Thinking in Color

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Now that the majority of the content delivery in my flipclass is via my vodcasts, and I am no longer lecturing, the key is making the most out of the time I have with my students.  Most of the time is now spent with my students collaborating and working on things such as:

  • ‘WSQ Discos” (coined by my Advanced Bio class – the discussions following the WSQ they do as part of watching the vodcast – Thank you very much…again, Crystal Kirch, for sharing such an EduAwesome method!)
  • lab and lab analyses
  • problems (like figuring out what is needed and what you get in cell respiration or inheritance patterns)

The toughest part has been finding the little things that keep them excited and impassioned about digging in and working through something they don’t already know…

….And then I found (drums, please…):

MARKERS! Not just any marker, neon dry erase markers. These babies were made for lab tables. They are bright and neon and wipe right off, AND MY STUDENTS LOVE THEM! Before my students were pretty good discussing the content or working on whatever we were doing that day, but I wouldn’t say they were truly collaborating.The day I broke out the markers, immediately there was a glimmer, but skepticism, in their eye.

You mean we can write on the tables? For real?

There is something magical about placing a marker in the hands of …. well … anyone. That has to be why they were called magic markers. As the color started flowing, I suddenly felt like curling my bangs and pegging my pants. The ’80s looked like it had exploded in my classroom.  But the best outcome (besides reliving my youth) was to see my students finally starting to collaborate – truly work together to solve a problem, because they were creating the diagrams/drawings together to make a whole. As I wandered around the room, I could see/hear them asking each other questions – they weren’t looking for me to tell them the answer. This was something that hadn’t happened in my pre-flip days.
IMG_0011Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t an overnight switch, but I will say the markers helped speed up the process. They have become an integral part of my students’ learning, and as simple as it seems, have definitely brought my kids to the next level in their critical thinking/problem solving skills. My tables act as their canvas, allowing them to think in color. There is no fear of being wrong when working out thoughts on the tables because they don’t hand them in. That lack of fear has helped them deepen their understanding of concepts and opened up some really awesome discussions. Some students have such a fear of failure that they refuse to even contribute because they don’t want to be perceived as being ‘wrong.’ (In my experience I find it is more often my girls – but that is a topic for another time). Bringing my students together at the tables and letting them hash it out for themselves has increased my connection time with  them (I can work individually or with the group to strengthen where they are weak), and has fostered a community of learning in my classroom. 
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So if you would like a really effective – yet, extremely cost efficient – way to engage your students. I totally recommend getting yourself a set. Play with them yourself – you won’t want to put them down!
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Breaking the Ice

Fusion. noun. often attributive. 

: a union by or as if by melting: as

: a merging of diverse, distinct, or separate elements into a unified whole

: a partnership : coalition

paint blending

Fusion. I’ve spent the past four days rolling this word around in my head. I’ve felt like Hercules Poirot sorting and solving a mystery and putting the pieces together, and then suddenly – just like that – the answer is there. The ‘who did it’ solved and I know what I need to do…and here I am.

Friday night I watched many of my students (past, present, & most likely future) weave and fuse dance, art, and music into an amazing two hours. Called ‘Movin’ on Fusion,’ this was an incredible celebration of the talent of our students (and incidentally the catalyst for my fusion obsessed weekend). Particularly memorable was one of my current students dancing around a number of other students drawing, painting, and throwing pottery on the stage. This young lady took my breath away with her grace and elegance as she appeared to glide in and around the other artists.

The amazing part: I had no idea she could dance like that.

I was stunned. She tends to struggle in my class, rarely has work done on time, and yet, there on the stage she was poised & graceful. She was in control. She was not the same girl I see every other day during block 5.

As I watched her, my brain was on fire with questions  – How do I bring out that girl in class? Second semester is about to start, why haven’t I yet? Where is that confidence? Where is she? And then, just like that, the answer: Fusion. Bring the two together. Fuse that energy and passion with what is happening in the classroom. Make her the center of her learning.

And with that, a decision was made.

I began flipping my advanced biology class last spring, and am evolving into #CoFlip (collaborative flipped learning) with the course this year. (Check out Andrew Thomasson’s recent post “How to Stop Collaboration” or Cheryl Morris’ “How to Start the Flip“). The experience I am having in flipping Advanced is like no other I have had in my 11 years teaching, but had some reservations about taking my College Prep (CP) Biology course that route.

Until I saw the difference.

In Me.

In My Students.

If I could watch myself in my Advanced class and myself in CP, I wouldn’t think it was the same teacher. In Advanced, I am interacting. I am discussing. I am questioning with my students. I am encouraged. In CP, I am talking at my students. I am rushing. I am telling. I am frustrated. In Advanced, my Students are interacting. They are collaborating. They are discussing and questioning. They are encouraged. In CP, my Students are arriving confused and unprepared.  They are not questioning. They are falling asleep. They are frustrated.

It’s a no brainer.

So here I am. Ready to work through my transition & work with my students to find in my class the girl I saw on stage Friday night. And while I may be alone in this at my school right now, I am not totally alone. I have my PLN. My #CFC. Cheryl, Carolyn, Karl, Andrew, Crystal, Delia, Audrey (and many others I encounter daily); I am thankful everyday for finding such amazing educators who challenge me to be better, and grateful that I am going to have the opportunity to get to know you all better as we bring to life our little project. It is, as Delia puts it, ‘Coflipilicious!’

I know this will be a difficult change, but it is a necessary change. At the end of the day, if I can honestly say I did what is best for my students, than that is all that counts.

So as I break the ice on sharing my journey, I look forward to the collaboration. The sharing.

me.

I am…

redefining priorities.

thinking outloud.

taking my time.

making stars out of play-doh.

quiet.

I am…

drying tears.

questioning why.

walking outside.

playing hide and seek.

hopeful.

I am…

observing life.

dancing on my toes.

stretching my limits.

inventing myself.

new.

I am…

painting a sunset.

teaching to read.

singing in the shower.

bending over backwards.

inspired.

I am…

speaking my mind.

finding the strength.

writing a story.

rocking to sleep.

me.

Who knew?

When I was 4 years old, I discovered that the closet bar was totally awesome to hang upside down on.  It was completely logical; I’d pull my mother’s clothes down and  have a ready-made soft landing.  This was perfect…until I tried putting my 1 year old brother up there too.

That was it. Decision made.  My parents signed me up for gymnastics.

Their reasoning: ‘Well, she’ll learn to fall and have a mat under her when she does it.” (and save my mother’s clothes and most likely my brother’s life).

Thus began my life as a gymnast.  For 18 years following that first class, I ate, breathed, and slept in the gym.  

Chalk dust runs through my veins, and to this day I marvel at the fact that my hands finally look ‘normal.’

My last competition was nationals my senior year of college…13 years ago.

However, gymnastics is still a large factor of who I am. It always will be – I was a gymnast. I am a gymnast.  I used to kid around that I spent more time upside down that I did right side up!

A decade ago, I traded in my grips and chalk for a chalk board. I am a biology teacher.  As was with gymnastics, teaching is demanding, rigorous, and you constantly need to ‘use it or you lose it.’ And just like gymnastics, teaching is a year round sport, and the off season is almost more important than the meet season because that is where the hard training happens – all in preparation for the upcoming meet season.  It is really amazing how similar the two are!

Life has pulled me away from being intimately involved with gymnastics, but recently I found a new way to flip and teach at the same time…and I am really excited about it. I found it unexpectedly , and yet it is so fundamentally simple in concept. I am going to flip my classroom….or at least, one class to start.  Over the past 6 months, I have been feverishly researching this model of teaching and chatting with teachers all over North America (thank you, Twitter and specifically the #flipclass thread!!).  It has been a very long time since I was so excited about a movement in education, but I believe in this one. It just makes sense.

Thirty one years ago, my mom & dad signed me up for gymnastics so that I would learn to fall with a mat under me. I did learn to fall (and I learned a few really cool tricks along the way), and I am sure that will come in handy over the next year. I have no doubt I will fall – and given my new community of flipping teachers out there who are so willing to share their experiences – I have my mat.