Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Communique on Communication

This week's conversation is all about communication. A new voice has been added to the mix, so I invite you to follow along with the conversation by taking a look at each of the following blogs:

  • Debbie Axiak - @DebbieAxiak - http://debbieaxiak.blogspot.ca/ 
  • Matthew Oldridge - @matthewoldridge - http://matthewoldridge.blogspot.ca/ 
  • Tina Zita - @tina_zita - http://misszita.wordpress.com/ 
  • Magdelina Front - @techmagfront - http://upfrontandcentre.wordpress.com/

Here is what the team came up with this week (Again, I've left mine own until the end):

  • Debbie Axiak - Communication = Giving and/or receiving information
  • Matthew Oldridge - Communication = making your voice heard
  •  Tina Zita - Communication = clear message, deep toolbox, understanding audience
  • Magdelina Front - Communication = Conveying relevant messages that inspire others

And my thoughts regarding Communication

Communication, like each of the other 6 C’s, receives a lot of dialogue & discussion amongst academic professionals. We often hear in our staff rooms complaints regarding the delivery of messages by our students through their written and oral work. I find myself in these discussions quite a bit, and am constantly reminded at all the different ways messages are communicated.

These ways may have never been so numerous than they are now. And these messages conveyed in all sorts of different languages - and I’m not talking about foreign languages, but the modifications we’ve made to English/other native languages (U know? lol). I think this is a challenge for many teachers to accept and acknowledge that it’s not about the spelling, but about the message. That’s what communication is really about, is it not? Believe me, I’m not about to say that spelling & grammar does not matter; but does it matter as much as it once did?

In a world where we are bombarded by hundreds of messages each minute, it’s the message that stands out, which receives our attention. When we are in our classrooms, it’s the message that provokes thought, dialogue, discussion, critique, and our collective attention that is effective communication. Whether this is lengthy verbal conversation, or a brief 140 character message conveyed in a Twitter chat, it doesn’t really matter, so long as the results are what was originally intended.

In the 21st century, it is so important that we teach our students how to access the media necessary to convey their message. How to convey their message in a way that grabs others attention. And how to use the conventions of the chosen media to do this effectively.  We live in a world now where social media is King, and the communication that we receive revolves around this media. As Clay Shirky once said, “The Internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time. The Internet gives us the many-to-many pattern. For the first time, media is natively good at supporting these kinds of conversations.”

Therefore, unlike definitions of the past, where communication is all about imparting or exchanging information between a few, 21st century communication is all about conveying your message in a way that captures the attention of hundreds (or thousands if you are Taylor Swift). Because if you want to stand out in today’s age, and have your voice heard, you are going to have to scream it from the top of the Twitter/Snapchat/YouTube/Facebook/Tumblr/etc.  mountain.

Communication = Capturing the Attention of the Masses

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Journey Continues - Critical Thinking

Attempting to define each of the 6 C's of 21st Century Learning has become quite the task. Each C brings with it new questions, insights, and opinions regarding definitions; and how differently we look at it sometimes. This week it was about defining Critical Thinking - a C that for me has become the very large C that fills my classroom everyday. The team has assembled, and the ideas sprung to paper (or computer screens actually).

Instead of providing each person's thoughts regarding the 6 C's, I ask you to take a second and read about theirs on each of their blogs:

  • Debbie Axiak - @DebbieAxiak - http://debbieaxiak.blogspot.ca/ 
  • Matthew Oldridge - @matthewoldridge - http://matthewoldridge.blogspot.ca/ 
  • Tina Zita - @tina_zita - http://misszita.wordpress.com/ 

However, as far as definitions go, I thought it best to use the following to illustrate each person's (I've left mine own until the end):

  •  Matthew Oldridge - Critical Thinking = Making sound judgements 
  •  Debbie Axiak - Critical Thinking = not accepting things at face value 
  •  Tina Zita - Critical Thinking = asking questions and responding. 

So here are my thoughts regarding Critical Thinking:

"I have only recently begun to consider what critical thinking really means, and have thus shifted my focus on trying to develop this in my students. Up until this point I never really gave it much scrutiny; as I focused on the Knowledge component of students’ learning. I wanted to ensure students ‘knew’ content and could tell me the terms, concepts, and theories. I wanted students to regurgitate studied information and demonstrate to me that they could remember key curriculum components. Why? Well this was what I was taught to be ‘learning’. Only to realize this to be a very erroneous assumption of learning.

I was always a curious child growing up - yes that annoying child who constantly asked the ‘Why’ about everything. I wanted to figure out how things work, tearing apart old radios and anything else that could be taken apart to understand the inner workings of things (I never figured it out, I just liked the destruction I think). As well, my elementary teachers couldn’t tell me to do things, without providing a reason first; and if I didn’t like their reasoning, I surely wasn’t about to do what they told me (which more often than not, provided me with a reason to visit the principals office on more than one occasion). However, I lost this somewhere. Somewhere along the way, I stopped asking those questions, and just did what I needed to get by. I believe this is an unfortunate part of our education system; or has traditionally been an unfortunate part. However, I believe the focus is now shifting dramatically away from a concentration on Knowledge, to a much greater focus on a true demonstration of learning.

Critical thinking is a much more accurate definition of learning really. The ability to describe ‘Why’ things happen, ‘How’ things happen, and the ‘Impacts’ of world happenings. In the ‘AG’ era (After Google), any student can search terms, concepts, and theories, and define them using their digital devices; but it’s much more difficult for a student to ‘Google’ the ‘How’, ‘Why’, and ‘Impacts’ of world happenings. This is why Critical Thinking is so crucially important.

When students are able to critically think, they are able to truly learn about issues, events, concepts, theories, and people from around the world. When students critically think about their own learning, they begin to realize why they perform such actions, create such assessments, and present in such ways. They begin to realize what THEY DO has an impact on the World around them. That to me, is true learning."

Critical Thinking = Why we Do What we Do

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The 6 C's Project - Creativity

A Little Background:

There has been a lot of chatter about standardized testing, assessment, curricular goals and the 6Cs of 21st Century Education. Opinions are wide ranging, and many. A couple of colleagues, Tina Zita and Matthew Oldridge (see below), heard Annie Kidder at the OISE Early Years Symposium. She made a statement that got them thinking; she said "It isn’t that we measure. It is what we measure that matters". This seemed to strike a chord with them both, and they took to Twitter to ask the question: 

"How do we measure creativity, critical thinking, communication, or any of the 6 C's of 21st Century Learning without a clear understanding of what we are hoping to achieve?"

The interesting part of this was that same week, a number of colleagues, including myself, were having the very same discussion in our attempts to plan our long term goals as a department. In chatting with both Tina & Matthew, and my own department, it became clear that there was a need to attempt to define each of the C's so that we can better our own professional development.

Therefore the motivation was there, the need apparent, and the plan became clear - if a number of us tackled each of the 6 C's, perhaps we could come to a consensus/better understanding moving forward. Therefore, each week we will provide our own insights on each of the C's, and hopefully be able to apply them better in our own classrooms. 

So without further adieu, below is a collection of perspectives and opinions on the first 'C' - Creativity. It should be noted, that I've included each person's twitter contact, as well as a link to their individual blogs. Do check out each of their blogs as they provide their 6 word definition of Creativity (just like I do at the bottom); as well as provide a lot of great insight on a number of different topics.

Matthew Oldridge (@MatthewOldridge)

We are born creative, but do we, like Sir Ken Robinson claims, have creativity educated out of us?

If creativity is something we value, how can we make sure schools do their part in valuing and teaching creativity? We can probably start by coming up with our own simple and workable definition for this surprisingly complicated word (if you don’t believe it’s complicated, take a look at the Wikipedia entry).
Here is mine:  making something new. This is easy enough to understand in arts classrooms, which are used working with creativity. In other 21st century classrooms, what could it look like?
-”doing” and explaining a math problem in a Minecraft environment
-inventing a new and novel metaphor for a scientific phenomenon, and illustrating the metaphor
-using historical big ideas to make an original short film (or heritage minute)
Best of all, let students choose their own methods and ways of showing their learning. Provided we teach from the curricular “big ideas”, encourage divergent versus convergent thinking, allow differentiation, and make our learning goals transparent, there is no limit to the number of ways they could “make things new.”

Debbie Axiak (@DebbieAxiak)

Creativity is the process of combining knowledge, skills and imagination to produce something new that is relevant and has value.

Skills, knowledge and imagination are all fundamental requirements for creativity (whether within one individual or as a collaborative effort). I would also argue that something can’t just be an idea - something has to be produced (a story, a dance, a solution, etc.)

The definition of creativity in a teaching and learning environment also has to include the word relevant, since something can be ‘new or novel or original’ but if it has nothing to do with the assignment then it isn’t really valuable for that situation.. For example, if I assign a big idea assignment (in any subject, but lets say the History of New France) and allow the freedom of choice in presentation formats and I receive a “WOW! Original! Amazing! film with amazing special effects, all about kangaroos - it might be creative but it isn’t relevant to that particular history class. This student might become famous for their CREATIVE films, and decide that my history class wasn’t relevant,  but it would not demonstrate knowledge, understanding, thinking, application, communication of the big ideas for this topic.

Tina Zita (@tina_zita)

Even if creativity is one of the hot buzz words of the moment, I find it completely mesmerizing. For a long time I equated creativity with being artistic and as someone who has two left feet, can’t draw much more than a flower and only sings in the safety of my car I found it hard to see myself as creative. As time progressed, the definition transformed and it almost became a badge of honour: a way to identify as being unique, thinking outside the box. Can everyone be creative? The fascination with creativity has taken over and the questions I have been contemplating abound. What is creativity? Is it nurtured or is it inherent in a child’s nature?  What role does creativity play in success?

So in an effort to better define creativity I thought of the most creative person I know (knew): my grandfather. He definitely broke the artist mold: he was not a painter, writer or artist and if you ever heard him sing ‘Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail’ at Easter in a thick Italian accent you knew his kids got their musical abilities from someone else. My grandfather was a garbage collector for the city of Toronto for over 30 years but his creativity was found in his luscious postage stamp sized Toronto garden. Like many Italian immigrants on the street he maximized every inch of his his space growing enough fruit and vegetables to supply the family for the summer and beyond (tomato sauce stock piled for the year). There were grapes over the walkway, herbs by the garage and beans across the back gate. My grandfather was recycling before it was cool, upcycling finds from the day like broken hockey sticks as plant holders or tool handles. He didn’t take climate as a reason not to have a delicious fig tree, going through the trouble of burying it every year. He did not accept the fact that having trees meant you could only have 2 fruits, grafting several trees together. As I reflect my artistic view of creativity has definitely gone and what remains is a vision of the possibilities. More than anything the creative individuals I have observed create new and amazing things from the ordinary, they maximize everything they have (time, resources, people). They look at a backyard, canvas, screen and see the possibilities.That is the lesson I want for my students.


My Own 

I have no idea what creativity means! But does anyone else? It is something different for every individual, and different across disciplines. I like to look at it from a bit of a marketing perspective however, as I find students have a better understanding from this perspective. Right or wrong, it what allows me to best explain it to students, and allows a framework to be set which can then be used for assessment purposes.
In my mind, creativity is a projection of someone’s work in which it attracts attention, generates interest (makes you go wow!), provides the necessary information in a consistent theme, and achieves stated goals. I liken it to an effective advertisement  & the AIDA formula for marketing – Does it stop what you are doing to watch? Does it convey the necessary information (or interest you enough to go and find info)? Is it consistent in its imagery? Message? Pace? Etc.  Does it make you desire the product? And lastly does it make you at least consider going out and purchase the product? The best, and most creative advertisements, do this.
So for a student’s work:
Does it make you go wow?! – It’s gotta stand out a bit. Creativity does not necessarily equal uniqueness, but uniqueness, I think is creative.
Does it have all the necessary elements/concepts/info? – If information is missing then I don’t believe they’ve been creative enough in conveying information.
Does it have a consistent theme – even something that is abstract, sporadic, or all over the place, can be consistent.
Does it achieve goals? It has to fulfill it’s purpose, and what you want as a teacher.

Creativity: Clear & Purposeful WOW!

"So how do you define creativity? Do you agree with our definitions or disagree? We would love to hear from you."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Does Anyone Watch Cooking Shows for the Spatula? An ECOO Reflection

Another conference complete, and another set of thoughts swirling through my head! That's the feeling I now have after attending ECOO 13 - Bring IT, Together. Anyone who attended would attest to it being a great conference - well organized, very diverse set of sessions, excellent keynote presenters, and a wealth of information gained through many discussions. I always find myself walking away from professional development such as this, with a hundred new ideas to try, and a hundred more questions that need clarifying. Many of these thoughts and questions have been shared by many, as the twitter stream (#ecoo13) provides such confirmation. However, like last year, I thought I would share my 5 takeaways from the conference. Here they are, in no particular order of importance, significance, or any other ranking:
  1. Teachers Role in Educating Peers - I found myself in a number of conversations with other teachers who are attempting to teach other teachers edtech. The same questions always surfaced, with the big one being - "How?" How do we encourage other teachers to adopt educational technology, and integrate it effectively into their teaching practice? The answer to this question - No one knows! For a long time I have thought that this is unfortunate; however, I am beginning to find this encouraging. I don't believe there ever will be a definitive answer, nor do I believe there should be. As well, I think that it is a continuous process and we have to use a different set of tools to help & encourage our peers; and one way will not work with everyone. The simple fact that we are having this discussion is the encouraging sign. What it shows is that many teachers have realized that we have a place in supporting each other, and we can learn from each other along the way. In my mind, that is so much more profound than if we had found a single answer to apply to everyone.
  2. Students Need to be Creators & Collaborators, Not Just Consumers - I heard this mentioned in a number of sessions, and from both Amber Mac & Jamie Casap (keynote presenters). I love how this indicates just how much the conversation is changing with regards to the 21st century education. I have found the focus of many 21st education conversations to be about how to deliver information, access information, and a little bit about creating; using this cool new app, that cool new website, etc. However, 21st education has to be about more than consuming, and I loved how many people referred to this.
  3. Wifi is as Important as Electricity - Now don't get me wrong, this is really a statement of context, and depends on a whole range of things. However, when it comes to 21st century education and the way a classroom should function today, I think this is very true. As mentioned previously, we want our students to be collaborators, creators, curators, critical thinkers, and communicators, and to engage in these activities across borders and with others around the globe. In order to do this, we need to focus on ensuring that connection is reliable. I hope one day we do take wifi for granted, as we do currently with electricity. That will signal to me, that we have realized how important it is to communicate with others around the globe.
  4. Technology SUPPORTS Pedagogy and Content - I also love the fact that much of the discussion moved away from "Here's a new app" to "Here's a new app, and this is how it supports learning in my classroom". Any new app, website, or other piece of technology, is a tool just like the pencil, typewriter, or any other classroom tool we have used throughout history. Technology is just a tool, how it's used is what matters. There were great sessions and conversations around SAMR, TPACK, the 4/6 C's of 21st C skills, and what goes on in a truly 21st C classroom. When it comes to any educational technology trend, I think this is very important to remember. Whether it's blended learning, BYOD, or the flipped classroom, the focus and conversation has to be about the classroom - NOT the tech tool. I like to think of it this way - I don't watch the food network to see what spatula the chefs use. Who would? I watch to see the creation.
  5. The Value of Conversations - As great as the sessions were throughout the conference, I made sure to take a break each day so I could engage in both real conversations and those on Twitter. I find these conversations are where I learned some of the best things. I wish all PD realized the value of informal conversations, where teachers could come together and just share anything & everything (it's also probably why I think edcamps & unconferences are so great). 
There is a lot to think about now that the conference is finished. Lots to consider, lots to attempt to implement, and lots to further research. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Technasium Roadshow

Well we've decided to take the #Technasium on the road - we've packed up the room, put the whole thing in a winnebago (pretty large winnebago I know!), and set out on the open road to share our idea. We have Steppenwolf blaring through our soundsystem, and nothing but freedom in front of us.  First stop is the ECOO & OASBO ICT Conference 2013 - "Bring IT, Together".

We have never presented our idea to anyone outside of our school before, and don't know how it will be received. We keep thinking it will be a very large room, filled with the sound of crickets - we just don't know what to expect?!  However, surprisingly we have begun to see some interest developing, as people have connected via email, Twitter, and other social means who wish to learn more. Some will be attending in person, others unfortunately, can not. Therefore, thought it might be beneficial to live stream our session, for those who are unable to attend. And with the support of Ustream we have created our own channel for the session - Enter the #Technasium

Live streaming video by Ustream

So if you can't make it, not to worry. Grab a comfy chair, a coffee, some popcorn, and watch it live on Thursday, October 24 @ 2 PM.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Lack of Trust? or Just a Misunderstanding?

How would you describe the phone you have in your pocket? Would you just call it a cell phone? Would you call it a computer? A gaming device? A glorified calendar? Address book? Organizer? Or a device that allows you to waste hours of your day? Whichever description best suits your device, one thing is apparent. It's not really the device that determines the description, but the user.

Thanks @gcouros for the inspiration!

Most of us possess an 'i' device of some sort, and are constantly checking it, playing with it, or using it for just about everything. When you think of it, it's actually quite amazing isn't it? We are able to connect with each other in so many ways now. To some this seems strange and foreign, and doesn't make sense. To others, this is just the way we do things now.

I was struck by this today during our professional development day. I am a constant Twitter'er and find the information and messages on it to be a great source for learning. As I was participating in my own professional development, I was on Twitter as well, learning from other teacher's in our board about what they were doing. I saw tweets from teachers and schools across the board sharing their own experiences, quotes, videos, thoughts, and just about everything else. If I were to attempt to find this information out another way, it would take me days to send out emails, phone calls, or carrier pigeons; and I still would never gather such interesting information.

I also take all my notes on my device. I find it very beneficial as I don't have to worry about carrying around another 'tool' to do so. I can organize them, tag them for future reference; and add not just text, but visuals, links, and anything else I feel would benefit my ideas. I'm able to organize and express my thoughts this way, without worry; and access them no matter where I am. To others this may look like texting or someone who is distracted, to those who use their device in the same way, it's just normal practice.

Our own students use their devices in much the same way. They own very powerful, portable computers and can use them to do just about anything. Many teachers would rather ban the devices from their classrooms, and tell their students to put them away while they learn. I always find this interesting, as such devices can (and should) actually aid their learning. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and place for them to be put away, and greater digital citizenship is needed by our students. During tests, while having group discussions, and a few other activities would all provide reason for students to put their devices away. However, this is quite different from banning them altogether or for a period of time. Many will say those who don't allow students to use their devices in the classroom, do not trust their students. I believe however, that it's not as much about a lack of trust, but a lack of information; and thus a misunderstanding about the ability students have with their devices.

My iPad and iPhone, have become my notebooks. Twitter has become my professional development tool and learning network. My PD is now controlled by me, where I am able to customize it to 'fit' me. I don't have to wait for learning, I go to learning. I follow interesting people, and share information from them on a regular basis. I have made a choice to learn from others, and not attempt to in isolation. I trust that others learn in the same way, and that students use their devices to engage and connect with others. It's their comfort zone - an environment where they are able to share, discuss, collaborate, and create. And isn't this what a classroom is all about?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Making Connections

The #Technasium is in full swing with lots of learning going on. Over the past month, the staff has gradually trickled in to learn about various edtech tools; with more coming each day. A few of us have even made it into our own staff room, and have been hanging out there each period we have off. It's provided an environment for collaboration, sharing, planning, and just about everything else we set out to accomplish. However, even if you plan, and plan, and plan, there are still some unforeseen events that may still occur. And that's exactly what we've seen with the #Technasium.

It all started with a very simple idea to encourage greater use of the room. We began a series of 'Lunch 'n Learns' where we have invited staff to come down to the #Technasium on their off-teaching periods to learn how to use devices such as document cameras; social media like Twitter; and other tools teachers have found very useful. An email was sent out, a tweet was tweeted, and next thing you know connections were made! We fully expected staff from the building to participate, but after a colleague sent out a tweet, it was amazing what happened next...

As a high school we have plenty of connections with the community around us. Jim realized however, that we also have plenty of connections with our feeder schools (or family of schools). Learning about edtech is not an isolated learning environment, but one where many people need to collaborate, share, explore, plan, and discuss. Whether you are a secondary teacher, or an elementary teacher, learning about effective instructional technology implementation is all the same. The simple tweet Jim sent established a connection where not only the intermediate school next door jumped on the opportunity, but also one of our elementary schools a number of kilometers away.

From this one tweet we've now seen teachers from outside of our school come into the #Technasium to learn about edtech tools with our own staff. It's an environment we could not have foreseen nor planned, but one that we have gladly welcomed. It's still in its infancy, and whether we see more teachers visit the #Technasium is still too early to tell. However, these connections that have established themselves may not have happened previously; and collaboration between a family of schools may not have happened otherwise. It's as simple as that. Provide an environment for teachers to learn, and the result will not just be learning, but connections as well.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Enter the #Technasium

"Meaningful change ain't gonna happen for our kids if we're not willing to invest in it for ourselves first. At the heart, it's not about schools... it's about us"
~Will Richardson

For obvious reasons, I don't believe there is a better way to introduce the Technasium, then to quote Will Richardson first. An educator who has continuously promoted & demonstrated the advancement of education technology in our classrooms, and its benefits for our students; it just seems like the right place to start. I was struck when I saw that quote because of its direct connection to a new initiative a group of us have started this year to hopefully improve educational/instructional technology adoption and use in our school. We have termed this initiative the Technasium, and believe it will provide educators an opportunity to 'just play'.

So what the heck is it?
Well it's really just a room like any other; a former classroom that was rarely used. However, it is now a classroom that houses a piece of every technology we offer at our school for staff to use (i.e. Smartboard, PC's, iPads, etc.)  It is open every period of every day, so that staff can come in and prepare lessons using the technology they have available to them. It provides an environment for staff where they can mess around with the technology without any judgement, pressure, or time constraints. There are no students around, and so the opportunity to learn outside of the typical classroom is now available to them every day. 

So why are we doing it?
Two of the main obstacles that we have found when it comes to the adoption of edtech into lessons are time and availability. Many teachers have said they just don't have the time to try out a new piece of software, hardware, or other piece of technology; and if they do, they just don't have a space to try it out in (availability). Many of us, myself included, don't feel like trying out a website for the first time in the class with the actual students - plenty of problems may arise, and there we are standing at the front of the classroom wondering what to do next?! Therefore, with the Technasium, staff are able to access any web 2.0 tool, software, or hardware (a simple printer even) so that they can begin to integrate technology into their lessons. Our true belief is that technology should not be a side project, but integrated into every lesson; and we hope one day this may become a reality.

How did we do it?
Well that's something I don't really have the answer to. It started as a simple idea, thrown around to a couple other staff, pitched to administration, and next thing we knew we had created it. It's amazing how simple dialogue can lead to big changes and innovation.

The idea of trying something new is daunting; investing a great amount of time, energy, and resources, is risky; and we have no idea what we are really doing?!  We don't know what the results will show, but we do know we are not going to wait for evolution to take place on its own. We believe the only way for such a change to happen is to make an investment on our own to really push the change.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Starting Fresh

The stores are abuzz with "back-to-school" sales; the CNE is alive with glowing lights, carnival toys, and food poisoning; and every teacher is counting down the number of patio/cottage/camping days they have remaining. Yes, it's that time of year again.

Epic Burger at the CNE (Epic illness?)

However, for myself and 600 other Peel educators, summer ended a bit early; as the first ever 'Teaching & Learning in a Digital World' conference was held for those who were looking to get a head start on #peel21st education. I had the opportunity to share my flipped classroom experience with an amazing amount of peers, and learn from them as well. However, I always find myself short on time in conversing & discussing with fellow educators about the flipped classroom and everything edtech. The questions, the comments, and stories of other teachers own experiences always rejuvenates me to continue sharing and offering any help I can. 

I found, and this is probably mainly due to the time of year, that the number one question on everyone's mind was "How do you start the semester in a flipped classroom?" The answer, unfortunately, is not so simple. It all depends on the depth you are taking with the flip, and what you hope to get out of it. There are a hundred different ways to flip your classroom, no singular right way, probably plenty of wrong ways, and lots of in-between. Each subject demands a different approach, each set of students have different requirements/needs, and each teacher their own personality.  Therefore, I can only really speak from my own experience and the approach I took of flipping my business courses, every day, for the entire semester. When you put that context on it, and step back for a second to think, you begin to realize you need to really lay a solid foundation. You also begin to realize that you are taking an entire student's school/classroom experience and throwing it out the window (and in a way saying that how they've been taught previously is not effective). Therefore, the first week of school, in my mind, is very important. So here's my approach:

(you'll notice the links below directing to many of the resources I talk about - check them out!)

Day 1 - Informing
As mentioned, you are taking all your students know regarding a classroom and flipping it on its head, throwing it out the window, or whatever else; and you are expecting them to buy in to this new methodology. Well guess what comes with change? Resistance! Therefore, I feel it is vitally important to be as transparent as possible with what I'm doing and really show them what a flipped classroom is. I show them great videos explaining the flipped classroom, both from a teacher's and student's perspective, inform them of my own objectives of the flip, indicate the benefits of the flip, share previous students comments, and lastly, run through what a typical class looks like. I also realize that I'm asking them to take pretty good notes while watching the videos, and therefore, teach them how to effectively watch the lecture videos (remember these are NOT LOLcats, or Fail videos, but videos containing important course information). Not only am I asking the students to buy in, but the parents have to as well. They are going to see their children come home  every night and instead of traditionally do homework, they will sit in front of a computer (or whatever else) and watch videos. Therefore, it is also vitally important to inform the parents in the same way, and send a letter home to do just that. (***Correction: Crystal Kirch is a MUST for #flipclass and source for my letter to parents -http://flippingwithkirch.blogspot.ca/.  Erin Klein is definitely a great source for #edtech and was mentioned incorrectly previously as flipclass source, probably because I was just reading her blog)

Day 2 - Connecting
Connecting with your students in a flipped class is probably no different then what you do now. The only difference is, that because you are flipping, you are probably using a variety of online tools to connect with your students and distribute your information. I use YouTube to share my videos, ANGEL (a LMS specifically designed for the Peel DSB) to convey course information, due dates, worksheets, links, etc., Twitter to post announcements & reminders, Wikispaces to collaborate & share, Blogger to blog, and so on. Therefore, I need to make sure that my students can connect to all these tools in order to effectively connect with them; and guess what, that takes time. Many students already have accounts on these platforms, and so you want to get them to 'follow' you so that they don't miss any announcements, etc. For those students who don't, this is where you can try to convince them of using such platforms, and the benefits they bring. As for the negatives, well that's why there is...

Day 3 - Citizen-ing (Digital Citizenship)
As you can see from the previous day's overview, there is plenty of 'connecting' and accessing of the Internet. The students already have quite the presence online, but what they don't necessarily have is the knowledge, respect, and appropriate attitude on how to conduct themselves online. Therefore, I believe it is very important to spend at least one whole day instructing them on what it means to be a digital citizen (a great overview is provided here by Jim Cash) Plus, now that you've instructed them on the flipped classroom, you can show them any number of videos on digital citizenship, and use the entire class to really 'do' and discuss. Since I come from a marketing background, I feel students connect really well to the idea that they are their own brands, and therefore illustrating the failures of many company brands when they have tweeted, texted, or promoted themselves inappropriately. Learning from failure is a great way to learn!

Day 4 - Dialogue & Discussing
As part of the flipped classroom, and one of the main reasons why I flip, is that it provides students with plenty of opportunity to summarize, ask questions, dialogue, and discuss course material. All of this boils down to the fact that I want my students to think critically. I begin every class with structured discussions for those who watched the video prior to class, so that self-, peer-, and teacher-assessment can take place. Therefore, if I expect them to effectively handle such a task, I need to make sure I teach them how to. I use the resource 'Groups at Work' because I find it offers plenty of activities for effective dialogues and discussions. Laying the foundation for effective discussions in the first week, will pay dividends down the road. 

Day 5 - Instructing
This is basically day one of the course that you may have traditionally experienced. As you can see, each of the previous day's lessons has not even touched on curriculum yet! In the traditional classroom this might be the point where you begin to freak out and say "How the hell am I going to cover the curriculum now that I've lost 4 days!" However, as a flipped teacher this is the point where you begin to relax and say "Now that I've spent 4 days teaching them the basics, and laying the groundwork, I can now ensure we effectively cover the course curriculum" (or something to that extent right?). With a flipped classroom, you have plenty of time to cover the course material. You can lengthen, shorten, combine, or do whatever to your videos (if that is what you are using to distribute information) and therefore ensure you cover the course material. You have time to cover necessary skills, that previously, may have been overlooked because you need to "just get through this lecture". Time becomes your friend as you can begin to manage it in a much more reasonable way, slowing down the delivery, and ensuring understanding. This is one of the best things about the flipped classrooms!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Pushback... and the Push Forward

It's May. Nearing the end of the year. Staff and students alike are starting to sense that summer vacation coming on, and things are getting a little testy when it comes to completing work. This is my first experience with the Flipped Classroom at this point in the year, and I'm definitely beginning to see some difficulties in keeping my students focused and engaged with the philosophy.

The first sign of this came the other day, when several students openly, and honestly, told me that they weren't going to watch the videos anymore. For various reasons, they felt as though they didn't need to, or couldn't find the time. It was an honest expression of their feelings and I welcomed the input. It allowed me to consider how the flip is impacting my students; and how they view the 'new way of doing things'. What began as an individual comment-in-passing, led to a frank discussion with the entire class. Many shared their feelings on the flip, and what they wanted to change. Standing there listening to their comments, made me consider a number of things.
  1. Not all students will appreciate the flipped classroom. This reaffirms my thoughts at the beginning of the process, that most students have been hardwired into the traditional method of education, and it's difficult to get them out of that. Furthermore, just like the flip benefits some learners due to their learning style, it will also be resisted by other learning styles.
  2. You have to change things up, and keep them fresh. I begin each class the same way, and really focus on having the students discuss their learning from the previous nights video. I still believe this is a valuable start to the class, but also have come to realize, that it becomes tiresome for the students. I have to change things up more regularly, just like you would in any class, and keep things interesting (especially the start of each lesson).
  3. I've found the students have mixed reviews regarding the videos, and what they actually are. Some of my students, for the first time, have said they view them as homework - this is in stark contrast to my previous semester's class who did not. Realizing this, I need to really shorten the videos so that they don't become such a burden.
  4. It is a learning process for both teacher and students. Just like the students have had to adjust to the flipped classroom, I also need to adjust. I have to learn from them as much as they do from me. However, this is where the flip truly shows its value. Due to the freed time in class to really connect with your students and talk to them, you have plenty of opportunity to really gather their input. That in itself is well worth the process.
I still believe there are far too many benefits that have come as a result of the flip; and far too many to ignore in order to go back to the "same ol' way of doing things". The fact that the flip is a process, has allowed me to continuously reflect, solicit feedback, and make adjustments as necessary. I've heard many say it many times, flipping your classroom is not a 'tool' for your classroom, but a 'philosophy'. I wasn't sure I understood it until now. Understanding this will allow you to take such resistance in stride, and push you forward to continuously improve and ensure the learning is happening.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Think About It... You Have Time

When anyone ever asks me why I started flipping my classrooms, my answer is always the same - "I wanted to improve the quality of learning in the actual classroom". I don't mean to sound all 'high and mighty', but it is the truth. The traditional classroom model wasn't doing it for me; I needed to do something more. Hence, the flip.

The benefits of the flipped classroom have been covered, and covered, and covered, and covered, and... well you get the idea. Most discuss the engagement of students, the connection they have with their teachers, and the ability of teachers to assess students' learning more effectively. This is all well and good, and the data supports it; but one thing that is not discussed enough is the enhancement in critical thinking. This is the one observation that struck me the most 'post-flip'. It's not something I necessarily planned on, but upon reflection, I realize that the flip allowed me so much more time to do activities; and this gave me the opportunity (finally) to really focus on improving the thinking during those activities.

There's no singular way to improve critical thinking; and really this is no different from a traditional classroom. No matter what the classroom, critical thinking is still composed of analyzing, evaluating, reasoning, decision-making, and problem solving.

Therefore, having the students reflect on their work, and answer those 'why' and 'how' questions should be done in any classroom.  The difference is, you have much more time to really answer those questions; while still providing the students with enough time to engage in hands-on activities.

My class time now is not rushed; I have plenty of time at the end of the period to really debrief, and have the students think about what they did for the class. With the flip, the students are now provided with the opportunity to share what they have learned, to discuss, to challenge, and to provide reasoning for their actions; something that may have been rushed previously.

I also have the time now to begin every class with discussions between the students - NOT directed by me. They are able to engage and question each other, because they have that opportunity. Every class (well most) begins the same way whereby the students discuss the previous nights video through summary, their own discussion questions, and then a question I pose to them. We have learned how to properly discuss, and are working on this very important skill. The students are beginning to see how discussion of concepts matter; as compared to simply copying down lecture notes of these concepts during class.

So whether you're considering the flip because of better engagement, assessment, or in my case, improved critical thinking, either way, you have lots of time to figure it out.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Times They are a Changin'

I found myself today in the presence of a few hundred educators discussing the concept of the 'flipped classroom'. The day was filled with engagement, questions, and lots of enthusiasm for beginning the practice of flipping classrooms - both at the elementary level and secondary level.

I had the opportunity to share my own thoughts, beliefs, concerns, practices, and experiences from my time (albeit limited) flipping my own classroom. Such an opportunity to actually meet face to face has not presented itself all too often; well come to think of it, never actually. The communication that I have had up until this point has been all online; whether I'm reading articles, tweeting, emailing, or reading other peoples' blogs, I am constantly online looking to improve my professional practice with the flipped classroom. Therefore, today was a nice change to really talk to people face to face, and provide, as well as receive, instant feedback and input. From this, I came away energized and enthusiastic, just like those who attended, to get back at flipping my classroom and adding further experiences to the conversation.

Which brings me here. Friday night. Writing on my blog. The first sign of #flipclass addiction. I realize this seems ridiculous, and really it is, but here's why. The conversation that's happening regarding #flipclass is really happening online. The rare opportunities that we have to get together and share our experiences, are just that - rare. And because of this, I know now, more than ever, the importance to adding to the conversation; whatever the day, time, or place, you can add to this conversation. So here's my thoughts.

Instead of sporadically writing and reflecting - I need to write more often.
Instead of reading a lot from others - I need to add to the conversation. And more often.
Instead of long blog entries - I need to provide shorter entries. Just like my videos, short and sweet, means more meaningful learning.

My thinking is that adding something to this conversation, is something we can all do; and I hope we all do, no matter what stage you are at in this process.

Therefore, from here on in, I'm going to reflect more. Share more. And write about experiences with the flipped model. I'll try to add #edtech 'stuff' in as much as possible, but it won't be the same focus. I'll be sharing about how I start my classes; how I teach my students to take notes; the debate between long or short videos; how to ensure technology, and thus video access; how to get parents on board; how using YouTube has helped my process; the responses I've received from my students; how I use a Twitter class page in conjunction; and really any other thought I have regarding the flipped classroom.

So if you're already following along (all one of you?), or if you're new to the flipped class method, or if you're already invested in it, I hope you find this useful. I hope, if anything, I am simply able to add to the conversation. Oh, and if you have anything you'd like me to share, then let me know. Drop me a note, a tweet, a message, and hopefully I can provide some insight. I can't provide expertise, only experience.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

One Semester Down...

Many more to go! That's the best way to describe the 'flipping' process. Like many of us like to say, "learning is a journey", the process of flipping your classroom is no different. There are the highs - students coming to your class the next day, all excited, laughing, and telling you that they enjoyed your video; the lows - students coming to your class the next day, confused, perturbed, and annoyed because the video you posted had its sound cut out half way through; and then everything in between. However, the one thing that I can say is that the process itself has been exciting.

As part of this exciting process, I, and a few other teachers, have been tasked with assessing this process; and to evaluate how effective the Flipped Classroom is for students. We have applied for resources ($) to help us on this journey and are approaching the date where we present our findings to others around the school board. However, whatever the data shows, and although I'm sure it will be positive, I don't think I need any data to tell me how this process has helped my own teaching practice, and here's why!

Physical Space - one thing I have discovered this year is how important the physical space of a classroom is! I know this seems silly, but when you have discussions, frequent technology use, group work, and a whole period worth of time of ACTIVE learning (75 minutes), you realize the physical space in a classroom is very important. Who knew round tables, bean bag chairs, and an open, airy environment would help so much?!

Student Technology Use - I've always realized that technology is important, I just have never placed as much importance on it in the classroom, as I have this year. When you are constantly using technology to create videos, activities and other resources for students, you begin to realize how important it is for students to also use it; and become comfortable with it. If a profession like teaching is bombarded with technology, just think what other professions will be like when our students begin their careers?

Support - flipping your classroom is not a practice for everyone. I, like many, are one of very few who are flipping their classrooms in their own schools; if there are any at all! I am lucky in that I have someone else to discuss the practice with on a daily basis, and in person; but for others, this is not the case. It is a new journey for many, and having others to discuss 'flipping' with is so vitally important. That's why I have to say that Twitter, yes Twitter, is probably your best support system. Featuring weekly #flipclass chats (Monday @ 8 pm EST), and hundreds of others who regularly tweet their thoughts and experiences on the Flipped Classroom, it has become my go-to for everything #flipclass.

So we will see what the data tells us, but either way, it has been well worth it.