Tag Archives: Reflecting Thoughts

This Year Has Been Brought to You by the Word…

…RELATIONSHIP.

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.

#bettertogether.

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.

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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.

 

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.

gmfwd4

 

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.

homework-meme-300x227

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.

 

 

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.

#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).

 

 

edcamphome

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.

 

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.