Monday, July 21, 2014

Changing the Rules of Playing School

Eddie-grrl // Deviant Art

The game of does one play school and more importantly, win? 

Let's start with some of the obvious. 
  • Turn in all assignments by their deadlines. 
  • Be able to regurgitate what your teacher said in class during exams. 
  • You get one attempt to show what you know on exams, so pay close attention to the calendar.
  • When you're absent, reach out to classmates and your teacher about missed assignments and notes. 
  • By the way, don't be late to class and try not to be absent because the work doubles when you miss class. 
  • Don't misbehave or talk to others when the teacher is talking at the front of the room. 
  • Some highly observant students would add to smile in class and pretend to be engaged in class no matter how boring the lesson or discussion. 

What happens when teachers attempt to change some of these rules? What if students no longer had to regurgitate on exams? What if students could take notes from a video on any day, even if they were absent? What if students designed their own artifacts with their own directions to demonstrate learning or could choose from a menu of assessments and projects? What if students had some say about when to submit assignments? 

Many flipped teachers are asking these very questions while changing some of the unwritten rules of school. Some teachers are met with resistance from students, parents, colleagues or administrators. It's understandable where this resistance originates. Imagine you, or your child, has been successful in school for 10 years operating under the same set of rules, now one of the teachers threatens this success by flipping the rules and responsibilities. It's hard to ask people to change habits, so it's no surprise some students resist taking more responsibility for their learning in exchange for more freedom. It's scary, just as the change is for the teachers. 

Flipped teachers can mediate some, not all, of this resistance. We can articulate the benefits of and our rationale for changing these rules. We happen to teach at the time of Common Core and Next Generation Standards, which require students to engage in higher order thinking and take on more responsibility. We have to explicitly teach the new skills we want from our students. We need to be organized and plan for anticipated obstacles. We have to share our success stories and recruit other teachers to join us. We have to be honest about the limitations of flipped learning, as well as our mistakes in implementation. Of upmost importance, we have to be patient with our students, and ourselves. Real change is a process requiring time and growth. What an exciting time to be a student and a teacher! 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Student Voice and Choice

CC Courtesy of Crossroads by Carsten Tolkmit on Flickr
I've been sitting on this post for a year and now that I'm ready to implement differentiated instruction, I thought it prudent to share this post.

Last year throughout FlipCon 13, I heard the expression student "voice & choice" on many occasions. The expression is a hip way to tout differentiation.

One of the most informative workshops was Ellen Dill's "Offering Student Choice." (See her playlist below.) She's a flipped french teacher who gives her students a variety of project alternatives to demonstrate learning for each unit. Students have created songs, fashion shows, puppet shows, just to name a few. It became clear that these projects are far more rigorous than standard exams. 

Create your own Playlist on MentorMob!

Partly inspired by Dill, I made the plunge into differentiation as well. I've known of the benefits of voice and choice but didn't have the means to do so, until now. The flipped classroom gives students and teachers this wonderful treat of differentiation. I designed a choice board of projects aligned to unit objectives. To ensure comparable rigor, those projects are aligned to the Analysis, Evaluation and Creation levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. I've also made projects that cover the same Blooms levels and unit objectives but varied them according to Gardner's multiple intelligences. I hoping this strategic alignment to Gardner's work will provide enough variety to meet all of the needs of my students. 
Draft of the complex inheritance choice board
Also consistent with this flexible model, I also let my students choose which objectives to demonstrate "mastery" level. Mastery, in my course, is demonstrated at the analysis, evaluation and creation levels. All students must meet application level on all objectives but can choose which objectives to master. I envision students meeting application level on some objectives and going on to master the objectives they wish to further investigate. So students will only complete projects on the objectives that "speak to them." 

Other Resources:  Dare to Differentiate Wiki

Friday, July 4, 2014

Introducing Mastery Learning Cycles to the World: a post FlipCon14 presentation reflection

I had the privilege to present at FlipCon14 about Mastery Learning Cycles (MLC.) I originally discussed MLC in a blog post last year, where I described it as a "mashup" of Mastery learning and Explore-Flip-Apply (EFA) models. In my mind, this hybrid solves the problem of allowing students to learn at their own pace and still promoting thoughtful inquiry through structured learning cycles, rather than a checklist of activities to plow through. The packed classroom and dozens of virtual attendees who watched the live presentation online probably affirm other teachers have interest in mastery and/or EFA (session notes.)

The Flipped Learning Network "flipped" the conference, which meant I had to assign pre-work. Since most veteran flipped teachers are familiar with mastery learning, I assigned a blog post about EFA written by Ramsey Musallam (@ramusallam) and asked teachers to create a learning cycle. The plan was to spend some time during the presentation to front-load this model and the rest of the session having teachers share their cycles. Even though lack of homework completion prevented execution of this plan, I was able to offer a resource for those who wanted to extend their learning after the session. 

The feedback in person and on twitter were positive - perhaps even more so than I expected. I think I did a nice job engaging the audience at the beginning with a karate belt tying activity that demonstrated the power of flipped learning and mastery learning. 
Tweeted by +TheAlgebros 

I also had some opportunities for teachers to talk to each other with discussion prompts. My slides were clear, text-light but image-heavy and did a good job outlining the strengths and limitations of the mastery and EFA models. It may have taken too much time to get through EFA and mastery but the front loading helped outline the strengths of MLC. Perhaps the strongest part of the presentation was sharing my particular learning cycles with student work. I spoke in detail about the simple inheritance MLC by demonstrating how each activity offered a rich learning experience for students. I also talked briefly about the evolution learning cycle just to demonstrate some variation, like labs at the beginning during the Explore phase and differentiation during the Apply phase. 

If I do the presentation again, I'll hope to have some examples of MLC in different disciplines and utilize more opportunities for interaction like polls and more frequent turn & talk prompts. I'll make sure to repeat comments and questions from the live audience for the virtual attendees. I also need to remember to share the link to the feedback form. 

Now that the presentation is over, I have the summer to revise some of my MLCs and look forward to other teachers adopting and sharing their MLCs.