Sunday, June 19, 2011

Am I Flipping Out?

This story begins about five years ago in the dojang where my 2 DDs began to study Tae Kwon Do.  I would periodically hang around through the lesson to observe.  In a single class were white belt students (absolute beginners), black belt students, and every level in between.  During a one hour class, I would see the class working as a whole unit led by an adult instructor (this is typically how class would begin and end).  The middle of the class had students divided into small groups based on belt color, led by "senior belt" students -- students working at a higher level than the group they led. There does exist a TKD "textbook" containing all the material students need to have mastered before they take their "benchmark" test (the test to move to a higher colored belt).  The text is not "covered" by instructors, rather students learn the material on their own with help from instructors and student leaders. Testing is offered on a monthly basis, and when students are deemed ready to test (by the adult instructors) they are permitted to sign up to test.  To my knowledge, there are no unsuccessful students after testing, because the "formative assessment" has already indicated readiness.

At that time, I was intrigued, and tried to imagine a way to make something similar work in my own classroom -- facilitating student leaders to work with struggling students, all students gaining mastery in their own time.  I unfortunately was unable at that time to conceive of something I was comfortable enough with to try on a large scale.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago.  I am a newcomer (about 2 months) to Twitter, and began hearing buzz about "flipped classrooms".  From what I could figure, the basic concept was for students to watch lecture video at home, and do homework in the classroom where there is teacher guidance.  I was initially quite skeptical.  Let's face it, a fair number of students just plain won't do homework, however it is packaged, so if the actual LESSON, the presentation of information is left in the hands of the students, and they drop the ball, where does the blame truly lie?  Wouldn't it be shirking professional responsibility to allow this to happen?  Don't get me wrong.  Philosophically, I certainly think that students should be taking responsibility for their own learning.  I believe that should always be the ultimate goal.  But philosophy and reality don't always coincide.

On a Twitter #edchat I connected with John Bernia (@mrbernia), a Middle School Assistant Principal in Michigan.  He challenged my skepticism, and encouraged me to continue looking further into the flipped classroom concept.  And so began the research.  Initially, I didn't find much to alleviate my concerns, and most of what I was reading barely scratched the surface.  Then I attended a 1 hour webinar hosted by Scott McLeod from Iowa State University.  The webinar featured a Who's Who of flipped classroom experts:  Jonathan Bergmann, Karl Fisch, Jerrid Kruse, Jonathan Martin, Sylvia Martinez, Pam Moran, Frank Noschese, and David Truss.  Given the fact that not all of these speakers were pro-flipping, I left the session just about as confused as I was before it started.  I did, however, find that I agreed most with what Jonathan Bergmann had to say, so that gave me some focus for my research.

That led me to Bergmann's video on Flipped Mastery


from here, I really started to get excited.  I started to find some answers to my first burning question -- what if they don't watch the vodcasts?  There are some teachers who use note guides that students must fill out to get "homework credit".  Others use random notebook checks.  Others use a warmup/bellringer activity that must be completed first thing, that will show that students have viewed the necessary material.  I also found Brian Bennett's post dealing with how he calculated his students' grades.  It all started to become very much more concrete to me. 

Perhaps the most important and recurring piece of advice I found, was to ease into the flip slowly, rather than to try a complete overnight transformation.  No one anywhere has said that this is less work for a teacher, in fact, creating quality vodcasts will surely be a time sucker that I am glad to have a long summer ahead of me to begin.  I do, however, look forward to making some positive changes in the way I "do business" both in and out of my classroom.  Look for future posts on this topic as I start to get my feet wet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Leaping into the 21st Century with BYOD

Bring Your Own Device, in my humblest of opinions, is going to forever change the face of education.  I know, I know, we've heard it all before...filmstrips....overhead projectors....Xerox machines...the internet, but I really think that moving toward a 1:1 classroom by having students bring their own cell phones to use as learning tools could have a far greater impact than anything we've seen yet.

*note:  the tools described below do not require a "smart" phone

Tonight's Twitter #edchat topic was "Which emerging technologies will have the greatest impact on K-12 education in the next 5 years".  One of the recurring themes (partly due to my persistence in bringing it up over and over) was BYOD.  I began dabbling with using student-owned cell phones as learning tools during the last month of classes this year.  I began with  It's an easy (and free) polling tool that works via SMS.  I prepped my polls in advance, and students texted responses which were projected onto the large screen.  There is the option for multiple choice questions (with instant graphing of results) or short answer.  If this sounds familiar, basically the students' own cell phones served as "clickers".  Cost to the district:  $0 Value of student response:  Priceless

The second tool I tried was Google Voice.  As a French teacher, speaking is a large part of what students need to be able to do in order to be proficient.  In the past, review would consist of practice conversations in pairs, with as much feedback as I could manage by circulating around the classroom, or practice conversations between myself and a single student, where students would critique the performance, but were otherwise minimally engaged.  With Google Voice, I set up conversation parameters, and began the conversation as I would in a testing situation.  Each student then dialed my Google Voice number (a randomly generated phone number -- it is connected to my cell phone number, but by setting the preferences to "Do Not Disturb", my personal phone is out of the loop) and left a voice mail for me with their response to my conversation starter.  I then played back each response, giving feedback.  Each student was able to speak, and receive feedback in a single class period, and they learned from each others' mistakes.  I also used Google Voice in conjunction with Voki to allow speaking practice outside class.  I created a Voki which asked students questions on a topic.  Students responded to the questions in a voice mail.

Due to budgetary restraints, my school district isn't going to be able to provide 1:1 devices (apart from a few semi-functional laptop carts shared throughout the building) for my class anytime soon.  I also am one of the few teachers without an IWB.  Cell phones were my way of accomplishing my goals without.

So my plan for next year, is to dive in headfirst, and acclimate the students to using their cell phones as a routine part of the learning experience in my classroom.  To that end, in response to the administration's request that school supplies be posted on all department websites before we leave for the summer, I added a request (yes, request, not requirement) that students who already have cell phones, bring them to class.  I believe this to be key:  public schools cannot require students/parents to purchase cell phones/data plans for their children.  This seemed to be the biggest hurdle for most of the #edchat tweeters this evening when it came to the idea of BYOD.  The solutions I used were simple, and quite effective:  students with cell phones shared with students who had none.  This is the same solution I use when:

  • students do not have a writing utensil
  • students do not have paper
  • students do not have their textbook with them
Sharing was relatively seamless, and for those who fear that students will lose the ability to interact face-to-face, sharing requires such interaction.

I also allow students to use my personal device (I's a "dumb" phone) which adds one more device to the mix.

With Google Voice, the classroom land line is also an option.

Yes, indeed, I did have one negative experience with the cell phones.  While students were supposed to be recording voice mails, I had a couple of girls texting some inappropriate messages.  But in the days before cell phones, might they not have simply passed notes?  And, let's face it, you can't stab someone with a cell phone like you can with a pencil.  If we ban the tools, the students will never learn to be responsible users, and isn't that part of 21st Century Learning?

Credit where credit is due:  At the end of the chat, Jackie Gerstein suggested that I blog about my request for students to bring cell phones to class next year, so thank you Jackie.  There will surely be much follow-up when the school year begins.