Fed up with February

4fingersI am not sure how much longer I can take the brutally cold weather. I consider myself a “hearty New Englander” but this February has been ridiculous. To come downstairs in the morning and see the thermostat read 49 degrees Fahrenheit is the epitome of depressing. Many educators, particularly those who teach in snowy environments, will confess that the month of February is frequently one of the most difficult months of the school year. Never-ending cold weather, darkness at 5 PM and “cabin fever” all contribute to the challenges of teaching and learning in February. What is a teacher to do? How about slowing down and taking some time to reflect on the things that really matter. In this week’s edition of the Friday 4, I offer up a few pieces that I have run across of late that have helped me to deal with the February blues. Remember, spring is just around the corner!
  • Slowing Down to Learn: Mindful Pauses That Can Help Student Engagement is a piece from the Mind/Shift website that offers some concrete suggestions for ways to address the challenging topic of wait time in the classroom.
  • Students Assessing Teachers: 10 Critical Questions is a piece from the Brilliant or Insane website that I found to be unique in its suggestions about how to utilize students in the assessment of teachers. I am always looking for ways to tap into the experiences of my students to improve my practice and will definitely incorporate a few of the questions from this piece in my end of term student survey.
  • Learning from Failure: Inspirational Stories for Teachers is another piece from the Brilliant or Insane website that was posted this past week that helped me to remember that sometimes we learn the most from our failures in the classroom. We encourage our students to embrace failure but sometimes forget to take our own advice. Be sure to click on the links in this story to see the footage from the Oprah show referenced in the piece.
  • 15 Surprising Discoveries About Learning is from the informED website and includes several good reminders about what really matters when it comes to teaching and learning.

I hope that you can use one or more of these pieces to help treat your case of the “February Blues” and remember what really matters during this the longest month of the year. Enjoy!


Professional Development Salad Bar

4fingers Not surprisingly given my role at Loomis Chaffee, I see and read a large number of articles, blog posts and books on the subject of professional development. I have a somewhat random mix of items this week that all have the theme of professional development running through them. I encourage you to read the pieces and then take the more important next step, namely, to take charge of your own professional development and commit to doing something that will foster your own grow as an educator.

  • A few weeks back in the Friday 4 I included a piece on Grant Wiggins’ (@grantwiggins) blog that described a colleague’s shadowing of 2 high school students. Grant posted a follow-up to that first post which is quite interesting and will certainly get you thinking about ways to improve and grow as an educator.
  • Connected Professional Development Is Now An Imperative is a recently published piece on the te@chthought website that makes the case for: “If Collaboration and Communication are two important 21st Century Skills, then educators should be the model for the way it works.”

  • The following New Yorker piece came to me from several colleagues that explores “How the ‘performance revolution’ came to athletics—and beyond.” One of the “beyonds” is education in general and teacher training in particular.
  • Practice what you preach is a thought provoking piece that contains several good reminders for how to constructively and productively receive feedback. Giving feedback is something that we are all quite familiar with as teachers, but we need to also be ready to receive feedback.

Enjoy. As always, I welcome and appreciate your feedback…good and bad!

Vernal Equinox Edition of the Friday 4

Friday Four – Is it Spring yet?

Well, it appears that spring may actually have arrived in New England and baseball season can finally start. To celebrate the arrival of the Vernal Equinox, I offer up this week’s interesting finds. Enjoy!

  • Here is a recent post from Annie Murphy Paul (@anniemurphypaul) on the power and use of feedback in the classroom based on research by John Hattie. If you do not already follow Annie on Twitter or subscribe to her blog, I would encourage you to do so. She is a wonderful resource for information about thinking and learning for those who do not have the time to scour through lots of research on their own.
  • Tired of hearing about the five or six or seven “C’s” of essential learning for the 21st century learner? (When will we finally admit that the “C’s” are timeless and have not all of a sudden become important?) Bo Adams (@boadams1) may have a simpler solution that he posits in this post from his blog.
  • Looking for a way to easily create multimedia presentations either to use in class or for your students to create instead of a poster or traditional paper? Check out Soo Meta a website where you can pull together images, video clips and all sorts of content and create short little videos. Thanks to Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne) and his blog freetech4teachers for bringing this neat tool to my attention.
  • The final piece this week is a long but interesting research report that I came across via one of Annie Murphy Paul’s blog posts (I can not find her post unfortunately so you may have to search her blog if you are interested in her summary of the piece) that is titled “Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology.” Daniel Willingham, whose work I really like, is one of the authors which immediately drew me to the piece.  From the abstract…”In this monograph, we discuss 10 learning techniques in detail and offer recommendations about their relative utility. We selected techniques that were expected to be relatively easy to use and hence could be adopted by many students.”  There conclusions may surprise you on a few of the techniques they studied.

Enjoy the weather!

Flipping Feedback

A colleague and I have been flipping our Microbiology and Molecular Biology courses at the Loomis Chaffee School for the past two years and cannot imagine going back to a more “traditional” model. There have certainly been challenges along the way and adjustments that we have had to make, but by and large, the “experiment” has been a successful one. We spent a good deal of time on the front end explaining the rationale and pedagogical implications of the flipped model to our students and seek their feedback quite regularly about their learning and the learning environment we have created. I have written previously about specific aspects in our flipped classroom, posts of which can be found herehere and here.

I suggested/volunteered my colleague (she would say I volunteered her!) to do a presentation at an upcoming faculty in-service day about the flipped classroom in an effort to get the word out to our colleagues. I will be busy doing presentations on the use of Google docs, the use of clickers and Twitter for teachers so I “encouraged” her to lead the session on the flipped classroom. She wanted to include some data from the current students as well as some comments from them in the presentations so we created a google docs survey to get some feedback from the students. We use video lectures as our main content delivery method and try and limit our videos to 15 minutes in length. You can find most of them at our YouTube channel LC Microbiology. We are on spring break now so not all of the students have filled out the form but here are the “highlights” and a link to the entire survey in case you are interested in the results so far.

  • The majority of students spend about 30 minutes watching and taking notes on a 15 minute video lesson.
  • About one-half of the students will watch the video more than once before coming to class.
  • Approximately 70% of the students will re-watch a video lecture prior to an in class assessment as review.
Here are a couple of the comments that students wrote in response to “what are the pros/advantages of the flipped classroom?”

“We are able to focus more on the lab work because of the flipped classroom and I believe it is a huge advantage for our bio class.”

“I can listen to one section of the lesson over and over. For example, I struggled with the buffer lessons at the beginning of the term, and I must have watched the video lesson in that section 8 times. Before long though, I understood buffers, and I never fell behind in the class.”

“Simple: I get to do more fun stuff in class.
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. My experience with science textbooks (and even textbooks in general) is that they are A) physically cumbersome and B) contain a few elements of pertinent information buried beneath clutter that, while interesting, has little to do with the course and dilutes the information that I actually need to know. Not only that, but teachers often find ways of teaching material that is more effective than the textbook, which means that the textbook is of little use as a resource because I learned the material in a different manner.”

Here are a few responses to what are the cons/disadvantages of the flipped classroom?”

“The con is that the homework is always important, so I can’t just skip it. I’m definately one of those kids that doesn’t do the homework if I don’t have to, but the video lessons are vital to the class the next day and I can never blow them off.”

“Sometimes, there is not enough time in class/too many things on the agenda to answer all of the questions/go through the video lecture thoroughly enough.”

“When I watch the videos outside of class, I write down questions and highlight confusing ideas, but learning the material off a computer is much different then learning material in class. I often struggle to know what I don’t know.” 

The students made some suggestions for ways in which we could improve the model mainly focused on making sure we dedicate some time in class to going over material that was confusing from the video lectures. We have not been as good at reviewing content from the videos as we could be as we try and squeeze every possible minute out of our schedule either having the students working in the lab or wrestling with problems related to the topic at hand. The feedback has been valuable to us as teachers and will hopefully encourage out colleagues to learn more about the flipped classroom and perhaps even give it a try.

I will post a follow-up with thoughts and feedback from the faculty in-service day. Please do not hesitate to add your comments, thoughts or suggestions to the discussion.