Thursday, April 25, 2013

Flipboard and Student Blogging

If you are into Ed Tech surely you are well aware of Richard Byrne and all he gives to us on a daily basis.  A few weeks ago he shared a post on creating magazines using a Flipboard extension.  I did not know when I was reading it the dramatic impact this post would have on the remainder of my school year.

I thought, cool, I will be able to create a magazine for EdTech, Assessment, History, News, etc.  It just so happens that at the time I was assigning my US History classes a long term project.  My goal in the project was to emphasize student voice and student choice.  I really wanted them to engage in the process of research and explore methods of creation or presentation of their findings.

I decided to place students on research teams.  They would have 4 or 5 students to be their project support system.  The to connect them and give me an inroad to their progress the students are posting weekly to their project Blog and their teammates are responsible for commenting.

My dilemma was trying to figure out a way to efficiently check their Blogs and view the comments.  It seemed like it was going to involve a lot of mouse clicks.  Then I remembered the FlipBoard magazine.

I was able to make a magazine on Flipboard.  Then using the Chrome Extension I opened each student Blog and added it to my newly created project magazine.

I have been reading, following comments, and commenting on my students' Blogs via Flipboard.  They're all in one place I have quick access and the Flipboard app is very easy to use.  I never anticipated that the Byrne post would make this class project so manageable for me.  But boy has it.

If you incorporate student blogging or are thinking about it this is a great tool.  If you shy away from student blogging because the logistics of accessing them and reading them seems daunting, try this method.  My kids are writing some great reflections on their research, their progress, and maybe most importantly they're encouraging one another.

Excellent resource thank you @rmbyrne!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Building and Maintaining Your PLN: #Flipchat Inspired

A twitter #flipclass chat about blogging has me…blogging about why I should be blogging.  Simple enough!
Last night I participated in a whirlwind Twitter Chat.  I went in expecting to be a voyeur.  My goal was to escape with some useful tech or classroom nuggets that experienced classroom flippers are using successfully.  My goals were set aside as the conversation focused on the usefulness of blogging from a few different angles.  Here are my takeaways:

1.      I realize that reflection is a great education practice; I preach it all of the time.  I had become disconnected with my reflective outlet (my blog) since September.  I, of course, blamed time.  Setting aside time for meaningful reflection is an important attribute that strong teachers possess.  Blogging is surely a great way to do just that, even if nobody else reads it (if you even choose to publish it).  The chat last night reminded me of that reality.  I had strayed from blogging because I did not prioritize it.  I was, (un?)knowingly, not prioritizing my own reflective process. 

2.      I value the online Professional Learning Network (PLN) that I have developed mainly through twitter.  I read so much of what other teachers and administrators write.  My reflections may have a place.  I am not living in an isolated place taking on tasks that nobody else takes on.  I suppose a blog, or sharing my thoughts, is an important component to the “network” component of PLN.  Read me or not I should share - because I value so much of what you all share with me.

3.      Can we have students writing blogs as a means to creating their own PLNs?  This was my favorite part of the chat.  The discussion was fast paced but so interesting.  My take away was that despite our kids social uses of the web, they’re not necessarily learning to connect in a way that enhances their learning.  I am currently putting the finishing touches on a US History research project.  I was already committed to student blogging about the process and their own learning.  I have, based on some feedback from a colleague and the chat from last night, made an important addition to the project.  I am going to manufacture a PLN.  I am going to place students on research teams.  They will be responsible to blog and also to provide feedback on the blogs of their teammates.  I think this seemingly minor addition may teach that important skill of connecting, communicating, and reflecting that I so value in an online PLN.

I have been a voyeur/minor participant in a few twitter chats.  The fact that I am writing this entry demonstrates the impact last night’s chat had on me.  Glad to be back at the keyboard.  Thanks to @guster4lovers and @thomasson_engl for challenging my thinking and inspiring my writing.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

4 Lessons for Teachers at Bruce Springsteen Concert

   Photo from

I went to the Bruce Springsteen concert last weekend in Chicago.  It was an unreal concert!     As I was thinking about the show the next day I thought about the professionalism that Bruce Springsteen demonstrated throughout the night.  I thought about what makes him (maybe the best at the live show) SO good.  What makes a Bruce Springsteen concert different from any other that you might see?  It wasn’t long before I was taking that list and trying to figure out how I might incorporate those traits into my classroom.

Here is what I came up with:

1.      They’re here give them all you got!
What Bruce did – He gave to the crowd for three hours and twenty minutes.  He gave us the music that we already love.  He also gave us new stuff that we will love, if for no other reason than the experience of hearing it live.  His energy is unreal and contagious.  You cannot be passive in that audience because he drags you in.  He does this with his passion for his music and for performing. 

What I learned – The students come into that room everyday wanting and needing energy.  They would love to match the teacher’s energy and passion if they can see and feel it.  As we design lessons and activities we should keep this in mind.  I am not saying they have to be entertained.  I am saying they need the teacher to model enthusiasm for learning.  You could put a person with no connection or understanding of Bruce Springsteen or his music in that stadium and they would be drawn in by the energy. 

2.      Make sure they get it!
What Bruce did – He played and he played and he played.  I am sure there are a few hardcore fans that left saying, “darn he didn’t play this or that.”  Those would be rare.  He played them all (the ones we love!)  There were moments in the show when I thought he would wind down and come back for an encore.  That never happened; he just kept on playing until we got them all!

What I learned (thought) – Some people in that audience might have heard their favorite song in the first 15 minutes.  I am certain they stayed and enjoyed many of their “next favorite songs.”  Some fans may have had to wait for their song.    It is a stretch but - differentiation.  Some of our kids get it early and we provide them with depth and enrichment.  Other kids need the whole three hour show and more.  There was no end time for Bruce he played until he played them all.  Working with kids requires that mindset.

3.      If it rains keep playing, but get in the rain with them!
What Bruce did – I saw him at Wrigley field on September 8, 2012, and it poured.  Some fans were lucky enough to be under the grandstand.  I was on the field.  Nobody left.  Bruce had plenty of cover on the stage.  He played up the fact we were soaked.  He made it feel like this was a special occasion.  And he came out on the stage’s catwalks and he played in the rain.  He was out there with us.

What I learned – Sometimes your lesson or the content is the last thing on your class’ mind.  Whether it is Homecoming week or the day of an assembly they might have distractions.  If, as teachers, we acknowledge the distraction, if we can tap into that enthusiasm and redirect it you might end up with something special. 

4.      Show them you’re gratitude for their commitment!What Bruce did – He was the last guy off the stage.  I thought that was pretty cool.  He thanked everyone in his band and he stayed out there until it was pretty clear the crowd was moving toward the exits.  He appreciated their support and maybe even their effort.

What I learned – It is easy to think that learning and school is the kids’ job.  I think given their choice many would choose differently.  It is a small gesture to show kids that you appreciate their effort.  We talk about praise a lot in education.  I think that generally that is relegated to correct answers.  I think that thanking the whole class for their effort might go further than a “good job class.”  I have been trying it this week.  I know it isn't hurting the respect and rapport in my room.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pre-Flipping: The Steps I took to Start Flipping US History

This picture is from the last week of summer break; my last days before attempting something new in my classroom.

I am not quite sure why we had a gymnastics unit in junior high PE.  I am sure there was a good reason.  I really did not like it.  I wanted to play basketball or dodge ball or some game I knew and understood.  Gymnastics was way outside of my comfort zone.  I can still remember waiting in line for my turn to attempt a cartwheel or a handstand; knowing I was never going to do it right.  I was very anxious and when it was my turn, I tried.  

This summer was a lot like standing in that line for me.  I had dedicated myself to learning as much as I could about the education buzz - Flipping the Class.  I followed the #flipclass twitter hashtag religiously.  I read the articles being posted and the Blogs I could find.  I bought and read the Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams book. All of this was very overwhelming.  There is a lot of good stuff out there and I learned a lot from many teachers and administrators.  Most of what I found was Math and Science related -  I was going to be flipping a US History classroom.  

The most practical information were the nuts and bolts posts and blogs I read.  That is, not why you do it , but actually how you do it.  I spent the better part of July creating accounts, trying out web tools, figuring out why they were good or not for me, and then repeating.  I looked at iPad apps, free web tools, pay web tools, cameras, etc.    This was time consuming but fun and in the end an excellent use of that time.  Had I been trying to go through the “how to” right now I do not think the why I want to would matter – the logistics of flipping have to be IN PLACE prior to the first day.  By in place I mean researched, tested, piloted, practiced, and reviewed.

A teacher intending to flip their class has to have already wrestled with the why.  

… And then they have to figure out:

  1. What I have been calling the Here/Home cycle.  What is it that students will do HERE (at school) today and what will they be doing HOME (at home/Starbucks/library/bus/etc) later today?
  2. What do I want to deliver to my students for the HOME portion?  Videos, screencasts, voicethreads, discussion boards, etc.
  3. How much of what I want to do will require the students to learn a whole new skill set?  I have to teach that!
  4. How will I record?  Where will I record?  What will I use to record?
  5. Where will I post?  Why there?
  6. How am I going to troubleshoot the snags?  No Internet at home.  Slow connection.  “I couldn’t get it to load.”
  7. What are the victories?
  8. What have I gained by flipping and how am I using it?
  9. Is the course better because of the flip???

Here is a link to my first Flipped “Homework”

These last few items I am still coming to discover.  I have been asking my students for a lot of feedback informally in class and on anonymous google forms.  Almost all of them are liking the concept.  They feel like they’re getting “taught” three times rather than one, which I found interesting.  And they are teaching me a lot about Flipping a class.

When I get a bit further along into this I will share more about the students feedback, my process, and successes and setbacks.  For now, the simplest lesson I am learning, is that it takes a lot of time to plan those meaningful in class enrichment and higher order activities that flipping encourages.  So I am off to create one of those.

Comments to this post are very welcome!

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!