Flipped Learning and a bit on Zaption

You know, flipped learning is a precarious structure. In some sense, it seems quite progressive, empowering to the student, allowing the student to take ownership of his/her own learning. In another sense, though, it replaces live teacher lectures with video-recorded teacher lectures, which actually seems like a backwards step. Clearly not all instructional models that include videos are created equal.

Now, I have been an advocate of a while of using video to enhance instruction, if for no other reason than that a properly-chosen, properly-timed video can grab students attention really well when they are tired of interacting with me and with each other. However, videos largely have the problem of being passive activities for the students.

I’ve tried a variety of different things to attempt to add some interactivity to videos. There’s the ol’ pausing-the-clip-every-90-seconds-to-engage-the-students-yourself technique. I used this move when I taught physics. “Hollywood Physics” was where we’d watch a clips filled with delicious energy transformations or breakdowns in Newton’s laws. Lots of pausing and discussing.

I’ve also used tools to try to embed questions that break the video up and make the students reflect or predict. This little ditty from 2011, The Bowl Problem, although not my best work, reflects a desire to try to create a video that has some interactive elements to it. That was created with a digital camera and PowerPoint. It was prohibitively time-consuming. There has to be a better way.

And Zaption might be it. I’m not a spokesperson for these folks. In fact, they are not the only service out there that embeds interactivity into videos (Educanon and Bubblr are two others). I just found Zaption to be the easiest to use and the most useful as a formative assessment tool.

In trying to learn how to use Zaption, I made this quiz video. Go ahead and give it a try. (I’ll be able to tell you more about the built-in, free analytic tools if I can get lots of people to take the quiz. So please, give it a try.)

You don’t get to see your results, which will bother some, but the results are tallied and shown in a series of well-made reports that has the potential to inform a teacher about how students engaged the video (it shows how long the video was watched, how many times each questions got skipped, etc.), and give you some insight as to their understanding of the content.

It’s not a perfect tool. If you wanted to use it in an actual quizzing/grading type set-up, the grading of the results might be a little tricky. Additionally, this, like every bit of instructional tech, has a learning curve. Having said that, though, I found that choosing the right video to practice on was the slowest part and that the process of creating the questions to be pretty easy to pick up.

Flipped learning has its critics (I have been among them at times), because there is a demand for instructional technology to get implemented meaningfully. Instructional technology isn’t a savior. However, the effective use of instructional technology does have the potential to make a huge dent in some of the improvements we need to make. We want it to give us a chance to do things that we previously had to work too hard to do. Tools like Zaption help make a previously passive activity, like watching a video, potentially more active for the students and informative for the instructor.

 

Update on 2 Jan:

Since posting this, I’ve received a tweet about an additional software to embed instructional items into videos. And since I’m mentioning Zaption, Educanon, and Blubbr, I figured it was only fair to add this one. I’ll just show you the tweet.

 

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More thoughts on Education’s “Game-Changer”

Photo credit: Maria Ly - used under Creative Commons

Photo credit: Maria Ly – used under Creative Commons

I’m intrigued by the idea of finding/developing the next “game-changer” in education. My last post tossed out one suggestion. After a conversation with a colleague today, I have another idea.

First some background: I want to relate this idea to the medical world and professional (or large college) sports. So, in those areas there are successful teams and less successful teams. Those teams are built of individual members strategically collected because of their individual skill strengths.

In medicine, general practitioners handle small ailments. Larger ailments get referred to specialist. Each specialist focuses on a much more focused area of health: Back, allergies, ear-nose-throat, kidneys, endocrine system. If the person needs surgery, then send them to a person who is skilled in that. That person has their own team with someone who is skilled in anesthesia. And none of these people deal with patients paying their bills. There are receptionists and accountants for that.

In sports, same idea. There are lineman, backs, receivers, ends… and that’s just on offense. There are a separate set of defenders.

So, what does this have to do education?

Teaching well requires a crazy amount of skills. Just think of the things that teachers need to do: They need to design and deliver lessons to engage all learners, modify for those reluctant, adapt for those with special needs. They need to assess the learning of each one of the diverse learners, interpret the deficiencies and provide meaningful feedback, often redesigning learning opportunities targeting the weak areas. The process of classroom management often requires afterhours follow-through like parent calls, detentions, sit-downs with counselors or principals. They need to take, record, report out, and interpret a variety of student data points. Believe it or not, that’s the bare minimum.

What if they want to sit on committees? Coach? Get involved in the union? Community? After school clubs?

Why did anyone ever think this was a job for one person?

So, it got a what-if.

What if we broke that job into two parts. And by that, I mean we asked our professional educators to do half of those tasks. We’ll have two separate roles. I’ll call them the “instructor” and the “evaluator”.

The instructor would handle the parts of the job that dealt with instructing the students. Designing/delivering lessons and course materials, managing the classroom, disciplining students, accommodating, grouping, etc.

The evaluator would handle the formative and summative assessments, data analysis, feedback, parent contacts based on learner struggles, etc.

Then, we team up. Each core team would consist of four highly-effective instructors in each core area and maybe two or three evaluators. All of these people are certified teachers in the areas that they are working. Included in the team would be a number of support folks that could provide consulting for accommodating struggling learners and/or modifying to support students with disabilities. There would be a designated meeting time at least three times a week for the teams to discuss what the assessment data is showing and to inform decision-making.

Yeah, it sounds a little strange, but it changes the game. And it does so in some pretty important areas.

This allows teachers to focus on one of the two gigantic, essential, “can’t-get-rid-of-it” areas of teaching that are becoming so intense and so technical that it is becoming increasingly difficult to do them both. Who has time to design/develop/deliver powerful, scaffolded, differentiated lessons AND design/deliver/record/analyze meaningful, informative assessments and provide meaningful feedback in a timely manner. Especially considering the community relations work increasingly required in both areas?

But what if each teacher was only responsible for one or the other of those? Instead of two teachers taxed, stressed and burned out trying to climb the whole mountain, what if one of them spent all his/her time on instruction and the other spent all his/her time on assessment.

If the two were consistently and effectively collaborating, then the flow of information would supply both of them.

Then the instructor could be present while the students were learning and not leaving them alone to grade papers.

Then the evaluator could effectively tend to the students in the assessment experience and not ignore them to get a jump start entering the data.

Then the instructor could update groups and seating arrangements several times a week instead of surrendering all his/her creative time to printing reports and stuffing them in binders.

Then the data wouldn’t become a paper to be printed, filed, and ignored, but instead would be examined and used to inform future assessments and instruction.

Marzano, Hattie, Boaler (most reformers in fact) talk about the power and overwhelming positive impact of layered, intentionally-designed learning activities. (What does Boaler call them? Low floor, high ceiling? I might be wrong about that, but the spirit is correct…). They also talk about the power of meaningful, well-planned assessments with thoughtful, timely feedback.

So, here’s my second game-changing idea: What if, in order for both of those things to have the impact on students that we all know they can have, we need to accept that it is too tall an order for one person to do alone?

A few words about failure…

I just finished up a day on campus at Michigan State University attending the Michigan Virtual University Symposium. It was a daylong set of discussions and panels dedicated to blended and online learning.

There were a lot of interesting discussion points to be sure, but the one that is going to stick with me the longest is, perhaps, the one that we try the hardest to forget:

Failure.

Toward the end of the day, in the final panel discussion, the value of failure came out multiple times. The process of learning REQUIRES a certain amount of failure. Failure lets us know that we are pushing ourselves to grow. Failure is a sign that we are trying to put new understanding into practice. Failure gives use opportunities to check our progress toward a goal that sits out in front of us… a goal we haven’t reached yet, but continue to reach for.

We should fail sometimes and our students should see us do it. If we are really trying to show our students that we are lifelong learners, then we need to show our students what learning really looks like.

Many, many students are under the unfortunate impression that failing is something that weak students do and succeeding something that strong students do. While, the latter is certainly true, the former is certainly not.

Failing is something that happens with practically each first try at a new skill. Failing is something that is a natural part of the learning process. It is natural and it is helpful.

I am not sure this education system of ours is encouraging that fact – not of its administrators, teachers, or students. We expect progress now. We expect implementation to demonstrate immediate results. We want our teachers to teach in such a way that our students don’t get wrong answers.

Perhaps what we need to do is get back to the basics of learning. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Why do we collect student work?

 

 

 

For a couple reasons, I’m sure. Here’s one of mine: to turn it around and let them see it.

Best Proof Snip

 

“Here are four proofs written by your classmates. Which of them is the best? Why? Which of them comes in second place? What would the second place proof need to change in order to tie for first?”

 

Such good conversations arise when students explore decent examples of their own work compared to their classmates. And they don’t have to be time-consuming. If the work suits it, you could create a 5-minute opener comparing just two pieces of work. It can be a wonderful way for a student to recognize his/her own mistakes without me, as teacher, having to reveal them. Such recognition is a wonderful evidence of internalization of the content… real learning that can be used to solve problems.

 

Why do you collect student work?

 

Making an effective first impression

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My geometry students explored Dan Meyer’s “Best Circle” on Day 1.

 

It is customary to start the year by helping the students understand their role as a member of our math community. So customary, in fact, that toward the end of the day, it seems most students have seen 3, 4, or perhaps, 5 different “here are the procedures and policies in my classroom” lectures.

I choose a different approach for two reasons. First, I feel like the students are appreciative of the chance to do… something… anything… other than listen to another description of the classroom policies and procedures (which, aside from late work policies and grade categories, are probably pretty darn similar teacher-to-teacher anyway). And second, there’s only so much value in telling students stuff.

It’s usually better to show them.

 

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My ALG 2.0 students explored Dan Meyer’s “Toothpicks”.

 

My classroom expectations are almost all focused on the effective learning of mathematics and being an effective member of a mathematical learning community. I could lecture them about what this looks like. Or I could let the students group together in teams of 3 or 4, give them a mathematical task, and let them explore. Consider it “Classroom Policies and Procedures LIVE!”

In case you’re curious, these are the expectations for each member of our mathematical community.

1. We stay on task.

2. We seek out the tools that we need.

3. We ask questions instead of quitting.

4. We are responsible for having something to offer to the team, and then our the team to the class community.

5. We make sense of the answers we get, examining if both the answer and the procedure for getting it are reasonable.

 

If every person in my classes did that, we’d be just fine. Always.

 

The problem with Day 1 is that you have to be very, VERY careful assuming ANYTHING about the background of the students coming into your classroom. I was fortunate that my ALG 2.0 class was almost entirely made up of students whom I also worked with in geometry. This is rare. In general, I don’t start gaining a real understanding of each group of learners until I’ve watched them explore math tasks the first couple times.

So, this is when you make the entry point to activity as low as you can get it. Up the mathematical intensity only once you are sure everyone is still on the same page. This is when you establish norms. Remind them to get back on task. Require a contribution from each group. Gently ask follow-up questions. Offer the students a variety of resources and then brag on their creative and effective use (even if it is something as simple as using multiple colors to organize work).

Central Park by Desmos is a perfect fit, by the way. As are the activities from the pictures.

It’s important to take advantage of the opportunities given to you as a teacher on Day 1. After all, you never get a second chance at a first impression.

And if Day 1 goes well, when the student’s are shaking off the summer rust, then imagine all the fun we’ll have on Day 2!

Okay… I solved it, but how’s that math?

Its on these warm, spring days that some learners tend to start checking out. They recognize our typical reviewing and recirculating attempts to help students recapture some learning before the last tests and exams. But some of them learned the content the first time. Essentially, this time of year can bring with it a lot of down time for our students who learn the fastest.

That’s when I like to pull out my old college textbooks. I spoke before of the power of ungraded bonus problems. If interesting and placed properly, they can provide powerful opportunities for thinking simply for the sake of thinking. I like to give them a window into math that “doesn’t look like math.” After all, most of the content that K-12 mathematics includes has some commonalities that students get used to. They’ve gotten used to “what math looks like.”

Today, four groups got a problem that I adapted from one of my undergrad courses that I took at WMU with Dr. Ping Zhang who, along with Dr. Gary Chartrand co-authored this book which was the textbook for the course I took.

The problem is adapted from Example 1.1 from Chapter 1. It asks the students to create a schedule for 7 committees that share ten people. Now, the purpose of the problem in the book is to give a simple example of how a graph can be used to visualize a complex situation. Often the way a problem is mathematically modeled can change the intensity of the solution process.

 

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Figure 1.1 from Page 1

 

The reason I like to give this problem (and problems detached from the K-12 curriculum in general) is that in May, to curious students, these problems tend to hit the perplexity button just in the right spot. In fact, all the students looked at the handout at first and were unimpressed. Until I asked them to read it… then, they seemed to just want to see what the answer looked like. As one student put it, “It seems really easy at first, then you get into it and it’s actually harder than we thought.”

Graph theory is about creating visual representations. I didn’t want to ruin their experience by pigeon-holing them into trying to represent this they way I knew they could. And given the time, that didn’t stop this group from creating a similar idea. Not with a graph, but they did use crayons.

 

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To hear Kailey explain: “We just gave each person their own color. Then we knew we could have two committees meet at the same time if they didn’t have any colors in common.” That isn’t different thinking, really. Just a different representation.

I enjoy the conversations that come out it. No grade. Just doing math for the sake of thinking about something that’s interesting. It’s especially interesting to students like Katie who said, “Okay… I solved it, but how’s that math?”

 

Reference

Introduction to Graph Theory (2005) Chartrand, G., and Zhang, P., New York: McGraw Hill

Trig Curiosity

There is something about a question not being graded that makes the students aggressive and risky. That can create the conditions for some of the best thinking. There are many days when I think grades and points and the division between problems that I will “collect and grade” versus the ones that I will not.

In the system in which I exist, sometimes bonus questions on formative assessments are the only way to really perplex a student – to push them at the risk of pushing each student beyond their current ability to reason, but still get a solid effort.

On today’s quiz, I added the following question as a bonus:

If you type “Tan 90″ into a calculator, you will get an error message. Knowing what you know about trig, discuss the possible reasons that taking the tangent of a right angle in a triangle would make your calculator show an error message.”

This isn’t something that has come up in any of our discussions. I would like to share with you some of my student’s answers.

From James: “It has an opposite which is the hypotenuse, but it has two adjacents so you wouldn’t know which one to use unless you put it in the calculator.”

From Tyler: “There is no such thing because when you plug in Cos 90 you get 0 and when you plug in Sin 90 you get 1. Maybe it is because since Tangent is TOA, it tries to add up to 90, so like opposite is 30 degrees and adjacent is 60 degrees.”

From Brianna: “Because Tan 90 would be opposite/adjacent, but the opposite side of the 90-degree angle is the hypotenuse and you can’t have the hypotenuse on top.”

From Jeremy: “It shows an error message because the right angle on a triangle doesn’t have a defined opposite or adjacent side length because the angle is touching both legs.”

From Lauren: “With tangent, you are finding opposite/adjacent. Those are the legs, and that 90-degree angle is being made by the legs.”

From Dayna: ” There could be an error because the opposite of the right angle is also the hypotenuse of the triangle.”

Quiz Bonus 3

From Ally: It’s not clear where the negative idea comes from, but it is curious that in a Trig world of decimals and fractions, 90 in the other functions gives 1 and 0.

Quiz Bonus 2

From Victor

 

Quiz Bonus 1

Perhaps Josh’s picture says it all.

 

Now, the next question: If the “two-adjacent-sides-so-the-calculator-doesn’t-know-which-you-mean…” explanation wins out…

…then why don’t we get an error message for Cos 90?