Saturday, September 19, 2015

First Week of School: Science Saturday

Its the first week of school and for many that means Rules, Procedures, and laying down the law.  Most teachers will start the first day going over their syllabus, rules, and being as strict as possible.  I have even heard some teachers give advice to new teachers about never smile until October.  While that might work for some teachers it doesn't work for me.  I believe one of the hardest things for new teachers is to find their own unique style.  Whenever I have a new student teacher the first thing I tell them is that my teaching style works for me but might not work for them.  This is why it is so important to see other teachers so you can find a style that works for you.  So what works for me?

           I use the first week of school to set the tone of my class.  On the first day I Do Not go over rules of the class. Instead I have the students do some teamwork activities.  For example, my 8th grades had to construct a tower of cups using only the rubber octopus and they could not talk or make any sounds doing this. They had to learn to work together and communicate  in other ways in order to accomplish this.  At the end they had to come up with some rules for teamwork.  They all had a great time and could all explain the importance of working as a team.



On the second day I teach one of my favorite lessons of the year.  My famous failures lesson.  I let my students know that when they learn new things they will make mistakes and I expect them to make mistakes.  We talk about famous people and the failures they had.  We also talk about the fact that they learned from their failures, they didn't give up, and they eventually succeeded.  At the end I have them think about something they love to do.  We talk about what they did when they faced their first obstacle and "failed" and what they did when it happened.  I stress that it is important to apply the same strategies to their classes.



The third day is my "office day".  Sometimes you just have to have those organizational days.  I use this day to have my students set up their interactive notebooks.  I like to have the first pages of my interactive notebook to be meaningful and useful.  I include the common thinking strategies they will use in class and the rubric for grading but I also like to include some pages that they can reference on days when they are struggling and having a hard time.  I have one page that is about failures and another page I printed out a blog post from C. Mielke that wrote an excellent post called "What students really need to hear".  I read it at the beginning and then ask the students about their opinions and thoughts on it.  The other pages will help them in class and include how to be a good digital citizen and common templates we will use.



On the last day, we only have four days our first week, I spend introducing my students to our digital classroom.  I use schoology for my LMS.  I have tried others like edmodo and google classroom but have found schoology to be the best for my purposes and the most student friendly.  I also set them up on our flipped classroom video site, edpuzzle.  I find the the combination of the two together makes for a very successful technology integrated classroom.

During the week I teach procedures as we do each task and then we practice, practice, practice.  They are taught by doing not by sitting and listening.  When mistakes are made they are immediately corrected without consequences.  I do not give detentions during the first week and do not mark students tardy during the first week.  Instead we talk about the actions and find solutions to them.  The first week is an opportunity for students to learn how things work, to make mistakes, and learn from them. I find that using this strategy cuts down on a lot of behavior issues and other problems later in the year.

The last thing I do is send out a message to the parents introducing myself, explaining what we did, and letting them know how great their student did.  Parents love hearing about the good things their students are doing especially those that usually only hear about the problems.

What are some things you do to set the tone during the first days of class

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Your First Flip: Technology Tuesday

So you have decided to flip your class, now what?  For many students, the flipped model is a new concept.  They are used to taking notes from a powerpoint presentation that the teacher leads them through.  They have never had to take notes from a video.  If you want them to be successful then they need to be taught how to do it.  



The first few times I do a flipped lesson I do it in my class.  I take the class through the whole process, including going through both groups activities for the next days extensions.   I start with modeling my thought process.  This includes, why I added certain questions? why I included the topic and essential question for their notes? when I would stop the video, when I would rewind, and what I would do if I got the check question incorrect?    I then have the students take the review quiz and we talk about the two different groups.  I have the whole class go through the review groups activity and then they go through the apply groups activity. As they go through each part I explain the benefits of each part, which include moving at their own writing and processing speed, and how each group, review or apply, are beneficial and help the students.    By taking them through the whole process together and explaining the why, more students become excited by this new and different teaching model and I have more success with them doing the flipped lessons.

For more information about how to flip your class, check out my four part series called Fire Up Your Flip.

How do you prepare your students for their first flipped lesson? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

How to FIRE up your flip in four EASY steps (Step 4:Extend): Technology Tuesday

The flipped model is a great way to differentiate for your students, provide quick formative assessment feedback, and allow more time in your classroom for higher level thinking activities.  

To help me in making my "flip" easier I came up with an acronym FIRE: FormatInteract, Reflect, and Extend. By following these four easy steps it made flipping my class a lot easier.

In Step1: I discussed how to chose a format for your flip. Although the majority of flips are done using video they do not have to.  In Step 2: I discussed the importance of having students interact and engage with the flipped lesson. In Step  3:   I discussed different ways students can reflect on their learning so that you and and the student are aware of where they are at in their understanding of the topic.  This information leads to Step 4: Extend.

Step 4: Extend


The whole reason for the flip is for students to learn the basics at home so they can apply and practice in the content in the classroom with the support and help of you and their peers.  The possibilities of what you can do on the day after a flip are endless.  I like to use this as a perfect opportunity to differentiate my teaching.  I use the data from the quiz I do as a reflection to put my students into two groups.  Group A is for students that demonstrate they have a basic understanding of the topic.  Station B is for students that demonstrate they are still unclear of the basic information and need some more practice and clarification on the key parts.  Here are some different ideas for what to do with each group.

-Group A:

     - Online investigation
     - mini experiment or hands-on activity
     - real world application like a science article
     - mini project

-Group B:

     - Guided reading of short summary
     - Interactive notebook flip pages
     - Second video that you take them through and discuss

One thing to keep in mind is to never reteach the lesson to the class the next day.  If you have students that did not do the assignment than the first thing they need to do when they enter your class is the flip assignment.  If you reteach the lesson to the class because students didn't watch the video you are telling the students its okay to not watch the video since the information will be taught in class the next day.  This rewards those for not watching the video and eventually no one will watch.

The first time I did the flip for a homework assignment I only had 25% of the students do the assignment.  Instead of getting upset I had to do some reflection on myself to see what did I do that resulted in this low percent.  When the students came in the next day I had them fill out a survey.  I discovered that 30% of the them forgot, 30% of them discovered that their internet connection was not good, and 30% didn't want to do it.  We talked about the importance again and the options for what to do if you can't watch the videos at home. I then had the 75% that didn't watch the video do the flip lesson in class and the 25% that did watch went on to the activity I already prepared for that day. The next flip only 20% didn't watch.  As the students got used to this new method of teaching and started to see the benefits I had less students not doing their assignment.  

What are your suggestions for making sure the students watch the videos and what do you do if they don't?  Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Classroom Environment: Science Saturday

Its that time again to get your class ready for the start of the year.  As you prepare for your lessons and activities you also need to think about your classroom and what kind of environment you are promoting.  Look around at your walls, white boards, and bulletin boards.  What do you see?  How would you feel as a new student walking in for the first time?  For me the classroom environment starts before my students even enter the class.  On my door I post a saying that lets students know that they are important.  I also greet my students everyday with a handshake. By doing these two simple things you let the students know that you care about them and that you are glad they are there.


As they enter my room the first thing they see is my famous failures wall.  I want them to know that mistakes are necessary for learning and that it is okay to fail.  I try and stress throughout the year that everyone that has been successful has failed.  I allow my students to try over and over again and encourage them to be risk takers.  My students know that they won't be penalized the first few times they are trying out new things because failing is part of the learning process.


My whiteboards in the front have multiple purposes.  One, they act as an informational center.  Students learn what the objective of the day is and what they are expected to do at home.  Two, they act as an inspirational center.  I put a quote of the week on the board for students to use as a reflection on what they are doing.  Three, they act as special message boards from me.  I like to give shout outs and point out amazing works that I am seeing and to make sure everyone see them I put them at the front of my room on the white boards.

I use the back of my room as an interactive learning wall.  Students incorporate social media by posting short thoughts and pictures about what they are learning.  Then throughout the class time if they need to review they can go to the back of the room and read the information to review and learn.



I also have a board that reminds students about digital citizenship and technology rules. We use technology a few times a week and so it is important that my students know about digital citizenship and practice it. My last boards help students with the common core literacy science standards by helping them with their academic vocabulary and showing them how to support their claims with evidence.

What do you do to create a supportive classroom environment? Let me know in the comments below

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How to FIRE up your flip in four EASY steps (Step 3:Reflect): Technology Tuesday

The flipped model is a great way to differentiate for your students, provide quick formative assessment feedback, and allow more time in your classroom for higher level thinking activities.  

To help me in making my "flip" easier I came up with an acronym FIRE: Format, Interact, Reflect, and Extend. By following these four easy steps it made flipping my class a lot easier.
In Step1: I discussed how to chose a format for your flip. Although the majority of flips are done using video they do not have to.  In Step 2: I discussed the importance of having students interact and engage with the flipped lesson. Now onto Part 3: Reflect




Step 3: Reflect

The students have watched the video or read the text and taken notes and now what.  Before the class begins, or before you do your activity for the day you will want to get an idea of how much the students understood the information.   Why is this important?  It serves two purposes.  One, it allows the students to track their level of understanding of the topic.  Students need to know how they are progressing so that they can determine where they are at and what they are struggling with.  This way they know what it is they need to focus on and they will know if they need to ask for help.  Two, it allows you to get a quick idea of which students need early intervention. This allows you to focus on the few students that might need some extra understanding and move the students who understand the basics onto an activity that has them apply their understanding.

      You can do different things for your review.  Here are a few options:

1. Have the students answer a couple of open ended questions about the topic including what they think the big idea of the flipped lesson was? What questions they still have? 

2. Give them a short multiple choice quiz.  I went back and forth between using Google Forms and Schoology for my quizzes.  I ended up staying with Schoology and here is why.  By using Schoology I could easily turn the flipped quiz into a practice quiz and allow students to take it multiple times.  When I used Google Forms I had to use the add-on Flubaroo to grade it and then any time a student wanted to take it over, I had to run the program again.  With the quizzes on Schoology it is automatic.

- Suggestions when creating the quiz on Schoology.
        1. Make sure you set it so that it randomly mixes the questions and the choices within the questions.  This prevents students from just memorizing the letter answer to the question.  It also allows students to sit next to each other and have different tests
        2. The first time I give it I make it one time only.  Then after a few days I change it to unlimited and make it a practice.  This allows the students to learn more information before they take it again.  It also allows them to practice for the bigger tests by review on these multiple choice practice quizzes.
       3. Make it multiple choice.  I also have it so that one or two will have more than one answer so I know if they really got it.  Most the questions are just the basic but I will throw in one or two questions of the next level.


No matter which one you do, make sure you can use the results in class the next day to put them into the appropriate groups.  This leads to next week Step 4: Extend