Some traditions are worth preserving. One tradition I cherish is that my AP Chemistry class gets a chance to express their gratitude and learn about compounds at the same time. Here's some of their work:
1. They don't deserve it.
Your naughtiest class needs to do more labs. You know that one class - they don't listen, don't follow instructions, don't complete assignments, and don't seem to care - they need to do more labs! How else will you entice them if you don't ignite their curiosity and offer them something new and different from all their other classes? Besides, once they know you will give them a chance to move and explore, they also become more willing to complete the seatwork. Do a lab every day (if possible) with your toughest group of kids. You will be amazed at the transformation.
2. They can't sit still.
You know this already, so stop trying to force your students to sit in a desk all day! Get them up and moving. It's easier for them to sit still if they trust that you will get them involved in the lesson as soon as you can. It doesn't have to be a formal lab - just get up and act out the motion of molecules or dramatize a physics problem. Not only will it help their comprehension, it will help with behavior problems. Kids sit enough in other classes. Don't make them do it in your class too.
3. They don't turn in lab reports.
Who likes to grade those anyway? Give them a lab quiz. Graph the data together and then grade their data analysis. Have a "board meeting" by giving each group a dry erase board to present their findings on. Doing a lab every day doesn't mean grading a formal lab report every day. Be creative and give them a variety of ways to communicate their results. One of the best lab reports I ever got was submitted as a video.
4. There's not enough time.
I often hear from teachers that they would do more labs, but they don't have time. I also hear students say "Our teacher cancelled our lab because we weren't listening during notes/didn't turn in our homework/failed our quiz, etc." Labs are not a waste of time or a reward for good behavior! You don't have enough face-to-face time with your students to waste it by letting them watch YOU solve problems at the board. The level of understanding we can build through inquiry and labs- by DOING SCIENCE - far surpass what we can achieve by just reading, writing, and talking about science.
5. They can't be trusted with lab equipment.
Lab safety will only be a priority if you, the teacher, make it a priority. This includes handling equipment appropriately and demonstrating proper lab techniques, and leaving time for clean up at the end. Consider allowing students to earn badges for certain lab skills, like properly lighting a bunsen burner, mastering microscope skills, or carrying out a titration. Make it fun and meaningful - include lab skills and safety in your gradebook. Follow through with consequences for violations. A lot of my glassware gets cleaned during after school detention and it's a logical consequence for repeat offenders.
If you are teach science, you get to do one of the coolest jobs on the planet! If you can't get kids excited about the smells and squishes and colors and sounds, you're just missing out - and so are they.
Teaching is more than a job; it's my purpose and my passion. As I enter my 20th year of teaching, I have been discouraged and frustrated. It's been over a DECADE already that we've been talking about providing better feedback for student learning than the traditional grading system provides. I'm so sick of students (and their parents) chasing points and percents when does it get to be about the learning? I continue beating my head against the wall.
I've done my best to make my classroom instruction more effective and make dramatic changes in the way we approach learning. There was a time when I offered points for students who brought tissues and didn't use their bathroom passes. But there's no learning target in that and it didn't belong in my gradebook. Guess what - parents still send me hand sanitizer and tissues just because I ask for them, not because I've bribed them somehow. There was a time when 50 minutes of lecture was the norm because we have to get students ready for college. I've learned a better way.
But now I'm at a crossroads: do I teach until I'm a blue-haired old granny (by the way, I'm gonna rock the blue hair when the time comes), or do I take my expertise and skills in a new direction and FINALLY get paid what I'm worth and get my life back? Instead of spending every waking moment grading papers and planning lessons, I could spend time with my family - WHAT?!?
Teaching is still what I'm here to do, but there are many ways to teach:
I'm good at what I do. I'm just not sure that the public school system has much to offer me anymore. The only thing that keeps me here is the question my 16-year old asked: Are you really ready to walk away and let someone else take over YOUR classroom and YOUR kids?
I guess I'm a little possessive.
AP Chemistry is a very difficult course. The kinds of questions we tackle are complex, detailed, and multi-faceted. One of the most important things I can do for my students to help them hold up under the tremendous pressure is to allow them time to build relationships with one another.
I start the year with show and tell. Every student brings something meaningful to share with their team first, then votes on which one from their group to show the whole class. I inherited my grandfather's vast rock collection, so I pass around Apache Tears (obsidian) and describe how this rock is formed through fire and intense heat, like what they might experience during the course of the year. Then when we find it, covered in a crusty shell of white, it doesn't seem very remarkable. It takes some time to knock off all the rough edges and polish out into something beautiful and extraordinary. They all catch on to the analogy. After the AP test, we all get in a circle and I give everyone a polished piece of obsidian and ask them to remember how much they have grown this year and tell them I'm proud of them. When students come back to visit, they often pull the stone from their pocket or refer to it's prominent display in their home.
In a class like this one, close relationships are certainly built by going through hard times together. The common experience of defeat and triumph, of love and loathing, of laughter and tears, creates a community of #apchem survivors who know that they can overcome tremendous obstacles and persevere.
As we begin a new school year, there are many conversations about how to reach out to parents as our allies in education. After all, who knows our students better than the ones who have raised them? If we reach out to parents early on and begin the conversation before there are issues in class, it's easier to have difficult conversations later because you have laid a foundation in advance.
The hard part is getting parents to respond. So I bribe them! In the past I gave out homework passes for just about anything I wanted to get parents' help with - from cleaning and organizing my classroom at the beginning of the school year to attending open house and parent teacher conferences. Now that homework is not part of my grades (standards-based grading now), it doesn't make sense to give a homework pass. Here's what I offer now: Drop the Lowest Grade Pass
This is especially helpful for that one troublesome skill that a student is stuck on at the end of the grading period. But now I'm looking for new passes to be able to give out. As an introvert I'm especially intrigued by the "Skip a Social Interaction Today" kind of card, but also hoping to get my admin to approve a "Lunch Line Skipper" and a "Front Row Parking Spot" kind of pass so students get to have a choice. Any other ideas or suggestions? Please add them in the comment section below.
I see you walking towards my room, on your way to another teacher's class. We smile, wave, maybe even chat, then go our separate ways because we're both in a hurry. You have new classes this year and so do I. Sometimes you pop in at lunch or after school to catch up a little, but the daily contact we enjoyed last year is replaced by new sophomores and juniors for me, new teachers and courses for you. I miss you! Please don't feel badly for leaving me behind - it's a normal part of the process.
This week we started a new school year and I felt a great surge of affection for my past students and greeted them enthusiastically only to either get a brush off as we went about our business or to feel like I was blowing them off because I had to greet the new students walking through my door. I have learned that most people have a relational bandwidth of 120-150 people, so the chances of me being able to build relationships with my colleagues, my friends and family (personal life? what's that?) and with 180+ students every single year while still maintaining close relationships with last year's students... well, as you can see, the numbers just won't work. I have to be able to let them go.
Students have to let us go too. Those who hold too tightly to high school don't seem to be very successful adults. You know that guy who is 40 and still bragging about that touchdown reception from his senior year? Yeah, no one really likes to hear that story for 22 years; it's time to move on. Occasionally I accept friend requests on Facebook after they graduate and it's fun to see reports of what's happening as they go through college and begin careers and families. But it's rare to stay in regular face to face contact once a student has left my class to move on to the next year. As professionals, we all would say that it's appropriate to let go.
But what kind of person welcomes such a large group of people into her life every August and works tirelessly to build close relationships with as many of them as possible in order to effectively support their learning and growth only to say goodbye in May and watch them walk out of her life? Maybe this is why I invite so many to join my AP Chemistry class the next year. But then at graduation, after all the hugs and high-fives, it's time to move on.
Every year I get abandoned all over again. I see names on work exemplars, see photos from class, hear their voices recorded in video podcasts - I can recall something special and distinctive about my students even if it was nearly 20 years ago that I taught them (and maybe I don't remember their name at first, but I remember their story). The emotional labor of building relationships and losing relationships every year is a unique to the teacher's job description. We have special training on how to build better relationships with our students. It's time to acknowledge that we also have to let go of so many special people that make a deep impact in our lives, leaving my heart cratered and pock-marked and full beyond measure.
If you are a former student, know that the teachers with whom you truly connected enjoy hearing from you more than you'll ever realize. We also know that it's important for you to move on, so we are willing to let you go. Stay in touch, or don't - you are under no obligation to do so. We still love you just the same.
This blog post was written after the first week of school and in response to this article http://the-toast.net/2015/07/13/emotional-labor/ shared during #flipclass chat by @guster4lovers. Join the conversation Monday nights at 8pm ET, use #flipclass.
Never in my 20 years of teaching have I ever felt isolated from other teachers or left to figure things out on my own. Maybe I just assumed that others would want to be helpful to me, so I approached them with gratitude and appreciation from the very start.
Building relationships can be tricky when everyone has more work load than a normal human being should bear. But kindness and thoughtfulness go a long way.
It's not so different when creating a community, or PLN, that extends beyond the 4 walls of your school. Approach others with gratitude and appreciation, assuming that they will be helpful and kind. Seek out those whose work you admire. Ask for what you need. Listen.
If you feel isolated and alone, reach out and help someone else and get the focus off of yourself.
I am a rule-follower by nature. In fact, being compliant and sweet was my best form of revenge against my older brother and childhood tormentor - the better I was, the "worser" he seemed. I like structure and organization and the safety that comes with staying within well-defined boundaries.
When I first began teaching at one of the first charter schools in the state, I was still a college student myself. I knew the formula for academic success. Show up, do the work. That's it! Students who can manage to come to class every time we meet AND do the work that I assign WHEN I assign it tend to do a lot better. Pretty simple rules for success. This was my comfort zone.
But in the comfort zone there is mediocrity, not excellence. And mediocrity is NOT my legacy.
I flipped my class for mastery and completely changed the rules for success. Showing up definitely helps, but it's neither required, nor is it a guarantee. Doing the work I assign also correlates positively with success, but again, it is neither a guarantee, nor a condition.
For my students now the rules are: Learn the content, show me that you've mastered the concepts and skills.
How do we learn the content? I have a list of options for you to try, or you can show me something else you found that works! How do you show mastery? Usually it's a quiz online or on paper, but I'm open to suggestions - oral quiz, performance assessment, project. Back up your CLAIM with EVIDENCE!
This means that homework had to change. I know many educators think that in a flipped class, the homework is to watch a video and that I am supposed to keep track of who is watching which videos so I can hold them accountable. But since I started with mastery, it just didn't make sense to say "Achievement is constant, while time is now the variable," and then give an accountability grade for doing assignments within the same time frame... It just didn't fit. Pick the work that you need to do to get to the next level, then decide where is the best place for that work to take place. If you're not sure where to start, I can give you some ideas of things that other students have tried in the past that seemed to work well.
Once you DO something, we can evaluate, adjust, iterate, and improve. I don't really care WHERE you do it - in class, at home, at the lunch table with your friends - just understand that the purpose of the DOING is to accomplish the LEARNING. Completing assignments earns you NO points in my class - but learning the content and demonstrating mastery will lead you to success every time, whether you take baby steps or gigantic leaps to get there.
Create a photo/video record of your lab experiment - share it with others via Animoto. Better than the typical "Obervations" section in a lab report!
It's a lot like climbing the Manitou Incline, except that there aren't steps, it's more ruggedly beautiful, and it's much less crowded. Although the climb is relentless and exhausting, the view from the top is worth the struggle. Once you crest the peak, Catamount Trail drops down into a beautiful meadow with a clear, shimmering creek, tall grasses, abundant wildflowers, gentle slopes, and panoramic views. From there, it's easy to connect with a variety of other recreational opportunities along the North Slope Recreation Area of Pikes Peak and the Ring the Peak trail system. The hike is about 6 miles round-trip and the hardest part is definitely the first mile and a half.
This is how I view my investment in having a flipped class. The first mile or so is rough. I have had flipped chemistry and ap chemistry classes for over five years and the hardest part was definitely the first year or two. There will be times that challenge your stamina and determination. With heart pounding and muscles aching, you decide to take another step. You may have to stay up late at night to record a video for tomorrow's class. Sometimes getting to the next section of trail means climbing through the rough. After all that work, the WiFi at school is bogged down by all your students' online activity. You might fall - and it will probably hurt when you do. Students will resist taking ownership of the learning, and their parents will complain that you're "not teaching." There will be obstacles along the way and you might not make it through on your own. A trustworthy and experienced hiking partner is a valuable ally. There will be times when you have to take a break, rest, refresh, and rehydrate - but don't sit for too long or your muscles will tighten up and it will be hard to get going again.
At the top, once videos are recorded and new, more engaging learning activities are taking place, you are still not done with the journey. Catamount Trail is my favorite - but "catamount" means mountain lion. In the Garden of Eden you can sense their presence; you can smell the scent piles they leave to mark their territory and you learn not to hike at certain times of day when they are most active and never to let kids (or pets) stray too far ahead or lag too far behind. Mountain lions are threatened by human activity, but since they are in a constant state of starvation, they will go after a tasty little morsel. Who are the catamounts in your district? They might be threatened by your initiative, enthusiasm, and success - they might even go after your students and leave damage and destruction behind. You will learn to be on the look out and protect the fellow hikers in your group.
As the slopes become more gentle and the pathway more secure, you will be able to look around and see the astonishing creativity, flourishing growth, and unbeatable views. Not only will you gain confidence (and finally be able to catch your breath), you will also be on the look out for new adventures up ahead. Maybe you will finally have the time in class to incorporate inquiry or guided inquiry. Maybe it is time to try project/problem-based learning. Maybe you connect with other hikers along the way (#flipclass chat every Monday night) that encourage you and challenge you to explore and learn and grow. And as you get stronger and more capable, your students will too - because they see you developing your craft, getting better every day, and never settling for good enough.
It's time to put your hiking boots on.
Who is responsible for the learning that takes place in the classroom? If I, the teacher, take ownership of all attainment of knowledge and skills, then I rob my students of the opportunity to be curious, creative, imaginative, and responsible for their own learning. After all, there's no need for both of us to worry about their progress - the more I take it over, the less my students need to be invested in it.
Since I flipped my chemistry class, one of the most important things that has happened is that my students take ownership of their learning to a greater extent than ever before. I clearly state the learning objectives and provide students with a list of activities they can do to master the concepts. They are then free to choose what to do and use formative feedback about their progress to guide decisions about what to do next.
Convince yourself to let go of some of the control in your classroom! Didn't watch the podcast? Oh well, how do you, Student, plan to learn the content? Pick something else and do it. I'm not the boss. The quiz shows a deficiency of skills in this area - how will you, Student, handle that and what can I do to support you? Get used to saying "how can I help you move forward?" These types of conversations would not be possible if I was still teaching a traditional class.
Here are some options for students that go beyond videos and worksheets: