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Showing posts from 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: How do you Catch a Unique Lesson?

Unique up on it, of course!

Sorry...that was bad...couldn't resist.

In tonight's #flipclass chat, we're discussing unusual teaching methods or lessons.


I have to admit, I don't see many of my methods or lessons as very unusual or unique.

Yes, #flipclass is still unique and unusual to my students. Getting to do the activities I do in class is not math-class-as-usual, but they're still not all that unique, in my view. They're just a welcome respite from listening to me for 30-45 minutes and then working problems from a textbook or worksheet.

Two classroom lessons came to mind, though, that students enjoy.

When I introduce the Pythagorean Theorem, I use an explore-flip-apply method. We do a visual proof of the theorem, where students cut out squares off the legs of a right triangle and arrange them so they cover the square off the hypotenuse, seeing that "a^2 + b^2  = c^2." I love the look of understanding that comes over students' faces when we disc…

A Flipped Review

I am not a fan of the review process. I believe it's necessary, I believe it can be beneficial, but I have often struggled with the best way to do it. At the end of a semester, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, students are often distracted. Many give a little less than their best effort.

There's frustration. For students, for me. "How do you work Number 1?" "I don't remember how to do Number 7!" "I don't think we ever did anything like Number 13!" I can point kids to notes and and places in the book, but that is often followed by, "I still don't get it." And frustrated students lead to even less engaged students.

And then there's the boredom. I get bored, students get bored. Try these problems (that you don't remember how to do), ask me questions about these problems, watch me work these problems. We'll repeat the whole process tomorrow. Boredom leads to even less engagement.

I began brainstorm…

#flipclass Flash Blog: Teaching Study Skills

I hope I teach more than math. I hope I teach skills that allow my students to be better students.



There are lots of skills students need to be successful in school. Note-taking, time management, how to study for a test. In my class, how to watch a video is an important skill.

Why are these skills important? These skills allow students to feel in control. They give students confidence. They are skills they will adapt and use once they leave the classroom and begin "adulting."

How do I teach these skills? Mostly as opportunities present themselves. Those opportunities might come up through events happening in my classroom or conversations students are having with me or each other. When I notice specific skills needing improvement, I might take a few minutes out of class time to address them. Some skills need addressing multiple times.

Why is it important? Why take time out of class to address "soft skills" when there are standards to teach?

For one thing, some of th…

#flipclass Flash Blog: Thanksgiving

Being Thanksgiving Week and all, tonight's #flipclass Flash Blog is about...

Thanksgiving!


There is no way I can describe everything I am thankful for in this little blog post. But I can describe a few things.

First of all, I am thankful there was a #flipclass blog prompt this week! I haven't blogged in a few weeks, and I've missed it.

I'm thankful for my #flipclass tweeps. I have learned so much from them and leave every chat encouraged and refreshed.

I'm thankful for my school system, my school, my admins, my colleagues. I have an incredible support system.

I'm thankful for my students. They make my life interesting. They challenge me. They make me laugh.

I'm thankful for discovering the flipped classroom. It has made me a better teacher and made my students' experiences so much better.

And I'm thankful for struggle. This year has been challenging. There is not the "honeymoon feeling" of last year. I am teaching a different group of stud…

#flipclass Flash Blog: Building a Positive Classroom Culture

Since flipping my Algebra 1 classes last year (and restructuring my Pre-Algebra classes 2 years ago) I have become convinced of the difference a positive classroom culture makes.

I don't believe I had a negative classroom before, but my classroom culture has improved tremendously in 3 years.

Over the last 3 years, students have become convinced that I am on their side. They believe I have their backs. They know I care about them and want to see them succeed.

They see the time I put into making videos and preparing for class. They appreciate the opportunity to retake and redo assignments and tests.

Making my classroom more student-centered has allowed me to get to know my students better. To spend time with them and ask them about how their day is going or how other classes are going. To help them one-on-one.

And as a result, they work for me. They work hard. (OK, OK...most of them, most of the time)

I have thought many times over the last couple of years that building deeper, mor…

#flipclass Flash Blog: So Far This Year

Well...last year I did a reflection at the end of the first grading period. Tonight's #flipclass Flash Blog topic is to reflect on how it's going so far this year, and...guess what? It's the end of the first grading period! Perfect timing!



Overall, I would say the year is going pretty well.

In some ways it's been harder than last year. This year's students aren't as excited as last year's students about the flipped classroom. They like it; they don't want "normal" class. But they're not as "in love" with it as last year's group. I fed off that "flip-crush" last year. This year I have to find other motivation.

I'm remaking many more videos than I expected to. Since I changed pacing guides this year, some of the videos - and what I discussed in them - don't "fit" anymore. Many of the videos I re-watch and think, "I can do better."

I've blogged about some other difficulties; how I know t…

FlipCon Atlanta 2015

Last Friday I was given the opportunity to attend FlipCon Atlanta, a one-day introduction to flipped learning led by none other than flipped classroom pioneers, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams.



I was so excited! I have long looked up to Bergmann and Sams, and I followed their models when I flipped my own classroom. It was such a rush to get to meet them! I also got to meet one of my #flipclass Twitter friends (and fellow Bama fan), and that was also pretty exciting.

I'm in my second year of flipping my classroom, but I needed a good look at the basics again (still). I needed to see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. I got some ideas about some things to try with Explain Everything, the app I use to make videos. I was given some tips about making videos that are easier/more fun for students to watch. I got to talk with other middle school math teachers, some "checking out" the flipped classroom and some who were already flipping; I identify with both.

Most of …

Coming Out of the Funk While on a Slippery Slope

It was a better week.

At first, I wasn't sure it was going to be. After last week's "brain dump," Monday was once again rough. I thought, "There are going to have to be more 'brain dumps.'"

But things began to turn around on Tuesday. In my morning devotional I was given some scriptures to hold on to when the going is tough. I was encouraged as I went to school, and then I had a full day of training and planning with the math department. It was a great day. We talked, we learned. I was able to "get out of my head." I was able to map out the rest of the semester and see that my pacing is on the right track. I decided to silence a (virtual) voice that was pulling me down.

I approached Wednesday with some trepidation, wondering if Tuesday's good feelings would come crashing down. But they didn't. It was a good day.

Then Thursday was good. And Friday, too.

Maybe the fog is lifting. I will ride the wave as long as it lasts and (try to) r…

#flipclass Flash Blog: Grading

It's funny that tonight's #flipclass topic is grading when I almost considered skipping #flipclass to finish grading a set of tests that NEEDS to be finished.

The suggested topic is "your best grading hack or what you still need to figure out regarding grades/workflow."



I don't have any life-changing hacks. I did learn from a dear friend and colleague just in the last couple of years how to be a little more efficient with a set of papers. I grade everybody's "Side 1," then the next side, etc. I would love to know how much time I save not flipping pages 50-gazillion times.

I've also become better at using snippets of time here and there in class to grade things. Flipping my class helped tremendously with this. I *have* more snippets of time in class, because I'm not up front talking for 45 minutes.

Overall, I bring less home than I used to.

I'm doing more things digitally this year and trying to learn how to grade and give feedback digita…

Transforming as an Educator

Let me apologize ahead of time. I need a "brain dump." I might ramble a bit in this post (OK, OK, I probably ramble in more than a few posts). You won't see it, but I might shed a few tears while writing this post.

The past couple of weeks have been hard.

They've been challenging. A struggle. I've felt off my game. Out of my comfort zone. I've wondered if I've been effective. I've wondered if my students are learning anything. I've wondered if I'm making any progress. I've wondered if I'm moving too slowly.

I remembered this post. I've re-read it more than once in the last week or so. I've been reminded that these feelings come - and they do eventually go (and I'm once again thankful I decided to blog my journey).

It's been hard to put my finger on the exact cause (or causes) of the struggle. There always seem to be several things that contribute to it.

But I think the biggest factor for this particular struggle is cha…

First Student Reflections

I like to get students' thoughts about the flipped classroom after they've a had a few weeks with it. Last year, I wrote a question by hand at the bottom of their first test, asking them to share any thoughts they had about the process. This year, I used a Google Form and asked them to complete it after their first test.



The Google Form had four questions:

What do you consider the best part of our flipped classroom?What could be improved about our flipped classroom?What do you consider the best part of using Google Classroom?What could be improved about Google Classroom? I was a little concerned when at least two students asked me what a flipped classroom was. Maybe that's a good sign, and they just see it as what we do and not something different or special? Who knows....
Students see many positives about flipping instruction. A few aspects that were mentioned by multiple students: Being able to watch videos ahead of time (I try to give a week's worth on Friday or Monda…

#flipclass Flash Blog: Classroom Community

Tonight's #flipclass topic is building community and collaboration in the classroom.



Classroom community is another area where I've come a long way in the last few years. It wasn't that long ago that I said, pretty regularly, "I don't like group work."
A couple of years ago I discovered partners. Students seem to work much better with partners. They're more focused and accomplish more. I can put two sets of partners together when I need to, but I almost always begin work in class as partners.
Last year my colleagues and I found partner-matching cards, and this makes the process even better. Partners are random, and nine times out of ten this works extremely well. Occasionally a partnership or two has to be adjusted.
I like students working together, because they often seem to learn more from each other than they possibly could from me. They can reword things in ways they understand. The student helping another solidifies their understanding, and the stude…

Spending a Week with Pythagoras

Standards dealing with the Pythagorean Theorem fall in our eighth grade course of study. If I don't cover those standards with my eighth grade Algebra 1 students, they will miss learning and using the Pythagorean Theorem. And high school teachers will come after me. :)


I always cover the Pythagorean Theorem with my Algebra 1 students, but this year I decided to follow the lead of a blogger friend who also teaches Algebra 1 to eighth graders and start the year with it (after discussing square roots and real numbers). I covered the material in fewer days than I will with my Pre-Algebra students, because, after all, we still have a lot of Algebra 1 standards to get to.

We started the unit with a visual proof of the theorem. It's a proof out of a book I've used since teaching high school geometry another lifetime ago, Visualized Geometry (I just looked it up; the book was published in 1990!). A right triangle has squares drawn off each side, the squares from the legs are cut a…

#flipclass Flash Blog: Connecting with Parents

Connecting with parents is much different in my "2nd career" as a teacher than it was when I first started teaching. I began my teaching career in 1993 at the high school level before the age of email. I taught at the high school for six years and could probably count the number of parent conferences I had during that time on one hand.

I came back to teaching in 2004, this time at the middle school level. I was floored at the level of parent contact. Not only was email now an option, I was in LOTS of parent conferences!



I think it is important to keep parents informed.

I send all of the basic information home at the beginning of the year and share a few more details at Open House.

This year I am using Remind to send weekly texts with upcoming plans attached and other reminder texts as needed.

Parents have access to their student's online gradebook. I try to keep grades updated weekly (every 2 weeks at the most) so there are no surprises.

I try to answer emails quickly. P…

Starting Strong and "Thinking Rationally"

We've finished two weeks of school!

It's been a great start. We got into a routine very quickly, and I feel like I've known my classes much longer than two weeks.

As usual for this time of year, I am very, very tired. My legs feel like I've started training for 5Ks again. My brain shuts down mid-to-late afternoon but occasionally gets rebooted by a quick nap when my schedule allows. It then shuts down for good some time after 8 PM.

It's a good tired, though. :) I'm having fun. Probably way too much fun.

Our students did not start getting iPads until the 3rd day of school (last year they got them at schedule pick-up), so I didn't get started with videos until the beginning of this week. These students had heard about my flipped classroom, so I don't think there was as much apprehension about the process as I had at the beginning of last year.

Like last year, we watched the first video together in class. I showed them how to access the videos, how to watc…

Twas the Night Before School Started

I wanted to be all creative and write a poem, but I've decided if that was my goal I should have started a couple of weeks ago.

Students will enter my classroom tomorrow morning. And after wondering two weeks ago if my very hectic, very fast summer had been "enough," I am confident I am ready.

I have always loved the start of the school year. It is so full of promise and possibility. Oh, I know there will be frustrations and difficult days, but at the beginning of the year the hope of what CAN be shines brightly.

This year will have lots of new. I'm rearranging the order of topics in both Algebra and Pre-Algebra to hopefully be more efficient and give more time to what's most important. I working with a new colleague (a brand-new teacher who has brought back so many memories of my first year).  I am moving closer to a digital classroom. I am moving farther away from a textbook and closer to the type of classroom I want to have: one of inquiry, discovery, discuss…

#flipclass Flash Blog: Emotional Labor

Wow...this is a toughie.

We had a #flipclass reading assignment about emotional labor - and its worth - tonight. Then we began exploring what emotional labor might be involved in teaching.



As was tweeted by a participant, I believe emotional labor is part of the job description of a teacher.

Or maybe it's a part of the job that takes one by surprise. I don't think one knows going in how much emotional labor is involved.

There is all SORTS of emotional labor in teaching.

I worry about lessons, wondering if I've taught the right thing the right way.

I worry about students. Their academic success. Their emotional well-being. Their lives at home.

I stress over extra paperwork and deadlines.

I get excited. When a lesson works. When a student's light bulb comes on. When students "talk math" to each other.

I experience joy. When a student or parent says thank you. When a student's effort pays off.

It's exhausting.

How do I deal with it?

I find it's impor…

#flipclass Flash Blog: Building Community Outside of School

Tonight's #flipclass blog prompt: How do you find/build community outside your school site?

The short answer: Twitter.

When I first joined Twitter I was very lost; it has a learning curve. Now, if I could only have one social media site, Twitter would be it.

When I decided to flip my classroom a year ago, I found #flipclass chat on Twitter and made so many helpful, like-minded connections. Those connections often lead to other connections. I could not have flipped my classroom without the help and encouragement of the Twitter #flipclass community.

I made a connection with @RoxyGirlTeacher on Twitter. She teaches 8th grade math, too, and has been an invaluable source of help and information and resources.

Through my blog I've made a connection with another 8th grade math teacher in Illinois. We comment on each other's blogs, ask each other questions, and get ideas from each other.

One of my newer connections is a teacher in a nearby district. We met at a tech conference in…

North Alabama Technology Conference 2015

This past week I attended the North Alabama Technology Conference (NATC) at Hazel Green High School in Hazel Green, Alabama.

I was encouraged to apply to present my flipped classroom by our system's technology coordinator. I was accepted, and I used the presentation I gave to my school's faculty in April.

My session, "Flipping - It's Not Just for Cheerleaders Anymore," was in the first time-slot of the first day. After getting a couple of technical kinks worked out, I attended the morning's keynote presentation (more on that later), and went back to my room to present.

Two people attended my session. One was the mother of a student I taught this past year; she is working on her education degree and subs in our system. The other was a Hazel Green High School chemistry teacher. She had done some flipping by providing videos for her students who needed extra instruction.

The session was very laid back. The current education student was able to ask some question…

The Most Tiring, Most Rewarding Year of my Career

Whew...I made it!

No...WE made it! I've been rereading blog posts from the beginning of the school year (I'm SO glad I made the decision to blog my journey), and this was definitely a trip I took WITH my students.

We began the year a little excited, a little nervous, a little uncertain.

We end the year satisfied, glad we took the journey, knowing it was the right thing to do.

And tired. While some would say I just forget or block it out, I don't remember ending a school year so tired. I began the process of flipping my Algebra 1 classes before the end of June last year and have worked on it since then with relatively little off time.

But it's been so worth it. Yes, I would do it again.

The benefits?

I think I've discussed most of the benefits in posts throughout the year. But they're worth summarizing again. :)

 Time. A detailed blog post is here, but the flipped classroom has been the best use of my and my students' time. Classroom management. SO much easi…

#flipclass Flash Blog: The Role of Struggle

Math students struggle. I tell my students that every single one of them will eventually encounter that math class that makes them take a step back and learn how to study and persevere. For me, it was high school Geometry.

For a large percentage of my 8th graders, it's Algebra 1. My flipped class.

Struggle is important. It's how you learn and grow as a student, as a mathematician. It's character-building.

But students don't care for it.

In my traditional Algebra 1 class, most of the struggle happened at home. After the lesson was taught in class. I heard from numerous students and parents about tears at the dinner table over algebra homework. I heard laments of how long an assignment took. I heard students say how confused they were and how much they didn't understand about the previous night's assignment when they came to class. But there was no time to process that struggle. Maybe 15 minutes to answer questions, and then it was time to move on to the next top…

The Unit with Room for Improvement

Polynomials and Factoring.

I'm not sure why these topics always seem to come at crunch time. They have been in two different places in the two textbooks I've used, and they still come at times when I feel crunched. When I'm in a hurry. When I need to cover a lot of material in a little bit of time.



It used to be right before Christmas.

This year, it is right before testing. And nearing the end of the school year. When - after lots of winter weather - I'm behind. Thankful that we're not giving the End of Course test this year, but still wondering how I'm going to get everything covered by the end of the year. Because whether there's an official test or not, my students still need to be prepared for their high school math courses.

My current book puts operations with polynomials and factoring in one chapter. One long chapter. The first mistake I made was to not test on the two parts of the chapter separately but to wait and give a test after we had covered it…

#flipclass Flash Blog: The Planning Process

What a great #flipclass topic!



I think I blogged about my planning process for my flipped classroom early on, but I was still so fresh, and I've come a long way since then. I don't know that my planning takes any less time than it did early on, but I am more efficient.

When planning a flipped lesson, I first look at the topic/standard I want to cover on a particular day.

I have made guided notes in SMART for several years, now, so I go to previous notes I have made on the standard.

I modify these already-made notes to make them video-friendly. I add the "I can" stem (that students write in while they watch the video) and the "Questions?" at the end of the notes.

I try to do a week's worth of videos at a time, so I prepare and export several sets of notes at once.

The next part of the planning process is recording videos. That's usually my Thursday afternoon activity. I record 2-4 videos, depending on what the plan is for the next week.

Now the hard …