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Please discuss your strengths in instructional practice. What would you like to improve on relative to your instructional practice? Please reflect on the progress you have made towards your goals this year.

KHS Reflection Prompt – 2019

Wrapping up the third quarter, I’m feeling like there is no way we’re this close to the end of the school year. In all of my 16 years in the classroom, I have never felt this disjointed or disconnected or short on time in my classes as I do this year. For every step forward we take, something moves us two steps back. Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is the case; Could be the snow days. Could be the delayed starts. Could be the various major events (good and bad) we’ve had as a school. Could be the way students approach their education today. Could be….could be….could be…. The truth is, if I look back over the last several years, the continuity of my courses has never really felt right since we made the switch to the alternating schedule (but that is another post all together) and if I’ve learned anything over my years as a biology teacher (and a gymnast) – adaptation is the key to survival, and flexibility is the key to not breaking your neck.

My instructional practice made a major evolutionary shift in 2012 when I started flipping my classes. Seven years later, it’s no longer something new that I do, it is simply the way I teach – but I realized pretty quickly that it isn’t all about the videos (as most of us who have been with this movement since the beginning realized pretty quickly) and we’ve come to understand that flipped learning is really about the time together in class that counts: It’s the face-to-face time. It’s the allowance for the questions and for digging deeper. It’s the shift in who is responsible for the learning in the classroom. It’s about stepping back, and letting my students struggle to figure something out. It’s taking that one or two minutes to find out if they found the perfect pair of shoes over the weekend. It’s watching them discover the pride in owning their work and what they know. All in all – this practice is frustrating and maddening and I’ve definitely worked harder these last 7 years that I ever did in my first 9, but I know in my core that this is the best way for my students (even when it takes them two years to finally figure it out).

As we shift to CBE, I’m thrilled I made this change. Flipped learning suits CBE and supports student centered learning, so I don’t foresee any major changes in my personal approach happening as we move forward. My goals this year were wrapped into this connection, and while the NEASC report has taken the majority of our time (so good to be done with our report!), our PLC has started working towards developing QPAs in earnest. I’m seeing how my work in flipped learning (especially in how content is delivered) will allow for the time needed to bring more authentic QPAs into my courses. But we are still in discussions on what they really should look like in bio. The examples we’ve seen don’t look any different than what we do in labs and lab practical experiences – so this has us shaking our heads a bit. I hope as we move beyond NEASC, our PLC can really focus on this and build something cool for our students. The CP course needs a big overhaul – and now that we have our department competencies established, we can really start digging in.

But in the mean time, there’s still one quarter to go (and I hope that is the last time I’ll be saying that as we move to semesters next year – woohoo!!).

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?


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.


I am…

redefining priorities.

thinking outloud.

taking my time.

making stars out of play-doh.


I am…

drying tears.

questioning why.

walking outside.

playing hide and seek.


I am…

observing life.

dancing on my toes.

stretching my limits.

inventing myself.


I am…

painting a sunset.

teaching to read.

singing in the shower.

bending over backwards.


I am…

speaking my mind.

finding the strength.

writing a story.

rocking to sleep.