Friday, May 30, 2014

Putting in Work

Imagine a workout session with a physical trainer and client. After this session, which person ought to be sweaty, tired and out of breath? The answer is so obvious that the question seems silly to ask. Yet, there are classrooms across the world where the teacher is exhausted after the lesson and the pupil's most tiring activities were taking notes and perhaps pretending to be engaged. 

I've always had issues with teachers lecturing on a consistent basis. Just as it seems obvious that the physical trainer ought to be demonstrating, facilitating and providing feedback during each session, the teacher ought to do the same during each lesson. If the trainer did every rep and set of every exercise during a session, while the trainee took notes and asked the occasional question, then we might confuse the trainer for the trainee. 

The person who is learning should be the one doing most of the work. Students have to do the hard work of learning. Just as a trainer who does every rep and set of every exercise gains more than the passive trainee, teachers who lecture benefit from restating content before an audience more so than their passive students. The note taking trainee and student gain very little in comparison to their note giving counterparts.

After each lesson, I want my students to feel the strain and fatigue of the mental exercises I created for them. I want them to feel challenged and accomplished for succeeding after some level of failure. Just as muscles strengthen in response to physical challenges and atrophy after lack of usage, students learn when mentally challenged and become lazy thinkers and not invested when being lectured to on a daily basis. 

After each lesson, one reflection question we ought to ask ourselves: "who did all the work?" If the answer is "my students," then it's more likely students have done most of the learning. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Review of "Mastery Learning in the Science Classroom"

Kelly Morgan's book on mastery science classes only spans 68 pages but is full of insight and practical advice. The book outlines her motivation and journey to mastery learning, while also dedicating a chapter to the research, some of which, has long since been forgotten.

Perhaps the most interesting point made in book is the revelation that research supported Mastery Learning decades ago. Mastery learning classes were unsustainable at the time and researchers stopped performing studies because of this lack of feasibility. There's an odd yet powerful observation Kelly makes: researchers stopped investigating mastery, not because it didn't work, but because it did work - there was just no way to pull it off!

Fast forward a few decades, the changes in technology do allow for mastery learning. It's no surprise that the pendulum shifts back to mastery.

I also appreciated some of the practical recommendations. Some of the particular suggestions are a bit dated since technology continued to advance even since the publication of the book a few years ago. Nevertheless, the idea of using an LMS, online varied quizzes and offloading direct instruction to an on-demand platform are still crucial to the success of mastery learning classes.

I highly recommend this book for flipped mastery practitioners or those who wish to explore the possibility. It is a great read!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Applying #Flipclass to Conference Presentations: a Post #TWT14 Reflection

As I finalized my presentation for the Teaching with Technology Conference about flipped learning, previous whispers of doubt started to scream too loudly to ignore. "You are planning to do exactly what you hate about professional development." I'm embarrassed to admit I almost took the easy way out:  a traditional lecture on a nontraditional teaching practice consisting of slides of me yammering about my flipped class, without applying the lessons that I learned from #flipclass. 

Despite the wonderful things I learned at FlipCon13, I wondered why the conference wasn't flipped. I remember asking Jon Bergman and he admitted this was a common question. Fast forward almost one year, I proudly receive an email reminding me to finalize the flipped assignment that accompany my presentation during FlipCon14. Surely, the best way to learn about flipped learning is to experience flipped learning. 

Lodge McCammon gave a wonderful keynote address about flipped learning. He covered most of the same introductory ideas I planned to present at the Teaching with Technology Conference. The video of Lodge presenting in front of a live audience caught my eye. I quickly realized that the entire presentation wasn't a video playing in front of an audience, rather Lodge ingeniously decided to prerecord direct instruction about flipped learning and used the rest of the live presentation to interact with the audience. Between these flipped videos, Lodge used pair-sharing, collaboration, invited audience members to create videos that summarized their group discussion and even reflect on their videos. Lodge applied what he learned from flipclass to his presentation. Direct instruction, which could have taken an hour to present live, was condensed to just a few minutes in video format. The retrieved time was reallocated to interactive activities that transformed the typical zombie audience into critical thinkers, consumers into producers and passive watchers to active participants. 

After viewing Lodge's keynote "presentation", I was unable to follow through with my initial plan in good conscious. I reworked my presentation. I recorded separate videos outlining the key ideas I wanted to convey. Between these videos, I engaged the audience in critical thinking, experience elements of flipped learning and reflect on their learning. Because of this offloading of direct instruction to condensed videos, teachers were able to identify benefits of flipped learning, predict obstacles, offer solutions and ask and answer questions. I also picked up some nuggets of wisdom. In fact, more than half of my presentation were teachers discussing ideas. The most important benefit was the audience experienced how a flipped class could transform a class.

While I'm happy that this was more of a discussion than a presentation, there are a few things I would change so far:
  1. A few timing quarks - the last video went through some important content a bit fast. I wish I'd stress the links on the introductory slide a bit more and gave some time for folks to copy the link to the presentation and session notes. I also let an early discussion take more time than I should have. This eliminated the feedback time at the end.  
  2. Format - I could've changed the format of each pair-share and discussion. Varying the engagement activities could have displayed more innovative uses of a flipped class.
  3. Practicality - I wonder if my session was too theoretical rather than practical. I mentioned some tools and briefly why/how I used them. This session was more about making the case for flipped learning and sharing models above the limited media definition of flipped learning. (I suppose the title was consistent with my workshop.) 
Despite some of the possible tweaks, I'm grateful that I stumbled on Lodge's video, he reminded me to be true to myself. Thank you! 

Rethinking PD: a Post #Edcamp Reflection

For those who are unaware of Edcamp, it is an "unconference." Unconferences are in contrast to highly formal, commercialized and planned conferences. The specific agenda is not planned ahead. The agenda is dictated by the attendees in real time. A board with a grid showing times and classrooms is posted and teachers who want to offer a workshop or discussion write down a title or brief description into one of the unclaimed spots. A copy of the board is updated online as well. 

A teacher adding a workshop option to the board
When I first read about it, I couldn't believe this idea worked. What if most people just showed up to attend and not lead? What if there were blank spots? My tendency toward foreseeing flaws kicked into over gear. Alas, Edcamp NYC was successful. All of the slots were eventually filled and I even recognized some of the workshop leaders. Rashan, developer of Explain Everything, led a workshop on Screencasting that turned into a nice discussion of sharing best practices. A few of us even shared student work. Andrew Stillman, Google Script developer extraordinaire, led a workshop or two about some of his scripts. This recent nontraditional professional development, led me to reflect on what I would like to see in professional development. 
  1. Practical research-based ideas:  I don't just want theory but I want tangible strategies that are known to be effective.
  2. Individualized: my needs are different than others, therefore, my professional development ought to reflect my unique combination of skills and deficiencies. It also ought to capture what I see as important and is relevant to my practice. It should also be on-demand and driven by my schedule. I should be able to learn on my own time, not necessarily when others are available.
  3. On-going and transformational: I've found continuous pd about a topic is more transformational than a workshop or two about a topic. 
  4. Varied: I prefer to learn from different modalities - books, videos, chats, courses, lectures, etc.
  5. Responsive: I should be able to make adjustments midstream based on feedback and self reflection. 
While Edcamps may not meet all of these requirements, I see a role for them in my professional development plan. Edcamp is the wildcard, sometimes you don't know what you don't know. Edcamp can introduce me to current ideas that are not even on my radar. 

It's almost ironic that the features I want as part of my pd plan mirror many of the characteristics I try to instill in my class. I'm moving toward a more responsive class with varied learning opportunities that individuals can choose from. My students already enjoy an on-demand culture where they learn at their own pace, which is supported by research. The similar desires for my pd and my courses should not be a surprise; at the end of the day, they are both about learning. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Interview about Asynchronous Learning and Standards Based Grading

Yagraph // Wikipedia

I had the privilege of chatting with Jonathan Bergmann on his radio show, The Flipside on the Bam Radio Network. Primarily we talked about my journey to flipped instruction and standards based grading. The interview is linked here

Aside from my nagging habit of saying "direct instructional days" rather than "direct instruction days," I thought the interview ran smoothly. I also see why Jon was an award winning educator; even as an interviewer, he was captivating, reminding me of his keynote address at FlipCon13

The messages I hope were conveyed during this interview:
  1. Flipped learning saves class time and creates more opportunities for greater engagement and individualized learning.
  2. Asynchronous learning allows for differentiation.
  3. It's possible to adopt aspects of flipped instruction and it is also possible to successfully adopt flipped instruction (and mastery learning) wholesale, without a long period of transition.
  4. Middle school students can thrive in a flipped class.
  5. The assessment based system of grading is broken because it can hide what students truly do and do not understand.
  6. Standards based grading is the solution to the broken assessment based grading system.