Category Archives: Course 4

Flipping for Course 5

I’d like to flip my either my World History I or II classrooms in quarter four. History is one of those courses where the same skills are simply applied across different content areas, so my choice of unit isn’t that important, although I suspect these two units (Medieval Europe and the Cold War, respectively) are somewhat better suited than others since there will be more video content available than that for a topic like Tang China.
Here’s a list of things I’ll need to consider:
  • Where will I find video sources? How will intellectual property considerations affect my choice of materials?
  • How will I hold students accountable for watching and understanding the videos?
  • How will I check for that understanding in class?
  • How will balance the removal of reading time from homework and keep exposing students to a variety of interesting and challenging text?
  • Which of my assessments and activities will need to be removed/replaced?
  • How can I create larger, more in-depth, and/or more authentic activities and assessments from that class time I’ve freed up?
  • How will I hold students accountable for using the class time effectively?
  • How can I maximize technology integration in my in-class assessments when we’re not on a 1:1 program?
  • Do I NEED to maximize technology integration for maximum learning?
  • How will I scaffold and teach the habits and skills that students will need to get the most from this new approach?


Here’s a very preliminary list of what I think this would entail:

  • ~30 minute of nightly video
    • Collaborative notes or viewing guide on Google Docs
    • iClicker quizzes the next day
  • Students’ choice of several tech assignments, with class time given to work on them in the labs:
    • Infographic
    • Digital story
    • etc
  • Class Activities:
    • Speaking
    • Role playing salon/speed dating
    • Graded discussion
    • Debates
  • Writing
    • Essay outlines
    • Short answers
    • Exit slips
  • Reading
    • Source analysis
    • Current events parallels
    • Short stories
  • Review
    • Crosswords
    • Ball toss reviews


Teaching with technology in a 20:1 school

Disorganization is death when you’re competing for lab space. Image Some rights reserved by EvelynGiggles
While my school plans to move to a 1:1 model in three years’ time, at the moment we’re still lab-centric. Working within what is essentially a 20:1 model – 20 students per available computer in labs – poses its challenges and has required me to be organized, flexible, and resourceful.

One of the issues is booking labs. Some periods have only one or two labs available for about a thousand students. This means my teaching has to be rigidly planned, because if I’m planning something that incorporates technology then lab availability is the main thing that dictates the timing. Having students complete the activity at home removes some of the potential for prompt feedback – it’s a lot more efficient to be able to sit down with a student in front of a computer than going back and forth via Twitter, email, or Moodle. Luckily, I’m fairly organized so I’m usually able to book my lab time weeks in advance.

However, for two periods out of our eight-period schedule, there are no labs at all. This means that I’ve got to find another way for students to complete technology-based activities. I’ve tried bringing in my WiMax router from home and asking students to bring in their own laptop or tablet – so for a recent infographic assignment, some students have been working on laptops, some on iPads, and some on (gasp) iPhones. Unfortunately, I have never gotten 100% of the students to remember. This means wasted instructional time for the students who haven’t brought the appropriate piece of tech. I’ve provided pen-and-pencil based alternatives in these cases, but it’s far from ideal.

Unplanned and/or incidental device use has gone more smoothly. My school relaxed its policy on personal electronic devices (PEDs) this year, and students can now have them in class, to be used at the teacher’s discretion. They’re also free to use them during breaks and lunch. This policy has been really effective in my classrooms. One students downloaded a PDF copy of class readings to his Galaxy SIII, and another did the same on her Kindle Fire. The kids are very conscious about asking for permission to look up words and images online using their phones. The new policy is contributing to a new culture of “know where.” I just wish that PEDs were more ubiquitous; despite popular perception, perhaps 40% of my students have smartphones, and just 10 or 15% have mobile internet access. I can’t justify reshaping my lessons to depend on technology when it’s available only for a minority – it’s not fair to the rest of the kids. I am, however, happy to integrate it as opportunities arise.

The future is choice.

The only bet I’ll place is that in the future, students (and their parents) will have a lot more choices about how they learn. Image Some rights reserved by Stuck in Customs
I was going to write a post about a theoretical future in which education was completely decentralized and students worked at their own pace towards a common goal. They would have a series of externally assessed checkpoints but could choose the order in which they completed the checkpoints and the medium through which they demonstrated their knowledge. In this fanciful version of education, students would be like characters questing through the educational manifestation of a role-playing game like Diablo.

But grand prognoses such as that miss the larger truth that no one learns in exactly the same way. Some people thrive in a collaborative environment; others excel individually. Some students love to talk with others; others prefer to receive knowledge and make meaning of it through an internal dialogue. That’s why there’s always going to be a place for stale, direct instruction – but that’s also why there’s always going to be room for disruptive forces. 

The future is choice.

The future, then, is CHOICE. That’s it. That’s what we’re seeing today – not the wholesale replacement of the old order, but an adjustment of the equilibrium. We used to have a choice between parochial and public schools. Secular private schools sprung up, and now we’ve got magnet and charter schools competing as well. Some parents decided to keep their kids close by and homeschool them. Montessori came up with his method of early education, and now parents have another alternative. Community colleges offer advanced classes to high school students. Universities offer summer programs for credit. At the tertiary level, Massively Open Online Courses are now giving students a third option beyond the traditional 2 year and 4 year degrees. And so maybe in the future we’ll have schools that function more as student incubators, giving them a playground to experiment and learn at their own pace, interacting with virtual peers sharing the same interests. Education will be distributed in the sense that if one educational setting doesn’t work for a student, he/she can easily switch to another.

The future still needs structure.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Children will still be children. They’re not going to grow up any faster. The pace of maturity is slowing down – as society becomes more affluent, kids don’t NEED to enter the working world as early as they did 200 years ago. There’s also been a commensurate increase in the barriers to entry in the working world; a BA/BS is the new high school diploma, and in many careers (teaching, anyone?) a Master’s is preferred. As creative as you may be, a diploma is often proof that you have the perseverance and work ethic needed to get the job done.

So however decentralized and distributed education may become, teachers will still be needed to provide structure, feedback, and most importantly, holistic support. In a MOOC setting, students may have an online persona, but their virtual peers won’t be privy to the day-to-day vicissitudes that comprise the experience of growing up. The most valuable role that we teachers play is not in teaching method Y of essay writing. It is in providing counsel to the students whose parents insist that he must go on a mission after graduating instead of going to college; it is in encouraging a talented yet unmotivated swimmer to overcome her fear of failure; it is in comforting and counseling a child who has been the target of bullying.

We teachers have always done that. Education has always been about developing students as people, not just as skilled workers. And I think it will always be so.

The Flipped Classroom: New Look, Same Great Taste!

Why not try things upside down, backwards, and inside out?

My first reaction to reading about the flipped classroom was:

How is this new, exactly?

After all, the definition of the flipped classroom appears to be as follows:

  1. Teacher finds video.
  2. Students watch video at home.
  3. Teacher and students analyze, synthesize, evaluate…problem solve in class.

This is the opposite of what many appear to see as the ‘traditional’ model of lecturing in class and assigning problems to reinforce the concepts (a method recommended by the ASCD).

And, like, wow. It’s not like teacher have ever, like, assigned students a chapter to read, and then, like, asked them to be ready to talk about it the next class.

But whether it’s a new phenomenon is beside the point. The fact is that teachers should continuously question how they could use their students’ time more effectively, and flipped instruction is a way – not the only way, but certainly a valid one – to do that.

So let’s get some things straight. The Flipped Learning Blog tells us it’s a myth that flipped learning is all about the videos. Certainly, “kids can get the lectures, can get the content delivery and skill modeling as well (or often better) by computer lecture than in person.” But this is not the exclusive province of videos. While videos can be more engaging, this doesn’t mean that a reading assignment wouldn’t be just as – or more – effective, especially in a highly literate student population.

Furthermore, in-class lecture has its advantages, like engaging with the audience: allowing students to ask questions to a living, breathing person. They’re simply more interactive than videos.

In any event, as the Flipped Learning Blog reminds us, it’s not all about the videos. Rather, once “you’ve freed up class time, you need to use it productively” (Reverse Instruction). It’s all about what you do with your class time to challenge your students to move up Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is what the flipped classroom doesn’t specifically address, because it’s an ideology, not a teaching strategy. The freed up class time is where your university pedagogy classes come in.

Flipped Classroom: New Look, Same Great Taste.

This is a good thing! No, it’s not novel. Nothing is original. It’s a repackaging of the same principles that we’ve always known comprise good teaching, with a bit of 90s tech thrown in. It’s a philosophical mashup/remix. It’s marketing. But it’s still a good reminder for us as teachers to focus on the intellectual habits that we need to be teaching our kids. If the flipped classroom does that, then it’s alright by me.

And by the way, I think you could easily do this in the humanities, at least in social studies. History documentaries and a few movie clips? Solid gold. The only strong objection I have is: WHAT DO YOU DO IF THE STUDENTS HAVEN’T DONE THE WORK? Sure, you can hold them accountable, but I teach a population where 10-20% of the kids aren’t motivated by adverse academic consequences. It’s really more an issue of motivation and management rather than the flipped classroom ideology, but it’s still something to think about.

New != Good

I’ll cut to the chase: my integration of technology is fairly middle-of-the-road, but just because my teaching isn’t revolutionary doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

I started by brainstorming a list of all the technology integration examples I could think of from my ancient & modern world history classes:

Most of these are described on my Showcase page.

Not trying to do everything at once

I hit a fairly broad range of the SAMR components, and as Jeff says, not every example of technology use needs to be a reimagination or completely new way of doing things. Edutopia tells us that tech integration needs to foster “active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts,” and most of my activities hit the first three criteria. However, connection to real-world experts is not something I’ve managed to integrate. What would this look like in the real world? It should go beyond just research expert resources – that would fall in the “Substitution” component. My understanding is that kids need to interact with expert in order to move up to the Redifinition component. I don’t imagine too many history professors and think-tank members are going to want to interact with all six of my history classes. But what about armchair experts? Having kids add to Wikipedia entries or comment about current events on a site like the New York Times would expose them to authentic, content-related conversation.

What I could change now

One example of a way I could improve my use of technology now is in my implementation of iClickers (a student response system). I currently use them for multiple choice practice – I project a question and the kids discuss what the correct answer is and why. If I wanted to redefine the way I do lecture, though, I could use iClickers to give the kids some processing time, ala Jeff Utecht, and ask them to answer one or two multiple choice questions every 5 or 10 minutes. This would give them time to reflect, discuss, and practice an essential test-taking skill.

What I could change in a perfect world

My technology integration examples have been cobbled on to my teaching over the past two years as I’ve progressively been given access to a document camera, iClicker system, Starboard, and just this year, reliable internet! As such, the tech skills my kids use aren’t scaffolding very neatly. It would be great to start from scratch, but I’m hesitant to do this since the curriculum at our school isn’t vertically aligned between grades or horizontally aligned between subjects. Like I said – in a more perfect world.

…and something to think about

SAMR and TIM share the unwritten assumption that new = good. This is necessary to get teachers and students to push the envelope, to dare, to dream, to challenge the status quo. I recognize it’s important to battle inertia in education. But we should recognize that these framework do not offer a way to evaluate the efficacy of these new tasks – for that, we’re still going to fall back on traditional criteria for evaluating learning. Making a video, for example, is awesome and can let more creative, less academic types demonstrate their learning. But for others, a video might “take an inordinate amount of time to complete but yield little “bang for the buck.”” (ASCD, Five Hallmarks of Good Homework). When I made my workout video, I spent about two hours planning and thinking about content and five just assembling the nuts and bolts. It was fun, but it spent 70% of the time working on skills and only 30% on the content. This is not absolutely BAD – it’s just something to be aware of when we’re deciding what assessments to use.

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Whose job is it, anyway? NETS implementation proposal

ISTE NETS-S. All rights reserved by ISTE

So you’ve decided your school is into 21st century learning. You want specific, measurable, and achievable goals for your students; you want them to have a skillset that will enable them to be successful in the decades to come. In other words, you’ve decided to implements NETS.

So now what?

The fact is, NETS is not a set of standards for computer competency. They are a holistic set of habits and skills for the development of critical thinkers and independent learners that uses technology as a framework to develop the requisite traits. This means that implementing them is a shared –  though not necessarily equally distributed – responsiblity in a school.

Continue reading Whose job is it, anyway? NETS implementation proposal