Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Flipping US History Class - Step 1

I am writing this during final exams week.  

For me Final Exams week has always been one of the most productive weeks of the school year.  While the students are busily taking a 90 minute exam I am proctoring and working.  It is during that closing time of the semester or school year that my mind, thoughts, and action drift to the future or at least the next semester.  I can usually be found with a copy of the textbook, materials I have used in the past, old calendars, and my favorite piece - the calendar with dates yet to come. 
If I am planning for the second semester I usually gaze up at the students taking the exam and think specifically about them.  What I have learned about them as individuals and as a group.  What is it that has worked well and what could be better?  Invariably, however, I fall into an educational trap!  I start looking a lot more at what I have done in the past.  By the end of the exam period or finals week I have created a very similar calendar to the one I used last year or maybe even three years ago.  But, I am a good teacher!  If it has worked in the past surely it will work again!  Even as I think it, I have the ping of hypocrisy in my heart.  I don’t just want to be good – I want to be innovative, cutting edge, and doing right by these (and future) kids.
My inspiration in education passed away last summer.  His name was Gerry Boevers and he was innovative and doing right by his kids.  I had the great fortune of student teaching under Gerry in the fall of 1997 at Niles West High School in Skokie, IL.  What impressed me most about Gerry was that despite having been in the same classroom since about the time of the JFK assassination he was really up to speed.  He kept everything!  What amazed and inspired me was how little of what he had kept that he actually used.  There was some great stuff there in one of the seven 4-drawer file cabinets along the wall.   
Gerry let me take copies of everything.  He did, however, have a piece of advice – don’t just update the date, update the assignment.  He taught me a lot about teaching and education but the idea of not resting on the good stuff you have created has been a continuing goal in my teaching career.  It is hard for me to know for sure but I think Gerry would be flipping his classroom in the next few years.  I know for sure he would have read about the benefits, drawbacks, and philosophy behind the movement.  And so I have.
Now here I sit looking at the blank calendar.  Only this time I do not have the old binder, the old calendar, or any of my go to assignments.  I am starting with the blank calendar, a copy of the US History course standards and targets, the textbook, and - well fear!
What I am going to do over the course of the next few months is Flip my US History class for next year.  Over the course of this journey I am going to document the curriculum adaptation process, the calendaring, the creation of Videos (Vodcatsts) and other at home “work,” the creation of engaging and informative learning in class activities, and finally data and anecdotes during the implementation process.  This idea is exciting and daunting.  It is inspiring me but also making me very anxious.  I am going to give this my best shot.
I have tried my best to learn as much as I could this past year about technology in the classroom, Webtools, Google Apps for education, and their usefulness in a Flipped classroom. 
I surely invite comments and suggestions on this Blog from those that have tried and succeeded or are trying this for the first time as well.  
Here we go!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Twitter the Best PD going!

I am a department chair at my school.  This means that I teach two classes and supervise the department during the other hours of my day.  This year, due to a spike in enrollment, I taught two sections of AP US History.  I will not get into the details of the year but I will speak briefly about the impact the AP course has had on me the last 3 weeks!

I would classify myself as a Twitter newbie when it comes to using the medium for professional purposes.  That usefulness was relayed to me at the Teaching the iGeneration workshop I attended earlier this semester.  Since then I have been managing multiple streams with pertinent hashtags, following dozens of Ed. leaders, teachers, and bloggers, writing a bit (and posting it), and dabbling in Twitter chats (which I still have not fully figured out!).

Then....BOOM! (a couple people I follow use this as they Retweet great stuff, I love it!)  The AP crunch hit me and it hit me hard.  I found myself reviewing with groups of students, preparing review activities, planning a pre-AP test breakfast...etc.  I would gaze at the pinned Hootsuite tab on my Chrome and make a decision, can't now!  I would open the iPad to check email and the FlipBoard app seemed to be begging to be opened.  I passed.

Here is what I learned during this 8 day hiatus.

1. I can walk away for a while, it is possible.

2. I did not miss the devices or the technology or the bells and whistles.  I missed the advice, conversations, links to pertinent articles, reassurance, and the professional connectedness

3. I do not want to disconnect for a stretch like that again.

The reason is that Twitter has introduced me to an ongoing conference, a non-stop workshop, and an ongoing PLC meeting.  It allows me to come and go and to grab what I need.  I get to eavesdrop on some meaningful conversations that are often directly related to questions we are asking at our school.  I was beginning to develop what I can only assume is some Twitter confidence to start posting more myself.  I was beginning to leverage the # and tried a scheduled chat (#edchat).  I have missed the professional gratification and development the last few days.

As I look to next school year I know I am going to schedule in "Twitter" time on a daily basis.  One year ago I would have laughed at that.  To take 15-20 minutes each day to check the feeds and streams and line up articles and blogs to read later is Professional time well spent.  So, while I missed the Twitter PD over the past few days I have learned its usefulness and my need to incorporate it meaningfully into my daily routine and plan.  Best PD going!