Thursday, 11 December 2014

To tired to censor thoughts

It seems I only get the motivation and energy to post something when my enerhmgy and motivation are at their lowest. My resistance is down and who knows what will bleed onto the page.

Tonight was our Christmas concert, an event which up until a couple of years I attended out of duty, allegiance to the teachers who promote the ever slow growth of musicians, and have patience and will power beyond comprehension. But the at one particular concert as I sat in the audience painting over the long delays between musical groups performing, I decided that I would go beyond the following morning weak praise, and instead, stepped up to the plate and volunteered my criticism as an opportunity to help out to produce closer to what I felt to be an acceptable standard.

So three years later, the concert has the same amount of music but is trimmed down to 90 minutes instead of 2 and a half hours exercising the parents' patience. Definitely not precise clockwork, but raising the standards and the student pride, and definitely way more interesting (though) exhausting for me as initiation into the enjoyment of the season.

The moral of the story... Don't do something for the sake if doing it. Put your heart and energy into it, and take what you deserve from it. This weekend, I WILL crawl around in the backyard snow when my son is out there, not because I should, but because I can.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Jump Start

Living in Montreal, the winters can be particularly cold. Especially January and early February, frosty mornings when the snow has that squeaky kind of crunch when you walk on it, and car doors and windows are frozen shut, and oh so dark... sometimes it's God's will whether or not your car's engine will start.

Probably half of male car owners possess a set of jumper cables in their trunk. You use them to connect the batteries of a car that is running to give a boost to another car's battery whose engine won't start, weakly turning over or sometimes reduced to that little click of the starting motor refusing to live up to its name. After revving the engine of the healthy car to raise the voltage, the transfusion of electricity usually brings the ailing car to life, ready to face the frozen day. Handshakes or hugs, reminders to keep the engine revving high to recharge the battery...

So, you may ask, what does this have to do with anything, except for retreating to Florida in winter?

When I was observing a neophyte teacher yesterday, I got a taste of the value of that jump start in teaching. I was an old dog watching the new tricks of this naive, energetic teacher. He was introducing the topic of surface area, by having the students "think, pair, share, jigsaw, brainstorm and report back". So ambitious... a good thing I didn't tell him he'd be wasting his time and energy thinking this could lead to any meaningful preparation for testing on the topic.

They had their flimsy nets of prisms, cones, pyramids and cylinders, and were discussing in groups about similarities and differences in their same categories of solids, and then in mixed groups, then they had to return to their original groups and invent their own definition of their category of solids. Definition, description, classification, characteristics... they don't know the difference, coming just short of zodiacal sign or sexual orientation of  their shapes. Chaotic generalizations and inefficient methods for imparting knowledge.

But at the end of that class, they were walking out of the room excitedly talking about how "their" solids were better, a couple of "what ifs", and curiosity about where spheres or dodecahedra would fit in.

No, it wasn't teaching, evaluating, or reviewing... but it definitely was learning. It took up a full one-hour class. Is the payoff going to be faster learning? I hope? Will it result in deeper learning?  Definitely. But how do we make that show up in our evaluations? And (old dog thinking) haw are we going to cover the whole curriculum?

I need to take the energy from that jump-start, and transfuse it into my teaching - I mean their learning.

Yes it's a cliche, but fits in with the car analogy... I need to embrace the journey, and not just the destination.

...It's been a long cold wearing winter.  Oh April where is thy sting?

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Time has come today

Not really sure what is meant by my title (It's the title of a song that you either love or hate - from the 60's), but it seemed apt as I have just found some TIME right now to do a bit of blog reading that I had put off, discarded or lightly scanned.

Where do all these Bloggers and Tweeters find the time and energy to maintain their public monologues? And for teachers doing flipping, cramming an extra hour or so into their days... How do they do it? But I do understand that the returns for this extra time certainly justifies it.

Okay so I'm not saying anything new here.

I finish my summer school teaching tomorrow, and then I will be able to dive right into the school scheduling. Will I get it done in my self-imposed three week time limit? Otherwise, does anyone know a good divorce lawyer? The number of times I've fallen asleep at my computer working late at night, or mornings when I wake up seemingly minutes after my head hits the pillow (thank heavens for morning showers)... I fear something's gotta give.

But I am determined to flip the classroom this upcoming year, and I know I can't just dabble in it halfway. Starting with the Kirch model of parent letter, training the kids how to watch a video, WSQing, and then figuring out how to make best use of the class time - it'll be a challenge. And as Crystal Kirch pointed out, being the pioneer in your school likely gets you dubbed as "the expert" who is expected to have all the answers. And how can you say no when you see your eager colleagues ready to take the plunge.

I quickly read something someone said about how "assigning reading homework to students so that we can discuss it in class the next day" has always been a flipped classroom idea. But now putting some structure around it, with ways to evaluate, AND FOLLOWING THROUGH should be able to make it work for ALL the class, and not just the geeky chosen few.

Making students responsible for their own learning...

Why do I get the same feeling as when I'm looking up on that scary ride at the amusement park. "Just get on it and stop thinking about it. You'll figure out the details in TIME".

Sunday, 24 June 2012

This entry is off the topic of flipping, but something I want to sort out for myself by writing. It's about Fractions.

I plan to teach an intro to grade 7 course for kids entering high school, and they come in with minimal to no skills in working with fractions. My goal is to come up with activities/examples/applications to make 'em accept that fractions MUST be included and understood in grade 7 math.

Starting with something they understand or should understand... Test results. Given a quiz: 11/20, test: 33/42 or homework: 8/10, how do we compare the results? Well you don't need fractions, you just have to change to percentage... WHICH IS SILL A FRACTION, JUST THAT IT's out of 100. Lots of fraction work there, and estimation skills. But what if you wanted to do it without fractions?

That's a stat... Then maybe a couple of historical questions, and tools for matching things up for comparing skills. Addition and Subtraction would fall out of there, but maybe I should do multiplication first. What fraction of the day is left for Mr. Powell to sleep if he burns the candles at both ends?

And then again, this may be perfect for a flipped lesson.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Today's students are not special

I think every teacher needs to see this and smile knowingly, parents need to see it and agree begrudgingly (while they worry about their kids taking care of them in their old age), and students need to see this and realize the rut they've been set in.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Setting the Flipping stage - comment I made at ChemicalSams

In my investigations, students needed guidance by teachers to break education (math in my case) into palatable morsels, with A logical sequence. The idea of factory-line learning is outdated, but the model of groups learning from an expert is going to be hard to break.

The evolution of the revolution will take a while, and ITM has been doing a great job of showing glimpses of where or how it can lead - but doesn't have to lead.

We don't need to go back to apprenticeships for learning, but anything that can nurture a student's passion for something and the learning that follows... the role of the educator is to guide the learner to and through the information required.

But what about the learner who has no passion? I like the sports/fitness/health analogy. Not every kid has a sport that he/she is passionate about, and even exercise may be low in importance. But if the person doesn't have the basic muscles, coordination, balance and stamina, those passions may never have the opportunity to develop.

Throwing this back into education, we see the need for addressing different levels of interest and student goals. While flipping offers chances for all students to build the necessary skills, the more important thing about flipping/inversion/perversion is offering the motivated student the chance to pursue his/her interests under teacher guidance, and yet allowing the unmotivated student the opportunity to follow a manageable pace that can build the foundation for when such interests may come along. And as the "shift happens" video describes, those passions may not even exist yet.

No, flipping is not the final solution, but it sure does allow the opportunity for some change to occur in this outdated education model. And unless some huge problems rear their ugly heads revealing that "flipping is detrimental to learning", we've got to Enjoy the opportunity now and see where it takes us.

Oh yeah, and along the way, let's count the number of problems with "assembly line education" that we don't have to worry about so much anymore.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Looking ahead to next year? Already?

I wanted to remember a few things for planning my flipped classes next year, and I automatically opened up Word to type it out (I guess that's better than scratching it out on a napkin), but then I realized that this blog is probably a better place for it. So here goes.

  • Put secret questions in the videos
  • Remind the viewer to press pause and attempt the example
  • Vary the videos - how about adding movie clips or cut-away photos? Speech bubbles?
  • Check very VERY carefully at the beginning of the year that students are taking notes on the videos
  • Change the whole paradigm of what goes on in the classroom. Hearing students call it a Math "lab" takes a bit of getting used to, but it's probably more accurate. Activities in class as opposed to homework is also kind of neat
  • Come up with ways to vary classroom (I mean Math Lab) activities. Cater to all the levels of learning (think "Bloom") and students' different skill levels and learning abilities
  • Rethink how evaluations can be done. How do you "flip" a test. Do you have to have tests? But they will still have exams, so how to best prepare them for that as you teach them the material. I'm already bothered by ideas on this one, because I know that we're still stuck in "cookie cutter" curricula and evaluation, but students are anything but cookie cutter kids.
  • Step away from the front of the class. There's an English teacher who arranges the room with this desk at the back... and when I saw Crystal Kirch's class video panning the room, it was student's working on the blackboard or whiteboard, and most of them didn't even seem to notice that she was filming (what an out-dated word that is, isn't it?)
  • Situational Problems: in Quebec where I teach we have to evaluate kids' abilities to take one big monster application that requires three or four different topics in its open-ended solution. I need to stop hating that and use that kind of idea as a teaching tool.
Okay, this is starting to turn way too idealistic - explains why I'm a teacher. Let's see how I feel about this next week when I'm poring over piles of exam marking.