Monday, June 30, 2014

Onto my Second Iteration of Flipped Learning: A Post FlipCon14 reflection

If my personal lessons learned from FlipCon13 were about the logistics of video making and setting up a flipped class, then this year's lessons were all about the "second iteration" (as Troy Crockum frequently mentions) or tweaks to my flipped class and connecting with the community of flipped educators.

Last year during FlipCon 13, so many flipped veterans said over and over again that flipped learning is not about the videos but it was a message that a baby flipper, like myself, could not internalize. But now that I have a YouTube library of good but not great videos and I'm primed to tackle more important questions of inquiry, project based learning, standards based grading, student blogging and 20 percent time, I really have internalized that mantra.

This year during FlipCon 14, I strategically selected sessions that would help me improve my second iteration of flipping. This meant that most sessions were part of the "Beyond Flip class" strand. Some of my thoughts and take-home lessons regarding a few sessions are below.

Keynote: "Living in Beta" with Molly Schroeder
This was a wonderful keynote that challenged me to further promote working in beta, or experimentation and revision in my class. Since I use a mastery model, I feel pretty confident that my students are usually working in beta. They're encouraged and even mandated to revise their work until proficiency. The real lesson I took away from Molly's session is that I need to be comfortable with allowing myself to work in beta. If companies like Google can fail with tons of unpolished products and still be seen as a successful company, then surely I can dare to fail as well.

Flipping DI with Lee Dewitt
This was a timely session for me since one of next year's goals is to differentiate instruction. The pre work and the session gave me some neat ideas about how to differentiate instruction. Although I'm happy with the Mastery Choice boards as my main vehicle to offer student choices, I can see the benefit of mixing things up. Perhaps some learning cycles will work best with choice boards, a 2-5-8 menu, a RAFT assignment, tiering or cubing. I'll play around with these options during the summer.
The most exciting thing I learned from Lee's session is how she scaffolds mastery in her course. My 8th graders struggled with staying on track and I'm hoping a better transition to self paced learning will minimize these issues.

Making the Grade with Jennifer Haze
This session was advertised primarily about standards based grading, although I learned some neat tricks about formative assessment as well. I really like her peer to peer techniques in formative assessment like "quiz, quiz, trade" and "find the matching answer." Adding these techniques to peer instruction will enhance the synchronous offerings in my asynchronous course.

Engaging videos with Jonathan Thomas-Palmer
My videos are serviceable and usually get good ratings in terms of learning. However, my videos are not particularly engaging. I do use the engaging design techniques Jonathan mentioned in his session, like changing the screen every few seconds, use transitions sparingly, purchase an external microphone or limit background light for the picture in picture feature. After the first few videos, I even included questions throughout the video to encourage students to pause and think. The most important thing Jonathan said that I needed to hear was that I need to enjoy myself in the videos, like I usually did during live direct instruction in the past. I'm too formal in my videos and need to make sure I'm having fun when I record the videos. I don't see videos as the most important aspect of my class and will most likely avoid redoing most on my videos; however, I will use that important piece of advice to make new videos.

Innovative Pedagogies with Julie Schell
I've been looking forward to Julie's presentation since I missed her during FlipCon 13. I already incorporate peer instruction into my class at least once per learning cycle. It has been successful and most students rated this strategy favorable, even more so than flipping. In this presentation, Julie explained and demonstrated how Just in Time Teaching and Peer Instruction work together. The Just in Time Teaching (JITT) technique requires students to answer two conceptual questions and submit one feedback question (e.g. what they found most difficult or what they still wonder about) regarding a concept they learned in a coverage assignment outside of class (e.g. flipped video or a reading.) The teacher reviews these responses prior to class and uses the responses to generate ConcepTests to be used for peer instruction. The hardest part about Peer Instruction is generating the higher order engaging questions. JITT can help me generate more of these questions.

In addition to these wonderful sessions, I met great people whom I already follow on twitter. What a wonderful community of welcoming educators. I look forward to further connecting and learning with my PLN and incorporating lessons learned from FlipCon14 into my class.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Glimpse into the Future of #flipclass: a one year anniversary blog reflection

Flickr // Nubobo

This is the one year anniversary of Wilson's Flipped Lab, the blog where I reflect on my experiments, successes and failures in the flipped class. It's fitting that I originally started this blog exactly a year ago as a project during FlipCon 13 (explained here) because today is the first day of FlipCon 14. I'm happy to report 63 blog entries of my thoughts and experiences in this past year. I'm hopeful that other flipped teachers and those considering the flip have and will continue to learn from this chronicling. I'm unsure how many read this blog but it has been successful in it's intended purpose to help me reflect about my pedagogy. 

Many of my posts have been about the immediate past or immediate future. I'd like to take this opportunity to dream years into the future. These are the hopes for my courses. 

- Self directed passion-based learning: What if my students can pick and choose which topics to explore, projects and experiments to design, which content to curate and choose from in order to learn, and how to best represent their learning? What if students decided how to be assessed and what standards and levels to be evaluated by? 

- Authentic assignments and audiences: what if students were always engaged in an authentic learning experience to be shared with a global and authentic audience? What if their learning occurred as a necessary component of solving a real world problem that would help countless other people? What if students no longer have to ask, "why am I learning this?" What if the purpose of learning all of the skills and content of the course were self evident and inherently obvious to my students?

- Students learning from students: what if the primary learning materials were created and curated by students? What if students learned from and were held accountable by other students? 

These are the burning questions that I struggle with. In my current practice, I am far away from answering them. Yet, I see the seeds to answering them. Whether it is setting up an asynchronous course, curating alternative and optional learning opportunities and learning materials, aligning these materials to each course standard, or creating real world case studies and projects, I have a glimpse into a more student directed and centered education. I must have the courage and discipline to transform these wonderings into action. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Teaching Screencasting Through Flipped Learning Cycles: a post Camtasia Workshop Reflection

Camtasia Studio 7.0.1
Camtasia Studio 7.0.1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A colleague and I led a workshop on Screencasting through Camtasia. The premise of our workshop was to organize the full day workshop in a 5E Learning Cycle of Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate.

The purpose of this first segment was to generate interest in screen casting and demonstrate why participants should want to learn to use Camtasia. I handed out my son's karate belts and demonstrated how to tie them and asked participants to do the same. Immediately, the limitations of live direct instruction were obvious - different participants got lost at different spots. This introductory activity led to a nice discussion of how videos can be helpful when teaching concepts. Participants understood that sharing a video showing how to tie a karate belt would have been more helpful because participants would've been able to rewind, pause and rewatch at their own pace. 

The next phase demonstrated what can be done in screen casts and identify best practices for screen casting. I shared one of my first (and flawed) Camtasia screen casts with the group and tasked them to provide feedback (eg regarding clarity, color scheme and sound quality.) Participants submitted feedback and questions via a Google form and we used those responses to brainstorm a list of best practices, which included the need for contrast between text and background, keeping videos short and asking questions throughout the video, to name a few. We also briefly touched on some crucial pedagogical issues: how videos are part of a larger learning cycle, why you should avoid spending too much time perfecting the videos, the limitations of recorded lectures, etc.

The Explain phase included direct instruction where we led a quick orientation and walk-through of Camtasia. Participants followed us in real time to record a short screen cast with the webcam enabled.

The bulk of the workshop was the elaboration (or application) phase, where participants worked at their own pace to edit and/or create videos. We shared a Zip folder with editable Camtasia files, which all had a flaw that could be corrected with a specific skill, like trimming, annotations, zooming, etc. We shared a document outlining the task for each video along with a link to the TechSmith tutorial demonstrating that particular important skill. In addition, we also shared the link to the entire TechSmith library of tutorial videos.

Participants spent four hours spread out in different rooms working through the guided assignment and/or creating their own videos. 

We provided access to a Google Drive folder for participants to upload their videos or provide links in a Google document of their videos hosted elsewhere. We spent the last hour of the workshop showing the videos created by participants. We all commented on the videos and ended the session with final thoughts and participants provided feedback about the workshop via a Google Form.

Final thoughts: The feedback was unanimously and overwhelmingly positive! Participants appreciated how we framed the activities through a learning cycle and used screencasts to teach screencast creation. The powerful thing about our decision to use videos was that it allowed for participants to work at their own pace and to select what they wanted to learn, which only reinforced the strengths of screencasting in education. We've all been in technology workshops where the presenter elected to run a synchronous live tutorial: the advanced participants get frustrated waiting for the novice stragglers to catch up; and of course the moments when the presenter pauses to troubleshoot for the one or two folks with tech related problems. Leading the workshop only strengthened my resolve to continue developing my flipped course with elements of asynchronous learning and content organized into learning cycles. Hopefully, some of the participants were convinced by their experience in our workshop that flipped learning and screencasts can add wonderful elements to their courses.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Looking Back on My First Full Year of Flipped Learning

Wikipedia // Gary Bridgman
This year, I've organized my content into Mastery Learning Cycles, which is a flipped learning model that blends mastery with Explore-Flip-Apply. This is my attempt at reflecting on the most salient points of the school year.

No More Teacher in the Center: I'm no longer the center of attention and class time is reorganized for higher order tasks and independent and collaborative learning. Students took responsibility for their learning. They made choices about how to spend "homework" and "classwork" time. If they wanted to study or do a lab instead of watching a video or completing a problem set, they made the choice that worked best for them. If they wanted to leave a group because the dynamics or pacing didn't work, then they made those changes. One consequence that emerged was as the year progressed, students found ways to get their questions answered other than by asking me. Some students asked classmates and others did research. I have to admit to missing answering questions but I do love the student ownership of their learning.

Growth Mindset: The retaking of randomized quizzes and the mandatory redoing of labs and problem sets until perfection have helped create a growth and grit mindset. Students understood that their performance can swing significantly by the end of a class period. They no longer tended to freak out when things were not going their way. By the middle of the school year, students were sharing their disappointment on a quiz, informed me of what they need to do and then executed their plans. 

Achievement: The traditional indicators for student achievement were up this past year. Grade averages were higher than in past years while the number of academic notifications dropped. (More information to come.)

Research Based Pedagogy: I used more research based techniques. Aside from Mastery learning, which has been known to be effective for more than three decades, I also used learning cycles, Peer Instruction and more inquiry based labs.

Refining the Teacher's Role: Next year, I want to spend less time as a "study hall" monitor and more as a facilitator of learning. As students became more independent, I spent more of my time checking off assignments and recording scores. This interfered with spending quality one on one time with individuals. I rather spend more time conducting small group and peer instruction. 

Standards Based Grading: I want to move to Standards Based Learning (Grading.) The grade and grade book have to be more meaningful and provide more clarity. To that end, I will have fewer mandatory assignments and hope to give students more choices to demonstrate mastery of learning. 

One on One Talks: I want more one on one talks with students so that I have a better idea how to best serve each individual.  Perhaps I will require one on one talks before taking the first attempt on a quiz. During these talks, students can show me how to solve a problem in real time. These talks can also prevent students from rushing through content and taking quizzes before they're ready. Perhaps I can have some of these talks as part of the mastery task at the end of the learning cycle as well. 

Meaningful Quiz Attempts: To further prevent wasting quiz attempts, I'm also rethinking how to address redos. I may mandate quiz corrections and/or remediation after the first and/or second attempts. I have mixed feelings about the mandate, and may only mandate it for failing quizzes and/or for specific individuals. The idea of my changes is to hand over autonomy to my students - increasing mandates undermines this philosophy. In a similar vein to support students, perhaps on an individual basis, I'm considering notebook and iPad checks to help with organization. 

More Immediate Feedback: I most likely will add more step-by-step solutions to answer keys. This year, I only included partial keys because I wanted to make sure students completed the problem set. However, since more of these assignments will be optional, then it may be more useful to have some worked out answers and some with only answers. Again, this will allow for more instant feedback and give me more time to work with students, rather than checking steps of problems for all assignments. 

Meaningful Assignments: I also wish to include more interesting, memorable and meaningful assignments. By increasing choices, I may be able to generate more excitement about assignments. The use of choice boards as mastery checks will be helpful here as well. The projects I used were based on good ideas but their execution were highly flawed; I need to do some more learning about project based learning

Inquiry Focus: I want to include more inquiry labs and have DNA barcoding as the Science Night project. To allow for the time for both, I'll need to reevaluate the important topics and streamline the course to make these accommodations. I've identified some topics and learning cycles that are already taught in the high school biology course so I may make some learning cycles optional for students who finish the course before others. 

Final Thoughts
All in all, it was a solid year of some key changes. While student success indicators are higher than in past years, students had mixed responses about their feelings of the flipped model (a topic of a future blog post.) As expected with something drastically different, my execution was a bit uneven and I have a lot of room to grow. At the very least, this first year was a successful experiment in shifting the teacher outside of the center and making students more accountable for their learning; I expect to enjoy more success as I improve on the caliber of assignments, figure out some logistics and provide even more student choice. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gratitude for 1:1 iPad Program

Faculty iPad with Friends Seminary Logo on Cover
 Leaders in different fields make decisions and policies without always being able to predict the exact consequences of those decisions. I suspect the same thing occurred at my school when we instituted a 1:1 iPad program years ago. Even though I personally prefer laptops for science due to their superior graphing options and ability to play Flash-based simulations, I have to admit the 1:1 device initiative set the conditions for programmatic innovation. 

 Our 1:1 iPad program started in a select number of grades a few years ago. I'm thankful my first full year flipping Introductory Biology coincided with 8th graders having their own iPads. At this point, I no longer print materials. Students decide whether they want to complete their work in Google Drive, Notability or print it. They decide whether they want to submit their work via email, Google Drive or show me in class. Since students work at their own pace, they need to have constant access to course materials. At any instant, students need to be able to watch a video, take an online quiz, or do some research. None of this is possible, or at least as seamless, without some sort of 1:1 program. 

It's easy to take the 1:1 iPad program for granted. However, I'm reminded of its importance when a student forgets to charge his or her device, or is waiting for repairs. Without a laptop cart as a backup during those periods, some students would have a difficult time progressing through the learning cycle. 

I'm unsure if the school leadership predicted the rise of blended, flipped or asynchronous courses years ago when we insitituted one of the earliest 1:1 iPad programs. What I do know is the 1:1 iPad program has been crucial to the success of my course. Students have benefitted tremendously, have become more independent and self reliant, in part, due to the ubiquitous devices we've come to take for granted. Thank you to the school leadership for setting the conditions for flipped learning before I even became aware that I wanted to go in that direction.