Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Just a Little Flip

Like so many other teachers, I have heard a lot recently about how flipping your classroom is the cool thing to do. While I admire teachers who have the gumption to undertake that challenge, I never really gave it much thought or put it on my list of things to do.

It wasn't that I thought it was a bad idea, I just had a lot of reasons I didn't really think it was for me. (Some of these reasons, I realize are based on my own misconceptions of what flipping actually is. It happens.)

*If I were to describe my classroom, it is unapologetically based on constructivism. My kids learn by doing. This is not to say they are not guided in their discovery or are left alone in hopes that they somehow learn something, but we really focus on what it means to understand a concept and how to understand that concept based on your own knowledge and observations, not just because the textbook says it's true.

*In my mind, watching a video at home is no different than reading a textbook at home, you just get to say that you have incorporated some technology into your homework. We typically don't use textbooks unless we need to make a ramp, so this was a big hurdle for me.

*I'm really not sure what people mean when they say "it leaves class time open for all that cool stuff we wish we had time for."

*I had no idea how to make a video.

*Even if I figured out a way to make a video, I don't have time to do it. Plus, I don't really have the personality it takes to make a good one.

Then I went to a SIDLIT distance learning conference, where I sat in on a session by Aftab Merchant, who has flipped his anatomy lab at the Cleveland Chiropractic College. Since my entire existence as a teacher is based on lab experiences, it was the lab part that caught my eye, so out of curiosity, I went. It took about seven seconds, and I knew this was something I was going to try this year.

What he has done is to take every lab that he does and video the pre-lab. He walks students through the lab, shows them how to make the incisions, shows them where to find each structure and what it actually looks like. He makes sure those kids know exactly what will be expected of them when they walk through the door.

This is something I have struggled with in recent years. Kids are coming to me with an alarming lack of basic lab skills. For way too long, I had this assumption that they knew all of those things that should have been learned in the lab. What does a beaker look like? I know, but way too many do not. I know how frustrating it is for me, but it took me awhile to realize how frustrating it is for those kids.

So I tried it. Yesterday, I gave my chemistry class the assignment to watch the pre-lab video* of our Mass and Change lab. They were to come in today with any questions they might have and be ready to head to the lab.

Now, I fully anticipated kids not doing their homework. Shocking, I know. So our librarian was expecting a good number of them come down if they had not watched the video. In my first section, only four of the twenty had watched it. So off they went to watch the video. The other four started on the lab. Some finished the lab some did not. Those who need to finish will be in here during seminar catching up. They are not happy, but my feelings aren't all that hurt over it. We had a little chat about how very little homework we get in this class and how important it is to actually get it done when it is assigned. Apparently, word got out because everyone in my second section had watched the video.

Not gonna lie. This lab went so smoothly I can't even believe it. Last year, I spent about twenty minutes (longer than the video) going through the pre-lab and answering questions. And more often than not, I forgot something in at least one section. This year, I showed them where the beakers were located.

It was amazing.

Even the kids thought it was a good idea. Some even got stuck on part of the lab and pulled the video up to watch it again.

I like it. I am going to keep it.

I hope. The first video I made took me most of a Saturday, so it's not something I can churn out at a very high rate, but I am thinking that I will get better at it. Now that I at least have an idea of how to set it up, the whole process should go a little more smoothly and with any luck I will be able to stay far enough ahead that I won't stress over it too much.

So what about you? Do any of you do anything like this? Or do you do something different?

*Don't laugh, this is a terrible video. Hopefully this will get better as I go along!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Back to School Blues...I Mean, Buzz...

I'm not gonna lie.

I'm not ready.

I'm not getting that feeling that I am supposed to be getting at this time of year. I'm trying, but if I am completely honest, I am dreading the day after tomorrow when kids come back.

Maybe it's because I don't feel like I had much of a break this summer. Between shuttling kids around, teaching a class and the five workshops I attended, I just do not feel refreshed in any way.

Maybe it's because an old storage room was cleaned out and every one of my lab tables is covered with stuff someone thought I might want.

Maybe it's because I have sat through three full days of meetings. Forget for just a minute that those meetings are brutal based solely on the fact that we have to sit and listen to someone talk for seven hours a day. The bigger issue is the content that may or may not have been heard over the snoring in the back. New ELA standards. New math standards. New science standards. New social studies standards (hey, one doesn't affect me directly!). New evaluation system. Crisis training. Blood Borne Pathogen Training. MTSS training. ESI training. I am pretty sure there was more "training" in there somewhere, but for the life of me I can't remember what it is.

I am trying, but I can't seem to get excited about the upcoming school year.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Science and Inquiry...What is it Anyway?

So Frank tweeted out a post by Paul. Now, coming from Frank, I was expecting a link to some amazing new teacher with some great idea I could steal and implement into my classroom. This is, after all, why I have twitter. So I was quite surprised* to find an article comparing scientific inquiry to reform math (whatever that is). My first reaction was not favorable, so I looked around to see if I could find out more about Paul. His page says he is a middle school science teacher, but I couldn't seem to find much of anything that lets me see inside his classroom. Maybe that isn't the point of his blog, and that is fine, but he doesn't seem to like science education all that much.

But that isn't really my point. I'm not really into bashing other people, but this post bothered me because it seems to reflect what a lot of science teachers (and administrators and parents and others) think inquiry really is.

Go ahead. Ask someone what an inquiry based classroom should look like. For the most part, you will get an answer along the lines of "kids are exploring whatever they want and calling it science." This misconception is why some science teachers "don't do inquiry."

I'm not sure how this perception of inquiry became so mainstream, however, if you actually read The 5 Essential Features of Inquiry described by the National Research Council (2000), you will find an explanation that it probably strays quite a bit from your definition.

1. The learner engages in scientifically oriented questions.
This does not mean they have to come up with their own questions. I can give them a question. I can even give them the procedure. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. The important part is that the activity is focused on a specific idea that I want kids to understand.

2. The learner gives priority evidence in responding to questions.
The key word here is "evidence." It is vital that we are using data to formulate the answer to our question. So we take data. Then we decide whether or not it is good data. If it's not, then we get back in the lab and figure out what we did that doesn't allow us to draw a conclusion.

3. The learner formulates explanations based on evidence.
This is the hard part. In most science classes, the data doesn't mean squat. We did a lab. It was fun, but I can answer all those conclusion questions by reading my textbook. Being able to truly explain what the data means and drawing those relationships is tough for a lot of kids. And adults.

4. The learner connects explanations to scientific knowledge.
So we have made it through the lab and have a conclusion based on our results. Now the big question is whether or not our conclusion stands up against what we already know. Does our data support the accepted theory or not? When you think about it, this is the whole point of science. Using new data to corroborate or not on a given theory and building our knowledge base allows us to question even more.

5. The learner communicates and justifies explanations.
Oh that communication piece. In my classroom, not only do students have to write conclusions that incorporate at least three different representations of their data, but they also have to present their results to the class. This is why I love the whiteboarding. Kids get up and explain to their peers what their data means and what their conclusions are. They have to really understand the ideas and be able to articulate them in a way that can be understood by others. Then they get to answer any questions that might get thrown their way and justify their conclusions.

A student-centered, inquiry-based classroom does NOT mean the students get free reign and control over their learning experience. If that were true, they wouldn't need me. Student centered means that those kids are not just writing down everything I say, filling out a worksheet and parroting it back to me on a test. That isn't learning. Plus, that is boring.

I teach in an inquiry-based classroom and let me tell you, it takes a lot of work and careful construction to get kids where I need them to go. Even Shawn, whose kids go off in the most amazing of directions, gives kids a lot more support than you might think. Again, inquiry is NOT about sending kids off on their own, hoping they come up with the "right" answer. It is about helping construct their own knowledge and make sense of the world around them. Without a textbook. Yes, it can be done.

I will also tell you that teaching using inquiry does NOT "lower for success." If all you are doing is having kids "do" science with out them learning any science, maybe science (or teaching in general) is not for you. I have mentioned before how good this way has been for "those" kids in my classes and I believe you have heard me talk about how some of those "upper-level" kids really struggle when it comes to actually thinking about the material.

Inquiry is an entire process that encompasses a whole lot more than just the procedure. When done correctly, it is a rich learning environment that involves active, student centered learning, communication and critical thinking.

Really, you should try it.

*Frank was really on a roll today with way out of character recommendations.

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