Monday, August 24, 2015

Communicating with Parents, a #flipclass #Flashblog

In this weeks #flipclass chat we are discussing ways that we communicate with parents (in general, and specifically to do with our flipped classroom). Here are some things I do or have tried.

Since I started teaching 6 years ago I have given out an intro letter to my students to read themselves (and sign) and then for them to show to their parents to sign. It usually says a bit about ways to contact me and the communication/responsibility I expect of the students in terms of getting info home (this varies depending on the grade/level of the course). Since I started flipping I have modified this letter more and more to introduce the basics of the flipped class and to invite parents to an info night at the school where I will give them a run-down of what it is and they can ask questions.

Generally I get about 50% of parents saying they will attend and then 1/3 - 1/2 of those will actually show up a couple of weeks later (I am guessing because they have a better sense from their child about what is going on by then and no longer feel the need to come). It has been well received from those who do come, and the most common feedback last year was "It is clear that you care about our kids and that you are enthusiastic about this format...and that is all we can ask." Generally speaking, parents seem to respect us (usually I do this with a colleague) for what we are doing and just want to have a thorough understanding of the "new" method. [I also tried to use a google form that they could submit questions to in advance of the session but no one took advantage of it].

Through the letter and the info night I tend to get a good dialogue going with many parents and they seem to feel more comfortable approaching me later in the semester when they have concerns. This is extremely helpful as a high school teacher as it decreases the ones I have to worry about getting in touch with later (in most cases). I have  learned a lot in the past two years from the parents of my students as they have the home perspective of what the flipped class entails and it has given me a lot of insight as to what students need from me in order to be more successful. I especially appreciate the ones who take the time to come to see me in person and are clearly there to help their child and respectfully help me in the process.

My grade 9 (and I am considering for 10 as well this year) parents also get the opportunity to submit their email address to me to be a part of a mailing list for the class. I use this just to keep parents informed (and to adjust to having a child in high school since communication seems to be so different from what they are used to) about the class - what we are presently doing, what work I have returned recently, and what is coming up. This opens the door for communication from some of them who have concerns as they can hit reply to my email and ask me to call or ask a question. I have found this practice to be extremely helpful (mostly) and requires a bit of work up front to create a distribution list but then takes me 5-10 minutes every couple of weeks in the semester (meanwhile, cutting down on the phone calls I have to make).

I think the best part of this contact is that it forces these new high school students to recognize that their parents are going to find out anyway - so they may as well tell their parents themselves!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Week 40: Reflecting and Looking Forward

Another delayed post based on a list I wrote myself weeks ago. This one is probably the most important (and the list was actually written in the last week of the school year while it was fresh in my mind). Here is the annual reflection of my practices based on things that I want to work on in the future:

1. It was made evident to me (largely by conversations with a couple parents of my Grade 10 students) that many of these kids are still not really equipped to handle the flipped classroom on their own because of two major things: They have never view videos for homework before really; and Many of them have inadequate note-taking skills (i.e. they do not know when to hit pause because they have seen something important that needs to be written down).

I had tried to tackle these issues in the intro to my classroom but clearly I am not even doing an adequate job. Step 1: admit you  have a problem, right? I had been doing the first couple of videos as a class and had tried to show them that they should pause and record rewind if needed - and I do go through a list of "video guidelines" that they should follow for effective learning. Peers have shared that they will have a student be in charge of the mouse during these types of class video viewings so that a kid is in charge of pausing, rewinding, etc but either I am going about it wrong when I do this, or the kids are just too shy to really do what they need to do. I must find a way to better model this process. I think that perhaps I should model note taking myself even...and probably do the videos in class for a few more days than I have been.

2. Further to the note-taking issue, I have been grappling with the idea of losing textbooks as resources altogether and providing them with notes - this may happen if I return to the math department as this is the direction our new department head wants to take (if we have our own resources it does not make sense to pay for textbooks). Another possibility for working on modelling note-taking would be to provide students with outlines that they have to fill in as part of their homework/lesson.

Food for thought. Potentially time consuming. (especially with a new prep to worry about this semester)

3. Working as a flipped classroom teacher the focus is supposed to be on the in-class "stuff" that is assigned to really move the learning forward, allow for individual assessment/feedback time, and really engage the students in the topic and the learning. This has been a big adjustment...just what do you do with all the TIME!? It is, of course, the biggest blessing of this coaching style (I do not really call it teaching anymore - I am a guide to their learning...a facilitator if you will).

I want to make this part a better focus for me next semester. To continue to find engaging and meaningful things for students to do in class while resorting to "do these problems" less and less. Again, finding these many resources, ideas, etc is time consuming. But it has to be the most rewarding...the biggest bang for my buck (if the buck is time). I plan to continue accessing the many resources I have found (which include fellow bloggers, interactive websites/apps, project based learning, inquiry - and to hopefully harness the most effective things as often as possible (and if I can engage in PBL and inquiry this will be newer territory for me in areas that have intrigued me for awhile). I have even thought a bit more about the "genius hour" idea - and really liked the way Matthew Oldridge outlined it in his blog entitled "The Road to #GeniusHour Math"! (I recommend the read if you are math/science and want a starting point for implementing this type of task into your class).

4. I started to repurpose by Twitterchats from many moons ago to use as in-class discussion starters. This was a focus on physics CONTENT (not problem solving) and is supposed to serve as a way to get more effective conversation going in my classroom. My reflection on this is how I want to continue to use this next year (and beyond) by really establishing Accountable Talk practices (conversational norms) for students to use and make habit going forward. I discussed these ideas broadly here.

Looking forward I want to help students create conversational skills that will make them:
Clarify what they think the other person understands.
Asking another person to repeat what they think they just heard (i.e. engaging other group members).
Seeking the opinions of others by asking them if they agree or disagree AND why.
Engaging others and seeking all ideas by asking if there is anything they would like to add.
Using wait time to allow others to think. Not rushing the discussion.

5. I have also blogged this year about using Mathalicious with my Grade 10 math class. I would love to work on implementing these tasks the next time I teach a math course. They are a great foundation to math applications and a more authentic look at the subject, but are not always easy to implement in a way that engages teenagers. I need to work on relating the task to them more AND definitely making sure there is a strong foundation with the math tools needed before assuming it is a feasible task in the time-line I lay out.


Well I think that about covers it. I always have ideas for myself that turn out to be ambitious and maybe not achievable goals but I would way rather have too much I want to accomplish than to become complacent and not have enough.

I think it is safe to say that my priorities in this reflection are 1, 3 and 4. Goal 1 is my focus to help most with continuing to implement my flipped classroom and to build better relationships with students at the start (and parents, by extension). Goals 3 and 4 will be the focus I set out for myself for in-class throughout the semester - if I only do 2 significant things this time around I hope they are to actually create this conversational atmosphere in my class and to try new tasks/ideas/etc as often as possible.

If you have read to the end of this and have any reflections, ideas, questions, thoughts, etc that you would like to share please comment below. Would love to hear from you :)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Week 34: Metacognition in #flipclass

On May 11th our #flipclass chat asked us to complete a flash-blog answering the following question: How do you incorporate metacognition into your classroom? Encourage it? Use it?

I was not able to complete my blog at the time but am taking the opportunity to reflect on these questions now (reflection of my practice and ideas are really the reason I blog to begin with - it is a great way to make yourself think about the things you are doing (or not doing).

I have mentioned a couple of times recently that  I am trying to find ways to get more conversation going in my classroom. Some of these attempts double as attempts to get students using metacognition. If you have read my earlier entries you may recall that I used to use a twitter chat for my physics class as a way to get them to focus on concepts instead of problems (and to model positive use of social media). I bring this up because one of the things I tried this semester reused the prep-work I had done for this task. Instead of using the questions I had prepared on twitter I used them to pose questions in class and had students discuss them in their groups.

In many cases these lead to some great discussions around the room - I would walk around eavesdropping and would ask additional questions when needed or would re-ask a question that was posted to a group I had not been able to hear previously. I think that getting in classroom norms at the beginning of next semester around conversation will help to enrich this even more. I plan to pull these "norms" from the ideas I share here when I first started talking about using Accountable Talk in class.

I also try to get my students to use metacognition by setting up opportunities for students to reflect on their learning. This comes in a few different forms, most notably I will mention:

1. Having embedded questions in my flipped video lessons so that students have to stop at different points in the lesson to actually think about whether or not they have understood.

2. Using peer and self- assessment in Grade 9 for formal lab writing that asks them to actually think about what they are seeing and compare to the expectations.

3. Using gradeless quizzes that both eliminate the stress of the formal evaluation and give the students a chance to get feedback from me. In turn, it forces them to reflect on what they do and do not understand. I facilitate this by returning the quizzes without showing them the answer key. Students must first attempt to correct their quiz on their own or in discussion with their groups. I have found this usually improves student confidence going into formal evaluations and (by forcing myself to have a focus when I am giving feedback) allows students to focus on what the next step should be for that particular concept.

I hope to improve/build on these ideas and to hopefully add more in the process.

Thanks for reading!


I do not know if this copy and paste will work but below are the other blogs that were contributed to the flashblog that night:

Katie Lanier@lanier_katiesuehttp://opportunity2learn.blogspot.com/
Carla Jefferson@mrsjeff2uhttps://t.co/flHOAwzdW5
Lee Graves@Ldg32http://flippingphysicswithmrgraves.blogspot.com/2015/05/metacognition-and-physics-fun-duo.html
Lindsay Cole@lindsaybcolewww.flippingbiology.com 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Week 27 - Using Investigations to Teach Quadratic Functions

Part of using a flipped class model means identifying lessons that will not be best taught by mass instruction (i.e. video) but will be better served by something like an investigation. A big part of my current philosophy of math education is that most (if not basically all) students memorize algorithms and never really have a strong grasp of the material, so I seek to change this trend and try to push students to make connections between ideas and really understand why it works. "If you understand the basics, you can use them to figure out the hard stuff" is what I am often heard saying. I think I came to this realization when I was in my B.Ed year and/or my first year of teaching when my friends (a year ahead of me in school, so already teaching) were commenting that they couldn't believe how much they realized they did not understand in high school. In fact they did not understand it in university and were only getting it now because they had to teach it!

As part of these ideas I wanted to find a more effective way to teach quadratic functions that would (hopefully) lead to less memorizing. I set out to find/modify/create some investigative tasks for students to work on. This usually involved them doing the intro portion for homework the night before and then working through the rest of it in class in their groups. The first two investigations explored and linked step property (the pattern created by the changing slope - the idea being that students start to make a connection between linear and quadratic relations), first differences, and congruence (as well as symmetry). In the third investigation they were given some challenging problems that they would hopefully be able to solve using the ideas they had discovered.

These classes were then supported afterward with short video lessons to hopefully help students consolidate and to make sure everyone took away the key ideas I was hoping for. One of my biggest challenges has been creating that authentic, risk-taking environment where students are not afraid to be wrong while working through tasks like this. Many of them have never really worked through such challenging tasks or ideas and they seem to fear the unknown, to fear trying new things. I sometimes feel like a broken record, but I really do wonder if this might have been different if these tasks had come later in the semester.

What I am hoping to do in the future is to work toward creating this elusive learning environment is to focus more on talk strategies in class to help students enhance the communication among themselves (so they do not always have to have a conversation with me to feel like they have gotten anywhere). I think that this, in combination with a higher confidence with linear relations before embarking on this unit, will lead to better results (i.e. less memorization!).

I would love to hear from others who are trying anything similar. What worked in your class? What didn't? Why?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Week 23 - First Time Using Mathalicious

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my experiences at the 2015 OMCA Conference in Niagara Falls, ON. I wanted to try using it as soon as possible (as they say, if you do not use the new thing right away you probably never will). We were starting off the Grade 10s (after doing a bunch of numeracy review) with Quadratic Relations (not my first choice, but I went with it) so I chose their Wiibates lesson to hope that it would be something engaging as I was planning to use it to introduce the topic (no lessons done in advance at all). My hope was that by starting off with an application it would show the students why they should bother to learn about quadratic relations.

Being the first time trying to do something that was going to be very new to me, and new to my students, I knew that I was going to run into some snags...so here they are:

- I had planned on about 1.5 periods to compete the task and it ended up taking 2+ periods

- All of my students had basically forgotten how to find the equation of a line (seemed to have a weak grasp of slope in terms of its equation although many found it in the context of the question) - this is why I would prefer to start the course with Linear Systems - which is greatly what contributed to the added time needed to complete the task.

- Students were not very engaged by the end of the task, though it started out decently (of course those who actually play video games were the most interested).

These snafus got me to wondering how our Grade 9s are being taught slope? why so easily forgettable? My instinct is that this should be something they remember well because it seems like the Gr 9 curriculum puts a lot of focus on the equation of a line and linear relations in general. I did not find this easy to reflect on as I have only taught MFM 1P once (and it was only 60% of the course as I started at the end of October) and this was 5 years ago. But this is something I would greatly consider when I do finally get to teach MPM 1D.

I definitely plan to try other Mathalicious stories during the semester. The overall concept is still well worth the time and it can only get better with more failure :)

I did ask the class what they thought overall afterward (using thumbs down/sideways/up) and most of them gave it thumbs sideways. At lunch I asked a couple of them for their honest opinions and the consensus was more or less that the lengthy time it took to complete was what made it into a less than ideal experience. They were willing to try something similar later on.