Solving a Mystery

On a recent trip to Orlando, Florida my wife and I decided to try out Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show. At Sleuths the guests try to figure out a mystery that was portrayed by a group of actors while dinning. The actors setup the mystery with a skit that introduces the characters and any relationships they have with a crime at the end of the skit (we had a murder). While we dined, the actors encouraged guests at each table to discuss the mystery and come up with a question to ask the suspects. After dinner, each group had a spokesperson ask the question the group came up with. While we ate desert we were supposed to write down who did the dastardly deed and the motive for the crime. Once the desert dishes were cleared, the actors revealed the murderer and asked who in the audience solved the crime. Those who fingered the criminal and the motive for the crime received a small prize.

As the night went on I thought this is how a flipped class should operate. The skit that setup the problem could be done with a video. The actors wanted the guests, randomly grouped by table, to engage in collaborative discussion about who may have committed the crime to come up with at least two questions (in case yours was asked by another group) to ask the suspects. Finally, a formative assessment was given when the actors wanted the guests to write down who did the crime and, more importantly, why he or she did it. In other words it was a critical thinking exercise to come up with a possible solution based on using available information and group discussion. To top it off we paid $55.95 plus tax (take off $6.00 with coupon) per person for the experience. 

It was great fun that my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed. If you or someone you know wants to know how a flipped class with critical thinking exercises looks like and are headed to Orlando, Florida then I urge you to spend an evening at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows. Not going to Orlando? The actors did tell us they take their act on the road too.

Why Do We Do It?


Last week was the Beaufort County School District's Summer Institute. This our school district way to bring the conference experience to teachers every year and save money as teachers get some great professional development. The theme for this year's institute revolves around the 4 C's of 21st century learning. This concept comes from the Partnership of 21st Century Skills, a national group whose goal is to prepare our students for the 21st Century world by fusing the "3 R's" with the "4 C's." The 4 C's identified are:

-Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
-Creativity and Innovation

It should be clear these elements will make students stand out from tasks that can be routinely done by machines. Add Common Core standards (another two C's) and we will have students that can tackle any future problem they will encounter. Since we have no clue what will be required in the future as far as careers are concerned it is safe to say there will be many problems. All of the sessions at the Summer Institute touched on all of these themes including my session on the Flipped Classroom.

While I did the Flipped Classroom in Greenville earlier this summer, I was given more time in Beaufort to actually work with teachers and let them experiment. After defining what the Flipped Classroom was and its possible benefits followed by a question and answer session, participants grouped by subject area created lessons and video them using the Paper Slide method I learned in Greenville. Later, each participant went on to create their own flipped lesson. I was struck by the fact that almost all of them worked together to share information and techniques even though it was an individual activity. The 4 C's in action and everyone learned something.

One of the great things I really like about conferences is the chance to see friends I have made at such conferences over the years and the conversations we have. Probably because we know we don't have much time we get down to business discussing educational issues. One such discussion was about the Flipped Classroom that I advocate. One friend said he could not grasp the flipped concept and pressed me hard on its merits because he felt it would eventually take away jobs from teachers. My friend later apologized for, in his perspective, upsetting me. There was no apology needed because my looks were actually me thinking about his questions and trying to formulate intelligent answers. If if my friend annoyed or upset me I should not take it personally. It is these type of questions that educators should always be asking each other because if we cannot adequately defend our classroom techniques then why are we doing them and even worse trying to get others to do them too. Too often we fail to ask the hard questions to each other out of fear of upsetting other friends and colleagues. If we wish to raise our standards and incorporate the 4C's in teaching students then we should be willing to use them amongst ourselves. If not then why are we doing it?

UTC 2012

Last week I was privileged to participate in the Upstate Technology Conference (UTC). Once again the technology staff of the Greenville, SC County School District did an outstanding job putting on one of best small educational technology conferences anywhere. It is also remarkable that in this era of shrinking budgets the folks in Greenville are able to offer this conference to all comers for free. Thanks should also be given to Discover Education for being the main sponsor of this event along with the other sponsors as well. UTC is always one of the highlights of the year for me and I would attend even if I did not do a presentation for them.

This year I presented the Flipped Classroom from the point of view of having tried it in my Computer Technology classrooms. Before I did my two sessions I was scared that nobody would come. The reason was Dr. Lodge McCammon, Director of the FIZZ Project at North Carolina State's Friday Institute, was the Keynote Speaker and his specialty is the Flipped Classroom. In other words, I was going head to head with a legend in the Flipped Classroom field. After watching him at both his keynote address and his two Flipped Classroom sessions I wondered if anyone would want to waste their precious development time with me when there were many other wonderful sessions going on at the same time? Lodge's arguments for doing the Flipped Classroom are essentially the same as mine: less time lecturing, more time with students, differentiation in the classroom, less discipline problems, research to backup his methods, etc.... The technique to create the lecture videos was fairly simple and probably within most teachers' comfort zone. Finally, Lodge is far more entertaining than I am. I did have one trick left up my sleeve, there is more than one way to skin a cat or flip a classroom. Lodge was kind enough to allow me to add his methods to my presentation for which I am grateful. My worries were groundless too because both of my sessions were full and all of the participants seemed satisfied with the variety of methods I shared with them. This week I will be working with a group of middle and high school teachers in Beaufort County in helping them create real lessons to flip their classrooms with the variety of techniques I have to share.

The other session was done by my good friend Shirley Smith on how Richland, SC School District Two is phasing in a 1:1 technology initiative in their schools. My own school district wants to provide iPad carts to core academic classes and I wanted to see how Richland Two did it. Except for a few exceptions that went iPad, most schools opted for Google's ChromeBooks. I got to play around with a ChromeBook while I was in Greenville and I can say it is a serviceable but limited device. Anything one does on the device must involve the Internet and Google Apps in particular. The biggest question is how a user could create and edit media on the device and I am sure there is an answer to that question (please feel free to answer in the comments if you know how). The other main question I had was how were teachers trained on how to use the devices effectively in the classroom. Richland Two is phasing in the devices over a three-year period and staff development is ongoing. Each school is assigned their own technology coach whose main job is to help teachers learn how to use the devices in the classroom. An independent group is studying how teachers are using the devices through classroom observations and providing feedback to the district on how to use the devices and what further training needs to be done. What about any teachers who do not get with the 1:1 program after the three years are up? Let's just say they will need to make sure their resumes are updated. Ouch!

Finally, the Discovery Education Star Educator dinner at the Wild Wing Cafe was a great event. If you use Streamline or any other Discovery media products in your classroom and find yourself sharing what you know about them then you should sign-up. There are a lot of great benefits to being a Star Educator (you must be a subscriber of Discovery to view this page) besides a free meal. Many of my best friends in the Educational Technology community are Stars.

As always, I had a great time at UTC this year. It is always great to see old friends and make new ones as I usually do in Greenville. I also look forward to coming back next year but one participant requested that I do a session on Edmodo. Fran, Tim, Jeff, and the rest of the UTC Staff considered yourselves warned. Thanks to you for a great conference!

My Video on the Flipped Classroom

Dr. Lodge McCammon's videoi on the Flipped Classroom


Lessons Lessons Learned

Soon I will be putting the wraps on another school year and my first experimentation with the flipped classroom. For those who are not familiar with the flipped classroom, it is a teaching style where the teacher records lectures for students to view or listen to at home instead of in the class while the students would do their "homework" or other assignments normally given to do outside of the classroom. In other words, the class is flipped. My experimentation is a hybrid of the true flipped classroom style. My lectures and demonstrations were recorded and made available to students but most of the viewing was expected to be done in class as well. My reasoning was for students to attempt to view what they needed to do then attempt to do the task themselves. This would free me to work with students who continued having problems with an assignment. After trying this with four classes over the last year I must say it was somewhat successful but I did learn some things along the way.

Lesson number one is that students need to be taught how to watch a demonstration video. One of the reasons I went to my flipped style class was based on how students performed after watching me do demonstrations in the past. Usually, it was like I did not do a demonstration at all. I would still have to go over the task about 30 times because students only saw the demo once and rarely bothered to take notes. When I told students to watch the video I created, they would watch the video all the way through and not stop to attempt the steps as the video progressed. Then they would look up and say they did not get it. Once I showed them they could stop the video at any point and rewind when necessary did the videos become more effective.

Lesson number two is that it is hard to break years of conditioning. This did not really surprise me because I have done other things in my class that runs counter to what students have done in other classes. Still students would sit at their seats and wait for me to do some kind of lecture even when I told them their assignments and resources are on Edmodo. This usually took a few days for students to get used to.

Lesson number three is the grades will be horrible at the beginning. As I implied in lessons one and two, students need a period of adjustment. They will keep trying to do things they are used to without success and get frustrated. Administrators and parents will want to know what you are doing by suddenly becoming the hardest class to pass in the school. Hold your ground because it is almost like a light switch turning on when students finally figure it out. The grades will shoot up like a rocket. Most parents who meet with me to put my head on a platter usually look at their child and say "I wish I had this when I was in school" after I demonstrate how the videos work.

Lesson 4 is to have your gradebook with you as move around the class. The grades will quickly let you know who needs the extra help and who does not. I carry around an iPad that is connected to my computer via Splashtop. This allows me to see grades at an instant to determine who needs help. Also, it allows me to enter grades immediately when a student shows me a successfully completed assignment which save a lot of time come grade report time.

Lesson 5 is to hold the students accountable. Many times a student will tell me he or she does not understand what to do. The first question I ask is if the student watched the video. The answer is usually no because students who watch the video usually have a more direct question about a certain step. In the past some students did have a legitimate complaint because the videos did not work due to technical problems but I would quickly work to fix the technical problems. If students are not working quickly enough then I make a call to parents to offer my after school services to give extra help. While that cures most problems, there are students who are in legitimate need.

Here is a lesson I learned from another teacher who is doing it with her class: make sure to upload the lecture video as soon after school as you can. I heard one parent complain that a video lesson to be viewed at home was not uploaded in a decent hour. The problem was technical but you should be mindful of parents who want to download the videos so their children can watch it. Also, there are those high-maintenance parents who can never be satisfied.

Now that one year of using a flipped classroom is almost in the books I will be looking and reflecting on what happened. There will be videos that will need updating as tools change. Also, I will look at lessons that need videos if no other reason than to show what a successful product looks like. Over the summer I will be sharing my experiences with teachers from one end of South Carolina to another and help them create their own flipped classroom lessons. Then I will be looking forward to doing it again next year.

Lights, Camera, Teach

My students this year are more convinced than ever that I have really gone mad with the technology. Over the last several days I have been producing more video than a B-movie studio lot on a variety of topics such as Edmodo, Edublogs, network navigation, and other quick how-to videos as I go through the process of "flipping" my classroom. A few minutes ago I just wrapped up a video on how and why to make presentations more effective in which I recorded myself giving the Keynote presentation. Even "raising your hand" has had a 21st Century make over as students text me though Edmodo with their questions or to ask me to check their work. Surprisingly, I have found these new changes rather helpful even if some students have found it disconcerting, Am I rapidly going into Education 2.0 or even 3.0?

When I decided to try the Flip-style classroom this year I knew that I would very busy shooting, editing, and publishing videos needed for this teaching style to work. I will shoot a video on a topic, such as creating a blog post, I think the students will need. Later, I find myself doing reshoots when a need to focus more on a specific task such as inserting a link into a blog post comes up. Its okay because this is a learning process for me too and the students are proving to be excellent teachers. The trick is for the students who have spent the last five to six years having instruction delivered to them via lecture, group or individual work, or reading from a book to buy into going to the videos I have created first. Guess it take a while to change the years of conditioning students have gone through of either raising their hands or coming up to the teacher when they have a question. Some have not realized yet the educational power that is at their beck and call. They have a teacher who is always upbeat, never gets cranky when they ask to be shown how to do something for the 10th time, and have a private tutor at their home on nights and weekends. Another thing they may not realize is they actually get more time on the computer because I don't have to do as much whole group instruction. Finally, with an average class load of about 30 students over the eight classes I teach, I need a way to "shrink" the class down to a size where I can actually give more individual attention when it is needed. The videos help because many of the students can watch them and then they are good for whatever task they saw and they may not need my help, just some periodic feedback.

When I thought about the other means of transition my way of teaching I was not quiet sure I would like it and thought it could really drive me insane. I entered my mobile phone # into Edmodo as a means of learning social network management because I would receive a text message on my phone whenever the students sent a message, even the silly ones I try to stop. One thing I asked the students to do is if he or she had a question, even after watching the videos, they should post their question on Edmodo. My goal is for these students to learn how to tap into the power of Personal Learning Community as a means to find the answers they seek. I saw myself as the facilitator as I monitored their posts and be ready to step in if someone was being lead astray. This is actually beginning to work as the students are becoming more confident in using Edmodo to take charge of their own learning. I just hope this will lead to similar attitudes when they go to Facebook, Google+, Twitter, or whatever social network is popular in the future. Back to the text messages, They help me prioritize which students had their "hand up" first which allows me to be fair to all. Another hidden benefit is the text messages allow me spot trends quicker than if I was getting emails that could come much later. One warning, don't try the text message option unless you have an unlimited text messaging option because I receive messages at all times.

I am excited about how new technologies are being adapted in my classroom and I will be giving updates on how things progress over the semester. For now I will continue to push, prod, guide, or otherwise teach my students the subtle lesson of taking charge of their own learning so they may be more successful in the future.