This Year Has Been Brought to You by the Word…


Over the course of this past year (and in all reality, the last 5 years), I’ve spent a lot of time considering the value of this word as it pertains to everything I do in education. It is easily at the heart of everything I do.

(I’ve also spent time realizing that I need to – want to – write more. Yikes.)

Goal Progress:

The more I work with students, observe teachers in all disciplines, and connect with my PLN, the more I realize how key the relationships we build impact the learning that happens in our classroom. There are few things that make a bigger difference in learning than this, and I’ve found that I’m more successful at teaching when I take the time to connect with my students and colleagues.

The focus of relationships and my drive to make every connection I can with my students is directly tied into my goals for this past year, which focused around continuing my journey with Flipped Learning (with an emphasis on greater student created content). Now that I’m 5 years into this incredible experience, I’m well beyond what we call “Flipping 101,” and have worked to create experiences for students that make the learning meaningful, and sharpen my students’ curiosity in the world beyond the 80 minutes we spend together each day.

My classroom has continued to evolve since I decided to remove traditional direct instruction from my day to day work. We spend a majority of our time at the lab stations since they provide a much better set-up for small group discussion and interaction. This allows me to freely move from group to group and I interact in a more personal, conversational way with them then I ever did when I primarily used lecture. By doing this, my students feel more open to ask questions they never would ask if we were in a large group. It’s in these small group situations where I get the chance to focus on the relationship, and where we build our trust with each other.

Building on flipped learning, I made the goal to develop more student created content. Here my students take a more active role in designing the content we learn. While we have a broad idea of the subject, the students really decide what specifically to learn, and then create the content to share with each other. So far, I’ve only addressed this with my AP students, but hope to expand it to my other courses in the future. An example of this was developing the vodcasts on cellular respiration. The students each took a part, everyone had a role in determining what we’d learn, and then they created it and shared it. They really did an amazing job, and showed there can be humor in learning, as Gridley, Dennis, and Eric demonstrate:


Yet in all of this I know there are things I can do better. Always.

I’m still working on providing effective feedback, and not so much about giving the feedback itself, but about using it as a true mechanism for improvement. I’ve noticed that the direct conversations I have with students about their work carry more impact than written feedback. This may be because my verbal comments are in real time while they are working, and the written feedback has a lag time that can cause a disconnect. In an ELA class, you work on drafts and continue to improve the same piece of work. In our class, we don’t really have this luxury, so I’ve struggled to find the most effective way to balance our journey through the content with helping them improve the work they do. In all honesty, in my AP and Advanced classes, I’ve found the ‘credit recovery’ revision on exams to be where some of the most effective learning happens. This has been FAR more helpful than a retake exam (something to consider for CP instead of retakes???), because the student have to go back to each incorrect response and explain why the correct answer is the best choice, and why each wrong answer isn’t. This pushes them to rethink the material and work to understand it. I love it, and the students (at least from what they tell me) find it far more useful.

Connection to School-wide Goals:

Even when I look at the timeline we have on how we work as a school to improve, I notice that building relationships is at the core. If we work to this, we build a community of learners.

Personally, some of the work we’ve done as a school fits in wonderfully with how I’ve come to view my role as a teacher and how I view student learning. Flipped Learning, by nature, is student centered, so through increasing my face to face time with my students, I’ve learned to let go of the control that comes with lecturing and spend more of my time as a guide and coach. This is by no means the only way create a student-centered environment, but it works for me.

Strong relationships between the faculty enhances the experience for everyone. You can’t do this job in a bubble. There is NO way I would be where I am with Flipped Learning if it wasn’t for the cohort of #flipclass teachers I know and have learned from (and now consider some of my dearest friends). Ever since I was a teaching intern in 2002 at Noble High School, I’ve appreciated the importance of observing other teachers in their work. My experience that year impressed upon me the value of learning from others through observation, and by having others observe me. We as teachers can share in each other’s strengths – why lock it away when we’re all here for the same purpose? I hope we continue to encourage the instructional rounds, but I’d also like to see us encourage teachers to drop in on other classes – not so much as an observation, but just to see what is going on. I get that we don’t want to “interrupt,” but wouldn’t it be cool to establish a culture where I could pop into a class just because something cool was going on? Of course, this take time (that dreaded thing we seem to have so little of), so finding that balance is the tough. However, I love seeing my students in other courses, and when they see us it can help to reinforce the relationship, and they can see us as a united community rather than individual pockets of separateness.


My #flipclass people.

There are so many AH-MAZING things that happen in my classroom on a daily basis, and I need to write them down. My goal as I being my 15th year at Kennett this fall is to record and reflect on the everyday awesome that happens in my classroom.

Oh, and puppets. There will be puppets.

Three quarters down…

Today – as we spend the afternoon without students – our principal asked us to reflect on the goals we set this year, and what we need for us and our students to be more successful.

The timing is just right for this exercise: It’s the beginning of the end – or as it is more commonly known in public school – it’s the start of 4th quarter. For my seniors, it’s their last quarter of high school – ever. For my juniors, it’s the last quarter before they become the top dogs. For my sophomores, it’s the last quarter before becoming upper class men. For my freshmen, it’s the last quarter before they are officially no longer ‘newbies.’ For me…well, I begin thinking of all the changes and new ways I’ll approach my courses next year, because for me – I get a ‘do over.’ I get next year to make it even better.

At the start of the year I developed goals that (for the first time, to be honest) felt truly relevant to me and my teaching, and they all center around flipped learning and working towards encouraging deeper understanding and reflection from my students.

Goal: Continued work to improve my practice of Flipped Learning. 

Four years ago, I made the decision to completely up end my teaching and utilize the flipped learning model. This has been the best professional choice I’ve ever made, and I continue to constantly refine and change my practice to ensure it still is the most effective model for my students. Flipped learning hits at all four of our practice domains, but especially domain 2. This model fosters a closer relationship with my students, and I firmly believe that students learn better in a class where they feel a greater connection to the teacher. We are daily working in small groups and having discussions with each other. The break up into small group work rather than full class direct instruction has opened more chances for student success, and promotes student responsibility more than the traditional teacher-centered focus. It allows them to takes risks and feel comfortable asking questions. We share in the learning, and we all work together to ensure my room is a space that promotes it.

With domain 3, flipped learning only enhances the quality of my instruction, but I argue it changes the focus of the origin of instruction. The origin is now much more student driven and authentic, and I can spend more of my time responding to students’ needs and providing direct feedback in a more proactive manner which targets more of what my students don’t understand. The big plus to this is that the learning now sits in the lap of the students, which can result in some pushback from students since they are so used to being in classes where the teacher tells them what they need to know, they take notes, and just spit it back. This has been particularly true with one of my 5 classes this year. As a result, I’ve had to pull back from full flipped and blend in a bit of the traditional with this crew (although their collective response to either has been low). This class has helped me identify the weaknesses in my model. They have tested all points of vulnerability and found the cracks. When >75% of the class has not completed the vodcast for the discussion that day, I’ve had to be flexible enough to figure out how to handle it without wasting the time of my students who did have it completed.

Over the past 4 years, the planning and preparation of flipped learning (domain 1) has become ‘easier’ as it is now so much a part of my day to day work. While I’m still the lone nut (with one colleague trying it on occasion) here at my school using flipped learning, I still effectively work with our biology PLC to design curricula that is better and more relevant for our students. Currently our focus is on the redesign of our science programs to better align with NGSS and our hope is to truly focus on this next year for full implementation in the fall of 2017. Our biggest barrier to really doing this well is going to be time.

Along with my department here, at the heart of my ability to use flipped learning successfully is my #flipclass PLN. The other flipped learning teachers across the country are my rock and keep me going. The weekly chats, discussions on Voxer, and Flipcon (where we actually get to breathe the same air) has become as much a part of my professional routine as grading papers is. Also my involvement with the NH Science Teachers Association has broadened my knowledge of science education in New Hampshire and has connected me with other strong educators in the state.

While I continue to make solid progress here – I feel that I’ve fallen short on my other goals. They are in what I would call ‘phase 1’ and I plan to continue to build on them next year. I very much want to focus on developing a feedback system that (at least in my classes) replaces the numerical grade in favor of standards. I’ve started to implement a more reflective process in my advanced and AP bio classes (check out this one!). Students are beginning to analyze if they have met a particular standard and how they know they have met it or what they did in class that solidifies it. They also have the opportunity to discuss what they feel they are missing. Some students are still struggling to understand the purpose of this, but many have honed in on it, and are using it as a tool to dig deeper into the learning we do each week. This is certainly something I will continue with next year.

As a whole, I’ve seen overall student achievement increase since bring in flipped learning. I have more students passing biology at the CP level, and many doing well as they continue into their science courses. My students who are in college are reporting that they feel very prepared (and almost over (gasp!) prepared) for their science classes. They are feeling super comfortable and this is helping them become much more successful in their college programs.


#flipclass #flashblog 1/11: Too late or not too late…wait, will there be a retake?

OK – who has been in this situation?  You are handing out an test or quiz to your students that you’ve had announced for the past two weeks. All you’ve said so far is, “take out something to write with,” and before the test has even hit the desk, a student asks, “Will there be a retake?” or “What happens if we fail this?” and you deflate. I mean, they haven’t even taken the test yet – and the first thing on their minds is if they can retake it, or are already convinced they’ll fail. This is often an Ally McBeal moment for me when you envision slamming your head on the nearest desk, but you come to … and continue passing out the tests, gently responding by saying ‘Yes, but let’s worry about that after you take this one.’ What was really the reason for wanting a retake? Why such concern? Was it because they REALLY wanted to take another test? (ha!) Or where they worried more about the grade? Turns out – not one really wanted to take another test – so it was all about the grade. Not the learning. In my mind – this was completely backwards, and I wanted to change this mindset.

Before I get to that, during a unit, I tend to handle most formative assessments as just that…formative – building towards understanding a main objective, and are rarely graded. This includes vodcast work, WSQs, and small class activities. We use these to help create the foundation for when we apply concepts in our lab work, so they can be done at any time – however, it benefits them to be sure they complete the vodcasts when we disco them so that they can get their questions answered. Labs and lab write-ups are usually graded, however, I often allow for revision of conclusions. Since flipping, I’ve been able to utilize a lot more class time for lab analysis and conclusion writing. Most of the time, students will draft a conclusion, and after we post-lab discuss the lab, I allow them to go back and revise their conclusion since that is the main way they are showing me they understood the concepts. Students can peer-review, and I can give greater feedback through conferencing, and they can ask questions. They are also encouraged to revise responses to discussion questions. I allow my students to use their lab books on the lab practical portion of the exam, so I want them to have a valuable resource. This has also reduced the number of ‘late’ labs, and reduced me chasing after students for work.  It’s certainly not a magic bullet, but it has helped!

As for exams – it was after several of these conversations I described above that I decided to change my approach to retakes in my advanced and AP biology courses. Throwing a whole new exam at them would not be beneficial – and in all honesty, why focus again on what they already showed they understand? Why not spend the time focusing on what they don’t know, or had trouble explaining?? So I tried something a little different, we called ‘exam recovery.’ No matter what a student received for a grade, if they wanted to do the exam recovery they could. Here’s how it works:

  • Students come in and review the exam on their own time.
  • For any missed multiple choice questions, students must explain what the right answer is, WHY it is correct, and why the incorrect answers are incorrect. They must also relate the question to the objective studied in the unit. (they can use ANY resource for this process)
  • For any short-response, they must re-explain their response reflecting on what they misunderstood the first time.
  • At the end of reviewing each question, the student write a reflection on what they have learned and how they can improve during the unit to be better prepared for the next exam.

In all of the discussions I have had with students – in fact, I had one today – they find this process to be one of the most helpful ways in helping them understand the material better. When they have to go through and actually explain an answer, they feel they learn it. Why are assessments so often in school a ‘one and done’ deal? Don’t we all learn better when we can fix our mistakes? Pretty sure not many of us would know how to ride a bike if all we had was one shot to get it right.

What do you think about retakes?


Knowing that You Know (#flipclass flashblog)

I’d have to say that I’m not overly conscious about encouraging metacognition in my classroom. I certainly haven’t (really before tonight) ever spent too much time considering how I do this, but the more I think about it (ha!), the more I find out it goes on – daily.

In biology we are constantly looking at how we know something- specifically how we can support what we think we know with data/evidence gathered during labs. This always seems to be the trickiest thing for my students to do, so we begin the process by asking questions. I am constantly asking questions and pushing my students to ask questions prior to the experiments or investigation. The best lab we have that focuses on truly getting students to think about what they know and how it relates to what they see in a lab is our yearly ‘Down and Dirty DNA Extraction Lab.’ I love this lab for so many reasons, but I particularly love it for the way in which it makes my students think about what they already know, why they did what they did in the lab, and of course, has a little magic thrown in.

Before we even hit the lab, they know main goal: Support with at least 5 points that the substance they extract is in fact DNA and not possibly any other organic molecule. As they pre-lab, they are already thinking about what they will do, and the potential it holds as support to prove they have DNA, and when they start to go through the lab, nothing seems all that exciting until the final step – adding the ethanol. This is where the magic and science come together, and even though this goes on in a test tube, it always earns the biggest ‘Wow!’s of the year.

As the ethanol layer forms on top of the ‘cell soup,’ beautiful white strands precipitate out.


Now the connections begin, and they start to answer the questions they were asking during the pre-lab discussions.  As they observe the strands, or take it out to keep in their own little microtube (and they are SO excited to keep the DNA they extract), I hear them start discussing how they will accomplish their goal. They start discussing things the fact that the material precipitates out in fine thin strands, or that there was no precipitate in the control tube, and some begin to connect that DNA is insoluble in alcohol. They recognize that this goo is the stuff of life. They start to recognize what they know through discussion, and ultimately in the conclusion they write reflecting on what they extracted.

And it is really cool.

PS – If you’ve never tried this, I highly recommend you give it a go. I use E. coli, but it is just as easily done with strawberries, and you can do it in your kitchen 🙂 Give a shout if you want to know how!

Balancing Act

To be very honest, I think I finally realized what ‘busy’ meant, was when I had my daughter. My husband and I often crash after a day, look at each other, and say, ‘Remember when we used to be soooooo busy before we had a kid?’ Then we laugh.

When my priorities changed and my life began to revolve around one single little life (prime example – I was late to #flipclass chat tonight because it was bedtime and we needed some snuggle time), I quickly learned that I really don’t want to be working as much as I used to at home. So I became much more efficient in my work at school. This also changed my outlook on what I expect of my students outside of my class. While I imagine (like all teachers do) that my class is the most important (;p), I acknowledge they also have up to 6 (even 7) other classes, a job, a sport(s), friends, the drama of being teenagers, and a family (for most) who would really, really like to spend time with them.

Yup. My students are stressed out.



I like to think I try to lighten their stress level, rather than add to it (although I’m sure I do at times – hell, I do it to myself often enough). I’ve found over the last few years a few things that seem to help keep my students’ (and mine for that matter) blood pressure at a reasonable level.

  • Keep it Simple Mentality: I make a point to not over complicate – my subject is pretty intense on its own, so my ‘out of class’ work is kept (usually) to two things – vodcasts & studying/review – Both of these are done at the pace of the student, and can vary in length based on unit & need. While it always is more beneficial a student have a vodcast complete by the date we discuss it, all my students have the entire unit to complete them without fear of grade penalty. Many have figured out the value of doing them on time, but allowing the timeframe to extend the length of the unit has limited stress and many more complete it on time than don’t.
  • Purposeful Work: I’ve become much more reflective in asking the reason behind why I assign something. I will not give work outside of class unless there is no other way around it. If it is not needed – they don’t get it. There is no need to add more to their plates ‘just because.’ And because they don’t always have work to do outside of class, they know I must have a really good reason when they do.
  • What’s in a Name?: This may sound a bit silly, but I decided to change the phrase on my agenda from ‘Homework’ to ‘For Next Class.’ This wasn’t just a change in semantics, it was a change in attitude. The work I put there was meant to be completed by the next time we meet. It could be done whenever – during class if time was there was time (and since converting to flipped learning – this happens often), in a study hall, before school, after school with me…the key was that it didn’t have to be done at home.


So it turns out that by placing less on my students’ plates outside of class, we actually make more out the time we have together. This may be all anecdotal – and some will argue that I don’t have the data to back this up, but I’ve been at this long enough to know when things are better. We do have tough days but, by paying attention to my students, by listening to them, and by getting to know that my class is not the center of their universe – we breathe easier, and learn more.



Student Created Content: Wicked Worth It

Tonight’s #flipclass #flashblog is all about student created content!! This is something I’ve been tinkering around with on and off over the past year, and have really started making it more of a thing this year.

And it is wicked worth it.

This year is the first year for AP Biology at my school, and I’m lucky enough to be teaching it. I have an A-MAZ-ING group of 11 seniors who are pretty much psyched to learn everyday (although occasionally senioritis seems to creep in). All but one of them I had as sophomores in advanced biology, and in order to bring life to AP Bio without it feeling like a complete re-hash of what they did two years ago, I’ve tried to be creative. The two main ways we’ve accomplished this is through greater reflection on their learning and having them more directly involved in creating the content.

There have been two ways in which they have been involved in creating content:

  • Creating Vodcasts
  • Google Presentations

Creating Vodcasts

This turned out to be an amazing exercise of two levels: 1) My students were able to share their understanding in a way that was for the purpose of teaching others, and 2) They gained a much greater appreciation for the process I go through when I create theirs!

I gave them a number of screencasting (Snagit for ChromeScreenCastify, & Google Hangout to name a few) options and a day to play with them, I wanted them to use what was comfortable. They had a topic and were expected to put together an outline (based on our standards for AP Bio) of their plan – then they went to town to create them.

Here’s a few examples of their work:

While this did serve its purpose and the students were able to learn the basics of cellular respiration; it was not the only thing they learned. They put themselves out there in a way that is different from just a regular ‘ol project presentation.

What they created wasn’t just for me. In fact, it wasn’t for me at all. It was for each other. Their understanding hinged on how well they were able to get their message across. Now, I didn’t disappear during this process. I was there with them as they developed it, and worked with it, and guided them when they had questions. The vodcasts aren’t flawless, and I’m pretty sure they all wish they could go back to fix them and make them better, but they were vulnerable and they dared to put it out there, and I’m proud of them.

Google Presentations

Play-Doh Translation

The second way my students have created content for the class is through presentations. While I’m sure there are some who may not see the difference between this and students being asked to create a presentation on a topic – the BIG, HUGE difference is the audience they are created for. These weren’t created for me to grade. They were created with purpose to teach each other. This is game changer – students see a bigger purpose when the audience is wider than when it is just for the teacher to look at, grade, and hand back. This gives them ownership in what they learn, and various ways in which to learn it.

And for this reason – it is wicked worth it.


Avoiding ‘the Suck’

Tonight’s #flipclass #flashblog is all about the suck.

Or rather – procrastination/student wasted time during projects. How do we handle it? How do we keep it to a minimum? How do we keep it from creeping back the next time you work on a really great project?

As teachers we always feel that the project we develop and share with our students is AMAZING! You work on it, tweak it, make it awesome, and believe your kids are going to be so into it. You arrange the time in class for them to work on it, you go over it in detail, and you step back and let them do their thing….totally confident that they will find it totally as AMAZING as you do.

And then, reality.

The investment and the work isn’t happening at the fever pitch you imagined and students aren’t getting it done. So much so, the quality of the projects presented is well below expectations. Not because they weren’t capable, but because they waited till the last minute.

Has this happened to you? Its happened to me – still happens on occasion- even after 13 years teaching. The most recent was our Ebola outbreak project. My colleagues and I planned this really cool project. Give students a hypothetical vaccine for Ebola (that they ‘developed’) and have them design how they will test if the vaccine is effective and what data for that might look like.

C’mon! This had ‘hook’ written all over it. Ebola was major frontline news and was knocking on our door. Hell, they were talking about it without any prompting from me. And – yet, they still didn’t do it. Still put it off. Still waited till the last minute.

So what to do to avoid this suck? (and avoid the bruises on my forehead from banging it on my desk?)

  • Check-ins. Constantly. Move around from group to group during work time and talk with them. Ask them questions about what they are doing. Never walk away to another group if they don’t answer.
  • Be part of the process. Google Docs has made this so much easier! I can give feedback during the time and nothing should be a major surprise the day the project is due.
  • Allow time to revise. One and done can’t be an option on major big, cool projects. You revised the project before giving it to your students – they should be allowed to revise as well.

Truth is: every student (and teacher for that matter) can be afflicted by the suck. Really what it comes down to is knowing your students. Know the ebbs and flows of your class. Sometimes giving into moments of suck (albeit briefly) can be ok – if you know your group and you know if they can pull themselves out of it. Make sure they see you as part of it, and that you want to learn with them. If you are giving this as a means to sit at your desk – they’ll know.

We all need help to avoid the suck. It takes effort, but just like muscles, the more you work, the more fit you become.

#flipclass #specialskillz

Tonight’s #flipclass #flashblog revolves around what is that one special thing(s) that makes fliplcass work in our classroom.

Having already posted on my love of neon expos about two years ago (and PS -that love is still strong), I’ve also found a few other things that make my class groovy. This has come in the form of a classroom set of chromebooks, and Google Drive. This has changed the way I organize and provide feedback to my students.

One of the best parts of our Advanced Biology program is the Independent Research Project. This is an entirely self-designed controlled experiment that they conduct through most of second semester. This takes a large amount of planning and meeting with the students. This year I have two nearly full sections, and I allowed them to partner up with anyone if they wanted (or fly solo). Since some were working ‘cross section,’ I needed a way to keep them ordered and have a way to make sure I could schedule the important meetings (each group has to meet with me twice before they write their proposal).

This is where Form Mule and Doctopus come in…

Form Mule is a Google Sheet add-on by New Visions CloudLab which allows me to create a form for my students to fill out to schedule their meeting time. When they hit submit, they receive an immediate personalized email with the time they picked and any other information I want them to have (the script walks you through creating the email – so very nice!). And because the students fill out a form, I also have the results nicely organized on a google sheet. This has been a life saver.

Before each group can begin the project, they need to write a proposal outlining their plan. This year, I decided to use Doctopus to send each group their proposal template. Doctopus is another most awesome add-on script by New Visions Cloud Lab that can push out template documents to your students in your class (similar to Autocrat). I love it because I technically own the document and control the settings. It also will allow you to format who you send the templates to: individuals, groups, etc. As the students work on their proposal, because it is a google doc, I can get in there and during their writing process and provide comments and see how they are doing. This lets me give feedback during the writing and will ultimately let my students get to work on their projects sooner. And with one click, I ‘collect’ the papers when they are due by changing the edit setting to ‘view only.’

I love being part of the process with my students rather than an observer after they turn it in.

Both of these have saved time and have kept me far more organized. I see them becoming far more frequent as I move towards a more paperless classroom.

#edcampHOME 2.0 sends my relationship with my PLN to the next level

I’ve had a professional crush on my PLN for almost two years now since I began my journey as a #flipclass teacher. This journey has introduced me to teachers from all over the world, and not a day goes by it seems that I don’t connect with them in one way or another. They are my rock and keep me grounded while challenging me to be and do better as a teacher. There are a even a few who have become my friends, and while I’ve never actually been in the same room with them – I’d be there for them in a heartbeat.

Ok – I could gush all day about my PLN, but I’m pretty convinced my relationship with these EduAwesome teachers went from just a crush to long term serious with my experience today.

This afternoon I participated in the second #edcampHOME. This was my first EdCamp & if the three hours I spent with 200+ teachers from all over the globe was any indication of edcamps in general – you are going to see me at more of these (I’m even contemplating organizing one in my district!).  Organized by the fab four: Karl Lindgren-Striecher, Kelly Kermode, fellow ‘Shire resident Shawn White, and David Theriault, I was able to get some of the best PD I’ve experienced from the warmth of my house (and this is a big deal considering it was -20 outside today).




my #edcampHOME set-up today


The whole edcamp was connected today via live Google Hangouts. This way teachers from all over could get together at the same time and chat about all things education. Having helped moderate a few on-air GHOs, I signed up to be a moderator for the two sessions. Session topics were determined yesterday when the participants started throwing out ideas on what they wanted to discuss with each other (this is something I totally dig about the edcamp experience – they aren’t planned; they are totally driven by what educators want to learn).

The two sessions I moderated were both on healthy grading practices (session 1 & session 2). I was drawn to this topic because I have been recently thinking a ton about how and why we grade our students. However, I find myself stuck on how to change such a deeply seeded aspect of our education system. I want to get my students back on track to learning first, and worrying about ‘the grade’ second (if at all….topic for another post, perhaps). These two session had teachers of all areas and grade levels spread across the country, and I found it comforting (in an odd sort of way) to know that the mental struggles on grading I’m having, these teachers are experiencing too. Both sessions were great kick-off conversations, and in both cases the conversations steered towards the value of standards-based grading (SBG).  Having teachers of various grade levels there was great, because this is definitely a conversation we need to have K-12.

All the sessions from edcampHOME are archived and available for all to watch. I’ve already watched many of the others (from gamification to GAFE to gScripts…), and while there were a number of familiar faces, I heard from many new teachers today. Teachers willing to share; willing to go after what is tough; willing to push the envelope and put our students first.

I came away from today busting with ideas, eager to get back to work. I was honestly bummed when the time was up – I think my session could have continued for hours. While there was no magic answer today to fix my grading woes, the discussions I had with open-minded educators left me ready to commit to finding the answer.

This is why I love my PLN.

We are #bettertogether.


Fighting Fear…with Corn

A few weeks ago, for a completely unrelated

right to be wrong (Copy)

photo credit: Katie Regan

reason, a tweet from fellow #coflipper Katie Regan caught my attention. In the background of the picture she posted was a poster with the words:

School is the Right place to be wrong! Learn from your mistakes.

This couldn’t have come at a better time – as I was in the throws of making a major shift in my goals as a teacher.  The catalyst for this change was a combination of this poster and our lab work. Between these two things, bells rang, the clouds parted, and Ba-BAMB! – it all made sense. The words on Katie’s wall were perfect – they summed up exactly what I had wanted to convey to my students, and immediately has become my new mantra. This is what my classroom and my students need: a place to promote higher order thinking/problem solving without fear – BUT, if they don’t believe the words on the poster then I will be a long time reaching that place. 

I began to notice the need for this change the more time I spent with my students in the lab. Just before Katie’s tweet arrived on my feed, my students had just completed a lab I have done for a number of years in our advanced program: the genetics of corn and the use of chi-square analysis.

I love this lab. It is a great use of real life data to explore inheritance, and in some (albeit) weird way feel like I am channeling Barbara McClintock in my little corner of the world. It has a bit more spice to it than just doing 87 punnett square problems on worksheets (I know you bio teachers out there know what I am talking about…I mean, seriously, there are only so many of those a kid can do). Students observe corn from the parent generation and from the F1, and they are given a cob representing the F2. From this they are to figure out a possible inheritance pattern and collect raw data from their F2 corn cob, and then use a chi-square analysis to determine if their data fall within acceptable ranges. Basically, I am trying to show my students that there is a way to statistically know if you are ‘close enough’ to be right. (Check out the lab sheet here if you want more details!)


Data collection in this lab is all about counting each kernel on the cob, and as one student put it in the opening of his conclusion: ‘This lab was a real pain.’ (a little too subjective maybe, but I saw his point). Ok, so there is a touch of tedium in this lab (yet still way better than 87 extra punnett square problems), but even before they got to this point my students needed to figure out what they thought the inheritance pattern might be and create their hypothesis. They were on their own to solve this puzzle, which I figured they would dig it because I was giving them some freedom, but they flat out resisted. They wanted the answer; They wanted to know what to do and how to do it; They wanted to know exactly what I wanted, and I looked them straight in the eye and gave it to them – a whole lot of nothing. I had ‘cut the cord.’

And then I saw it: fear.

It was like being hit by a ton of bricks: They were afraid – not so much about the task… they were afraid to be wrong.

Not only were they afraid to guess the inheritance pattern wrongly (even though they have at this point a really great understanding of some of the major ways we inherit our traits), they were afraid to even write anything that may be incorrect in their lab books. The big part of this lab is they have to show their thinking ‘out loud’ in their lab book; the rights, the wrongs, the maybes. All of it. However, as I worked my way from group to group, I noticed that many of my students were trying to work out their ideas on separate pieces of paper, and very few were actually writing in their lab books. Observe an exchange I had with one of students as I witnessed him feverishly working something out on scrap paper:

Me: Hey, why don’t you put all that in your lab book?

Student: Because what if I’m wrong?

Me: Well, then you are. (very confused look from my student) Then you try something new. What makes the most sense in what you see? Use what you know. Put it all down in your data section.

Student (hesitantly): OK… (proceeds cautiously to writing in his lab book)

And this was a common exchange with my students for the next hour.

This fear was visibly stifling their thinking – limiting their ability to critically problem solve what they were seeing. They were missing the big picture, and were only focused on the I-must-find-the-one-answer-she-is-looking-for mentality, refusing to put anything down unless I had confirmed that they were right. And here I was – not telling them a thing, but guiding them to experiment and feel comfortable about the process. I was hoping they would try to identify reasons their null hypothesis wasn’t accepted if that was how it worked out; to explore the delicacies and the imperfections in working with living things. Science isn’t always pretty, but it sure is fascinating – and I really want them to see that verses ‘did I get it right?’ (especially with their independent research project gearing up to start…)

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting my students to do cartwheels if they don’t have the right inheritance pattern (and PS – many were able to figure out what was going on with the corn), but I do hope for them to work through the process before they come running for me to tell them what to do. The failures and wrongs of science propel further science. It drives innovation and inspires new questions – why didn’t it work? What if I changed this? Will it work in another species? And yet, I have a few students who border on panic attacks when they can’t figure it out perfectly the. first. time. Where is the fun in the discovery if that is the case?

Since flipping this course, I have focused heavily fostering greater collaboration – both for myself (I adore my PLN) and for my students. We have WSQ discussions over the content where my students group together to work through the meaning of the topic covered in the vodcasts. We have finally arrived at a place where they are comfortable with each other, so why aren’t they comfortable to work out their ideas – all their ideas – with each other?

The epiphany I had following this lab and seeing Katie’s poster is to conquer this fear in my students. I want them to see my classroom as a place where they are safe to try things and feel comfortable (but not content) to be wrong. The idea is to use being wrong as a tool on their exploration process. From here, we can work towards the deeper thinking that problem solving generates.

I am at the stage right now where I have more questions than answers, but I will work to figure it out and combat this fear in my students. What I do know is that the only way for my students to trust and believe in the words on that poster is to strive for  an environment where my students feel open enough to be wrong and work towards the right answer. I also have to let go of some of the very straight forward, never-fail, labs that are counter productive to inquiry and problem solving, and build in labs that promote ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Once upon a time, we all had a crazy sense of curiosity and wondered ‘why?’ for everything (and were sometimes relentless till we were satisfied with the answer). We weren’t concerned with the right answer before we even tried. So what has changed? Somewhere between the ‘why?’ phase we all went through and the time I see them in my classroom, many of my students have lost this wonder and have become fearful because it might not be ‘what the teacher was looking for.’

I want my classroom to be the one that rediscovers the curiosity in my students. I think I always have wanted that, but since the collision of the corn lab with Katie’s tweet, I now feel that I have a vision to make it real.

“I believe that all children have an inner scientist within them, and we need to get them in touch with their inner scientist again.” Ainissa Ramirez, Save Our Science2013