Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why I Don't Use Remind 101

Since the invention of the smart phone my memory (for my life schedule) has become a lot worse. Sometimes I miss the days of the hanging calendar in my parents house colour-coded for my sister and my schedule for the many sports and activities we were involved in. Somehow it seems like I was able to keep better track of my life. But I slug on and continue to use the calendar in my phone, setting reminders for myself so that I hopefully don't miss a beat. What I don't seem to do is check the calendar for upcoming events, I rely on these reminders (if I somehow miss it or have forgotten to set the reminder, then I might forget altogether). My new phone often puts that day's event onto my home screen, which is nice and does make me open my calendar more often.

Maybe the above was pointless, or maybe it has lead you to the point I want to make about Remind 101 (with respect to high school classes). It is my strong belief that we have to graduate students who can fend for themselves in the world - and if I have come to struggle with the above, imagine those who never learn to find their own way to remind themselves?

I think there are some great reasons for Remind 101 to exist and it definitely has its place. It is just my opinion that using something like this gives my students an excuse to miss something if I forget to remind them - but it is there job in the first place to remember homework, tests dates, etc so I want my students to come up with a system that works for them. I encourage them to use their device's built in calendar, find an app they like, or purchase a paper agenda if they prefer. I also post important dates on my LMS if they need to access a calendar or are away from school.

I am sure there are many amazing teacher that use the Remind 101 service successfully and for great reason, and this post is by no means an attempt to spark a debate. Just some thoughts that have come up a few times that I felt the need to write down. In the end, the purpose of a teacher in the classroom is to have an educational philosophy and to use that to decide on purposeful things to try to teach students to make them successful, contributing members of society.

And so, we try.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Next Time My Class Would...

Here is a much needed update and reflection on semester 1. I honestly felt like I was a second year teacher all over again. Granted I did have a new prep (and this semester I have 2 new preps), but it was definitely more to do with the new methodology than it was anything else. You can see which classes I decided to "flip" and the reasons, etc at the post here.

Some of the highlights included:
- the bulk of students performing at the level I had anticipated based on the past performances
- a small group of students showed improved results and actively showed their engagement in the way the class was run
- I knew my students better this semester than I ever have before - I was able to write detailed report card comments with less referral to written/technological records
- the freedom to help students that needed it in class
- having conversations with students about math, school, post-secondary, etc that were valuable

Some of the low-lights included:
- students that did not connect with me and ask questions (a smaller group of students with weaker math skills that ultimate resisted the changes I had imposed on them), despite other students being fine with asking questions (though this is not necessarily much different than any class)
- ELL students that still did not work with others as often as I would have liked
- students not using the check-in questions I created for them to check their understanding
- repetitive nature of class (particularly in physics) became boring

Some of the things I might do differently when I get a chance to do a senior class this way again:
- use Office 365 or Twitter to try to create a more interactive nature outside of class instead of using Angel (means I can no longer use the quiz aspect of Angel but could make use of something like Google forms that the video could be embedded in and contain questions for students to answer and submit)
- for Physics make sure to have a demo/simulation/additional "fun video" to go with every lesson so there is always something to do in class beyond "the work"
- create critical thinking tasks to be done in class (for same reason as demo/simulation need)

- provide students with a "shy" way to say "i need help" (though I did try creating online discussion boards with the ability to most anonymously and that did not seem to help)

I am doing some "flipping" (which I would much prefer to call shifting) in my Grade 9 Science class this semester. It has allowed me to talk explicitly about note taking this semester and I hope to keep that up. The idea being to create a bit of additional time so that I can give them a bit more time to work on assignments in class and so I can check on their progress in class more often.

Good luck Semester 2 everyone!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Reflecting on 2 Flipped Classes

I figured that it was time that I took a few moments to formally reflect on the practices that I am using this semester. As mentioned in my last post I am implementing a "flipped class" model in two of my classes (a hybrid "flipped-mastery" model in one to be more specific). Approximately 3 weeks into the semester I asked my students for a START, STOP, CONTINUE feedback form about how the class was being conducted. Partly I wanted to see how the views had changed (if at all) and partly I wanted to have something to show them to try to get them to become more communicative about their needs as students.

The feedback was varied and helpful on both accounts and showed me that some more of the students were enjoying the model and were finding it helpful to spend more time problem solving in class and be able to rewatch the lessons as needed. It also showed me the maturity of a few of the students who had modified the model to fit their own needs (which is, of course, the overall purpose). 

I have come to realize that my stuggles to be creative are more pronounced in my Physics class than in previous semesters with the flipped model - students are craving more demo time and realistic explanation and I have struggled to bring that to light (especially in the kinematics unit where demos are harder to come by). This is something I would work on more the second time that I teach this course in this manner and am working to do more with the other units (Forces was a lot easier to talk about examples in real life and to show them ideas).

I am still struggling to get my International students (ELLs) communicating and collaborating more with each other. I don't think they are used to the idea of working together to improve collectively and are not always using the time productively (that part depends on the individual student across the board, not just the ELL students of course). Overall the seniors students use the class time well.

My Grade 12 math students are getting better and better at knowing what will work for them individually and are consistently working together to solve problems. They are getting better at informing me when they are struggling and they constantly keep me on my toes. The procrastinators are starting to see that they are going to be at a disadvantage if they continue with their usual ways, so I am hoping that the quiz completion rate will increase (as some are not doing it or are not far enough into the chapter to complete it within the "window").

I have done some comparison of my students results to their Grade 12 results and so far things are about on par as a class average and most students are working toward improving themselves as students. There are of course a select few who do not seem to be self motivating despite needing he credit and likely needing the mark for their university applications. I will be comparing my Gr 11 marks to previous semesters teaching this course to see if there is a difference between their results to determine the effect (if any) of the changes to my teaching method. I am looking forward to coming up with ideas to continue to improve the work that I have started and continuing to try to help students become more self-aware, independent learners.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Here We Go! It's Flip or Flop Time.

A couple of years ago I started hearing about the concept of a flipped classroom. I wanted to work toward finding ways to make this concept possible in my classroom but knew I had to take steps toward it before throwing myself into it. I started by trying to shorten my physics lessons to give students more class time to problem solve, etc along with giving them access to the lesson notes online (pre-lesson notes with blanks and then posting the completed ones after the fact) - and before you ask, no, this did not lead to students skipping class but it did allow ones who missed class for specific reasons to stay caught up. I then moved this idea to using a protected class management site (in my board we currently use Angel) so that I could easily organize what I was posting, send students messages, etc. This process allowed me to get more comfortable with the course/teaching (I am currently in my 5th year of teaching) and to integrate more technology into my class without overwhelming myself.

Now I have taken the plunge and am "flipping" my Grade 11 Physics and Grade 12 Advanced Functions (math) classes. As a first time "flipper" I am making use of other people's (public) YouTube videos in addition to making my own so that I am not spending all of my time creating video lessons. I spent a couple of weeks in the summer looking through a couple of specific YouTube channels to find some lessons that I liked (i.e. followed formats that I would use, taught in a similar way, etc) and making note of which lessons I would have to create my own for (or would use investigations, labs, etc instead of direct instruction for).

I will blog on some more of the specifics of my new classroom in the near future (I just wanted to introduce how my technology integration has been/is a work in progress). If you have any parts of it that you would like to read about, let me know by commenting, etc (I am more likely to blog when someone else gives me an idea anyway). For now I would like to comment on something related to these ideas that I have mentioned in the past. I still very much believe that students are not getting the instruction related to technology that they need - I feel that many of us are assuming that children are so comfortable with technology that we are not teaching them (leaving students that aren't naturally inclined toward it behind).

Early on this semester I wanted to try Socrative (emails you a report in excel format), so I created a "quiz" (that was actually a survey) so that I could collect data on student technology use. 16 of my Grade 11s participated and 18 of my Grade 12s and the results were as follows:
- Most have reliable internet access at home (5 of the Gr 12s said "sometimes")
- Most usually or always have a personal electronic device (PED) available in class (6 said rarely or never)
- The majority that have access to a device is a Smartphone or iTouch (small screen - important to know, not effective for creation but fine for viewing with good eyesight)
- The majority of those devices are Apple products
- About half of my Gr 11s (fewer Gr 12s) would prefer to read on a device than from a paper book
- They admit to having a variety of learning styles, but the majority choose "doing" as their main source of learning (fits right into the flipped class idea)
- 7 of the students admitted to finding technology difficult and rarely convenient OR just plain scary

I felt that these results left me with some food for thought and have reminded me how important it is to make sure students are aware that there are options (i.e. it is possible for me to give them copies of electronic lesson plans on a USB, if needed I could download the videos and put them on a USB or DVD if needed, etc). A couple of them are taking me up on the first of those possible ideas and will make the flipped classroom less stressful for them as they will not have to stress over the use of Angel as much. They are also getting used to the fact that the "teacher computer" at the front of the room is available for use during class (since I am up helping people out most of the time) and they have learned that I am fairly knowledgeable in helping them figure out how to get their PEDs on the wifi and opening various files. Which has led me to wonder if there are not teachers and other students who have not been able to get past these difficulties - these problems could easily create barriers to using all sorts of technologies in the classroom.

Anyway, I have digressed a bit - the ultimate purpose of this post was to reflect on the technology use in the classroom (specifically as it relates to the flipped classroom) and how it affects students. And in the end, this week has led me to think that in order for more of us to teach students how to use the technology more of us need to be comfortable using it on our own (this part of the revelation also brought to you in part by the sentiments expressed by colleagues in their new school board blogs) and perhaps I can offer my services with some "drop in times" to ask questions about devices on the wifi and various apps and websites that I am familiar with.

Fellow teachers - would you take advantage of someone offering this idea? If not, why not (i.e. what is stopping you or what else do you need in order to want to)? If yes, what kinds of things would you want to come to ask about? (I would like to compile a list of ideas/suggestions for those that might not have their own initial idea).

Please comment or sent me a Tweet @TchngPassion

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Monitoring Back in the Classroom

I think that monitoring has taught me a lot this semester. Scratch that, I know it has. Joining the student success department involved a fairly steep learning curve. I have learned a lot about what a monitor does, how it can impact students, how the process of getting a student identified might go, how the ILC works...the list goes on. But I am ready to get back into the classroom.

On one hand, I learned a lot of valuable things that I can take back to my classroom as part of my overall perspective of student. On the other hand, I got into high school teaching because I loved teaching and still wanted to be intellectually stimulated. Funny that we don't generally associate emotion with intelligence (let me tell you, it was impossible not to at least feel emotionally attached to the stories I heard).

Here are some of the things that I think will be a lasting impression on me as a classroom teacher:

1. There is almost always more to the story behind a student's absences and/or lateness and/or late/missing assignments. It can range from school engagement to issues at home and beyond - but there is often something there and as a classroom teacher we have to remember this and be willing to investigate further (or at least seek out the resources that can do this and inform teachers).

2. It is possible to monitor a student and support them academically without removing them from their "less important classes" (I refused to pull a student some tech or gym - I do not see a benefit to making engagement more difficult).

3. I had the chance to be working and taking an AQ and diving into professional ideas that I want to bring to my classroom in September (a definite bonus).

4. We need to spend more time in high schools providing learning opportunities for learning skills, test-taking skills, etc if we want our students to become more successful. The sole resource of an academic monitoring teacher cannot do this alone!

5. Our failures are NOT personal. We cannot help everyone, no matter how much we would like to. We can keep them from falling through our cracks, but if the student and/or the guardian are not on board with the plan, it may fail. All we can do is keep trying. Keep supporting. Keep hoping.

I am really looking forward to being able to put my new perspective into the classroom and looking forward to trying new assessment and teaching styles. My most recent inspiration to work toward my flipped classroom comes from the "confession" from Eric Mazur, a Harvard Physics professor. It is an 80 minute video, but if you have an interest in this kind of idea it is worth watching. He started using this Peer Instruction style classroom in 1991!