Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Flipped Classroom Explained

There has been a great deal of information lately on the World Wide Web and in the media on the flipped classroom approach.  I still get the sense that many educators are unsure of what this actually means and entails.  I myself have done quite a bit of research as of late to gain a better understanding.

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There are two main components associated with the flipped classroom approach to teaching and learning.  The first is that students watch lectures and consume other forms of content outside of school at their own pace while communicating with peers and teachers using online tools.  The second is that students in school work to actively apply what they have learned through concept engagement with assistance from the teacher.  For a  more detailed description and an infographic on this approach check out this great article at MindShift.  There is also fantastic information at The Digital Sandbox including this description: "The flipped classroom provides avenues for teachers to become facilitators of learning and move away from the sage on the stage approach to teaching.  The goal is to extend learning time conversation to outside of class through threaded discussion."

Below is an introductory video on what it means to "flip" your classroom.  Please be aware that there is a brief product pitch at the end of the video.

For more resources on the flipped classroom approach visit Cybraryman's page on the topic. So what are your thoughts on this topic?  I would love to hear from those educators that have found success with this. Will schools and educators find value in this approach and begin to flip their classrooms?  Or will the fear and anxiety associated with standardized testing and new teacher accountability reforms stop this phenomenon from taking off?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Student Voice Matters

This past September I was fortunate enough to attend a professional development program on the Chromebook at the Google offices in New York City. At the conclusion of the workshop, I immediately began to think about the potential of this computing device in my school. However, something was missing. The missing piece to making a decision of this magnitude was the thoughts and advice from the most important constituency in schools, the students. So I floated an idea to Google, which at the time I didn’t think would ever pan out. I asked them if I could bring back a group of students from New Milford High School so that they could try out the devices and provide me with feedback as to whether or not they would be a good fit for our school. The idea was enthusiastically embraced.
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On Monday November 14, 2011, I took ten students from our STEM Academy on an amazing adventure to the Google offices in New York City. This would turn out to be the most exciting and meaningful daylong trip of their high school experience. The agenda for the day was as follows:
  • Tour of the offices and themed floors.
  • Chromebook overview and hands-on time with the device.
  • Special meeting with “Googlers” to learn about what it is like to work there, the application process, and the diversity of programs that they work on.
  • Lunch in one of the five specialized cafeterias.

Since this was an Academy experience, I gave the students an assignment that had to be completed after the trip (which comes back to why we were at Google in the first place). Each student had to write a persuasive essay explaining why I should or should not purchase Chromebooks for the school. I reinforced the fact that they, not me, would make this important decision. I don’t know who was more excited about this, the students or me. Students have begun to send their essays to me using Google Docs and I can’t resist sharing one of them here. The following is the persuasive essay by senior Amanda Howell:

On Monday November 14th, myself, along with a small group of students, had an unparalleled opportunity. We were able to visit the Google offices in New York City, and try the Chromebooks that Google has come out with. Not only was the trip to Google an amazing experience, but also to be able to test out technology that could be beneficial to my fellow students was an amazing personal experience.

I found the Chromebooks would be a great investment for New Milford High School for several reasons. These reasons include the computers simplicity, speed, and value. 
 The first, and perhaps best quality of the Chromebooks, is its simplicity. This I personally love, but I also think will be a great quality for the student body. The Chromebook has the least hassle of any computer I have ever surfed the web on, and it was an extremely refreshing experience to be able to boot up and go. The students here at New Milford will be able to turn on their Chromebook, enter their information, and begin working on whatever they desire. I believe that this feature will be particularly useful for a classroom setting because students will need no instructions on what to do. It wastes time in a classroom when teachers have to give their students instructions on operating devices, but not with the Chromebook.

Time, and speed in particular, is another fantastic aspect of the Chromebook. Personally, my P.C takes what seems like forever to boot up, but not the Chromebook. You press the power button and within eight seconds you have access to the World Wide Web. Eight seconds is extremely fast, and will save time in classes. This high efficiency will also be beneficial for a classroom setting because the students will have an ample amount of time to perform research, or whatever else the class requires. This is in contrast to the laptops teachers have access to now, which take what seems like the whole class period just to start up. Not only is the start up for the Chromebooks fast, but also the computer itself operates faster than any other computer the school has. 

The final aspect of the Chromebooks that make them beneficial is value. The Chromebooks are extremely reasonable compared to other laptops, such as Macs. The value of the Chromebooks is so high because of accessibility. There are many times that students are working on a project, or doing research, but when they sign on the next day, the computer they were using is not available. This problem is completely eliminated with the Chromebooks because students can pick up and go from any of the computers. Students are not saving their work to the computer, but rather to their account. This not only increases accessibility, but security as well because without your password no one has access to your account.

Over all, I believe that because of all these aspects of the Chromebooks, they would be a great asset at New Milford High School. The book’s simplicity, speed, and value place them in a category, which no other technology is in. They would be extremely helpful in bettering the student’s education and learning experience here at our school. They are an extremely smart investment, and I am even considering one myself.

Once all of the essays have been submitted and reviewed I will meet with this group of students and inform them of my decision to purchase or not.  This decision will be made entirely from their input.  The point here is that students are being placed in positions to make important decisions as part of our school transformation efforts. By involving them in this process it is our hope that they will take more ownership of their learning. After all, students are the reasons why we do what we do. It only makes sense to involve them as much as possible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Profound Impact

As educators we routinely wonder whether or not the advice that we impart on our students actually has had a positive impact.  Sometimes were are given direct feedback, but other times were are left to wonder.  During the past couple of weeks we have organized two assemblies where I have educated the entire student body on cyberbullying, as well as digital responsibility and footprints.  My goals for the assemblies were for students to fully understand the negative impact and consequences associated with bullying online, the need to advocate for others who are targeted, the importance of demonstrating responsibility online as it can potentially impact college acceptances and future employment, and the creation of a positive digital footprint.  

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For each class I utilized a PowerPoint presentation complete with testimonials, emotional videos, and relevant examples.  During each assembly students were extremely attentive and respectful, but I was still unsure about whether or not my points were made.  Fortunately someone shared with me the email below that was sent to our middle school principal by a student who attended one of my presentations.  Please note that I have removed all names.

Hi Mrs. XXX, I'm not sure if you remember me but my name is XXX XXX. I'm a junior at the high school. I also wasn't sure who to come to about this, but at the high school we recently had a presentation on cyber- bullying, and I have a Facebook account. A student's Facebook page at your middle school came up on my Facebook news-feed. Her page wasn't blocked, which is why her information was visible to view.  I didn't want to just overlook this.  Last year when I was a sophomore, this girl came to the high school football games with her dad and she was very friendly, but I noticed other girls from the middle school bullying her. I remember telling the girl to ignore them and not to hang out with them. However, on this girl's page there were cruel comments and sarcastic remarks leading this girl to believe they liked her when from my point of view it seemed like bullying. The girl's name is XXX XXX, I don't know her, but I just wanted to bring it to your attention if it wasn't already known. I just wanted to say something, because at the high school the presentation on cyber-bullying really made me realize how much of a difference saying something can make. If you need me at all feel free to email me back.

I can't even begin to explain how proud I am of this student!  Messages like this make me realize that when we take the time to educate our students ourselves it really does have an impact.  We are in the process of conducting all of our assemblies with in-house personnel because it is cost-effective, convenient, and most importantly we are the ones who have established connections with our students.  Find out who your experts are and empower them to deliver important messages during assemblies and I can assure you that they too will have a profound impact on your students.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Questions I Ask

I have been fortunate over the past few days to have attended the Authorspeak Conference.  This experience has allowed me to listen to and connect with some of the best minds in education (i.e. Robert Marzano, Rick DuFour, Carol Tomlinson, Doug Reeves, Will Richardson).  Additionally,  I have been able to network with other amazing educators from all over the world and actively share how we are transforming the culture at New Milford High School.

During the second day of the conference I presented on Communicating and Connecting With Social Media with my co-authors Bill Ferriter and Jason Ramsden.  Throughout the 45 minute presentation we shared proven strategies to harness the power inherent within social media tools to enhance communications, establish the foundation for a positive public relations platform, connect with other educators to learn, and create policies to ensure effective use.  I believe our session went very well and attendees left with a vision and strategies to begin integrating social media tools into their professional practice.  For a brief summary check out the synopsis by Nick Provezano at The Nerdy Teacher blog.

However, after reflecting on the session and speaking with some of the attendees, it is apparent that the embracement of social media in schools and by educators will continue to be an uphill battle.  For those educators and schools that are either resistant to or unsure about using social media I pose these questions to you:
  • Why would educators and schools not want to use free social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate important information (student honors, staff accomplishments, meetings, emergency information) to stakeholders in real-time? 
  • Who would not want to take control of their public relations and produce a constant stream of positive news?  If we don't share our story someone else will and we then run the chance that it will not be positive.
  • Why should establishing a brand presence be restricted to the business world when schools and districts now have the tools at their fingertips to do this in a cost-effective manner?
  • What educator would not want to connect with experts and peers across the globe to grow professionally through knowledge acquisition, resource sharing, engaged discussion, and to receive feedback?
  • Why do many schools refuse to allow educators to use free social media tools to engage learners, unleash their creativity, and enhance learning?
  • Why are schools missing the opportunity and failing students by not teaching digital responsibility/citizenship through the effective use of social media?
  • Who would not want to tap into countless opportunities that arise through conversations and transparency in online spaces?
  • When will the profession of education catch up to society?
These are the questions that I believe many of us who are engaged in social media ask.  I encourage you to share these with other schools, administrators, teachers, and board of education members who still question the value of social media in education.  Together we can continue to be the change that we want to see in education.