there are issues because my sense is that I ought to let students figure things out, even fail once in awhile before I "rescue" them. If a group isn't working out for a student, then I empower them to make necessary changes. If a student isn't holding their weight, then the group is free to move on without certain individuals. Some groups plan out which assignments to do at home individually and which assignments they will reassemble in class for. Some clarification is needed here. Most assignments can be done individually and students have the freedom to collaborate if they choose to do so. Some assignments, like labs and data collection have to be done in groups and some assignments have to be done individually. If some groups are noticeably dysfunctional, I will step in and make mandates. I also help students find group members to work with because they might be unaware who else is on the same step of the learning cycle. Some assignments like POGIL require group member roles. I've also checked in with individual students to inquire about specific individuals to make sure each person is contributing. I share this to say that it is not a complete free for all but students do take ownership of their groups. 

Students are responsible for checking in and showing their work to me. Some steps in the learning cycle are designated as mandatory or suggested check-in time with me. I ask conceptual questions to check for understanding and check off assignments during these checkin times. Students have to call me over to initiate these conversations. They must also update a tracking sheet to indicate when they have completed a step. 

I find it interesting that adults want youngsters to take more responsibility for their learning, yet rarely give them an opportunity to do so. Are they supposed to magically figure it out? I'm happy to say that students are forced to take responsibility for their learning in my course. And even if some students don't immediately internalize this message, they are aware of the expectations and have plenty of opportunities to do so -- courtesy of the Flipped Class. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Student Videos & Working out Bugs in Asynchronous Learning: Week 11 & 12 Reflections

It's been awhile since I've posted a weekly reflection. Even though part of the reason has been my hectic schedule, upon further thought, the real reason is that I haven't been inspired to write. Things are going well but I've become less prominent in the course. Students seem to have found a groove and are self managing. They know the routines and structure of learning cycles. They also appear to support each other and take better notes from videos - which have caused fewer questions for me. Students talk to their neighbors and problem solve before asking me to intervene. It's great; the result has left me with very little to write about weekly. Weeks later I now have updates to share about my flipped adventures. 

I'm experimenting with students making their own videos. My students of previous years have always struggled with protein synthesis. The topic is abstract and the process has several steps which occur on a microscopic level. Over the years, I've been satisfied with students being able to determine DNA, RNA and amino acid sequences, which have helped them understand why mutations are important. But they haven't really internalized the process. I purchased some protein synthesis model building kits to help. I had an epiphany: why not have students create videos explaining the process using these kits? I have to admit that I did very little prep work, gave almost no instructions and did not provide information about grading. I broke all those rules because I wanted to see what the kids could do on their own. I didn't plan to grade the videos - I just asked students to redo the videos whenever I detected errors. So far, the products have been excellent. Some videos are just one-take live recordings, while others are narrated animations or slide shows. The fantastic thing is now I have a library of protein synthesis explanations in the language and voice of students. These videos can be used to prepare for tests and exams for years to come. 

I have advocated asynchronous learning since last year and won't get into the benefits again. However, I am seeing some of the troubles now. One trouble I've seen is loosing a sense of a class community; this has been addressed with peer instruction and other synchronous activities that I've added during the last few weeks. Of course scheduling labs is harder, especially if I want to combine data. That has been addressed, perhaps ineffectively, by sharing last year's data. The remaining problem is related to group projects. I have two major projects and an exam coming up. One is a genetic disorder project that requires three people and I would like groups to present their work to the entire class. That will be difficult if students are at different places. I'm considering creating an altered project that can be completed in pairs or individually but that will take some time. The other project is even more difficult to pull off because it is in conjunction with the history class. I need the students to be in a similar place in order to get the benefits of the interdisciplinary project, which also coincides with a field trip to a DNA laboratory. Gladly, this mini unit will start at the beginning of January, so I've mandated that all students be up to the unit once they return from break. This shouldn't be a problem because they need to catch before the break in order to take the genetics exam. Of course, if some do not catch up for the exam, then the problem will be compounded. I will try not to worry and make accommodations to help students catch up. I've already informed the slower students which steps of the current learning cycle should be prioritized before the exam. Hopefully, this guidance will prove useful.