Friday, December 5, 2014

DIfferentiation is Good Teaching: A Review of "Differentiation From Planning to Practice"

After learning some frameworks and theories about differentiation from Carol Ann Tomlinson's “How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms", I yearned for more practical strategies. Rick Wormeli's “Differentiation From Planning to Practice" did not disappoint. Rather than summarizing the book, I'll list what I learned, both things I already do that are consistent with the research and things I want to do in order to be more consistent.


Helpful Research

1) Differentiated Processing: One piece that was new to me is differentiating processing activities. Currently, I use the same processing activities after a video lesson - practice quiz, guided notes, and posting and responding to online discussion forums. It's now clear to me that students process the material in different ways and ought to have options for processing the content. What I'll plan to do is give students more options of processing after a lesson - perhaps they can use their journals to choose from the following:
  • summary paragraph
  • Creative RAFT, poem or story 
  • Complete or create a graphic organizer 
  • Compare & contrast assignment 
  • Frayer method 
  • Play a game with a twist - like charades, pictionary, charades or taboo
The processing activities can be organized in think dots, cubing, think tac toe or choice boards. This approach could work with my current system because the processing activities can be seen as level 1 out of 4 in my standards based grading world.

2) Building background or give experience to get background: I already accomplish this through the exploration activities prior to lessons. Even if students don’t possess the optimal priming experiences, they will gain this experience through the exploration.

3) Priming- I prime student brains by offering guided notes, a list of the "I can statements” they will learn about, a unit overview and potential agenda for each lesson.

4) Primacy-Recency theory: we remember the first and last things we learned in a chunk of time. This means the first and last minutes of class are crucial. I have to do a better job designing warm up activities that engage students fully in content. I have to move away from the housekeeping activities at the beginning of class. The same thing can be said for exit tickets; they should be as closely related to content as possible. Housekeeping and non-content related metacognitive activities can be done at other times in the lesson.

5) Explore similarities & differences: Students learn more effectively when they are asked if asked about similarities and differences. This is consistent with the idea of schema and brains wanting to make connections between preexisting schemata. In some processing activities, I need to ask how things are examples or non-examples of a concept.  The tricky thing is the brain is ineffective at remembering distinctions if learned at the same time. If possible, I need to teach  similar ideas days apart.

6) Novelty: While it’s important to prime the brain, it’s also important to switch things up and break from the routine. Brains are effective at picking up contrast and important moments. I need to encourage more divergent thinking by asking for arguments against what they learned, describe concepts without using certain words, etc.

7) Memory: Middle school students are typically limited to memorizing 5 unrelated facts.

8) Socializing: I already structure my course to be as social as possible. Most assignments and tasks can be completed in groups or as individuals. Students can pick and choose to what extent they wish to be social and with whom.

What’s clear to me is the heart of differentiation is just good teaching research-based practices. Providing choice and alternative routines and assignments are also important but meeting the needs of all students has to start with solid pedagogy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Standards Based Quiz Spotlight: the Anatomy of Mastery Learning Cycles

Roughly there is one quiz per "I can statement." Students receive permission to take the quiz once they have completed the one-on-one conversation with me about the "I can" statement, called the "Hot Seat." Typically each quiz consists of five questions, designed at the application level on Blooms Taxonomy. Most of the questions are problems that assume the understanding of concepts and integrate the vocabulary and are similar to problem set questions. 

The quizzes are online and hosted on Moodle. Moodle is a powerful LMS because it supports randomized questions pulled from a question bank. This is important in an asynchronous class because the quiz questions are different on each attempt - whether a new student or the same student on a subsequent attempt. This reshuffling of questions allows for retakes and keeps academic integrity between the first or the last student to take the quiz on the same topic. 

Students must earn 4/5 or 80% to pass the quiz. This score is consistent with the school culture & my expectations. Once they pass the quiz, they earn level three out of four, which is meeting expectations. Most of the questions are multiple choice or calculation questions. I typically don't prefer to use multiple choice questions but use them when I'm able to input every possible choice as answers. For example, when figuring the probability in Punnett Square problems, the only possible answers are 0, 25, 50, 75 or 100. I also add a choice "there's not enough information to determine." With these types of problems, multiple choice can effectively gauge understanding - assuming there have been other assessments in the learning cycle. Some "I can" statements can't be quizzed at the application level w/ MC questions or calculations. In those cases, there are alternatives - building a model, writing a lab report, completing a lab or a case study. 

If students fail a quiz, there are certain tasks they have to complete, which differ based on the number of times they have taken the quiz. For every failed attempt, students have to make corrections and fill out a form describing their errors.

 Students also have to do the following:
  • after the first attempt: students complete any skipped problems from the Learning cycle problem set. Earlier in the cycle, students solved mandatory problems and as many optional problems as they felt the need to complete. After failing a quiz, the optional problems become mandatory. The hope is practicing more problems will help students review and prepare for a second attempt. 
  • after the second attempt: students complete at least one remediation activity. The remediation activities for a learning cycle may include online readings, simulations, extra problems and/or student made videos and problem sets
  • after the third attempt: students have to create their own set of problems and include solutions. In many ways, this last option is similar to the mastery projects in the next phase of the learning cycle. 

Once students pass the standards based quiz, they are able to move on to the next learning cycle. If they wish to further explore the same topic and/or show a higher level of understanding, they can complete mastery projects before moving on to the next learning cycle. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Quarter One Reflections

After a quarter into the school year, I have a solid grasp of the effects of the changes I've made. Here are the chief thoughts I have about quarter one.

Standards Based Grading
The transition to standards based grading has been mostly smooth. This year, I have a much better handle of what my students know and do not know. The SBG Grade book on Haiku is easy to use. The color codes make it easy to see which standards each student or class section is still working on. This has helped me identify which students need targeted intervention.

Standards Based Gradebook on Haiku

At first, it took students some time to understand the concept of "I can" statements and my particular system for showing learning. They seem to have figured out the system. 

The most noticeable difference is the quality of my reports. I've always struggled with writing first quarter reports because I barely feel like I know my students well enough by that time in the school year. This time around, I had plenty to say. Rather than including the general fluff, my reports focused on what my students knew and were able to do and the ideas and skills they still found troubling. Adding this component to my comments about performance on major assignments, my general impressions and suggestions moving forward, the reports are much more informative. 

Haiku LMS
The new learning management system is quite effective. The layout is beautiful and the interface is intuitive. I have consolidated many of my online tasks within Haiku - recording and sharing grades, assigning and collecting student work, repository of resources and interactive components like polls, practice quizzes and discussions. In the past, many of these roles would have been offloaded to separate resources. I'd like to move my actual quizzes to Haiku but it does not support randomized questions from a test bank, so I still need Moodle for that purpose. 

Haiku can be a bit buggy though. There is a limit to how many objects can be embedded on one page. Some students complained of notoriously long loading times. A student suggested that I make more usage of subpages. Now each step of the learning cycle is housed on its own page. This has significantly increased loading speeds.

Subpages on Haiku

Asynchronous learning
As mentioned in a previous blog post,  asynchronous learning continues to allow students to submit their best work and internalize a growth mindset. Most students are keeping to a reasonable rate, even though there are students who I believe can work faster. I've made some changes this year, which hopefully will help students adjust to the responsibility of setting their own pace. The most important change, at the request of a student, was allowing students to create their own weekly plans.

A student's week plan

Creating the plans take a lot of time so I've been trying to encourage students to send their plans to me during the weekend - with varying degrees of success. At the very least, students are using less class time to create their plans and becoming better at working while waiting for my indication that their plans are satisfactory. For students who show difficulty with this task, I've started to collaborate with them to create pacing calendars for a few weeks, rather than letting them work alone on their weekly plans. 

Mastery projects
A handful of students have elected to complete the mastery projects. In most cases, these projects have been good enough to help other students learn the content. My library of student made teaching materials is growing and some students have already taken advantage of this library to prep for a quiz. I recently added a leader-board to acknowledge students who have completed mastery projects- in hopes of motivating a few more projects.

Mastery Project Leader-board

Quiz retakes 
This year, I have a better handle on whether students are ready to take quizzes or retake quizzes. The hot seats have been a nice addition. The only problem I've seen with the hot seats is when students opt to take the quiz a few days after completing the hot seat discussion. 

After the first batch of quizzes, I've added a few layers of permissions for quiz retakes. In addition to submitting quiz corrections and explainations of the mistakes, students have to do one more thing for permission for a retake. Making the students go through a few obstacles seems to help students take each attempt more seriously. 

Labs 
The switch to inquiry based labs has proved to be most effective with asynchronous learning. Last year, I tried a combination of inquiry and full class labs. I struggled with students who got to the labs first and figuring out whether they should use last year's data. It became confusing for students to know whether they were using this year's or last year's data sets. This also prevented me from adjusting procedures. 

For the full class synchronous labs, students working at a slower pace had to rush through content or temporarily skip steps in order to be "ready" for labs. Now that students design most of their own labs, there is no confusion about what data to use and no need to worry about skipping or rushing through steps - students do labs when they are ready.

So far, I've managed to keep up with the demand for lab materials. I place small lab kits around the edge of the counter space on labeled lunch trays. Since different students perform different labs, I only need to make a small amount of materials available for one particular lab. The trick is to have several labs prepared simultaneously and to anticipate when students will be ready for future labs. Below you can see how I organize lab materials.

DNA extraction lab materials
UV bacteria lab materials
Protein Synthesis model exploration materials

Upcoming changes
In the upcoming quarters, I'd like to incorporate some synchronous projects to help me experiment and think through PBL and 20Time in future years. I also want to offer optional content and let students who work ahead design their own parts of the course. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Sweet Sauce: Reflecting on "Flipped Learning - Gateway to Student Engagement"




I recently finished reading "Flipped Learning - Gateway to Student Engagement." This book chronicled the path several teachers took from Flip Class 101 to Flipped learning. Typically, teachers who go down the flipclass road start by assigning students to watch videos at home and complete traditional homework at school. Their next destination, often called the Second Iteration or flipped learning, can take on many forms, from mastery, to PBL, to UBD, to Explore Flip Apply or even to my model, Mastery Learning Cycles. The difference in these reiterations is the focus is on learning and how best to facilitate it.  

The "final" destination of each teacher varies based on teacher personality and philosophy, strengths and weakness, interests and preferences, as well the culture of the school and support from administration. The most salient conclusion from this book is there really are countless types of the "sweet sauce." To borrow an analogy presented in the last chapter, Prego became successful because, rather than trying to design the ONE spaghetti sauce preferred by most people, they departed from their competitors by creating varieties of sauces which turned out to be the best for a variety of people. Everyone has their own favorite flavor of spaghetti sauce, just as flipped teachers eventually adopt the model that works for them. 

So far, my sweet sauce seems to be a combination of Standards Based Grading and Mastery Learning Cycles. Students are assessed on how well they understand specific objectives and demonstrate important competencies, rather than merely being evaluated through points or averages. Students demonstrate mastery of these competencies by progressing through  modified 5E learning cycles at their own pace. The flipped videos are only used in one particular phase of the learning cycle to supply content knowledge and at other phases just to provide instructions for labs and other important procedures. This iteration will continue to evolve and hopefully closer approach my sweet sauce. 

The other useful application of the Prego analogy relates to student choice. Just as consumers are free to choose the spaghetti sauce they prefer, many of the flipped teachers highlighted in the book eventually provided choices to their students - choice in how they acquire content (My video? Another teacher's video? Textbook? Website? Simulation?) - how they processed or applied content (Lab? Problem set? Game?) - and how they demonstrated learning of the content (Quiz? Project? One on one chat?) 

The potential of flipped learning is indeed a gateway to student engagement. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Scaffolding Asynchronous Learning

After last year, I was convinced that there was something to asynchronous learning but changes needed to be made in my execution. There were too many students scrambling to catch up at the end of the school year. I asked students to share advice for next year's students; overwhelmingly, they told students not to fall behind. Not to mention, I struggled with how to run labs and maintain test integrity in an asynchronous course all year. I knew big changes needed to follow in order to maximize asynchronous learning. The two major changes needed were a shift in mindset and scaffolding mastery. 

1) Shifting Mindset
I fundamentally believe students learn at different rates and some need more or less practice in order to learn a new concept. However, I didn't organize my course as if I really internalized those beliefs. I tried to have the best of two competing ideas. I let students work through units asynchronously with common deadlines, like when to be ready for exams or labs. I thought the exam dates would help motivate students to work as fast as possible, which it probably did for some; however, for students who truly struggled with the content, it encouraged them to rush right before the exam, which was counterproductive and anxiety producing. I finally decided that I couldn't have it both ways. To that end, I finally agreed:

A) Not all students will get through the entire course.
  • I've identified the most important units; some units will be mandatory, while others will be optional. Students who work behind, will be allowed to skip the optional units later in the course. 
B) Not all students will have the same final exam.
  • Students will be tested on what they covered throughout the year. Some finals will be about 15 learning cycles, while others will be about 12 cycles. Students will get two grades on final exams, one based on how well they performed on their version of the final, while the other will be based on how much content was on the final. I still need to develop this idea but I'm thinking, for example, a student could earn 98% on 80% of the content.
C) No more common lab or exam dates. 
  • Exams will be similar to the quizzes in that each student will have a different set of questions and take it when they're ready. As much as possible, labs will be truly inquiry-based where students design their own procedures. This should limit the pressure to perform the experiments as an entire class. 

2) Scaffolding Mastery
Other than a change in mindset, which led to its own set of changes, I was encouraged to scaffold mastery at a presentation during FlipCon15. Some of the struggles from last year were due to some student's inability to handle working at their own pace. They need to develop this skill. Instead of starting the year full fledged mastery, I started the class similar to flipped class 101 (video at home, application at school.) I told students what to do in class and for homework the first few weeks of school. If some students needed an extra day or finished a bit early, I allowed for that accommodation; however, major assignments had deadlines. This was important because students needed to adjust to the workings of a flipped class and standards based grading before handling the asynchronous part. 

After the first few weeks, the students became familiar with my way of doing things. At this point, I told students that they could work at their own pace but to use my pacing calendar as a guide.
Pacing Calendar
The calendar suggested which assignments to do in class and for homework. This allowed for more freedom while having some supports in place. 

After two weeks of encouraging students to use the suggested calendar, I had a check-in conversation with my classes. One student offered a game changing suggestion - ask students to plan their week. Eureka! At the beginning of the week, students now create a plan for the work they plan to complete each class and at home. I sign the plan to acknowledge agreement. These planning talks have been eye opening, especially the realization that some students have no idea how long some activities will take. 

I've recently put other supports in place to help students plan. For example, I've asked students to create their plan as the standing weekend homework assignment each week. This helps save precious class time. I want the students to start the week with the ball in their hand. I'm even encouraging students to send their plans to me via email so that I can send them feedback before their first lesson of the week. 

The second thing I did was to create a unit overview chart.
Sample Overview
The chart lists each activity sequentially with an estimated amount of time it will take to complete some activities. The chart also includes any useful notes. For example, I specify when an activity must be completed in class or without group members. I also list sub steps or special instructions when applicable. The idea is to offer a quick reference to allow students to make informed decisions about their plans. 

At the middle of the week, I ask them to reflect in their journals about their progress, then again at the end of the week. I also have a template or graphic organizer to help students save time recording their plan.
Template planning calendar
I'm hoping this constant cycle of planning and reflection, along with the unit overview and graphic organizer will help students improve their weekly plans. 

Asynchronous learning can improve student outcomes, as students are better able to meet their potential. However, students are not used to this amount freedom and run the risk of squandering the opportunity. As educators, we have to provide the guidance to help students maximize their learning. I hope the change in mindset and scaffolding mastery will accomplish this goal. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Beyond Flipclass - a Post Back to School Night Reflection

A couple of weeks ago, I presented the curriculum to parents at Back to School Night (presentation, here.) While many of the components of my presentation were similar to last year, one major difference stood out: I rarely mentioned the term "flipped class." I still operate a flipped class but it has become a footnote amongst all of the other things I do in my class. Flipped learning, while still a structural element in my course, is no longer the focus- it is merely a tool or means to an end. 


I recall Ramsey Musallam (@ramusallam) explaining that flipped learning is not a pedagogy and Jon Bergmann (@jonbergmann) saying that flipped learning is not all about the videos. While these statements were intuitive, I am only learning their true meaning now. Using flipped videos should not be something to boost about because it really is just a way to present content. While using flipped videos is an improvement above synchronous lectures, they are still basically lectures. However, using flipped videos does make class time available to do the things a teacher may want to do. For me, flipped learning is a way to differentiate the pace of the course. Students can learn concepts at their own pace, revisit and redo work, get help from peers and/or the teacher - all during class time. Students can now provide evidence of their learning in a standards based format. Students have more time to design and redesign experiments, collect and re-collect data, as well as analyze data while I'm present to help troubleshoot. Students can choose how to demonstrate mastery of content, "white board" explanations and decide when and how often to take quizzes. They can decide to what extent to complete specific activities and assignments. In short, I've found my way to move along the teacher vs student centered continuum.

The videos that students watch are merely a resource - they present content and explain lab instructions. They are just a vehicle to move toward a more student centered classroom. Just as a person wouldn't spend too much time explaining the type of airplane used to go on a honeymoon to Hawaii, I didn't feel the need to explain the specifics of the flipped videos used to open class time for more student engagement and ownership of learning. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Spotlight on the Explore Phase: the Anatomy of Mastery Learning Cycles

Nemo // Pixabay

Over the years, I've become convinced that pre-teaching and priming help students internalize content. Rather than a lecture or video being the first exposure to content, I've experimented with having students explore or experience the content firsthand. This is the thinking behind the exploration phase of the mastery learning cycles.

Ramsey Musallam (@ramusallam) convinced me of the need to let students explore content before providing content. Primarily, students who engage in an exciting lab or activity followed by a challenge, are more likely to pay attention to a lecture or video, assuming the content will help them meet the challenge. These situations can create cognitive dissonance. Brains don't like unsolved mysteries, which is why cliffhangers are captivating. The same thing can be true for some learners. Challenge them with an interesting problem, then make helpful content available. The other benefit of pre-teaching or priming is the cognitive load of a video lecture is reduced if students have some intuition or experience with the concept prior to watching the video. 

In the inheritance unit, students begin with the "Baby Making Exploration." This is an activity where students form pairs, complete a trait inventory and use simple rules of inheritance in order to make babies. After drawing two of their children, they are challenged with figuring out the likelihood of future children having particular traits. At this point, they have some intuition about how traits are inherited but lack some of the content and tools to complete the challenge. Students learn these concepts through a video and revisit the initial challenge later in the learning cycle. Immediately after the exploration, a few students can successfully complete the challenge but after the video, all students are able to complete the challenge. 

Sometimes an exploration may not be an activity or lab but a case study or a new problem. For example, after the students learn about inheritance from the learning cycle described above, I provide some problems with results that contradict the content they just learned. They are met with a scenario that does not meet their expectations. This creates cognitive dissonance. They are asked to offer hypotheses explaining these seemingly abnormal observations. Undoubtedly, some students will be more motivated to watch the video since there is a reason to do so. 

In other units, students conduct experiments and are asked to use the data to make generalizations. After watching another video lesson, they are able to revise these conclusions. 

Whether the exploration is a lab, interesting problem or activity, I'm hoping students are gaining an intuition about content before taking notes. I am also hoping that they will pay closer attention and be more motivated to watch the videos. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Review of "How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms"

 Carol Ann Tomlinson's book, How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed Ability Classrooms, was a brief introduction to differentiation. I read this book in order to improve my asynchronous flipped class. As I started to let students work at their own pace a couple of years ago, I immediately understood other accommodations can and should be made in order to meet the needs of my students. I read the book in the hopes of learning some tools of the differentiation trade.

Overall, the book was useful. Initially, I was disappointed because I already knew several of the techniques mentioned; I was hoping to pick up some more ideas. I'm already using tools like cubing, choice boards and tiered assignments. However, after greater reflection, I'm grateful for reading this book because I now have a better understanding of the guiding principles of differentiation and picked up a few ideas. Some of the ideas that I plan to institute as a result of the book are the following:
  • Challenge leveling: in problem sets and beyond the course learning opportunities.
  • Choices in learning materials: textbooks, videos, online articles, simulations, etc. 
  • Compacting: students who demonstrate prior mastery of a concept can "test" out of the unit.
It was validating to read that some of the strategies I already decided to institute were considered effective ways to differentiate. For example, I am holding all students accountable to be able to apply their learning but exceptional students will be allowed to demonstrate learning at a higher level by creating, evaluating and analyzing learning materials. These higher order products are organized in think-tac-toe boards, choice boards, 2:5:8 boards, etc. Another point of validation was the idea that everything does not have to be graded. It's okay for students to practice applying skills without the specter of a grade looming. It's also helpful to know that my approach of starting small and adding more opportunities for differentiation is appropriate. 

The greatest takeaway from the book was the cognitive framework for differentiation. Rather than gaining a random collection of tools, I have better insight into the paradigm shift, which will equip me with the ability to develop my own tools. For example, there are three major ways to differentiate - by readiness, interest and learning profile. I've tended to focus on readiness and interest. It's easier to differentiate according to ability (readiness) and interest by offering choices at harder and easier degrees of difficulty and allow some freedom in the details and topics of projects. It is much harder to tailor intervention and activities based on individual student learning styles or profiles. That will take a better understanding of learning profiles and the type of lessons that will cater to the various styles in my classes. Looks like I have more research to do. 

The other major insight is there are three major things one can differentiate: content, process and product. Again, I've favored some of these more than others. It's easier to differentiate student products because projects can be broad enough to allow students to decide which modality to use - a report, presentation, video, essay, photo journal, story, etc. In some ways, differentiating content can also be straightforward. I have already offered optional topics for students to learn. Some students will have an opportunity to solve dihybrid Punnett Squares or sex linked problems, while other students will only handle basic genetics problems. In addition, students are allowed to learn the content at their own pace. The most difficult, or time consuming, part of differentiating content is curating a library of varied resources that can make the content accessible to all students. I would love to create an iBook that some students can choose to read, rather than relying on watching the videos I make. 

Another piece is differentiating process. These are the sense making activities that help students process or understand the material. Right now, I don't have many options for students to learn and process the material. Students may complete the sense making activities at their own pace and even have the freedom to pick and choose how much of the activity to complete; however, they do not have freedom to choose WHICH activities to complete. They all pretty much have to do a problem set, lab and online discussion for a typical learning cycle. I'd like to give students a choice, or make the choice, about the nature of the sense making activity. 

The neat thing about differentiating by readiness, interest and learning profile and differentiating content, process and product, is there are a number of possible techniques in a given unit. In one learning cycle, I may differentiate the content by interest but keep the other variables the same. In a different learning cycle, perhaps I may allow students to submit different products according to their learning profile. The combinations are plenty and can be tailored to the particular topic and combination of students in my class. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Spotlight on the Hot Seat: the Anatomy of Mastery Learning Cycles

This year I've instituted mastery checks, which are one-on-one discussions with students to see what they know. I made this change because I was spending too much time as a study hall monitor checking off assignments, rather than talking with kids about what they did and did not know.

I'm using mastery checks in combination with standards based grading and Bloom's taxonomy. Students move through levels by completing certain tasks aligned to comparable levels of Blooms taxonomy - from understanding to creating. Students start with a level "1", which means showing no evidence of understanding the "I can" statement. In order to progress to a level "2", they meet with me one on one in the mastery check "hot seat" (or "fluffy chair" as one student affectionately calls it.)

I give students a small whiteboard and ask them to demonstrate what they know based on the "I can" statements. 


Work in progress on student whiteboard for the Hot Seat

Students solve problems and explain their thinking in real time. Once students successfully complete the mastery check, they receive permission to take the quiz. This mastery check allows me to identify issues and suggest remediation, before a student takes a quiz. Last year, these talks were less frequent and often happened as a result of a student failing a quiz. Instead of students wasting quiz attempts, they have a good idea if they are ready for a particular quiz, and so do I.

The other nice thing about the "hot seat" is I'm getting better insights into the common misconceptions. By identifying these misconceptions early on, I can adjust my practice in the moment when it's most helpful to students. I'm already considering making a video aligned to a deficit I'm seeing in mathematical reasoning; only students who have this particular confusion will be pointed toward the video.

Finally, the biggest anticipated impact will be to prevent students from hiding. Every student must talk to me before moving on. Rather than a mere suggestion or informal check-in that a student can blow off, students are getting the clear message that a one-on-one talk with me is mandatory. I've already identified a few students who tried to skip over some of the learning materials, like problem sets or notes. When they came to me, they couldn't explain why they were completing certain steps in a problem. I've had to redirect them to earlier learning opportunities they had not completed.

I'm hoping the hot seat or fluffy chair will provide better supports for my students. So far, these discussions have been enlightening and seemingly helpful to my students.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Spotlight on the Apply Phase: the Anatomy of Mastery Learning Cycles

The Apply phase follows the flip phase in a mastery learning cycle. The purpose of apply is two fold: first, to practice the concepts learned in the flip phase and second, to revisit the exploration. 

Typically the students learn the content from a video. After they have taken notes, students complete a standards based problem set in the Apply phase. The questions of the problem set are organized by standard. 

At the beginning of each section, the standard is quoted and the questions specifically aligned to that standard follow. I denote mandatory questions in blue highlighting. Once students complete the mandatory problems, they are free to answer or not answer the other problems. Not all students require the same amount of practice for each standard. In addition, this builds in extra practice for those who choose not to complete the entire problem set the first time around. The mandatory questions usually point out special scenarios that students may encounter. For example, on the chi square inheritance problem set, one of the mandatory questions demonstrated what would happen if expected numbers were zero. Since the chi square formula has the expected number in a denominator of a fraction, any problem with expected as zero would be undefined; it's important to have this scenario as a mandatory problem because many students are tempted to incorrectly give this answer as zero. 

Answer keys are provided for all of the problem sets.  


I only show the answers and perhaps some of the work done. I've found when I show how the work is done, students are likely to copy the work, rather than trying to solve the problems. By giving them the answer key, they get immediate feedback and don't have to wait for me to be available to look over their work. However, they are less able to cheat since they must show their work on mandatory problems. 

The other half of the apply phase is the re-visitation of the explore phase. In the explore phase, students are introduced to a concept before direct instruction during the flip stage. Once students have practiced applying the concepts in the problem set, they are usually ready to tackle the explore re-visitation. 

Other activities that may take place during the apply phase are labs, discussions and case studies. These activities may also occur during the explore or apply phase, it just depends on whether it makes more since for the activity to teach a concept or apply a concept. Many times, these activities are divided into two parts - part A as an exploration and part B as the re-visitation during the apply phase. For example, in the explore phase of the Natural Selection learning cycle, the Part A of the Chips are Down lab asked students to collect data and draw conclusions about evolving populations. After learning more in subsequent activities, Part B in the apply phase required students to revise their conclusions. 

Once students have worked through the apply phase, they must sit with me to gain permission to enter the mastery phase which consist of a mandatory quiz and optional projects. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Magic of Google Forms for Beginners

Google Forms can greatly enhance a course. The ease of use coupled with the spreadsheet that automatically organizes the responses, make Google Forms my go-to survey-maker. Below you'll find some great uses of Google Forms that are relatively easy to use and set-up.

1) Formative assessment - after watching the video, students complete the Google Form. Some of the form tasks might be answering questions, writing a summary and asking a question. The responses get organized in a spreadsheet and there is an option to view the responses in graphs. In a traditional class, this is analogous to an exit slip. I appreciate being able to gauge what my students know and are confused about before arriving to class. This information can inform my planning and intervention.


2) Student feedback - at the end of the year, I have students complete an anonymous course evaluation. I highly recommend doing it anonymously to help get genuine answers but some might disagree. I've learned some interesting facts about my course by reading through the responses. 


3) Student reflection - I use Google forms to reinforce meta cognition skills. Regularly, I have students complete a form as a means to reflect on their learning. They may also reflect on their contribution to a group project, which helps me formulate future groups or intervene.


4) Submitting work or lab data - if you have students create online materials, like blogs, presentations or videos, it can be daunting to organize these submissions. You can send a Google form requesting the URL of their assignment. In science classes, you can also have students share their data with the class by filling out a Google Form. When it's time to review student work, all of the links or data are organized in a spreadsheet for you. 

5) Polls - whenever I need to poll students, perhaps as a pre and post discussion activity about a controversial issue, I prefer to use Google forms as well. 



Google Forms can do a lot more, especially when scripts or add-ons enhance the response spreadsheets. For more uses of Google Forms, visit this site

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spotlight on the Flip: the Anatomy of Mastery Learning Cycles

In the flip stage, I cover the bulk of the content. I try to use just one video to cover the facts but may rely on two if I need to go beyond 10 minutes or teach two distinctly different concepts.

Prior to the flip, students have completed an exploratory activity, which created cognitive dissonance and challenged the students with a higher order thinking task. Typically, the students don't have the content to complete the task at that point; therefore, they need the video to provide the facts and background.

The video is not the only part of the flip stage. Students are provided with a guided note sheet that they have to fill out while viewing the video. 
Guided Note Sheet

In the latest videos, I've been more thoughtful of sound pedagogy. Those videos start with a warm up question to get students thinking about the concept. Throughout the videos, I intersperse questions, ask students to pause and record their answers on the guided note sheet. At the end of the video, they have to think of a question that they want answered or could be answered by the video. I'll have to work on getting students to ask higher order questions rather than the normal factual recall questions they tend to ask. 

After taking notes, students complete an online low stakes quiz. Quizzes from previous years were Google forms loaded with back-end scripts (like Flubaroo) to grade student responses and allow me to respond to student questions. Since we moved to a new learning management system (LMS), I've offloaded most of those tasks to Haiku. The quizzes, called practice assessments on Haiku, consist of understanding level questions to give students feedback about whether they need to re-watch the video. 
Beginning of Practice Assessment
I also include an online forum for students to ask and answer questions about the content in the video; the hope is that students will begin to get their questions answered by peers rather than me. Finally, students are asked to rate the video in order to help me prioritize which and what ways to edit the videos in the future. 
Video Feedback Form
While many folks are invariably interested in the Flip, I must remind you that the Flip is just a vehicle to making more important changes possible. The videos allow for differentiation, mastery, asynchronous learning, etc. When content is offloaded away from the community space, the real magic happens!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Spotlight on Mastery Choices: the Anatomy of Mastery Learning Cycles

In this spotlight, we'll explore the mastery assignments of the mastery phase. In each learning cycle, students will have the opportunity to extend their thinking on specific standards beyond the application level in Bloom's taxonomy. They'll also be able to choose the nature of the assignment and even within the options, there is room for differentiating the level of difficulty. Depending on the learning cycle, these mastery assignments may be organized into choice boards, 2:5:8 boards, tic tac toe boards, think dots or cubing boards. I'll explain some of the options below.

Choice Boards
In some learning cycles, I use choice boards. Choice boards typically have nine project choices, of which students select one. Each choice will encompass all of the relevant learning standards; therefore, only one project is needed. The Analysis, Evaluation and Creation levels of Bloom's taxonomy are equally represented. In addition, different learning preferences are represented - students have the option in the type of modality: video, article, essay, cartoon, poem, etc.


2:5:8 Board
The 2:5:8 board gives students options between levels of difficulty. The rule is the students have to complete assignments that add to ten; for example, a student may select one "2" level and one "8" level or two "5" level assignments. I also added a "10" level assignment, where students could opt for just one assignment at a higher level of difficulty. I used Bloom's taxonomy again to determine which activities are level 2, 5, 8 and 10.


Think Dots
I use Think Dots similarly to choice boards. In both case, students only select one option. The major difference is theoretically, students don't actually choose the assignment. Students roll die to determine which project to complete. Think Dots can work well if there aren't significant differences between rolling a "one" or a "three." In either case, students are basically completing the same assignment but the details are different. Other teachers use Think Dots differently but I like using it this way to encourage students to be okay with rolling the die and doing whatever assignment is randomly selected. There's a neat online die that one can use if physical dice are unavailable.


Tic Tac Toe
The Tic Tac Toe board is an effective variant of the choice board. Again, the assignments are aligned to specific standards as well as levels of Bloom's taxonomy. The way I use tic tac toe boards is when I have a variety of standards that are too difficult to encapsulate into one project. In this case, I still have nine project options, of which students have to select three. I can set up specific rules to force students to select specific types of projects. For example, in the board below, students have to go from top to bottom, either in the same column or at a diagonal. In that case, students are forced to select one project from each of the three rows. Each row has three options aligned to the same standards. The result is students cover all of the standards but have some choice in the combination of assignments.



My hope by using these strategies is students will complete higher order assignments to demonstrate mastery of specific standards. I'll be sure to reflect on the effectiveness of these tools at a later date.