Friday, November 13, 2015

From Paper to Paperless to Paper?

I remember a time when educators on Twitter and other social media cheerleading paperless classes. I've been paperless for years without it being an explicit goal. Don't get me wrong, it does have some advantages. No longer do I have to worry about loosing a student's assignment or carrying a stack of papers during winter break. I'm even more grateful that I don't have to make photocopies before class or print out extras for students who loose their first copy. Similar to the  "real world," students can gather more materials on demand without needing a mediator. In many ways, going paperless has shifted responsibility over to students - missing a note sheet or handout, go online and get it yourself! 

I do worry about potential issues. If students can get more copies of handouts on their own, then what encourages them to keep track of the first version? When I was a student, I had to organize my papers and when I failed to be responsible, then I would have to face my teacher's disapproving expression. I wonder to what extent I'm enabling the students who could otherwise be organized.

The other issue is related to learning. The research is clear: students learn more effectively when they are writing on paper, rather than typing on a screen, and reading from paper than from a screen. The move to paperless is counter to the current data on memory and learning. I suppose the appropriate response is the sum total of human collective knowledge is readily accessible via mobile devices, at lighting fast speeds; therefore, education should shift from memorizing facts to higher order tasks - a fair response indeed. But I can't imagine these advocates would argue against students memorizing any facts. The question, rather, is how many facts ought to be memorized.

I tried this year to move back across the aisle to using paper. At the beginning of the year, I told students they had to print the video note sheets and hand write their notes. We also briefly talked about the research that supports this mandate. I also provided binders, free of cost, to students who wanted them. I have to admit that I haven't been enforcing this mandate. I have no idea how many students are taking handwritten notes. Guess it's time to find out. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Challenging Assumptions: A Post Flipcon15 Reflection

John Armato // Flickr
The last few years of teaching has forced me to challenge normal assumptions about teaching and learning. I’ve done a great deal to test these assumptions, whether through my work on flipped learning and standards based grading. This year’s FlipCon showed me that there is still much work to be done.

The great Paul Andersen of Bozeman Science gave a wonderful keynote and workshop on the first day. I must digress for an interesting observation; Paul Andersen’s Blended Learning Cycles are similar to my Mastery Learning Cycles. At first, I thought I may have unconsciously borrowed from something I read or watched about his course. But I soon realized that we had similar inspiration. We were both inspired by the mastery flip class movement, as well as Ramsey Musallam’s criticism of mastery. Ramsey, another flipped educators, argued that inquiry should play a large role in science instruction; therefore, exploration should happen before direct instruction from video - hence the creation of flipped learning cycles. A second similarity between our models is the mandated small group or one-on-one discussions with students after the first year of experimenting with our flipped learning cycles. Both Paul and I experienced a disconnect from the learning of our students when we incorporated asynchronous learning in our respective courses. We both saw the need to fix our courses by putting us back into our courses. 

This is where Paul’s insights have helped me going forward. He advocated the use of design thinking in education. He bluntly, and correctly, argued that teachers need to accept responsibility for fixing issues in our courses. If the class is not working, it is most likely the teacher who is the issue. Just as Paul and I identified and responded to a major issue after year one of our flipped learning cycle, teachers need to redesign their courses to address problems. Whenever something is not working in my course in the future, I will remember Paul’ challenge to use design thinking to fix it.

Kate Baker and Lindsay Cole led an engaging discussion about grading practices during their presentation. It dovetailed with my presentation with Amanda Meyer about standard based grading. Both sessions touched on assumptions about grading practices. I was pleased to see that there is an appetite in the flipped learning community to rethink what we grade, how we grade and the purpose of grading. In the polls conducted by Lindsay and Kate, a majority of the teachers were in favor of flexible due dates and allowing students to redo work. Even though I consider myself progressive about grading, I am still trying to figure out how to discourage students from taking advantage of my willingness to make accommodations. Specifically, Aaron Sams raised the question of making students feel the sting of procrastination without contaminating the grade, which should reflect learning.

The final workshop I attended was also led by Lindsay Cole. She discussed the use of student generated content. She advocated letting students teach other students through the creation of content. Lindsay made an important distinction between student projects and content. Projects typically cover content already covered and are typically made for the benefit of the teacher to evaluate the learning. On the other hand, student generated content is generated for the purpose of teaching other classmates. Of course, projects are typically shared with classmates during presentations but student generated content is intended to actually teach or cover the content of the course. This topic is of great interest to me. Some of my students who strive for level 4 on some learning targets create similar projects that I use for remediation for other students. Lindsay’s presentation showed me that I haven’t pushed the envelope enough. Rather than relegating the student mastery artifacts to the remediation library, these projects can be the main vehicle for teaching the content. I do wonder if students, especially middle school ones, will be able to internalize the content while creating the projects and whether the audience will effectively learn the content. The final obstacle is Lindsay's structure seems more consistent with synchronous rather than asynchronous courses. However, I am encouraged by Paul Andersen’s challenge, I’ll have to redesign the course such that student generated content is a viable option - moving to synchronous learning for certain units and having student groups initially learn from learning cycles before teaching to other students are ideas that come to mind.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Looking Back on My Second Year of Asynchronous Learning

Due to specific issues in asynchronous learning last year, I started the year by scaffolding mastery. The scaffolding seemed to help students learn the organization of the course before attempting the challenge of asynchronous learning. This year, students were closer together at the end of the year, than in the previous year. While most students were successful, the students who lacked motivation and follow-through continued to struggle.

The most frequent piece of advice my students left for next year's students have to do with keeping up in an asynchronous class. To help students stay afloat, I will mandate cumulative exams. I hope the exams will act as deadlines without completely taking away independence, which many of my students valued. The added benefits of cumulative exams is preparation for final exams and it provides more data for me to evaluate student progress on learning targets.

I tried differentiating the final exam with three versions based on percent of the content covered: 90%, 97% and 100%. After some protests from students, I let students choose which final to take rather than mandating the version. The overwhelming majority opted for the most difficult exam and averaged a "B+." Unfortunately, the students who opted for the lower exams performed poorly, with only one student earning a respectable "B." Aside from a few marginal passes and the lone "B", the handful of students who opted for the less rigorous finals failed. I wonder if announcing there will be different finals altered the study ritual for struggling students. In addition, all but one of the struggling students worked from behind and used a lot of effort in the final weeks to play catch up, rather than prepare for the final. Another confounder is these students also failed other final exams.

Earlier in the year, I missed the synchronous discussions of past years like Socratic Seminars. Perhaps along the way, I got use to doing without them but I no longer see them as a great loss. If I'm being completely honest with myself, these discussions weren't as transformative and powerful as I know they are in some other courses. At this point, offloading these discussions to online forums in the engagement segment at the beginning of learning cycles, seem to be an appropriate decision.

I do, however, need to refocus on offering some synchronous activities like formative assessments to build a sense of community and maximize opportunities for students to collaborate and help peers. In an asynchronous class, group member choice is limited to the students working on the same step. Including more of these synchronous assessments and learning opportunities, students can collaborate with new group members.

The asynchronous debate is still the biggest source of concern and pride. In the exit surveys, many students cited the independence as their favorite part of the course, while roughly the same number cited it as the most challenging aspect of the course. Right now, I plan to continue running an asynchronous course, not only for reasons cited in previous blog posts but because so many students never have to opportunity to learn how to work independently, set priorities and manage their time. These skills are needed by adults but are infrequently developed in primary and secondary schools. I'll continue to fight the good fight...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Looking Back on my First Year of Standards Based Grading

The move to standards based grading solved many issues from last year. Conversations shifted away from percentages to learning. When a student struggled, we talked about specific learning targets rather than scores or whether an assignment was turned in or not. Equally as significant was the shift in my role. I wrote at the end of last year's reflection blog post, I felt like a study hall monitor, spending the bulk of my time checking off assignments. This year, I'm proud to report I spent most of my time answering questions, giving feedback and challenging students as they tried to convince me they understood learning targets. 

I had a better clue about what my students knew and did not know. I was better able to communicate the progress of each student and many students had a much clearer idea of what they needed to work on.  Admittedly, a number of my students shared they didn't pay attention to the "I can" statements. I believe a solution is to change the hot seat discussions; students will decide how they want to prove to me they understand an "I can" statement before gaining permission to take a summative quiz. 

The tracking system and grade book were clear and helpful. All activities were aligned to learning targets. In previous years, students argued they could learn without completing certain assignments - this was not as much a criticism this year. Even if some students did not pay attention to the "I can" statements, students were aware of what they needed to do and why they needed to complete certain assignments.

Most important was the buy-in of my students to revise and redo assignments. Many of my students appeared to have or develop a growth mindset regarding science class - or at least, this particular science class. Of course, some students didn't want to do quiz error forms and the obstacles I put in place for permissions to redo quizzes, but they all wanted the redos. 

Given that some students paid very little attention to the standards, it's no surprise that only a handful of students opted for mastery level on the standards. Some students shared reluctance in completing the projects because they were fearful of falling behind. Students also questioned my prohibition of using class time for these projects - a decision made to encourage students to move forward and not fall behind, which I am currently rethinking.

There are other tweaks that come to mind. I wonder if I should require students to earn a perfect score on the quizzes to earn proficient, instead of 80%. The argument makes sense. If students really understand the concept, they should be able to answer 5 out of 5 application level questions. This would require expanding my question bank and opening quiz attempts to five, instead of three. I would have to adjust my retake policy to account for the increased attempts. Alternatively, the most recent, not the highest, score on a summative assessment will stand. If a student retakes a quiz and earns a lower score, then that score will be used to evaluate the student. Again, if a student truly understands a concept, they should be able to pass a similar assessment a few days after a previous attempt. If they earn a lower score after a subsequent attempt, then arguably, the student did not really understand the learning target.

The most important adjustment I need to make is crafting the learning targets that span over several units. This year, I focused on the content standards specific to certain units. This was a decision of convenience. Unfortunately, the result was inconsistent and informal tracking and assessment of the important science process skills like organizing and analyzing data and using evidence to support claims. 

Even though I'm rethinking some of the finer details and execution of standards based grading, I have enough evidence that the model works. I look forward to a second year of standards based grading. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Questions and Answers about Flipped Learning

Today, I presented about flipped learning at my school. As part of the planning process, I sent a survey to find out what the participants wanted to know about flipped learning. As I began to plan, I realized I would be unable to answer the range of questions within the constraints of the workshop. Below is a copy of the document I crafted to answer some of those questions.

1. What was your and/or your students' biggest challenge at the beginning of introducing the concept of a flipped classroom?
  • There was some resistance and some scapegoating. If a student struggled in my course, it was because “of the flipped thing.” I’ve found students who struggle in my class, struggle in several courses.
  • The other challenge was organizational. I moved early to an asynchronous course so managing the organization of the materials, videos and keeping track of students was tough. Students were genuinely confused.
  • Finally, making enough videos to be ahead of the students was hard. Ideally, the first unit of videos should be made during the summer. I wanted perfection, so I spent several hours making just one video. I no longer strive for perfection because there are diminishing returns on making great videos. The videos are to convey information or demonstrate something, so they don’t need to be perfect -- just good enough to make the point.

2. Is the flipped classroom something for a certain age-range, type of learning? Is it applicable to any kind of subject?
  • The easiest answer is to say that flipped learning is appropriate for all disciplines and age ranges because there are teachers from different grade levels and disciplines flipping their courses with success. The movement started with science teachers in high school and it has spread to all disciplines and age ranges. There is a social network where you can connect with other teachers in your discipline and division -
  • The difficult answer is to say that a teacher needs to be aware of what works best for their students. You may not want to assign any homework or your course may not benefit from offloading direct instruction to video.

3. Have the students' performances improved, since the inclusion of flipped learning?

4. Are teachers doing a lot more work outside of school preparing lessons than you once did? What are the downsides?
  • In the beginning (first school year of flipping), there was a lot of work. But there isn’t as much prep time anymore. In fact, there is less prep work now than before flipping. I show up to class to help students, not to put on a performance. My stress levels are way down!
  • More important, I take home significantly less grading. I give students feedback mostly in class, which result in better products. These better products are easier to grade.

5. How does it flow? How do you organize it especially since it's asynchronous? Are there times where you need the entire class to be at a certain time in terms of their understanding and how do you get them to be there? What hasn't worked so well and why?
I’ve written a lot about asynchronous or mastery learning on my blog - here is the link that has all of the articles tagged with asynchronous learning -
I am working on a 2nd year of asynchronous learning blog post, so check my blog later in the week for the most up to date post -

6. How can I introduce self-paced learning without making it too hard on students who have little motivation, don't function well independently, or those who just produce little output?
I still struggle with this part of the course. It is the single biggest source of struggle for me. I did a better job this year. I scaffolded asynchronous learning. The first unit was synchronous. In the second unit, I shared a suggested timeline. By the third unit, I let students work asynchronously but mandated a plan for each week outlining the homework and classwork for each day. A detailed blog post about the process I used to help students with asynchronous learning -

7. If you are not creating your own videos, where are the best places to find streaming media to use?
Youtube, teachertube,, Vimeo, and are sites that come to mind. There is also Khan Academy but the videos aren't particularly engaging.

8. How can videos help me teach grammar and pronunciation for US language classes?
A few ideas...
  1. Any direct instruction that you currently do in class about grammar and pronunciation can be offloaded to video. Have the students watch it and complete a quick accountability check as homework. Even have kids prepare questions before class.
  2. You can ask students to create videos where they record their own lessons, pronounce words, etc. Have students collaborate to make videos, perhaps recording a conversation in the language or performing a skit.
  3. The biggest benefit is if students watch your videos for homework, then class time can be saved for more application. Students can spend more time reading, writing and conversing in the language during class where you can support them and give “in the moment” feedback.

9. Are there ways of doing flipped learning that are not too demanding of teacher preparation time?
Using pre-made videos made by others can save tons of time. See question 4.

10. I have heard some students say that they do not always learn the material as well when they're doing it on their own because they're not able to ask questions when content is introduced. What have people who have incorporated flipped learning experienced?
I’ve heard the same from some of my students when I first started. (See question 1). However, I don’t hear that concern anymore. It is especially not a concern anymore because students are allowed to watch videos in class. But even as I have made that change, I don’t get many questions from students during video viewing in class.

11. I understand the filming yourself lessons as HW part, but I'm more curious as to what class time is used for then.
The simplest answer is to just flip what you normally assign as homework becomes class work.
But that would make class boring if every lesson was just classwork. My question to you is,
“what are the things you would do if more time was added to your course?” I would start by incorporating those activities into the class time.

Some immediate ideas come to mind:
  • more discussions
  • more projects
  • students creation of content like videos, posters & presentations
  • hands on activities
  • one on one conferences with students
  • portfolio work
  • collaborative-group work
  • more writing, blogging
  • peer evaluation
  • reflection
  • games

12. Techniques & technology to make the videos as visual appealing and accessible as possible.
It’s attractive to worry about making excellent videos but my experience is making excellent videos takes a lot of time and effort - probably more so than what they are worth. Think about your experience with making PowerPoint presentations. There is always room for improvement but there are diminishing returns when making the “perfect” presentation, if such a thing exists. Rather, the focus should be on making “good enough” videos. There are best practices for making videos, some of which we will briefly discuss during the workshop. However, students don’t ultimately learn the content exclusively through the video or even a live lecture/presentation. It is during the struggle to apply the content that students begin to learn. I would focus more energy and time on making effective assignments, learning opportunities and assessments.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Teacher's Survivor Guide to Flipped Learning

As a follow up to suggestions for students to excel in a flipped class, I offer some assistance for teachers who wish to convert from traditional to flipped courses. 
  1. Know why you're making the switch, the reason(s) must go beyond the cool factor or a way to mix things up. Identify and communicate what you're trying to accomplish by flipping. Flipping is most useful when it is used to solve a problem or enhance or maximize features within a course, rather than merely following a trend. For example, will flipping allow for more differentiation, problem based learning, projects, writers workshops, student centered learning, discussions or labs? If you're not immediately sure how you will recuperate class time, then perhaps you're not ready to flip your class.
  2. Keep data on student progress. Parents and administrators will want to know if the switch to flipped learning has been successful. Reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of your class and continue to make improvements. 
  3. Connect to other flipped teachers and look for opportunities to collaborate. You will get tons of ideas about implementation, as well as warnings about common pitfalls. Consider joining Twitter and Google Plus, there is a robust #flipclass community which discuss issues in flipped classes. 
  4. There are tons of variants of flipped classes; you will have important decisions to make. Will your course be synchronous or asynchronous? Will you offer anticipatory work before students watch videos? What will you use to create, host and share videos?
  5. Make own videos, if you can. Perhaps in the beginning, you will not have an extensive library of your own videos, so you may need to have a combination of your videos and videos found online. Since you are not giving direct instruction in class anymore, students will be somewhat removed from you. Having your own voice and perhaps even face on videos can bridge some of that gap. 
  6. Keep videos short. It's better to have two videos rather than one long video. Students can get intimidated from having to sit through one long video. By splitting the video into shorter ones, students can get positive reinforcement and a sense of accomplishment when they complete the videos. On a similar note, try to limit each video to only one core idea or concept. Not only will this help to keep videos short but it will help students rewatch only the videos they need. Consider making separate videos for concept introduction and demonstration of examples. Students who don't need to see multiple examples won't have to sit through needless video footage. 
  7. Hold students accountable for watching the videos. Think about what you will do if students do not watch the video. Create a post-video assignment to ensure students understood the content. It doesn't have to be long and exhausting but it should hold students accountable for watching the videos. Have students take notes and submit questions they'd like to have answered. There are some sites like educannon or zaption that can embed questions into videos and pause the videos until students have answered the questions; they also provide embed codes in order to store and share these interactive videos on your website or learning management system.
  8. Make a commitment to avoid reteaching the content in class; otherwise, students will learn videos are not required.  
  9. Consider providing a guided note sheet to help students pinpoint the important information from the videos. You can always wean students off note sheets as the school year goes on. 
  10. Ask for student feedback. Make appropriate adjustments.  
  11. Respect the learning curve. Be open to students being confused and even resistant to change. Be patient even when you're setting consistent expectations. Give yourself the same patience. You won't get it right the first time, the second time or even subsequent times. If you are a veteran, then you have learned to be effective in different ways. It will take time be effective in this new way. 

What suggestions have I missed? Tom Driscoll, a fellow flipped educator, offers some other tips in his video embedded below.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Student Survivor Guide to Flipped Learning

OpenClips // pixabay

This post is dedicated to my former and current students who have helped me tweak my flipped class. This post is in service to future students, containing suggestions from former and current students in order to successfully navigate flip class. 

  1. Focus on work in class. There are plenty of opportunities for collaboration but don't get distracted by your peers or devices. 
  2. Assign yourself homework on a nearly nightly basis. If you miss an evening, increase your future plans accordingly. 
  3. Plan ahead, think about your after school commitments and adjust plans when new ones arise without falling behind. 
  4. Be willing to work with others and change your groups as often as needed in order to work to your best ability. This may mean avoiding working with your best friends. Put pressure on peers to stay focused and be open to pressure from peers to get work done. 
  5. Ask for help but also avoid relying on the teacher. 
  6. Promptly revise and redo work after feedback. 
  7. Stay organized - keep course content in one place. 
  8. Be tech savvy. Know how to use the Learning Management System, do online research, create videos and send and share electronic documents. You should feel comfortable using Google Drive, iMovie, Notability, Apps that can take screen shots and record screen casts, and create presentations. 
  9. Be flexible - adjust to changes in the course. 
  10. Read all instructions.
  11. Actively, not passively, watch videos. Use pause and rewind as often as needed. When the videos ask questions, pause and attempt to answer the questions. 

In general, you should be an active problem solver and take ownership / responsibility of learning  - schedule appointments, follow through on plans, adjust plans. If you follow these guidelines, you should have success in the class. 

Did I miss something? 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Natural Selection Meets Flipped Mastery

The following article was featured in Carolina Tips in the spring of 2015, the online newsletter by Carolina Biological - a vendor that sells lab supplies and equipment to science teachers. 
The benefit of mastery learning has been known since Benjamin Bloom's research1 in the 1980s, as he sought to find a teaching method as effective as individual tutorial in the group setting. At the time, mastery learning was impractical because it entailed students working at their own pace and the teacher administering multiple individualized assessments. With today's technology (online quizzes with randomized questions, free video hosting sites, and learning management systems, to name a few), mastery learning is now possible.

Mastery and flipped learning complementary

The unit on natural selection in my 8th grade Introductory Biology course has been revamped by mastery and flipped learning. Mastery and flipped learning complement each other. Offloading lectures to videos allows students to work at their own pace students because they can watch or re-watch a lecture when they are ready.
The natural selection unit starts with an exploration, the Chips Are Down lab, where students simulate natural selection and are challenged by using this experience to hypothesize how populations evolve. After an initial hypothesis, students take notes from a video outlining Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. Using the principles of natural selection learned in the video and experienced in the exploration, students complete a problem set to practice generating hypotheses about different populations’ adaptations.
Students are then assigned differentiated case studies based on level of difficulty. For example, advanced students may have to analyze contradictory and incomplete data to hypothesize why humans evolved different skin colors. Struggling students analyze straightforward data to hypothesize why clovers have stripes and produce cyanide in some environments and not in others. These case studies, and tons of others related to biology, can be found on the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science Web site.

Unit assessment

After students apply their understanding of natural selection to different scenarios through the problem set and case studies, they are asked to revise their initial hypothesis from the exploration about how populations, in general, evolve. After a one-on-one or small group discussion with me, students receive permission to sit for the unit assessment. If students are denied permission or under-perform on the unit assessment, they are required to make corrections and complete remediation activities aligned to the deficiencies or misconceptions uncovered during our talk or unit assessment. Students who wish to demonstrate learning or explore the topic at a deeper level can tackle optional projects.

Tailored to students' needs and abilities

Combining both flipped and mastery in the natural selection unit has allowed me to strategically provide targeted intervention and differentiate content and assessments. In the past, advanced and struggling students had to complete the same assignments on the same days. The advanced students, who understood the concepts the first time they heard them from me, had to wait until the course caught up to their pace. Struggling students had to move on to the next lesson, whether they understood it or not. With flipped and mastery learning, students who are struggling, advanced, or in between all experience an education tailored to their needs and abilities.

1Bloom, B. 1984. “The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring.” Educational Researcher 13, 6: 4–16.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Art of Teaching Lecture

I had the distinct privilege of being honored along with two other colleagues with the Art of Teaching Award. As part of this wonderful distinction, we presented a summary of the work we do with students at an evening lecture at our school. A summary of the evening can be found on the school website and the slides from my portion of the lecture are below along with pictures. 

During my portion of the lecture, I tried to convey how offloading direct instruction to video has ironically allowed for greater personalization. When I began this journey, I wouldn't have anticipated the opportunity to offer this level of personalization. I have been experimenting with allowing students to work at their own pace and the freedom to make choices about what they learn and how to show they have learned the material. I continue to attempt to maximize the extent at which I can differentiate and plan to offer more choice in content and demonstration of learning.

Monday, April 27, 2015

How Homework has Evolved in My Class

Russavia // wikipedia
 After offloading direct instruction to flipped videos, the idea of homework has changed greatly. In my earlier teaching years, I would save the most difficult thinking for homework because there wasn't enough time to do it in class.

When I first started to flip, the videos and associated Google form and guided notes became homework. The Google form grew from accountability understanding-level questions to having students submit questions and evaluate the videos. 

As my class became asynchronous, homework almost faded into obscurity. Homework and class work blends into each other. Basically, students map out their week on Monday and decide what they need to get done in class and out of class each day. Perhaps they have a long night away from home on Tuesday and need to make up for it Wednesday night. Perhaps they slacked off in class on Friday and need to add some work for the weekend. Maybe they failed a quiz and need to complete the remediation activities only required after a poor showing on a quiz, as well as study for the retake. As Spider-Man warns, with great power comes great responsibility. 

Along with this change, came the philosophy that not all students need the same amount of work or practice. For problem sets, students complete the handful of mandatory problems that I have denoted as important. They won't ever have to complete the additional problems, unless they feel the need or fail a quiz. The idea is not all sizes fit but "poor" decisions are not rewarded. Once interventions become necessary, then students loose some of that delicious freedom! 

Saturday, March 28, 2015


Flickr // mrsdkreb
 One of my goals this year has been to focus on metacognition. Overall, I see a positive change; my students show more awareness of their learning and progress in the course. I still have more work to do; specifically, my students haven't demonstrated that they know how to maximize their own learning and they haven't expressed the importance of Metacognition.

What I've done so far:
The bulk of Metacognition has taken place through electronic journal entries and feedback forms. Students keep a journal in the Notability app on the iPads. I appreciate that Notability offers students the chance to organize their documents into folders. In addition to typing, students can draw or insert images, and even record their voices. PDF versions can be emailed to me. Typically, I ask students to reflect in their journal during the first and last few minutes of class, respectively called warm ups & exit tickets. While these tasks also include content based activities like Peer Instruction and review games, the majority of the time, students set goals, reflect about what they know and don't know, as well as evaluate their effort and group dynamics. An example of the first prompt of each week is below. 

Notice the first warm up of each week starts with students continuing their work before mapping out their week's goals. I made this shift after reading some research. Primacy & recency theory tells us that people remember the first and last things they witness; therefore, the first and last few minutes of each class are crucial. Rather than spending the first few minutes of Monday's class doing housekeeping, they should engage in the material. Whenever a warm up is not directly related to content, I instruct students to work on content then complete the warm up.

The exit tickets are almost always reflections on content or their progress in the course. I want students to remember if they need to work a little harder or work in a different group. For this reason, I want to provide choices in reflection because each prompt might be more relevant after a different lesson. 

What I still need to do:
There is still much work to be done and many unanswered questions to tackle. For example, I'm unsure if it's better to reflect for just a few minutes each period or for a more substantial amount of time just once per week. Currently, the reflections are only a couple of sentences long but I wonder if students will benefit more from blogging once per week. Student blogs could cover more ground. In addition, I've heard from teachers that students tend to write more effectively for an authentic audience when publishing their work on blogs. 

The second issue I'm wrestling with is how do I get students to buy into reflection. What can I do to show students the value of exit tickets or blogging? I can, of course, ask them to reglect about reflecting. The other thing is I can do is work on more effective prompts. 

Finally, I need to improve the accountability system. In my current "email me your journal" system, it's possible for students to fall through the cracks. Next year, I'll add a standard about Metacognition. This will not only help with forcing students to demonstrate skills of reflection but also force me to hold students accountable. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Formative assessment

A few weeks ago, I led a professional development workshop on formative assessment. As we move to extended periods next year, there will be more opportunities for formative assessment. In addition to the presentation below, notes from the workshop are also published.

Ideally, the results of formative assessment are not calculated into a final grade.  Rather, formative assessment helps the teacher design intervention for struggling students and enrichment for excelling students. In addition, I hope the feedback informs my students what they know and don't know; armed with this information, students can decide how to spend class and homework time. 

What ideas do you have regarding formative assessment? 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Google Add-ons and Formulas

During this year's Teaching with Technology conference , I presented about some nifty Add-ons and other enhancements to Google forms and sheets. Even though I no longer use these tools because our school shifted to a new LMS that can do many of the functions, I wanted to spread the word. These scripts saved me so much time last year, below is a copy of the presentation.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Flipclass Resolutions in 2015
I usually avoid making resolutions in my personal life because they rarely come to fruition. However, I followed my professional resolutions last year. They really catapulted my course and held me accountable. For that reason, I offer professional resolutions for 2015 below:

1. Continue to explore differentiated learning. In particular, offer alternative ways for students to acquire and process content.

2. Investigate project based learning in an asynchronous course.

3. Similar to number 2, enhance the role of data analysis and inquiry throughout the course. Even though all labs are student-designed and data-rich, I wish to incorporate these principles during non-lab opportunities. Some ways to accomplish this task is to increase the role of inquiry through case studies, assignments, POGILs, problem sets and projects. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Baby Steps to Standards Based Grading & Differentiation

Flickr : radhika_bhagwat
Susan Reslewic, a colleague of mine, and I recently discussed making a transition to standards based grading in her course. Susan agreed that I could share the contents of her email:

Getting the feeling that standards-based-grading goes hand in hand with differentiation...I think it [standards based grading] could really support my efforts to better differentiate.  When I looked at the physics tests today (all over the map: some failing grades, some perfect scores plus), I just felt like I wish the kids who "did poorly" could say "oh, I know a and b, but not x, y and z".  It frustrates me that some kids are going to get their test back and see a score in the 70s and then go to the place of "I did poorly. I don't understand physics. I hate physics. I hate science!" I wish instead...the grade communication focused on what the kid can and cannot do (yet).  As I write this I think maybe a first step is for me to provide detailed comments on the test next to the grade.... Basically saying here's where you are excelling and here are things you need to work on."

Susan makes some of the most compelling arguments for Standards Based grading (SBG): helps teachers differentiate and lets students know what they know and don't know. 

As I read Susan's email, I was reminded how overwhelmed and excited I felt about the idea of SBG. I responded with some thoughts included below about taking baby steps to SBG. 

Transitioning to Standards Based Grading: 
If you want to try baby steps to standards based grading, the easy way is to start reorganizing your tests, quizzes and other assessments. Label each test question with the idea being tested - maybe even grouping those questions together. For example, perhaps questions 1-5 are about calculating velocity and 6-15 are about applying Newton's Three Laws. Don't report a final total percentage on the test, instead report percentages on each group of questions: 80% or 4/5 on balancing equations, 70% or 7/10 on calculating K. Then, make students retake only portions of tests and quizzes that fall below a certain percentage. For example, you may tell student "X", you "mastered" balancing equations but have to retake a quiz on calculating K. 

In addition, make the benchmark quizzes about only one idea; if they pass the quiz, then they mastered the idea. Just like the tests, students only retake failing quizzes. Of course, you will need multiple versions of comparable tests and quizzes. It may take years to build a robust question bank but perhaps start with 2 or 3 versions of each test or quiz.

Another quick thing is to label the problem set and homework questions with the specific idea being practiced. You could even identify the basic and challenge questions within each subset of questions. Certain questions can be mandatory for all and excelling students can attempt the challenge questions. Over time, you can build a library of remedial activities and other resources to help students with particular skills or topics. If they fail a part of a test or a quiz, then you can point students to specific activities and resources that target their deficiency.

These are some baby steps that will not take much tweaking to course structure. These steps should help gain some of the benefits of a SBG course but keep in mind that these are temporary fixes. Not only does it take major structural changes to implement SBG but a comparable shift in mindset must also occur.