Sunday, August 26, 2012

First Two Week Reflections

My first two weeks were a whirlwind: new students, hosting EdCampSFBay, checking out my favorite band in San Francisco three nights in a row – lots going on. Here are the nuggets I’m left with after my first two weeks of this school year:

I’m excited about my new students (I’ll keep these ninth graders for the next two years). Granted, it is really early, but they are asking a lot of really good questions in class. They have responded well to the structures we’ve established in the classroom. They are engaging in the work of historians and are willing to think in class, willing to wrestle with the ambiguity that so often gets glossed over in history classes. Thinking and questioning – I like it; a good start.

My first unit is also unlike anything my students will do for the rest of their time with me. Their two years with me will be self-paced and mastery-based. This first unit, where we build historical thinking skills, history-specific literacy skills, and group norms is done together, where everyone in the class is working on more or less the same thing everyday. However, this isn’t something I feel bad about or am even second-guessing: looking at what is the best use of my face-to-face time with my students, I feel strongly that working through this unit together, building the skills to help my students succeed for two years in my class, is absolutely the best way to use the beginning of our two years together.

Diane Main opening EdCampSFBay
Finally, EdCampSFBay. Despite some internet issues – we didn’t have it – it was an enormous rush to be part of an event like that. After attending EdCampSFBay last year, I was hooked. I got involved in organizing EdCampSFBay this year and even talked my district into hosting it at my school. It was neat to see 130 dedicated, talented educators willingly spend their day working together to be better for our students. Anyone who says American education is broken needs to go to an EdCamp.

Week three and beyond? That’s tomorrow.  I think I’m ready. I know I’m excited for it!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My First Weeks Challenge

So I am about halfway done with my second week of school and at the beginning of my first week, I issued myself a challenge: for at least the first two weeks of school, I pledged to make make at least two positive contacts with the parents/guardians of my students every day. (Well, I’m taking weekends off.) Thus far, I have met my challenge, and it has been awesome. Parents are so happy to hear positive news about their students - one student came into my class the next day saying his mom confronted him about his behavior in history class as she opened the email from me, then changed her tone once she read it.

I like this challenge because it is already building student and parent allies for me as the year goes on. I’ve got students on my side because I’ve said good things about them to their parents and I’ve also made a positive first impression with a few parents.

Hopefully there will be other positive benefits, but I am definitely enjoying this challenge. I’ll pass the challenge along to you: go out and make a parent/guardian’s day - tell them their student is doing great things in your classroom.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Students Set the Classroom Expectations

I just finished my third day of school and tweaked my usual routine for establishing the expectations my students and I have for each other for our two years together – there are a couple cool tech tools integrated, and my kids responded to it well.

I don’t like rules – I like expectations. There is one rule in my classroom: we don’t make fun of people for the way they are born. Race and gender aren’t an issue, but now my kids know they can’t drop phrases like “That’s so gay” of “That’s retarded” in my classroom. Ever. So we come up with expectations for our time together. Well, they come up with expectations for our time together.

The expectation strand starts with a think-pair-share around two simple statements: In a classroom, a teacher’s job is to: and In a classroom, a student’s job is to:. Students individually completed these two statements with several bullet points. Next, they shared out their responses with their group members to create a ‘super-answer.’ Finally, students accessed a Google form with these two statements on them via a web browser on their phone or iPod touch, a QR code on the wall in several places, or on the shared classroom computer and uploaded their ‘super-answer’ to a spreadsheet.

The next day (today), I explained how Google forms worked and copied and pasted the entire ‘student job’ column and created a Wordle out of it. After explaining how Wordle generated its word clouds, students collaborated with their groups to create phrases that expressed their expectations for themselves and for me based on the largest words in the cloud. After getting an expectation from every group and recording them, we repeated the process with the ‘teacher job’ column. Finally, after collecting information from all of my classes today, I compared the lists and came up with a list of seven student-generated expectations for themselves and for me for our two years together. 

Tomorrow students will have the opportunity to approve or modify the list of expectations that they created. Once I receive final approval, the expectations will be put up on a poster in the room for the rest of our time together. So what is the list for tomorrow – what did my students come up with? The list of student expectations is to listen, ask questions, respect everyone, work until you understand, participate, be productive, and learn from everyone. I am expected to grade fairly, help students problem solve, be patient, make learning interesting and fun, help students understand material, listen, and learn from everyone. Needless to say, I’m psyched with how these lists turned out.

I like this activity for a couple reasons: we are talking about expectations, not rules. Students are generating everything – they set the expectations, not me. And finally, students get used to using technology in my classroom.  Thoughts? Tweaks? What do you do to establish expectations in your classroom?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Classroom Applications From CUERockStar

I was lucky enough to spend three days this week at CUERockStar, a teacher technology camp. The learning I was able to do there was great and will make up the bulk of the post below. I also continued my summer theme of introducing myself to my PLN – it is always cool to walk up to folks (at CUERockStar it was Jon Corippo, Danny Silva, and Robert Pronovost) and introduce yourself. Connecting a face with a twitter handle is always fun.

So what’d I learn? I’m going to stick to practical applications in my classroom. Check them out!

Edit confirmation in Google forms: When students submit something, anything, in a Google form, they get a page showing their response that looks like this:

Ramsey Musallam showed a way to edit the text of this ‘thanks for your submission’ textbox. To do this, while on your Google form, click ‘More actions’ then ‘Edit confirmation.’

This is especially useful for teachers who are flipping their classroom. If students are aware of the topics they had difficulty internalizing, either based on their responses to questions on a Google form or just through their own metacognition, teachers can use this ‘Edit confirmation’ tool to link to an extremely quick (like 20-30 seconds) video explaining the answer to a particular question from the Google form. Another strategy here could be to link to a specific point in the video students watched that goes over the content that the question dealt with (for instance, at 1:45 of the video I discussed the causes of the French Revolution).

Additionally, if teachers link these short explanation videos with URL shorteners such as or that track the number of times that URL is used, teachers would then know what areas of content students are self-selecting to review (in addition to the feedback the teacher would get from the answers students submit on the initial Google form). Pretty awesome – and easy – tweak to implement!

Instagram test review: I’ve been lucky enough to see Lisa Highfill present before, at the Silicon Valley Computer Using Educators conference. She has been greatly influential in pushing me to use social media more in my classroom. I was lucky enough to go along on a photo walk and class in Yosemite National Park at CUERockStar that she co-led with Nicole Dalesio. I learned more about cool photo editing apps on an iPhone (my favorites, all paid apps: PhotoWizard, Snapseed, and PhotoToaster) and also heard about application of Instagram in the classroom.

Lisa talks a lot about using Instagram to document learning in her classroom, and I plan on doing this. However, she teaches 5th graders. I am hopeful that I can build on the fact that I have students who have their own Instagram accounts. Using her ideas, I came up with an idea for using Instagram for test review with my 9th and 10th graders. Students get assigned a topic out of the unit – I’ve outlined this project for my first unit of the year about democracy and revolutions. Assume there are seven student groups who draw for the topic of their photo: one for the French Revolution, one for the Glorious Revolution, one for the American Revolution, three for the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers, and one free choice photo topic. Students review the content of their assigned topics then go out and take their pictures from somewhere on campus that represents, to them, the topic they chose. These pictures would then be posted to Instagram and Twitter using the class hashtag so I can locate the pictures.

After giving the students about 20 minutes to review their assigned content, wander campus, and take and post their group pictures they will return to my classroom. I will upload the hashtagged Instagram posts and each group will present their picture as well as an explanation for how their picture shows their assigned topic. I am hoping that this emphasis on the higher end of Bloom’s taxonomy will help students to internalize more of the content than they would individually.

How to apply Explore-Flip-Apply in a history class: However, the coolest classroom application that will come out of CUERockStar for me? I’ve written about what Exlore-Flip-Apply (EFA) might look like in a history class before, but to get to pick Ramsey’s brain for a half hour about this topic was a real treat. This will become a subsequent blog post – I need to finish off my democracy and revolutions unit plan before I write about it, but here’s the teaser for you – the picture that came out of our discussion:

So there are my CUERockStar classroom applications takeaways. Clearly, the last one – EFA in a history class – has the largest ramifications for my teaching. For the West Coasters that might stumble across this post, CUERockStar is well worth checking out. As a final note, I’ll let you know what tech tools I’ll be buying based on my experience at CUERockStar.

·       Upgrade my MacBook Pro to Mountain Lion
·       Reflection app for my MacBook – this will allow me to mirror my iPhone 4S to my computer screen (which can then be projected to my class through an LCD projector), creating a mobile document camera. What a cool way to show student work. Or elicit feedback. Or do any number of super cool things!

Screenshot of my MacBook with Reflection showing
my iPhone 4S's screen on my computer

·       A Wacom Bamboo Splash pen tablet

Friday, August 10, 2012

What I Don’t Hear Emphasized Enough About Flipped Classrooms

It seems to me that people talk a lot about their rationale for flipping their classrooms, and their class structure within a flipped setting, and where they host their class site or screencasts, and a lot of other things. And don’t get me wrong, I love engaging #flipclass folks around this – I look forward to Monday nights so that I can do exactly that: learn from others and get ideas from people smarter than me. (“It’s not cheating, it’s collaborating!”) One thing I don’t hear enough, though, is a big shift that goes into flipping a classroom. I think that people who are considering flipping need to be willing to embrace spending more time on the skills of a subject area – and students’ ability to demonstrate those skills – and less time on the factual content of a subject area. This will come as heresy to some, but is a shift I think teachers need to be ready to make whether they flip their classrooms or not – take a look at the Common Core Standards. I also don’t think it is a shift that I hear discussed enough in flipped class circles. But hey, maybe I just don’t hang out with the right people. Just my two cents. Thoughts?

Saturday, August 4, 2012


I have worked more – and way more enjoyably – in this summer than in any summer in my teaching past. Much of this has been flipclass collaboration – a lot with Andrew Thomasson and Cheryl Morris – but there have also been some really good work with some colleagues at my school around teaching digital literacy and digital citizenship. All of this collaboration has been really exhilarating. It has also been enjoyable to piece together what my classroom will look like next year: there are going to be some big changes, but the planning of logistical issues has been a lot of fun. I took essentially no days off, yet I’ve maintained a high level of excitement about all of the work that I’ve been doing. (I don’t write this to be self-aggrandizing, merely to contextualize my summer.)

I headed out of the Bay Area for a solid three week West Coast road trip just as our (Morris, Thomasson, and I) next scheme was starting to come together. In some ways, I’ve wondered what the heck is going on with that project. Or the couple other things we’ve been working on. And I’ve tried – somewhat successfully – to turn my brain off. But, I’ve done a lot of hiking, and the entire first week of hiking was done alone. So while I was basking in the majesty of ancient, enormous redwoods on the northern California coast, my mind still wandered to education-related areas. Quite a bit.

And it has been a great trip: Redwood National Park, the Oregon Coast, Seattle and the vicinity, and Glacier National Park – plus five breweries along the way. (The perks of not having children I need to be responsible for!) And I’ve needed the semi-time away – I returned home today for 48 hours then head off to three days of CUE Rockstar. Then, return home for an all-day meeting on Friday August 10th. Teachers’ first work day? That Monday. Students arrive on Tuesday the 13th. And I need to meet the teacher-candidate that I’ll be working with for the year somewhere in there too.

I start school a solid two weeks earlier than most – a lot of teachers still have a lot of summer left. Turn your brain off for a few days (or longer). Or try to. Unplug. Enjoy the outdoors or a good book. Because day one is on the horizon.