I am a science teacher at a high school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This blog documents some of my journey as I explore the use of the Flipped Classroom with my classes.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

The Administrator and the Flipped Learning Teacher

Note: this post has been cross-posted from my blog at the Flipped Learning Global Initiative. It was first published at .

Earlier this week, my outlook went from frustrated and worried to grateful and excited in about ten minutes — and it was thanks to a conversation with the principal of my school. I’d bet that is not an everyday occurrence at most schools, and this has me mulling over the role that administrators have played in my flipped learning journey.

Administrator 1 – Initiator, Seeker, Problem-Solver

I have previously shared elsewhere the details of how I was introduced to flipped learning. When the principal of the school I was at at the time heard from our superintendent that some teachers in a neighbouring school district were flipping some of their classes, she was intrigued enough to invite me and a few other staff from our building along on a field trip of sorts to learn more about flipped classrooms directly from those teachers.

This principal had listened closely when she’d first heard about flipped learning, identified it as a possible solution to problems we had with student attendance and other issues, and determined that she needed both more information from a more helpful source and reflective input from other members of our staff. She did not brush off flipped learning as a nice-but-unrealistic idea, nor did she put off looking more into it until an indeterminate “later.” She saw the potential it had to solve problems for our staff and students, and seized the opportunity to gain more understanding of flipped learning both for herself and for those of us who went along. On the “flip” side, she also did not push us to jump into trying it before doing more research.

(On a more personal note, by including me in that trip my principal also initiated much change in my own view of what could happen in a classroom, and started me on a path that has included department leadership, flipped learning certification courses, interaction and collaboration with teachers around the world, and joining FLGI’s International Faculty.)

Administrator 2 – The Context-Giver and Connector

In most cases, I think it’s important to check in with your school’s leadership before you begin to flip your classes, making sure they have a clear understanding of what flipped learning is and what the research says about its benefits. If a concerned parent or frustrated student were to contact them claiming that your use of flipping is hurting your students, do you know whether your leadership team would back you up, work through any misunderstanding, and support you as you learned how to use the model effectively with your students?

Despite my belief in its importance, I admit that I did not do that check-in when I changed schools this year. I learned from my new department heads and other colleagues that there was already some familiarity at the school with at least using podcasts in a course; when I asked, I was overwhelmingly told that there was no need to touch base with our principal or any of our VPs about my desire to flip some courses. With plenty to do on my plate already, I let thoughts of discussing flipped learning with my new admin team drop off my over-full priority list.

Last week, however, I finally decided to approach my principal for permission to attend an upcoming conference which happens to overlap with our last day of school — a day from which teachers are not normally released. I e-mailed my request, laying out the variety of ways in which I am certified and connected to the flipped learning community, the professional development I’ve already offered the teaching staff here, and my commitment to continuing to help our teachers understand and make use of flipped learning.

In response, I was invited to pop by the principal’s office for a chat.

A couple of things happened in that chat that I did not expect:

1. The principal told me some of the history of flipped learning at this school — and of parental reaction to it — that I had not heard from my other sources. This gave me some important context regarding issues I may need to address as I continue to grow in my flipping here (and potentially bring other teachers on board).

2. He told me that some flipped learning is going on at another high school in our district — something that was news to me even though I have been keeping my ears open for any mention of its use in our Board. Not only that, but the school in question is a mere 11-minute drive away, which greatly raises the potential for visits and collaboration between our schools. My principal expressed support to get these kinds of connections happening, and I am absolutely hyped about the possibilities!

(And yes, he did also gave me verbal approval to attend the conference; while I’ve got some paperwork to submit to and get approved by the school board before it will be official, I’m pumped about that, too.)

What Kind of Administrator Are You?

Sometimes, we as teachers need to overcome the pop culture characterization of the principal’s office as a scary place of discipline and despair. Several of the calls I’ve received to visit that space have led to positive steps in my professional journey, but naturally, this depends heavily on the person who inhabits it. I challenge those of you in administration to show the leadership traits I have seen expressed in these principals: listen actively when new ideas in education are proposed (neither too openly nor cynically); take the initiative to seek out new ways to address problems faced by your students, school, and staff; help your staff to understand the bigger picture and any important context around new initiatives beginning at your school; and help your staff to find and make connections of support that will enhance your school’s development. It’s one thing to tell your staff that you’re behind your teachers — it’s quite another altogether to help them along the way.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

New semester, fresh start

I've proposed the following topic for a #flipblogs chat tonight:

This is my first year back at teaching after a year of maternity leave after the August 2016 birth of my second child. Let me tell you, I did NOT find it easy to adjust to working again with two children rather than just the one I had the last time I taught, and I'm definitely not the happiest with the teacher I was last semester. Our new semester started last Friday (Feb. 2), though, and I am thankful and more than ready for a fresh start!

Here are the main changes I'm making that I can think of off the top of my head.

Change #1: Simplify - by using learning goals, but in a simpler way.

I have blogged before about my ideal teaching process - one in which all assessment, instruction, and grading is based on a predetermined set of learning goals. Unfortunately, last semester I failed to get lists of learning goals drawn up for the courses I was teaching, and ended up just trying to keep my head above water from day to day. Keeping my head above water from day to day is not the way I want to run my teaching practice, and it is impossible to flip any course in such a situation.

What am I doing differently this semester? Well, for one thing, I already have my lists of learning goals almost completely finalized for the first units of the two courses in which I want to do substantial flipping this year. I have already started to use them to guide my instruction in one of my courses, and I will be creating my first videos based on some of those goals for that course by the end of the week; in the other course I'd like to flip, we're just getting out of the introductory review of safety rules and symbols, and my goal is to start giving them some flipped goals-based instruction next week.

The other thing I'm doing differently in my use of learning goals this semester is recognizing that I do not have the time to make my use of them "perfect" this time around. My grade book will not end up having entries dedicated to each learning goal -- it will still have entries that look like "Quiz 1," "Intermolecular Forces Assignment," "Chapter 3 Test," and so on. This means that each goal will not be assigned a certain percentage of the mark, nor will it be as easy as I'd like to tell at a glance where students need to improve their understanding or skills to increase their overall standing in the course, but I will still be basing my design of those quizzes/assignments/etc. solidly on the learning goals, and I will still offer students the opportunity to improve their mark by studying and reattempting questions of the types on which they did not do so well. It's a necessary compromise I need to make at this point.

Change #2: Plan my flipped instruction with the group space firmly in mind.

Having now completed FLGI's Flipped Learning 3.0 Certification Level - II course, I've had my eyes opened to some really cool things I can do in the group space. I want to take my students' learning beyond what they'd get by just doing in class the simpler types of questions that used to be assigned as homework.

I want to try using a mastery approach with the organic chemistry unit in the grade 12 university-preparation-level chemistry course.

I want to see what awesome ideas my grade 9 pre-IB academic-level science students can come up with in a Genius-Hour-type open investigation of their own questions -- although this time around I'd like to try giving them the broad guideline that it should be something at least broadly science-related.

I want to try peer instruction with some of the more mathematics-based lessons in both my grade 12 chemistry class and my grade 9 pre-IB academic-level science class.

I want to modify some inquiry activities I've done before to reflect the Explore-Flip-Apply model, and perhaps bring in a couple more such activities as well.

And...that's enough to try to implement for now, I think :). The course also reassured me that when flipping, "it doesn't have to be glitzy" -- every day doesn't have to be something awesome and higher-level. These are approaches that I can experiment with inserting into my courses in a small way at first, perhaps trying something out every couple of weeks and growing in my practice bit by bit.

Change #3: Try to make the most of the time I have.

I have to thank several of my colleagues for continually acting as examples of productivity around me -- examples I was not ready to learn from for far too long, but could not ignore forever.

In the past, once students had finally left my room for the day (perhaps after sticking around or coming back to my classroom after school to ask me all their burning questions), I often treated that time as "me time" that I deserved and needed in order to recharge after a long day giving of myself to others (especially on days I was especially feeling the put-upon introvert). A lot of Facebook and e-mail checking went on, and not so much marking and planning. This was a throwback to the time I had pre-kids to mark and plan at home -- time I no longer have right now, with a toddler who is even clingier than my firstborn was and tries to draw on or crumple any piece of paper Mommy seems to be giving any attention.

I have noticed that my colleagues at my new school keep on a-workin' in a dedicated way after the ringing of the final bell, and I am trying to learn how to make that my model as well. Last semester, I had two alarms set: one at 3:45pm to suggest that I start getting ready to pick the kids of from daycare, and another at 4:30 or 4:45pm to tell me that it was definitely time to get going. This semester, I am treating those two alarms as bookends of a time in which I try to abide by the philosophy espoused by a sign on a colleague's desk: "MAXIMUM PRODUCTIVITY!" Today, I used that time to mark and record grades for a safety quiz that I had given a class earlier that day. It's not all the marking that needs to be done, but every little bit will help me not end up with the huge, shameful backlog of grading that I ended up with at the end of last semester. More timely feedback for students, here we come :)!

What changes have you made at the change of a year or a semester? Let's chat!

Monday, 6 November 2017

Sharing "the flip"

#flipblogs topic for Nov. 8:

It doesn't have to be complicated...even if I like it that way :)

I share with others what I'm trying to do, sure. Trying to set up a lightboard at school has involved bringing in various pieces of gear that at times have had me much more laden than your typical teacher, so explaining my burdened state when other teachers see me bringing in another piece or moving things between rooms can create some natural openings. However, I don't want to create the false impression that flipping one's class has to involve such a complicated setup just because this particular approach happens to be my current pet project. Explaining the lightboard idea to one teacher led to her remarking on my technological savvy, but I know that those much less tech-savvy than I can flip a class successfully.

Image source:
I should probably be intentional about adding to these discussions a disclaimer that in the past I've flipped lessons using only one of the school's notebook computers (with a built-in microphone), QuickTime, and a pre-made slide deck, and I have sometimes shared the videos using only our school's pre-existing system of making files available to students when I didn't have them uploaded to YouTube in time. The sound wasn't great -- I now consider a decent microphone to be one of the first things a flipping teacher might consider adding to her toolbox, if only to avoid the KA-CHUNK noise if you push a key on the keyboard to advance the slide -- but it was still perfectly understandable by my students, who made no complaints about the sound quality at all.

Motivate the change

Adding a disclaimer that "it's really not that complicated" isn't going to sell flipping the classroom, though. I think that to really "evangelize" about the flipped classroom, you need to focus on the "why."

I've already written about problems I've found can be solved through flipping. I think the sharing that I've done with others has been more effective when it's either been in response to hearing others share about encountering some of those same problems (or other problems I didn't mention but which can also find at least part of a solution in flipping) or when I've used that problem-solution framework as an explanation of why I've been trying the flip. This kind of approach shows that flipping the classroom isn't just change for change's sake.

"Should you?" / Responding to skeptics

Should we be working to actively spread flipped practice to others? I think if we want our schools/education system to be able to teach kids as effectively as possible, our classes do have to change. Students aren't learning the same way they used to, so perhaps we shouldn't continue to teach in the same way we've been teaching for the last 100 years. If research shows that certain approaches are more effective than what common practice has been, then that common practice needs to be revised. Yes, there is part of me that wishes the kids would just be more respectful and sit quietly as a class for half an hour, diligently copying down notes while I pour forth knowledge, but when I type that out and hear myself saying that in my head, I wonder how many students really learn well that way.

Is flipping the class the only approach that could be considered for this change? Not necessarily. I think the name of the game is to get more active learning happening, and there are a variety of ways to accomplish that. However, flipping has been helpful to me and to many other educators -- particularly as we seek to find ways to make more time for that active learning while still acknowledging the need for some direct instruction -- and the research backs up its effectiveness. Some may ask why we should "fix what ain't broke." I think such skepticism can be met by pointing not only to personal experiences of greater student achievement and better relationships with students, but also to that research, carried out by those with a much broader perspective (and much better methodologies) than my own. Maybe the current system isn't completely "broke," but that doesn't mean we can't do better.

Want to see the research for yourself? Try starting with the "Research, Reports & Studies" page over at the Flipped Learning Network...though there's plenty more what that came from.

And so I will.

I will be running a 1-hour session about the flipped classroom during a PD day my school has coming up on Nov. 17 -- about a week and a half away at this point. I'm curious to see how many people will make that session the one they choose to attend that day, where their current knowledge of and experience with flipped classrooms are at, and what level we'll be able to take that session to. Will those attending think it's a nice idea, but impractical to implement, or will it spark an interest in getting a team of educators together to start doing more flipping at the school, supporting each other through any hurdles we experience as we do so? I'm hoping to be able to send out a little survey prior to the event to those interested in attending so I can know my audience better, and hopefully put something together that meets their needs. Their response both to that survey and the PD session could be good reflection fodder for a future blog, so...stay tuned?!!

Post scriptum:
I published this post before a change was announced to the #flipblogs format for this month: please feel free to interact with me about this post through the comment section, or alternately through Twitter (@flippingwithjoy).

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Sustaining the flipped instructor

We addressed this topic some in the flipped learning SlackChat last Tuesday:

The topic for this week's #flipblogs chat is similar:

I'll start with the more general thoughts I had in response to the SlackChat question, then address the more specific bits of the #flipblogs prompt at the end.

Little hands are...not so helpful.

The first thing that came to mind when I read the chat/blog prompts was this:
Spending quality time nursing and holding my baby/toddler and talking with my 6-year-old about the things that are important to 6-year-olds is all important to me, but to make sure I can participate well in that (rather than passively nodding at whatever the boy says while I'm actually composing a video script in my head), I also need child-free time to do the "stuff" a flipping teacher does outside of class time: write learning goals, plan and record videos, put together group space activities, mark papers (uncrumpled or torn by tiny hands), and so on.

Remember this guy?

The kids crashing this professor's interview on TV was cute, but I think I could only get away with my kids showing up in one of my videos by accident once before the cute moment of levity would become an annoying distraction to students trying to focus on the material, even if I didn’t lose my train of thought and go off-script with them around. (Maybe I could get away with including them intentionally if I gave them roles, but I doubt the baby/toddler is ready to cooperate with me on that front!)

I am trying to get myself firmly in the mindset that I need to do my recording at school, and I have indeed finally managed to record a video there. (I happened to get it edited and uploaded there, too, but normally I think I’ll be able to do those bits at home.) I’m trying to fight through the “perfastination” I mentioned in my last post, and just “get it done” instead. Hey, score one for progress due to reflective blogging :). (I'm also getting closer to having the setup I really want at school, but I was able to get that video recorded using an intermediate kind of setup just fine.)

A fishing coach...or, rather, a community of fishing coaches

You know the saying: “Give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” Matthew Moore made this excellent point in his post on Sept. 27:
"In the end the biggest barrier to successful flipped learning is not having someone willing to take the time to teach you how to fish."
I still only know of one other person at my school who is flipping (there may be others I just don't know of yet). He just got started this year, although he's wanted to start flipping for several years now, so we're probably not too different in terms of our background knowledge about flipping the classroom. When you want to get better at something, though, it really helps to be able to draw on the experience of experts in that "something." A good expert can explain what he does to be effective in his own practice. A good expert coach can also support you in your own journey, helping you to troubleshoot when you run into obstacles and providing encouragement when you get frustrated with or disappointed in your progress.

I am very thankful that many in the flipped teaching community are this kind of coach. I've read Flip Your Classroom by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, sure, and I've taken the Level - I certification course and am working on both Level - II and the trainer certification courses. Really, though, for inspiration, motivation, encouragement, and help with troubleshooting, the chats on Twitter and Slack have been invaluable. Lately I've been trying to check into the #flipclass Twitter chat (every other Monday at 8pm Toronto time), the Flipped Learning Network SlackChat (every other Tuesday at 9pm Toronto time), and the #flipblogs Twitter chat (every other Wednesday at 8pm Toronto time). To those of you reading this who participate in those chats, thank you for helping to boost my fishing skill :)!

Stakeholder support

For my flipping to be sustainable, I also need buy-in from most of the students and their parents, and I'd also need support from my admin team if a challenge were ever raised over my using this nontraditional approach. I can point to the research that supports flipped instruction, and to the positive response from previous students, but if I ever got a lot of serious resistance to flipping from students, parents, colleagues, and/or my admin team, I know there’s only so long I'd be able to fight before I’d be worn down and feel defeated. Fortunately, I don't foresee this kind of massive resistance on the horizon at all, and I'm looking forward instead to seeing what the students and I can accomplish with the support we have.

More specific thoughts for #flipblogs

Tools & tech:

All my students are very familiar with Google Classroom. This is my first year using it, but having a platform the students already know how to use to access content is fantastic. It's also been handy that my department has a cart that holds 15 notebook computers.

I continue to find it helpful to use Camtasia to record on my personal laptop -- this is what I saw being used by the first flippers I met, so that's what I imitated, and now I'm hooked. I also continue to use an AverVision document camera and a Blue Snowball microphone I bought myself about 4 years ago when I started experimenting with flipping.

When I get my lightboard set up, I will likely record the video with my Canon T1i but continue to record the sound with the Snowball hooked up to my laptop -- an early trial to see if I'd be able to get the audio and video to sync up right went well, thankfully. I'll save any further lightboard tech details for a post I'll make once it's actually up and running workably well, but I'm getting close (I have to prioritize getting some marking done first).

There are other tools I've put on my "things to try" mental list as they've come up in the aforementioned blog posts, training, Twitter chats, etc., but I think that's all I've been using so far.

Ideas & beliefs:

I suppose I should work on my ability to communicate my philosophy of education on demand, because questions like this tend to make me feel a bit like a deer caught in the headlights. Here are some ideas I can articulate, though I'm probably forgetting some:

Relationships with the students are one key to their learning. Flipping can create time to better develop those relationships. (Ergo, flipping is worth pursuing, despite the work involved.)

Spending time in class on a lecture can be a huge waste of time. Students don't need their friends around them to listen to one person (me) talk. Any time spent on shushing them is time that could have been better spent (on a more active learning activity, for example).

Assessment that is based on learning goals can be very powerful, if done right, allowing you to communicate with students, parents and all other stakeholders exactly what they need to improve to increase their standing in the course. (Ergo, it's worth making the extra effort to have gradebook entries that don't just look like "quiz 1," "test 1," "assignment 1," and so on.)

Flipping can make more time for more natural formative assessment, as the teacher can check in with each student in an informal way more frequently than she can when part of each class period is taken up with a lecture. This also means more time to provide support during class time to students who need it -- students who may not come to any extra help session offered outside of class.

Flipping can be a great way of differentiating your instruction to meet students' needs, giving them easy access both to a way to control the pace of the lesson (speed through it if they feel they really get it, or pause every so often and slow things down if they need additional time to process each "chunk" of information) and to repeat a portion of the lesson as much as is helpful to them. This can all be beneficial both to students with special education needs as well as those whose first language is not the language of instruction. (Ergo, my responsibility to meet the needs of all my students kind of demands flipping.)

Students need better resources for review before quizzes and tests (and for any reassessment of learning goals being reattempted) than just being told to go over their notes and relevant sections of the textbook. For students who can't or won't take advantage of extra help opportunities face-to-face, videos by the student's teacher chunked into segments can provide a great way for students to do a just-in-time review of the knowledge and skills where they are lacking.

Fellow flippers, what beliefs drive your decision to flip? Those who do not (currently) flip your instruction, are these beliefs in line with yours, and if so, are you satisfied with your current means of addressing them?

Sunday, 15 October 2017

"Perfastinating" in flipping

I have invented a word our language needs.

For context, here is the series of tweets that leads up to and includes the moment at which this word entered my lexicon:

I know that I am far from the only person who suffers from bouts of perfastination. I know this partly because I made a Facebook post about it and immediately started hearing from others familiar with the condition:

I made brief reference in a previous post to the obstacle that perfectionism poses to my ability to do flipped instruction well.

I want my flipping to reflect learning-goal-based instruction and assessment, so I put off flipping until I've got a great set of learning goals written in student-friendly language, set up in a way that meshes workably well with the textbook my colleagues and I are using (especially given that my department does common unit tests), and with an accompanying assessment scheme that meshes well with the categories of achievement I'm required to use in my province. In other words...until I have a perfect plan of instruction and assessment in place.

I've been introduced to the concept of a lightboard and seen it used effectively by Jon Bergmann in part 1 of the certification course available through the Flipped Learning Global Initiative, so now I've somehow decided it's super important that I use a lightboard in my flipped videos, and researching information and materials to build myself a perfect lightboard without spending thousands of dollars is perhaps getting me more sidetracked than it should (but once it's done, oh my, will it ever be great...right??).

I'm still in the experimenting stage of lightboardery.
I'd like to improve my lighting, for one thing.
Interestingly, I've not seen an image yet of a woman
teaching at a lightboard...why is that?

The problems with "perfastination"

What's getting me closer to giving up this "perfastination" is reflection on its impact. There are at least three problems with "perfastinating" flipping in these ways that I can see:

1) Not flipping means I'm trying to get by with traditional teaching in the meantime, with all its attendant problems.

I've already written a post about problems solved by flipping (and so have many others). The flipping I have done in the past didn't yet have a solid foundation of learning goals and was not done using a snazzy lightboard, so why shouldn't I at least do what I can while I keep working behind the scenes to improve?

2) Perfastinating discredits the great stuff I've already done in previous flipped lessons.

Students have learned from the flipping I've already done -- even the early videos that had awful sound, awful tablet writing, awful lag from the document camera, and even an entire section I forgot to edit out (my students did ask why I'd kept repeating myself in a certain part of the video, but ultimately they shrugged it off and kept watching). It doesn't have to be perfect to do good for the students. If I really believe even the imperfect flipping I've done has been more helpful for students than a traditional lesson on the same material would have been, I should embrace that imperfect approach for now, for their sakes.

3) Perfastinating sets up a standard that is impossible to expect from others, and thus kills a tiny part of the momentum of the global movement.

I'm working on my flipped trainer certification. I'll be running a PD session for some interested teachers at my school next month on the flipped classroom. Am I going to tell them they have to do it perfectly or not even bother at all? Of course not! I need to give them an achievable vision for how they can start. I can point to my own small beginnings from my early days of flipping, and talk about how I've grown in my flipping over time -- and I can tell them that while I'm still not perfect in my own implementation of the model, I'm growing, and the students and I will grow together. (And as more people get on board the flipped classroom train, there will be more of us to hep each other along!)

Actually, that reminds me of another part of Wednesday's chat:

Maybe it's not easy being green, but it's time to embrace my inner frog, and make the jump anyway. Wish me luck and off I go...ribbit, ribbit.

[but is this blog post perfect enough to publish :)?]

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Doing it Backwards...On Purpose

I did talk somewhat about this in my previous post, but I will reiterate here (and unlike the last post, this one will be done in time for the chat).

My systems & secrets

When I have everything running the way I want, it will look like this:

  • Each unit has learning goals.
    • Each goal is associated with one of Ontario's categories of achievement.
    • Showing evidence of having achieved is goal is worth a preset amount of the student's grade.
  • Each learning goal has one or more videos specifically associated with it.
  • Each learning goal also has one or more assessments specifically associated with it.
  • If a student has a low grade in the course, the student and I look at what learning goals the student needs to bump up. The student reviews those videos, asking me questions if needed, and we look at what other learning activities can increase the student's ability to achieve those goals. When the student is ready, I reassess the student and, if appropriate, bump up the student's mark accordingly.
I know that sounds like a mastery system. In reality, I'm currently aiming to keep most of the class working through their initial exposure to the material at the same pace, but I am OK with some students going through things at a more individual pace if that is what is best suited to their circumstances. I may one day move to mastery, but I have more to learn myself yet about how that plays out -- for example, how can whole-class group space tasks happen if the class is scattered in where they are in a course? Do you just run the group space tasks with those who have got to the appropriate spot in the course, and those who aren't there yet just do their own thing instead?

Changes since "the old days"

I learned about standards-based grading (grading based on learning goals, rather than a set % for a particular quiz, for example) before I learned about flipping, but it's only recently that I'm really wrapping my head around how they can work together. My videos so far have been topic-based, but not goal-driven.

When I think of "the old days," I tend to think more in terms of "before I learned about standards-based grading." I think grading based on learning goals is so important in terms of letting students have multiple opportunities to show improvement and what they really know / can do by the end of a course rather than a set of high-stakes quizzes and tests (which make it harder to tell a student -- or parent, student success teacher, administrator, etc. -- what the student needs to do to improve in the course).

Backward design?

My teacher's college program used Understanding by Design (by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe) as one of our course texts, so the importance of beginning with the end in mind has been stressed to me since the very beginning. I have always appreciated the logic of this approach. (Actually, a lot of stuff put out by ASCD makes a lot of sense to me, and I became a member earlier this year.) My personality is that I need to know where I'm going and plan for it -- flying by the seat of my pants makes me nervous, even though it is part of every teacher's reality at least some of the time.

Other related topics...

I can't think of anything else related to share right now, but I'm looking forward to hearing/reading the thoughts of others. Time to see what the rest of the #flipblogs community has posted...after daycare pickup :).

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

My context, my ideal flipped practice, and obstacles to my flipping

A little over 3 weeks into the school year (our school year began on Sept. 5), and I am finally typing up my first blog post for the year. Well, the beginning of the year is always a bit of a whirlwind, isn't it? I think I'll just pat myself on the back for feeling I can take the time to blog this early, rather than regret not doing any reflective blogging earlier.

Here is the #flipblogs topic that was due today, although I'm posting this too late for the actual chat (which will have ended by now), and I'm going into much detail in this post about things unrelated to this topic as well:

The context in which I work

Given that I interact with flippers from other jurisdictions, perhaps some would appreciate a bit of an explanation of the context in which I'm aiming to flip. (Those already familiar with or not interested in such details can feel free to skip this section.)

In high school courses in my province, there's a a required 70% / 30% split between the assessments given during the term and the final summative assessments given at the end of the term. (The final assessment for a course could be a 30% final written exam, for example, or split between a 15% final lab exam and a 15% final written exam, or some other combination of final products.) We're also required to assess our students in four categories: Knowledge and Understanding, Thinking and Inquiry, Communication, and Application. (Yes, "Thinking" is one of the categories, as if thinking isn't required in any of the others, and yes, I know they're probably trying to use that name to emphasize higher-order thinking skills, but it still sounds ridiculous...but I digress.)

My department (among many others province-wide) has broken the 70% total term work down into prescribed percentages for each course. For the academic-level courses I teach, for example, our breakdown looks like this:
Knowledge and Understanding - 25%
Thinking and Inquiry - 20%
Communication - 15%
Application - 10%
I am teaching only grade 9 and 10 science this year, and each of those courses consists of four units (biology, chemistry, physics, and an earth & space topic — astronomy in grade 9, climate change in grade 10). The category percentages given above can then be considered to also be broken across those four units; the Thinking and Inquiry marks, for example, can be thought of as 5% coming from each of the four units. (This is of course assuming the teacher is professional enough to adequately address all four units in their practice. I will make that assumption here.)

My ideal flipping practice 

Within this framework, I have been trying to use a type of standards-based grading with my students. In my system, for example, the Knowledge and Understanding (KU) marks are based on a set of learning goals that are in turn based on the KU-related specific expectations in that course’s provincially-mandated curriculum. I design my quizzes and other assessments with these learning goals in mind, and record the marks per goal accordingly. This is sometimes a little tricky for students to understand in cases when a quiz consists of questions for more than one learning goal (“So what’s my overall mark for this quiz?” “Well, your mark doesn’t work that way, but let’s look at how you’re doing in each of these learning goals and across the course as a whole...”). The advantage to them, however, is that if they take the initiative to get extra help from me and study in their own time to gain a better understanding of a concept or better performance of a skill than they previously gave evidence of, they are able to ask me to reassess them on those learning goals and get their former mark bumped up. If I understand the standards-based grading movement correctly, my method isn’t entirely SBG. However, I think this system preserves SBG’s opportunity to show evidence of post-assessment growth while still working within the requirement that in the end I must report only one overall percentage grade (not several goal-related levels) as a final rating of the student.

So how is this related to flipping? Easy: I would like each learning goal to have a dedicated video or set of videos. I would like to be able to give students (and/or have posted online) a unit plan that outlines what the learning goals are for the unit (and the category for each), what videos contain the direct instruction on those learning goals, what textbook material addresses the same content if they’d prefer to use that in place of or as a complement to the video, and what assessment is planned of that goal. This would give students a consistent structure for their initial instruction on a topic, and it would also act as a great reference through which they could find the appropriate information for quiz/test review (and for further reviewing material prior to asking for any reassessment on failed or mediocrely-passed learning goals).

So that’s a glimpse at the direct instruction and assessment pieces of my ideal flipping practice. Through the certification course and interacting with the flipping community, though, I’ve been learning that stopping there would be bad flipping. Video-worksheet-video-worksheet (and eventually a quiz based on those worksheets) is not what flipping is about. Being able to do more experiments in science classes because of time freed up by flipping is great, but only using flip-freed time to do experiments can be a mistake as well. I had a tendency in the past to describe one benefit of flipping as the available presence of the expert leader (the teacher) when the students are doing their work — “If you get stuck in a question, I’m there for you to ask questions and get help!” While this is true, I am learning that the in-class time should ideally at least part of the time take advantage of the opportunity the class has to be a learning community together, helping to build each other’s understanding of the topic under study.

Obstacles I need to overcome

So, full disclosure: I have not yet started to flip my classes this year. I believe in flipping, I try to help others better understand flipping, I participate in some of the hashtag and Slack chats about flipping as I'm able, I'm working on my trainer why aren't my attempts to flip this year off the ground yet?

1. A lack of focused time, when the process requires a front-end investment of time on the part of the teacher

Let’s see; to pull off my ideal practice, I must:

  • translate the official curriculum document for each of my courses into categorized learning goals written in student-friendly language 
  • determine how each goal could be assessed 
  • determine how much of the student’s grade will come from my assessment of each goal (some may even be worth 0% of their grade — our provincial guidelines do state that teachers can decide that certain curriculum expectations will not be assessed, though they must still be addressed in instruction somehow)
  • create (and edit, upload, link, etc.) the videos related to the learning goals
  • create any advanced organizers (fill-in-the-blank sheets) I want students to fill in as they watch the video
  • design not only practice work but also other additional in-class activities that support the students' learning of these goals
  • actually do that assessing, recording of marks, and providing of feedback (marking never goes away, no matter what the model, right?)
  • make time for students wanting extra help and reassessment on learning goals for which they want to boost their understanding / marks
Not all of the above is unique to flipped learning (or my own goals for it), of course, but this is an overview of what's on my mind when it comes to my courses. There is also of course other stuff of teaching on top of this -- accommodating special education needs, differentiating the course activities in any additional needed way, communicating with home, participating in the life of the school, carrying out any administrative tasks required, etc.

I know that flipped learning is not about the videos, but in my particular practice, video is an important part of it. I prefer to do the direct instruction through videos because I believe my students need to see and hear ME as they receive the direct instruction -- although I will leave the "why" behind that for now (potential future post topic?). But creating those videos, as well as the learning goals and all the other "me-created" stuff mentioned above, takes time, and I have not yet figured out when in my schedule of ongoing activities that video-creation time can best happen. With two kids at home (one of them only a year old, still nursing and otherwise pretty needy of my attention from the time I get him from daycare to the time I drop him off again) and a husband who works a fair commute away (and sometimes has evening meetings to boot), it's hard for me to find focused time to work undisturbed at home, yet the little one's needs mean I can't just stay long at school every day. I'm already trying to do what I can to avoid nights being too late and the days too exhausted, yet because I do believe flipping is well worth the initial time investment I am going to have to find a way to make it work.

(I did know this was all coming. I started the little one at daycare in early August, when he was 11 months old, planning to use the month to get some great pre-planning done. Of course he promptly got sick with a series of fevers that prevented him from attending daycare most days in August. C'est la vie in the world of parenting young ones, but they're also only small once...)

2. A need to learn how to use the group space in non-traditional ways.

Okay, I'll admit I have been a pretty traditional teacher. I have done a lot of the "chalk-and-talk, then-assign-textbook-or-worksheet-exercises" formula. As a science teacher, I have had my classes do experiments and computer-based simulations, sure. As a math teacher, yes, I've had my classes use manipulatives. I've also done some "hey, get in groups, write up one of your answers on a piece of chart paper, and let's see if we're all on the same page." But I feel like I still have a lot to learn about how to best use the group space, and figuring out how to best spend the time freed up by removing the direct instruction from the classroom takes planning time (and stretches planning brain muscles!) that I'm, again, still trying to figure out. So I'll keep asking this question in the flip community and keep interacting with more experienced flippers to see what you all are doing, and how I can learn from you!

3. Perfectionism

When I create my videos, I use Camtasia, and I edit out just about every "uh," "ah," or too-loud click if my mouth opens funny. While recording, if I don't like how I said something, I pause, then start again, knowing I can edit out the previous attempt. In contrast, one of my colleagues just started flipping this semester, and he says he doesn't even listen to his podcasts, lest he get too picky about them -- he just records and immediately uploads. His production time is obviously a fraction of mine, and that is no criticism of him. So part of my struggle with time is because of time I know I'd spend "perfectionizing" not only the videos, but every other "me-created" part of the process outlined above. This is an area in which I know I need to grow (or scale back, depending on how you look at it).

So there you have it. I'm coming back to teaching this year after a year off for maternity leave, and I think I'm doing OK adjusting overall. I'm not yet where I want to be, but hopefully my students would agree that we're muddling through this well enough together so far, and that once I do get us flipping someday hopefully soon, it will have been worth the wait. It may just end up being for review purposes for this semester's crowd, and aiming for a fuller flip next semester, when I'll have a simpler set of courses, but we'll see!