Sunday, December 30, 2012

Busy Year of Flipping

Busy - the one word that really summarizes this past year in my classrooms. This was due to the significant shift that occurred in my teaching and learning. What started as a modest curiosity, quickly morphed into a full-on ideological transformation in how I run my classrooms. The idea of 'flipping' my classroom was something that seemed too good to pass up; it seemed like something that was too beneficial for my students not to at least try for them. And so I did, jumping into the deep end with only the 'twitterverse' as my support. It has been an enlightening experience, it has added an energy boost back into my teaching, and it has improved the excitement of my classroom. So, at this time of year, one full of resolutions, reflections, and aspirations, I thought it was an appropriate time to do the same, with a little 'flipclass' focus.

"I will add the flipped model of teaching to all of my courses."
This really summarizes my thoughts and opinions on the teaching methodology. I went into this year using one of my courses as the lab; experimenting with the flipped model to really see how effective it could be. Based on the results I can't, with good conscious, not at least try to do the same with my other courses. The results in my 'lab' have been too positive - improved test scores, greater critical thinking, improved application of course concepts, and a greater dynamic to the class itself. Therefore, it only makes sense to implement the model into my other courses/classes and continue the 'experiment'.

"I have made some mistakes, but all-in-all, this has been fun."
I was excited to try the 'flip', but didn't expect it to be so much fun (that dreaded F word!). I found myself enjoying both making the videos for my students, and the discussions we had in class about them. Now don't get me wrong, I still find it highly embarrassing listening to myself on the videos, but my students, seem to enjoy them. What started as a simple request "Sir, can you add a theme song?", began a trend of me continuously adding more and more creative elements to the videos. I still have a long way to go on that front, but it's been fun (there's that word again!) learning about all the different ways to make creative videos. And as for the classroom, well the amount of time now available for class discussions, connecting with my students, and really applicable activities, has made the classroom itself so much more enjoyable.

"My classroom will become an inviting, welcoming, and creative place."
The transformation of my classroom is an ongoing process, one that I don't think will ever stop. The biggest challenge has been to modify my students 'way-of-thinking' from the traditional model, to the flipped model. This has been difficult at times, and I have quickly come to realize that my students have had 11 years of 'programming' completed on them; and so of course this will be difficult to change. Altering their programs will only come as a result of significant changes to the process AND the environment. Therefore, my whole classroom environment has to change - a layout that will allow for greater discussions and collaboration (it's all about circular tables!). I plan on continuously changing the classroom, and not just my teaching, to allow for greater learning, collaboration, and most importantly creativity.

So with one semester down, and many, many more to go, the future looks interesting, exciting, and yes fun!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why Am I Still Using Paper? I Need a Mural (ly)

So I had this strange epiphany this week. I asked students to create a poster for an assignment in my Marketing class. It's something I've always done, and find the finished products turn out to be of fairly good quality. However, I also always seem to wonder how I can make it better; make it more visually appealing and creative; make it easier to cart around to mark; make it less of an issue to post so the class can see their peers' work. And then it hit me - why am I asking students to still create work like this on paper? I have my students create presentations online (Prezi), write experiences or answers to questions online (blogger), collaborate & discuss (wikispace), so why don't I have them create posters as well? The reason has simply been that there has not been a great tool to do something like this. Prezi is great, but it's a presentation type tool, a blog is really just for text and so you can't get all that creative, wikis are great but very basic and not very visual either. So what can I use? Well I think I found it -

I've been messing around with the site the last couple days, and feel this is exactly the thing I can use. Now at first I was very disturbed by their lack of support for Internet Explorer (all of our school computers use IE, and I would guess most others do as well); however, this is a problem they are currently fixing and will soon be supported; so don't worry. Once I logged into the site and began to just 'play', I found that there are so many uses for this tool. I love the pre-existing templates they have, and the possible applications they have for the classroom. What I like most about them is the fact that they are all visual. Most students I find are visual type learners and if I can provide them with a tool like this where they can organize their thoughts, goals, ideas, events, work, in such a visual way, I can only imagine how much they will find it beneficial too. While using it I began thinking that this can be more than just a useful tool for presentations, and thus began to realize how much it is different from Prezi (and maybe better?). Now don't get me wrong, Prezi is great; but the fact that Prezi is all about following paths, and zooms in and out so much, means it is a little more complicated than it needs to be for certain tasks. Thus, might just offer more applications for classrooms, and can be used easily by our students.

So here's what I think could be the top 5 uses for in the classroom (besides using it as another presentation tool):

  1. Poster - Yes this is a very basic use for the site, but why cart around bristol boards, or even 3-panel boards anymore? Students can arrange their information and visuals in the exact same way, and you don't have to fill up your back seat of your car with student work!
  2. Ongoing Learning Page- With my marketing class, I'm always asking my students to share advertisements, products, or anything else they find that relates to marketing. I've thought about using a wiki, but just don't find it visually appealing enough for what I want. With however, we can create a class collaboration page where they can post pictures of advertisements, videos of commercials, articles discussing new products, and just about anything else they want to share. I'm thinking this is a great way to get them to always be learning and looking for items to post.
  3. Group Work - provides a template for this very task, and I can't think of a better way for my students to work together on their summative then to use this site to do so. The template already has a structure to it that allows for students to organize their information in a easy-to-follow way. Students could arrange their information in any way they see fit, and the fact that they can work together on one site to do so (rather than email back and forth) makes it just that much more effective.
  4. Online Portfolio - Many teachers use portfolios of student work for their final summative. This gives students a chance to really show off what they've done all year/semester. The problem with many portfolios, is that they are a combination of digital, written, and visual. I think provides an opportunity for students to organize their work in one place, and they don't have to worry about the mix of examples they use for their portfolio
  5. Unit Review & Concept Mapping - This also may seem pretty straightforward or simple, but why not have students provide examples of concepts covered throughout a unit using this tool. As the unit is covered, post the concept on, and have students look online for examples of that concept - whether it is videos explaining it, pictures of it, text gathered from other sources, etc. This gives the students an opportunity to really apply what they've learned, share their knowledge, and use the page as a great study aid prior to an assessment. For flipped classrooms, this could be a great way to organize all videos pertaining to a unit in one easy to manage website. Students wouldn't have to search through Youtube, or other video hosting sites; they could just log onto the 'mural' and all the videos for the unit would be there, as well as text, and other sources of information to support all learning styles.
I think there are probably a hundred or more ideas out there, and this is just a very basic list. In due time, I'm sure the uses of will be well known, but in the mean time let me know what you think? 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tech for Thought...

I was afforded the luxury of spending the last two days attending the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario Conference and learning about an incredible amount of education technology. I was able to attend a variety of workshops, share with a great number of fellow educators, and learn about some amazing things happening in education (in Ontario at least). Attending these kinds of events can be overwhelming, scary, enlightening, and incredible all at the same time. Educators are performing a wealth of activities that utilize technology very well, while at the same time still 'tinkering' to improve their practices so that technology becomes a great 'enabler' and not a 'distract-er'. Other than all of the useful resources, links, and connections, I found myself constantly typing ideas that popped into my head of where I think technology and education need to stroll. Therefore, rather than keep these in my head, although maybe that's what some may prefer (more on that later) I thought I'd write them down here and hopefully see what you have to say? So here we go:
  1. iPads are the Educators Choice of Device. I could not get over the number of iPads in each and every workshop! A Christmas wish item of mine (for those who have not yet bought me a gift?!), I do not yet have one, and found myself being the 'ugly duckling' at the conference. Teachers, administrators, resource teachers, leads, etc., etc.; all of these positions are utilizing them in their daily activities and routines. I love iPads and tablets in general, but am quickly realizing that iPads are the common language platform used by most educators. I'm not saying that any other tablet device can not do the same tasks, it's just that when you are sitting in a room with a number of other teachers and they are all talking in 'iPad language', you quickly realize there is an immense benefit to having an iPad yourself; and if you were to try translating these conversations into your own 'tablet language', it would only mean you become disconnected from these important conversations. As well, it seems like most school boards, and individual schools, are investing in iPads rather than other devices; and the workshops were not titled 'Playbook in the Classroom,' nor 'Google Nexus...'. So time will tell if iPads win the war, but the way it looks now, they are certainly winning the battle.
  2. Flipped Classroom is still in its Infancy (or Maybe it is Out of Focus?) I have converted my teaching method (some) into the 'flipped' model of instruction, and am quickly finding there are many advantages. Many educators in Ontario are realizing the same. However, I found that the conversations around this methodology are still focusing on (a) the general theory behind a flipped classroom and (b) what tech tools can you use to create videos & other materials to give as 'homework'? These are important conversations to have, but they are representative of where the 'flipped' model is in Ontario - its early stages. I would have liked to see more educators sharing their experiences, strategies, class activities, routine, and setup. I feel like these topics are overlooked when the 'flip' is discussed, and yet these may be the most important conversations to have? As teachers, "how to create a video?" is not employing my specialties; "how to run a flipped classroom?" definitely is. The wealth of people on Twitter, resources online, videos, and books you can now read, all provide the introductory information. I feel that when you have a chance to meet in person, the time could be better used.
  3. BYOD & Digital Citizenship. Every school and school board looks to be transitioning to a BYOD policy. This is fantastic news, and allows many educators to really get creative with their teaching. However, it seems like many boards are doing this more for budgetary purposes, or that it 'looks good'. I do believe there are many 'Board People' who are pushing for this for the right reasons, however, there doesn't seem to be the back-end support for it. Where I see this most evident is 'Digital Citizenship'. Students are online every chance they get, and I would say their identities are more 'digital' than they are 'real'. Yet, there doesn't seem to be enough education happening around how to present yourself online; aka Digital Citizenship. With technology and online access increasing in our schools, I think it's imperative that we educate students, remind them, and mentor them when it comes to their digital persona. I believe there is a need to work digital citizenship into the curriculum, think civics - a mandatory grade 10 course; or school-wide initiatives, just like we do with literacy and numeracy. However, there are some amazing resources available that we, individually, can really start using and conveying the important lessons to our students, and maybe its not about waiting for the board to do so, but to take it on ourselves in the classroom.
  4. A Commons for Discussion & Reflection. We all went through teacher's college preparing lengthy lesson plans that ask for too much detail and reflection. I still think that is an absurd task to do when you are prepping, teaching, coaching, extra-curricular'ing', mentoring, and doing just about everything else. However, because of these time constraints and not creating such lessons, I found myself reflecting very little on my practice. Therefore, I began this blog, and my reflection has become much more common. What I saw at ECOO is the idea that many teachers are doing the same thing. One of the great ideas I saw was presented by Lisa Neale & Jared Bennett on the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board's Commons Initiative. The idea put forth by a very 'tech-savvy' group at their board was to create a 'commons' for all teachers who are blogging to be able to blog, share, comment, and reflect. The whole board uses Wordpress and every teacher is able to see, well more like read, what their colleagues are doing. I think this is hugely important as we all find ourselves way to busy to share in person. Having an online resource/meeting space, where you can share and read about other practices, could be so valuable for everyone involved in the education system, not just teachers.
  5. The Need for Tech in Education. I think this is all too obvious, and was surprised by the amount of presentations on this topic. However, I soon realized through the comments of some who attended, that this is still an important conversation to have. Many still are resistant to the idea, and are hesitant or fearful of technology. I don't think it could be stressed any more than it already has, but technology is not going away, and students are pleading for it to be used in their classrooms, just like they use it at home. The results and examples clearly illustrate how many technology tools can really help teaching, benefit student learning, improve assessment, and create a much more enjoyable and real classroom. I guess it will always be a conversation to have, I just hope it becomes less of one, and more of the norm.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    Pow What? Powtoon!

    Ok, I had to share this. One, because it has so much potential with the 'flipped' classroom, and two, because it's just cool! I don't mean to shamelessly advertise for company, but I find that every once in a while I come across a really useful website/app/tech. tool, that needs to be shared; and this one is definitely no exception. It really caught my attention when a coworker of mine created this video. It's simple, yet highly informative, entertaining, and effective. He did it using the website Powtoon - don't let the name confuse you!

    I think it's so useful because unlike the typical videos I use for my 'flipped' classroom, Powtoon allows you to fully animate concepts and illustrate events using simple, but effective graphics. As soon as I watched the intro video on their website, my mind instantly remembered this video from I remember showing the Girl Effect video to my geography class last year, and can remember how hooked they were. They wanted to watch it again, and again; they wanted to create one just like it for their project; but unfortunately at that time, I had no clue how they could create something like that.

    For students, when learning any new concept, the delivery can mean the difference between understanding, and scratching their heads. For teachers, understanding how to deliver new information, can also mean the difference between students being hooked, or students being asleep. I think the more tools we as educators have at our disposal, the more dynamic our classroom can be. So whether you're using a 'flipped' classroom approach, or the traditional model, a tool like Powtoon can really make the classroom a more enjoyable place.

    Thursday, September 20, 2012

    Flipped FAQ's

    Teaching teachers about technology - sounds like a bit of a tongue twister. It felt a little bit like one last Friday when myself, and a few other peers 'attempted' to teach the staff at my school about various technology practices. Over the course of an hour and a half (all the time the school board allowed for technology PD - sad, I know) teachers engaged in a series of workshops related to technology. Their options included the use of Twitter in the classroom, using an online class system called Angel, blogs, wikis, and of course the flipped classroom.

    The response to all the workshops was great, and I think a few eyes and minds were opened. The flipped classroom session was no different. Staff really seemed to respond positively to the idea, and even the most trepid amongst the participants seemed to at least begin to think about the possibilities. After the very brief 30 minute session was complete, there were however a number of questions that were left unanswered. Therefore, below I have at least attempted to answer all the questions posed by participants from my own perspective. This does not mean that these responses are correct in any way, just my own thoughts and ideas.

    1.What do you do if the students don't watch the videos?
    Generally, the response from students has been good so far. Students who I have taught in the past, and who have caused me some grief with their lack of participation and learning, are responding very positively to watching the videos. They are coming to me in advance and informing me that they may not be able to watch the video that night. This would have never happened previously; they would have simply came to class the next day and told me they didn't do their homework. Thus they are demonstrating not only commitment, but also careful planning and time management. However, in dealing with the students who do not watch the videos, I make sure to allow for those students to watch the video at the very beginning of class, while other students who have watched the video engage in group discussions. I entered into this flipped-class model with the idea that I'm not going to fight a losing battle, and will simply try to accommodate. This does not mean I am not keeping track of those who continuously come to class without watching the video, and when I feel like it has gone on for too long, I will make adjustments then.

    2. How will the flip-class help language learners?
    I am not an ESL nor language teacher, so my knowledge of teaching languages is limited (limited equals none in this case!). However, I will say, that it is my belief that students learn best when they are using multiple senses. Whether you use videos, or any other resource in your flipped classroom, just make sure they are using multiple senses. I think videos really can help language learners because they are able to slow them down, replay, re-watch, take careful notes, and listen to the words as well as read them on the screen. I have to believe this really helps language learners?!

    3. What does the class look like now? What do lessons look like?
    My class as it stands is still very similar to how it looked previously. There may be a bit more 'organized chaos' at the beginning of class, but I still have students seated in groups and working independently at times. I am not yet at the mastery level of flipping, and so my classroom does not yet look like a drop-in centre; however, I am loosening the reins a bit and beginning to allow organization to fall to the students.
    Lessons are still very similar to the traditional class. They are still broken down into 3 parts, however, the 'action' part, or 'do' part, now takes up the majority of class time. I think this is important, and is the reason why I flipped. I still however, want my students to think about, and discuss, the previous night's video, and so that now comprises the beginning of my lesson. As well, I feel it's still important to debrief the 'action' part and ensure the students truly understand the lesson. This part however, I am sure will become more difficult as the students begin to work at their own pace and time-frame. We'll see how it looks then?

    4. How can you flip your class easily?
    I don't know if there is any 'easy' way to flip? I guess you could simply assign textbook reading material instead of videos or other sources of information; but I don't believe students would really buy into this type of flip. I think video still offers a lot of benefits, and thus makes flipping hard work. However, I believe there are two ways you could flip that might be easier than making daily screen-cast videos:
    a) Video tape your lectures for one whole semester. This way you will have all your lessons on video that you can use the next semester when you flip. It wouldn't really add any extra work, and you could still use video as your 'flipping' material.
    b) Flip your class once/twice a week, and gradually increase it for each subsequent semester. Therefore over the course of a year or two, you would have all of your videos created for your 'flip-out'

    5. How do you ensure students watch the video and really learn the material?
    There is no difference in ensuring students understand the material in the flip-class as compared to a traditional classroom. I use regular quizzes to make sure, and hold discussions to assess. Eventually I would like to set up online quizzes to assess the students immediately after watching the video, and feel this would be a fantastic way to keep track of progress (think Khan Academy). Until then, it's really business as usual.

    6. What about access to technology for students?
    This is something that I don't have any issues with in my classes. However, I did make sure to send a letter home to their parents to ask them about their access to technology. This will help me ensure all students can watch the videos posted on Youtube. As well, the amount of time students have during their lunch, the time they have before and after school, and the prevalence of mobile technology, there are definitely ways to ensure students have access to watch the videos.

    7. What tips do you have for video content?
    I think it's important to have lots of visuals to accompany text. Therefore, I also believe text is important so students are able to read if they are not necessarily auditory learners. I try to include a visual to accompany most of my text, and use PowerPoint slides to do this. Eventually, animation, highlighting, and other visual aids will be included so that the information is emphasized. The other part that I feel is important is to make the videos more than just the curriculum material. The students in my class have responded positively when I sing a theme song to begin each of my videos, when I tell personal stories to help emphasize material, and when I joke around on the video, just like I would in class. Making the videos your own and ensuring they convey your personality I think is very important; because I think some students may rather still have you as a teacher at the front of the class teaching like this. Which brings me to...

    8. How can a video be more interesting than in-person lectures?
    I don't know if there is any way to be more interesting in a video as compared to person. I think you can be close, but I don't know if I ever will be. The one thing I have found though, is that as I have made more and more videos, I have become more and more comfortable, and my personality is definitely showing itself more in the videos. I think that as time goes on, and my video production skills increase, the videos will become more and more interesting. Accompany this with still interesting classes, and I believe students won't really miss a thing (cue Aerosmith).

    Sunday, September 9, 2012

    It's Been One Week...

    ... since you looked at me." Sorry was a little distracted there with the Barenaked Ladies song in my head. This post is about one week, but not at all what the BNL were singing about. It has been one week since I started flipping my marketing classes, and the results so far? Well a little inconclusive. However, I will say, things look promising.

    I started this semester with the idea of 'training' my students. I figured that if they have experienced 10+ years of school one way, than the first couple days in the flipped classroom would be a bit of an adjustment. I proceeded this year with the usual introductions and course outlines, however, instead of taking too much time on that, I used the majority of the first class introducing the students to the flipped class model. I presented to them an informational presentation on the flipped model in the usual way - me standing at the front of the class, and presenting the information to them like a "sage on the stage". I asked them what they thought of learning that way, and received the usual shy responses; "It's okay", "I don't mind", and "We're used to it" were the majority of responses. These responses indicated that my students were fine with the usual model, however, there wasn't any indication that they were enthused by it.
    After presenting in the usual sort of way, I then explained that we would run through the new way of doing things in our class. I handed out note taking templates, and explained to them how to take notes while watching videos - key points, details, summary, and then a question that can be used for discussion. I then loaded my introductory video of "How to watch the lecture videos" which explained to them the STORM concept of watching videos (STORM is also our school mascot). You can take a look at the video here. I tried to set the theme, asking them to pretend that school has just ended and they are all sitting at home watching the video. I played the video and walked out of class to listen just outside the door (listening to yourself on video is highly embarrassing!). The students giggled at first, but surprisingly every single one took notes on the video! I came back into class, and reset the theme explaining that they have now all started the next school day, all have come to class and now we would begin the next day's lesson. At this point I explained how we would begin every class.
    I arranged the class into 3 groups - Know, Wonder, & Learn. I explained to the students that they would decided which group to join based on their video viewing experience. The 'Know' group would consist of those students who watched the video, felt confident with the material, and completed their notes. In this group, these students would share their summaries, ask each other their discussion questions, participate in a discussion based on those questions, and then answer a question I posed to the whole group. The 'Wonder' group would be those students who watched the video, but did not feel confident in the material. I explained to them that I would be a part of this group, and would be there to answer any questions they might have regarding the material. We would therefore work through their questions to come to an understanding of the concept. The 'Learn' group would therefore be those students who did not watch the video prior to class and therefore needed to. I explained to these students that I was okay with them not watching the video once in a while, but if it became habit, then we would need to have a 'frank' discussion. The whole class seemed to buy into this method of beginning class and seemed to like the idea that they had options.
    Once the students were 'trained' on video viewing procedures and the routine to start the class, I then explained that the rest of the period would be all about application. This would be where they would be challenged with a task to complete which had them apply their knowledge of the concept seen on the video. They seemed to also respond positively to this as they liked the idea that class was all about 'doing' now, and not just sitting there listening. I also explained that I would be able to help them much more during class (a real benefit of the model) and act as a tutor during the application if any of them needed it. I then ended the class by providing them the link to watch that night's video.

    This procedure was something that I found in my research on others who are 'flipping' their classes. I liked the idea because the routine allows the students to basically run the beginning of class. It also allows me to assess the students learning and keep track of those students who continually struggle with their understanding.

    The next day was somewhat positive. Unfortunately the link did not work for one of my classes, and half of the other; however, 99% of my students did try to access the video to watch it. From that standpoint it was very positive. That kind of response is something that I hope continues!

    Due to the shortened week that's all the reflection I have. This week will consist of 4 videos that the students will be required to watch. Well see how it goes. Stay tuned!

    Friday, August 31, 2012

    Summer's Over Already?

    Well summer is already over. It seems to always fly by, and I always seem to make the same comment - "it goes by too quick!". I try to decompress and disconnect during my summers; leave the school work, thoughts and ideas behind, and try to just enjoy the sunny, summer days. This year was no exception, and thus the reason why it's been a little while since my last post. However, I will say this, I found myself thinking a lot more of this upcoming school year than in year's past. The reason - it all has to do with 'flipping'.

    I wrote a post not too long ago about the flipped classroom model of teaching. Over the last several months I have been researching extensively and putting together ideas for bringing this model to my classroom. A few colleagues and I have decided to jump right into this model, the deep end of course, and use this method of teaching this September. We have administration support, resources and $, and have set up the technology necessary for implementing the flip. I've planned out the videos, the activities that will be used in class, and the process to start the year. It requires quite a bit of planning and prepping and have come to recognize that as much as I don't want to think of school at all until September, if I really want to implement this model I had to get started a little earlier than usual. Surprisingly, I've been okay with this and have become a bit excited to get things going!

    The very beginning of this year will require a lot of 'training' for my students to acclimatize them to the process. I plan on taking the first couple days just going through the routine and ensuring that they understand the process. The first day is usually a 'get-to-know-each-other' day anyway, so I figured I will still do this, but focus a bit more on 'get-to-know-the-flipped-classroom' instead. I've put together information for the students and expectations for the class and how to effectively watch the videos. For parents, I've also put together a letter (huge thanks to Crystal Kirsch!) and an information video so that they are completely aware of the situation. I can just imagine the first couple weeks when my students go home every night and watch videos instead of doing homework or other work! I figure laying the groundwork now will pay dividends later on.

    The videos have been a bit interesting. It's always so foreign to hear your own voice, and a bit embarrassing talking to a computer screen. I've become a lot more comfortable in creating them however, and recognize the better you make the visuals, the better AND easier creating videos become. I've tried to keep them all between 5-15 minutes and hopefully the students appreciate this.

    The last part of this preparation has been the in-class activities - something I've found through researching and online discussions, is often overlooked. I have found too many people focus the majority of their efforts on just creating the videos; unfortunately, this is the less important component of the flipped class model. Therefore, I've really tried to ensure that I focus on the types of activities my students will be engaging in class, after they have watched the concept videos. This I've found to be a challenging part of the preparation, as getting away from creating activities that last 30 minutes, and trying to create activities that last 65-70 minutes is difficult to say the least. 

    Overall, I think I'm ready for the challenge. I guess this post is really about what I've experiences so far, and what I'm hoping for to start the school year. I don't expect it to be a seamless transition as this is a new way of learning not only for the students, but myself as well. I plan on continuously updating this blog (more frequently I promise) not only with useful tech tools that can be used in the classroom, but also my experience with flipping my classroom. I expect many of the posts will be me venting my frustration, but I hope to share some positive experiences as well. I think the key going into this whole thing is that this is not a one-semester experiment, but a continuous transition that will take several attempts before I see quality returns. Here's to a successful school year, and fingers crossed!

    Monday, June 25, 2012

    Ted? Is that you?

    It's June. Exams are over, marks have been updated, reports are finished, and I can finally get back to this blog. It's been a while, I know, I've missed you too. However, you can't say that I have not been busy. Over the last several weeks, aside from the usual classroom work, and reporting process, myself and a group of other teachers have embarked on a new journey (that sounds corny I know - but it is true). A group of us have begun the process of 'flipping' our classrooms. We have ratcheted up the learning, at a time in the year where most are dialled down. We have begun researching about the products and processes required to effectively 'flip', and I can honestly say it's pretty cool to see all of the tech tools out there that you can use. The one that really caught my eye recently is one that many are familiar with - TED. Only this TED is a little bit different than his more famous brother. This TED is TED-ED.
    First, if you haven't checked out TED yet, then please do so. The countless hours of video lectures are amazing, and I constantly find myself watching these videos rather than TV. Below are a list of what I think may be some of the best that pertain to education.
    Now that you are familiar with TED, let's meet his little brother TED-ED. Now this little brother has a pretty large mission - capturing great lessons from the world's educators. With TED-ED you can submit an idea for a lesson, have a professional animator illustrate it for video, record your own voice to it, and then have it posted on the website; where thousands of other educators can use it for their own lessons. Most videos are then accompanied with a number of questions, both simple and critical thinking, as well as extension activities. The idea that anyone, anywhere in the world can create a lesson is somewhat new, definitely amazing, and really shows how far we've come, not just with regards to technology, but collaboration. There are so many amazing teachers out there, TED has just given those teachers a new platform to share their great lessons, and we can all benefit from this. The website/project is still in its infancy, but before long I imagine it will be contain a wealth of knowledge and lessons that many educators will use on a regular basis. I for one can't wait to see where it goes from here!

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

    A Blog About Blogs

    Utilizing the online classroom effectively can open up a world of possibilities. I hope with the last couple of posts, people might strongly consider moving a lot of their teaching and resources online. It's the environment used most by our students, and we really need to consider doing the same. This blog is about just that; using 'their' environment to not only educate them, but others as well.

    The idea of writing a blog, to some, may seem like a waste-of-time kind of idea. Who's going to read it? Who's going to care? What can I write about? All this may be true, if you don't have anything worthwhile to say. For me to suggest that this blog is followed by many, is a huge overstatement. I'm amazed actually if anyone at all is reading this now? Many students will also have these feelings and opinions. However, blogging has become a huge voice in today's world. It's what has allowed thousands to spread the word about various issues and events. It's allowed for the dissemination of information to the masses. It's what has given many people a platform, and thus an audience who would never have been able to achieve such feats previously. Encouraging students to take their voices online can greatly aid in the learning of the classroom, as well as their awareness of what's out there.

    For the most part students have simply written statements online in 140 characters or less, or about things they saw, heard, or did today to their group of 'friends'. I believe many have not given much consideration to really formulating an opinion online, and having to defend or appreciate the comments left by others. For the most part, students feel that whatever they post online goes without defense or critique. Blogging can really force students to consider what they write, and how others will perceive their writing. But how do you go about getting your students to blog? What activities can you use in the class? And how do you keep students interested?

    Raising awareness of blogs and generating interest has to be accomplished before you can even begin to ask your students to blog. Therefore, introducing your students to online blogs is the first step necessary in getting your students to blog. Blog hosting websites like,, or, contain thousands of excellent blogs that you can use to illustrate blogging to your students. will allow students to 'collect' blogs and follow them using their computer, tablet, or mobile device. There are plenty of examples out there to show them just how many people are blogging, and all the different uses for blogging.

    The next step is to have your students learn the steps, characteristics, and rules of blogging. The best strategy that I believe to do this is something I found on, well, another blog. It's called 'Paper Blogging' and it illustrates to students all the necessary skills required when blogging. I could go on, but why not just check it out:

    Lastly, what can you use blogging for with your students? Other than asking them to blog about the day's lesson and what they learned, felt, or thought from it, there are countless activities that can be done. In the past I have had my students blog about economic news events that have taken place throughout the semester. They had to summarize what happened and the impact the event would have on the economy. It's an activity that can be translated to many classes and courses, and is a simple one. However, one that I believe would lend itself to much greater critical thinking is something discussed just the other day at a PLC meeting. What about posting one simple question to the students the very first day of class, that the students would have to continuously address throughout the semester/year?

    This idea was posed for Canadian geography, so I will do my best to use that course as an example to illustrate the concept. The idea is to pose to the class on the very first day the question "What makes Canada such a special and unique place to live?" It is also in your best interest to inform the students that the very same question will appear on the final exam. Each student would then construct a blog where they would address that question and write about Canadian news stories, lessons learned in class, and any other ideas they had regarding the question. They could choose either side of the opinion in answering it, but the whole idea is to continuously have students comment on Canada and the uniqueness (or lack of) that this country has. They could source news articles, other peoples blogs, and videos. They would also comment on each others blogs, critiquing or agreeing with each other along the way. Not only would students critically assess Canadian geography, but they would also engage in an interesting conversation online. The final step to this activity is to pose that very same question on the final exam. For those students who continuously blogged, answering the question will be relatively simple, as they have already put forth all the necessary hard work and critical thinking. For those who did little blogging, they would then have to really work hard to answer the question. An interesting idea, and one that I will be trying next school year.

    For other ideas, search online, there are hundreds of activities that you can use blogs for, and students will appreciate the online experience.

    Sunday, May 27, 2012

    Discuss This!

    Discussions in classrooms are valuable activities that allow students to analyze, assess, provide opinion, and argue about topics. They allow the teacher to assess students' understanding of the curriculum. Why do we limit ourselves then to only having discussions in physical classrooms? Why not take it online?

    Virtual/digital classrooms provide an excellent medium for hosting such discussions. Many of these digital classrooms provide the discussion forum tool that allow students to join and post their opinion on topics and questions posed by the teacher. There is great benefit to this. Students do not always have their thoughts organized enough in class to be able to speak about a topic. Many students require much more time to gather their opinions and ideas before speaking out to their peers. Many students would rather write down these thoughts on paper first before speaking out. A useful strategy is to host daily or regular discussion forum for students who can leave the classroom and then respond to the question online.

    My experience with this strategy has been positive, as I have found students who don't usually respond in class, responding much more online. In classes I have taught in the past, I have posted questions to the students at the beginning of the class, and have revisited the question at the end of the class. However, I have found that the same students are the ones responding, and the voices of the majority are not heard. Whereas hosting an online discussion forum has brought many new voices and thus opinions into the discussion, and the results have been great! However, there are a few things to remember with this.

    1. Be regular. Schedule this strategy into your weekly plans. I wouldn't suggest doing this everyday, as setting the bar that high may mean ultimate failure; but twice or three times a week would keep your students connected to the routine. 
    2. Make it meaningful. Students typically do not do work just for the sake of it. You as the teacher have to use this strategy as an assessment. However, I would suggest that you look to assess students responses on a weekly basis rather than each and every discussion. Not every discussion requires a response from every student, but I would say that responding at least once a week in a meaningful way can, and should, contribute to the students' overall grade.
    3. Respond in kind. Having students respond to a question and each other is great, and students typically like to hear what their peers have to say. But you as well need to respond. Showing your students that you are paying attention to their opinions is easy to do in class, and necessary, and therefore online should be no different. Follow-up with your students and pose new questions. Critique their responses and approve their opinions. Showing any interest whatsoever will keep students coming back for more, and will lead to continued valuable discussions.
    4. Switch it up. Rather than always looking to illicit responses from students on questions posed, frequently change the task. Have students look for articles, websites, blogs, etc. connected to the topic and have them provide a response to these. Have them post their own questions and generate their own discussions. Have students take the discussion to Twitter rather than the usual discussion board. Whatever you do, don't remain stagnant. Just like we need to switch up our activities in the classroom, we need to also switch up our activities online, and discussions are no different.
    5. Have fun. The last thing you want to do is make the task mundane. Obviously not every discussion can be fun, and not every student will find it interesting, but you as the teacher can attempt to make things a little more enjoyable. Why not simply hold a discussion about a school event, popular culture, or the latest youtube sensation. It doesn't always have to be curriculum related, and you may find that the conversation does begin to connect to your course once the conversation gets going.
    Discussion forums can be a great way of engaging your classroom. They don't have to be a chore however, and you don't have to host them every day. Setting up your online class website to host even a few can add a new dynamic to you classroom. And who knows, you might find a student you always thought was shy and reserved to be the most talkative and outgoing online. It's all about the medium.

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    Online Classroom Flip-Out!

    As has been discussed previously, online or virtual classrooms, are excellent digital tools that allows you to do many things with your students. Maybe one of the best uses could be using it to ‘flip your classroom’. Getting into a discussion on the merits of such a teaching philosophy is a blog post in itself, so I will avoid such a debate. Instead this post will simply be about providing you with the details of how to do it using your online classroom.
    However, before we begin, a brief overview of flipping the classroom is needed. Simply put, flipping the classroom, is based on the idea of having students learn a new concept out of the classroom, so that when students return to class the next day, that knowledge can be applied and greater critical thinking can take place. This attainment of knowledge can come from watching online videos, digital presentations, reading their textbook , news sources, or wherever the information is. The implications of this practice means that rather than spending 90% of class time learning a concept and using the remaining 10% applying it, ‘flipping the classroom’ allows the teacher to allot more time on ensuring students understanding and providing greater critical discussions around the topic.
    I would hazard to guess that most teachers want to achieve such a result. Imagine walking into class everyday knowing that your students have learned the concept on their own, and are ready to engage in such activities? This is the Utopian model of teaching! However, it’s not easy; and in most cases it means a bit more ‘up-front’ work for teachers.  It means teachers will need to organize, and in some cases, prepare a variety of digital resources for your students.
    Step 1: Whether it’s a Prezi, PowerPoint, YouTube video, website, blog, or whatever it may be, these resources will be the required material that students access in order to learn new concepts. Therefore, lots of online researching is required and teachers need to accumulate a tremendous amount of digital resources.
    Step 2: The next part is getting your students to buy into the concept. This is also easier said than done. However, the fact that you are using a digital platform to present information, students will more readily accept such learning. Much of their time is spent online anyway, and in many cases students would prefer this format. However, not every student will ‘buy into’ your model and this is where formative assessment plays a large role.
    Step 3: One of the tools many virtual classrooms provides you with is the ‘assessment’ or ‘survey’ function. These functions allow you to create a quiz, test, or exam using questions you determine and input into the virtual classroom. They allow you to create any question type from multiple choice, to short answer, and therefore you can create a quick 10 question type quiz based on a resource you have asked your students to look at online. This follow-up and formative assessment will ensure your students are doing the required readings, video watching, or whichever learning you decide.
    So what if your virtual/online classroom doesn’t have this tool. Well you can revert back to pen and paper and have a daily quiz when your students return to class the next day. Either way, you are ensuring your students are learning the concepts and following-up with them if they are not.
    Online classrooms provide you with plenty of opportunities to engage your students. Using these tools to 'flip your classroom' could be what your students are asking for!

    Saturday, May 12, 2012

    Let's get Virtual!

    Virtual or online classrooms are excellent tools that many educators are using now. For those still in the 'dark' about these environments, they offer many online tools that allow teachers to connect digitally with their students. They provide excellent extensions to the classroom that students appreciate as you are able to connect to 'their' world. Many schools offer online class websites such as 'MyClass' which provide a lot of useful features but often times are  limited in a number of important features; most noticeably that they only allow ‘one-way’ communication.  This type of communication only allows for teachers to distribute resources, links, and dates, and therefore limits student involvement. Other online class websites, such as ‘Angel’, allow students to communicate with each other, and most importantly, you the teacher; asking questions and finding answers to many issues that they might have forgotten about until after they left the classroom. This type of online classroom allows for teachers to post important dates, announcements, resources, and links, but also allows for assignment inboxes, blogs, wikis, surveys, discussion forums, quizzes, email, live chat, and marking and returning assignments all online. Over the next couple of weeks I will profile many of these online features that digital classrooms like 'Angel' provide, and explain the uses of these tools and how you can 'connect' more with your students!

    Tuesday, May 8, 2012

    Tweet This!

    Although many have an aversion to tweeting, the many uses of twitter can add an exciting dynamic to any classroom. It can be more than simply telling your followers what you ate for lunch, or where you went for Easter break. An experiment on the use of social media at the University of Leicester in the UK has shown that Twitter can act as a valuable communication tool, as it developed peer support among students, personal learning networks, and an increase in students arranged social meetings. Try using it to hold a class brainstorm session, analyze the math behind a viral tweet/hashtag, issue a poll to gauge opinion, or communicate with experts in their field. Check out for more ideas!

    Thursday, April 26, 2012

    Stats Are Cool?

    How many of you have sat through endless lectures in university staring at graphs and statistics, all the while wondering, "How could this get anymore boring?" Yes, we’ve all been there, and wish we were anywhere else but. Graphs and plotting data points can be quite boring; staring at them and attempting to analyze them the same. Well not anymore!  Hans Rosling has made it extremely cool and interesting! He has brought us Gapminder. An exceptionally designed website, chalk full of social, economic, educational, environmental, etc. statistics that you can use to plot and analyze. It allows you to look at the world from a different perspective and appreciate various countries’ places in the world. The only way to really appreciate what I’m saying is to watch Hans explain:
    From there, explore the website, plot some data, and never let anyone ever say “stats are not cool”.