I am a Science teacher with a Physics specialism presently teaching at the New International School of Thailand. In class I like to find effective methods to help learning happen and this often includes the integration of technology and inquiry based learning. Beyond the classroom I like to help young people empower themselves by helping them develop the skills to take control. I do this though though: Developing leadership through the school house system (Go Blue House) The International Association for Young People Awards where I have led groups walking (bronze), rafting (silver) and mountain biking. Supporting NIST Radio and the annual Mixed Up concerts.
Home page: http://www.coetail.asia/members/neilcommons/
Posts by Neil
My year 12 IB Physics class is first approaching the completion of a full year of my flipped classroom and I wanted to know what they felt about the experience. So in an attempt to respect their privacy and empower honesty I created a student questionnaire which they could complete at their own discretion.
From the top it is really rewarding to a 100% emphatic yes to both enjoyment of the flipped classroom method and also that they would like to continue with this method next year. This obviously makes me very happy but it is the finer details which my students shared which I hope others will consider.
The students felt that the flipped classroom method was less stressful as they could review without feeling like a hindrance and do this in a time suitable to them. They did however note that getting this right took a little bit of time but now they have a routine and will sometimes do an additional viewing just before the lesson to be better prepared. That preparation is something that they even admit to transferring to other classes by watching related videos.
At the beginning of the year I was using videos which were available online and felt this was an acceptable starting point before I moved onto producing my own clips. Now the majority of my class specifically mentioned that content produced by me was much better as they felt it was additional teacher contact time and I used the exact language which they needed to know. That exact language point is crucial as it highlights my use of specific IB Physics words and symbols which they pick out as being vital for exam success.
I also asked questions about phases of a typical class. They felt positively about starting activities reviewing required knowledge, the opportunity to question their own misconceptions, time to develop and practice skills. Within this there was also a clear feeling in the class that they would happily reduce practical lab time. Now my hands are tied here due to requirements of the IB Physics course but it does make me think that I need to revisit lab work with respect to better integrating a learning aspect.
Another element of my own flipped classroom is the requirement to independently complete related online mastery questions. I use the excellent Minds on Physics tool by allocating specific units and getting the pupils to record their own progress. The students felt the process reduced stress but not requiring work to be handed into a teacher and also by getting immediate feedback. It should be noted that the recently increased game aspect of this tool has seemingly gone down very well with my class (I make this statement based on the impassioned wailing I hear in the corridor when they only have a little bit of life left and they come across a difficult question).
So the key points I want to make about the flipped classroom that I have learnt from my wonderful class:
- Students do learn how to manage themselves to make this method effective
- Making your own video’s really matters with respect to teacher contact and correct syllabus language/ style
- The right online question bank is a great tool for student learning (plus reduces stress on all)
And finally …my year 12 IB Physics flipped classroom really works and so could anyone else’s.
Thinking about perception – I am now approaching the end of my first flipped academic year. I have personally found that this has allowed me to refine the content to exactly what the student’s need, so cover more content whilst having more class time for improved learning strategies and developing deeper understanding which has resulted in all round better grades. Yet I also know that this is just my perception and that I do not have enough data to realistically make statements about better achievement. Recognizing this, I decided to search for some harder data and distributed questionnaires to those teachers exposed in some way to my flipped class experience (department members, line managers and other interested parties.
For my teacher questionnaire I was really interested in how perception was changed through observing my experience. I asked this sample to remember their opinions at the start of the year and to identify changes.
At the start of the year the sample showed overall neutral to positive attitude towards what they perceived to be the flipped classroom. Highlighting benefits such as:
- Better position to respond to student needs/ Differentiation easier to manage
- Encouraging use of prior knowledge to expand on in class
- More time to take on challenging concepts
However, the sample also had a number of concerns:
- Overreliance on dumping content onto homework time
- Lack of student motivation/ students not completing tasks
Now a year later the sample has shifted to an even more positive attitude towards what they perceive to be the flipped classroom. They have also identified the following recognizes additional benefits of the flipped classroom:
- Challenges teachers to stop lecturing
- Frees up time to do real learning/ Greater onus on learning
- Opportunity for deeper understanding
However, new issues have also been highlighted:
- Students need more education about this teaching style
- Parents need to be educated
I also asked about where they felt the flipped classroom could be utilized and they indicated with older students in math, science and, surprisingly for me, languages.
So this is interesting and shows a positive change in perception about the flipped classroom. The problem is this is all about perception and not about what is actually happening and for that I have to ask my students and that will be in my next blog post…
Proposal: The integration of project based learning into the curriculum
The following proposal incorporates the key points made in the following sessions at ASB Unplugged 2012:
- The “Power of the journey” session based on project based learning presented by Kevin Crouch and Scott Hoffman
- The institute session on “Constructionism and project based learning” led by Gary Stager
- Project-Based Learning led by Andrew Churches
What is Project Based Learning (PBL)?
Edutopia.org states that project learning, also known as project-based learning, is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small collaborative groups.
During the power of the journey session PBL was defined, using the review of project based learning by John Thomas as
- Central, not peripheral to curriculum
- Focused on questions or problems that drive students to encounter and struggle with central concepts and principles of a discipline.
- Involve students in constructive investigation
Why should we use project based learning?
Gary Stager identified the 8 big ideas, which are embedded within PBL, as opportunities for:
- Learning by doing
- Using technology as a building material
- Hard fun
- Learning to learn
- Taking time
- Can’t get it right without getting it wrong
- Do unto ourselves what we do unto our students
- We are engineering a digital world where what we know is as important as reading and writing*
*I appreciate the sentiments of this last big idea but feel it should just say information technology is now an invaluable tool in PBL environments.
What are the requirements for a successful PBL experience?
Andrew Church makes it clear the planning is the key to the success of a PBL unit and he promotes the use of the 4Ds approach (Define, Design, Do and Debrief). Due to the freedom of pathways the students have it is vital that clear objectives and a final outcome are in place as clear progression signposts. Gary Stager stated that “a good prompt is worth a 1000 words” and from his experience it was most important that a successful PBL experience had:
- Good prompt
- Appropriate materials
- Sufficient time
- Supportive culture (including expertise)
All in all a clear grasping of the objectives and outcomes with sufficient allocated time, materials and effective support are the key to the success of a PBL unit.
So why do I want to adopt PBL?
I am excited by PBL as I think that it will provide a different learning experience to what students normally receive. Such a method explicitly requires students to find their own pathways of discovery. This freedom also better reflects the results driven real world unlike the carefully structured faux-enquiry based learning path often seen in school classes. Furthermore the inbuilt collaborative element requires students to develop the skills required to work with others. The outcomes I am looking for are a deeper understanding of key ideas and the opportunity to develop crucial life skills.
Where do I want in introduce a PBL unit (1)?
The year 11 MYP science unit on energy provides a great opportunity for PBL. A project requiring the construction of a Rube-Goldberg machine and the measurement of energy transfers throughout provides a context for knowing how to make energy calculations and consider the factors which impact efficiency. I also feel that such a project would provide an opportunity to evaluate the approaches to learning (ATL) skills developed throughout the MYP programme and produce a vital jolt of something different.
Where do I want in introduce a PBL units (2)?
It has become apparent that some students at my school will struggle with the requirements of IB Diploma Science. My school is presently introducing year 12/13 non-IB alternative science course which I feel would benefit from a number of PBL units such as:
1) Growing what is required for an organic salad and using this as a driving force to consider world food requirements and the benefits of both GM and chemical solutions.
2) Building rockets as a driving force of fuel consumption, aerodynamics and mechanics
3) Producing ginger beer to consider fermentation process and enzyme use
4) Camera production to consider optics and photochemical reactions
In reality this course will not be trying to develop future scientists but work on enhancing the science literacy of these students so that they can be more informed in the future. So a parallel science in the news presentation element will also be included requiring students to consider and explain opinions.
How does information technology enhance project based learning?
In both examples information technology tools will provide crucial opportunities to do more than ever before, with greater ease than ever before and share those findings with more people than ever before and so also enhancing their own technological skill set and crucial confidence.
Examples of such opportunities which will support:
- Making measurements using probes and data loggers
- Sharing information in a collaborative group using Google docs
- Journaling the process using blogs
- Considering various (and sometimes opposing) information sources using the internet
- Bookmarking relevant information using tools such as Delicious and Diigo
- Analysing data using spreadsheets
- Connecting with other experts and interested parties using e-mail and Skype
New International School of Thailand
Following my attendance at the ASB Unplugged 2012 conference in Mumbai I have started to reflect on how my own school’s one-to-one program needs to continue to work towards true integration of technology.
Dr. Damien Bebell in his hands-on learning institute session, which I attended on the morning of Friday 24th February considered the importance of educational measurement and evaluation in the development and sustainability of any educational technology initiative or school reform. At my school it is still unclear to me as to what are underlying motivations for our one-to-one program. I myself can eulogise over the impact of greater connectivity and the provision for a wide range of teaching and learning opportunities. Yet I also know that this one-to-one program is so tantalising because it reflects an expected future for the students we have. Yet that still does not clearly identify the core objectives, and in turn allow us to measure our success in the development of our students against these objectives. So moving forward the identification of such objectives and the development of an annual school survey system which allows the school to measure progression is vital. The techniques/ styles presented by Dr. Bebell reflected the need to really consider what your needs are from such surveys and to carefully consider the needs of the audience to guarantee a high percentage of involved responses.
Within the above mentioned measurement session a back channel conversation developed with two staff members from UWC in Singapore about effective ways to share best practice. My school has two full-time staff members whose job is to support the teaching and learning in a one-to-one environment. They provide additional support to teachers in the classroom and also run sessions sharing useful tools. However, beyond these two members of staff there is not a true forum for sharing best (or unsuccessful) practice. For that reason teachers are not learning from their peers and students are not exposed to being set up to transfer skills from subject to subject. Now UWC have a digital literacy blog which empowers teachers to share their experiences. The structure allows teachers to easily follow blog posts from all or just from a specific teaching section, for instance middle school. In reviewing examples it is apparent that this has become not only a forum for best practice or an honest reflection on less than successful attempts. The site also provides teachers with a starting point for considered dialogue on related issues – for example the post on the association between violence and video games. So I believe that the construction of such a blog for teachers at my school would better integrate effective digital teaching and learning.
Although the above mentioned blog would produce an interesting conversation starting point it would not provide the opportunity for teachers to consider issues in a more in depth but collaborative manner. For this reason process modeled by the ASB research and development teams in the “Power of the journey” sessions held throughout the morning of Thursday 23rd February would appear to be another element which I would like to introduce at my school. Teams formed around a number of topics had the opportunity to complete in depth research with the goal of presenting an informed opinion on future use. Without a required implementation outcome it appeared to provide an opportunity for honest discussion. Whilst the need to present findings provided a motivational timeline as did an influential audience that the teams felt would respond to the suggestions made. Having seen a number of research and development team members presenting in more detail about how they are already using elements of their research in their classes it would also seem that the process also accelerates implementation if taken on.
So in conclusion, to improve the integration of the one-to-one program in my school I would like to see:
- The identification of the key objectives of our one-to-one program
- An annual questionnaire designed to measure how well the objectives are being achieved
- A digital literacy blog to share best practice between teachers
- The construction of research and development team which can look into selected aspects of educational development
- The R&D process to have a clear influential audience that are required to act on the findings
I hope my own continued conversations at school will allow the implementation of these ideas.
The Irving Independent school district quite rightly state:
“The key to good classroom management in a one to one school is acknowledging that there is no “magic button” technology solution that will ensure laptops are used appropriately. Traditional discipline is only one part of the puzzle. Effective instruction is even more important.
Now I have been teaching in one-to-one classrooms for at least 4 years now and proceeding that I had the options of carts containing banks of computers at all my previous schools. For this reason managing such a classroom was embedded in my initial teaching experiences. If I think about it I do have some tricks
1) Lesson Structure: My lesson structure is designed for the initial entering of the room and turning on the computers whilst simultaneous engaging with a displayed starter activity.
2) Classroom structure: My classroom is set up so students work in collaborative groups with their computers facing out.
3) Class exploration: I rotate around my class and get my class used to me looking over their shoulder watching and supporting their progression (I am not even sure if this is related to one-to-one laptop use but just best teaching practice).
4) Classroom expectation: When I say computers down and look to the front I have a clear expectation that this will happen from the start of the year onward.
5) Considered response: If I see the computer being used in an off task manner I will again just quietly point out the issue and expect the student to move back on task and also note the incidence in my grade book.
6) Consistent response: The students also know that a computer related issue will always be jotted down in my grade book and two comments in a trimester will result in one week without computer access in my class and an e-mail home explaining the issue. Such an issue rarely does occur but it does include the students having to run upstairs to collect printed worksheets or in some case passively supporting another student who does have computer access.
Yet these are just a list of useful points. If you want more then I really recommend you checking out Dean Groom’s blog post “23 things about classroom laptops” or Tim Bray’s blog post “5 Tips for Classroom Management within 1:1 Environments“.
However, if I had to find the magic button to success it is simply embedding effective laptop use into the student activities. So sending a clear message that using the laptop provides the student with the tools to be better and that my teacher wants that from me and I should not waste that opportunity.
That would have been a great concluding but I feel that I should be prepared to offer full disclosure. I also use a tool call DyKnow which is a piece of software which allows me to monitor remotely the screens of my students. Now I mention this only because it might have an impact on the student body’s acceptance of methods. Yet I now really only turn this on at the start of class out of some strange habit. I find it more useful, but actually to show the class a students work (although this is more often than not too slow for practicality) or to quickly share a document (this tool us useful). Yes, occasionally this may reveal a student not on task but wandering around the class appears to be far more effective and I still do not see it as a crucial part of one-to-one classroom management but could see why some people would appreciate the resource.
The reflection upon where I have got to with my own flipped classroom seems a sensible culmination of my coetail experience. From my first introducing the idea to my year 12 Physics class the IT integration has developed. I am now producing more and more considered vodcasts which reflect my own improved understanding of the tools and the student requirements. Furthermore the increased teaching time has meant the continued integration of further IT tools into the teaching and learning process. As my students have now got used to the flipped classroom techniques they are in a position to honestly reflect on their experiences to provide a data driven element to the discussion.
Three events occurred over the last week which got me thinking that education is falling actually behind the interconnected curve which is our digital society.
1) My own wife’s thoughts about how our son takes on problems, in her blog post “On tippy toes”. Here I appreciate the determination to succeed independently shown but I am also reassured by his continued reliance on the people around him.
2) My own year 11 science class just completed an in-class essay where they were required to bring in notes reflecting the unit question – How do we know what is a good fuel?. Then once they arrive in class they are presented with the specific essay question. During my wandering around class and looking at the pre-prepared research I found an e-mail from a senior student explaining how to get the best marks in this particular assignment with regards to how it has been previously set.
3) My reading of George Siemens excellent introduction to the learning theory of connectivism – “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for a Digital age”. In this article he states “When knowledge, however, is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill. As knowledge continues to grow and evolve, access to what is needed is more important than what the learner currently possesses.”
Each of these examples captures the importance of being connected. To me these experiences show 1) we are a social being 2) we can be motivated to use society for our benefit 3) this social learning is already being studied (and has been for almost 10 years).
Yet considering these absolutes I don’t feel that the assessment tasks in education presently reflect the ideals of connectivism. This statement repeated in the Edutopia article – How should we measure student learning? For example my own tests still take place in test conditions with no communication with anyone else – so not providing the opportunity to use their connectivity to their benefit. My essays are on topics undoubtedly (although I work hard for this not to be the case) done by someone before and here I take a, hear no evil and see no evil attitude and provide marks oblivious of the increased benefits of connectivity each cohort of students has. The for classic science laboratory reports the previous problem is undoubtedly amplified even further.
So now I need to develop assessment which both acknowledges and encourages connectivity. Yet here I am constrained by an assessment rubric which does not provide the opportunity for a truly challenging open book test. I believe project based assessment tasks provide better opportunities which I will try to develop. In fact I would like to integrate such ideals into the energy transfer unit which I am presently revising.
So in conclusion I return to a quote from George Siemens’ article – “The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn. Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era.”
The classes I would quite happily allow someone into to evaluate the technology integration in my classroom are those that I have had a key role in designing the related unit. In these my classroom displays effective technology integration due to the fact the technology is seamlessly embedded in my expectations of the actions and outcomes of the students and me. For example my “flipped” year 12 physics class which both provides the students with a new approach to their own learning and also allowed for the further use range of online simulations and mastery questioning.
There are also lessons, sometimes in units I have designed and sometimes not, where I am taking a risk and trying out something new. I recognise that it is not yet happily embedded but I am being informed by the experience which makes it invaluable for future technology integration
However, there are also lessons where prefer that no administrator is going to visit whilst brandishing Lisa Nielsen’s (The Innovative Educator) interesting technology integration classroom visit rubric. These lessons are more often than not units which I did not have a role in developing. Yet as they do comprehensively teach the required scientific content I do not feel the right to criticize.
I have been thinking about the best way to encourage technology integration throughout the department I am a member off. Here I feel that the way forward is by modelling best practice. This means by placing it at the core of my own unit planning and therefore exposing others. Yet for this to be successful I cannot just drop it into the unit planner and expect people to follow I know that I will also have to support those how find technology challenging and accept that it is not always for everyone and offer other pathways if necessary.
With all this in mind I am about to start creating a new energy transfer unit for year 11. My present idea is centred on a project based unit where students create and analyse the energy transfers within their own Rube-Goldberg Machine.
Now what is interesting here, and I recognise in myself, is that I have become very lost in a quite a non-technology focused idea here. So I intend to ask my school’s own technology support team in on this planning to provide their own perspective and help me see beyond my out of character blinkers. So I will keep you informed on how this all progresses as we move forward.
For those that follow my blog over this past academic year I have been flipping my IB diploma Physics class. In a previous blog (I Launch myself onto You tube) I shared my initial vodcasts and the related reflection. So now a few months further down the line I am returning to further reflect on the vodcasts that I produce. I have happily continued to use the Camtasia software for recording and editing as I find it easy to use and crucially upload with.
The first improvement was quite straight forward. MOVEMBER was over so I could thankfully remove that ridiculous moustache. This took an even greater importance when I recognised the unnerving similarities between myself and the lead character of the excellent series Breaking Bad which unfortunately depicts a science teacher loosing their way.
The second issue I highlighted was my own hand writing. For this I did what I often do in the classroom used type text in some for of presentation software such as PowerPoint. I had been looking at other vodcasts on the net and was aware that some students had commented negatively about vodcasts which spent an excessive amount of time watching the presenter write things out. Yet had also seen examples where the teachers then rushed through content. With this in mind here is one the vodcasts I produced using these tools considering practical methods to deduce a specific heat capacity.
I selected this vodcast as it highlights two reflections of my own. Firstly I recognise that at the end as I am going through some calculation examples my explanation kind of tails off. I really should add some statements like “now consider this question….. and now pause and do you own calculations before the answer appears”. Secondly my discussion about practical Physics is not very practical – it is a PowerPoint and a floating head. To capture this aspect I will need to more carefully consider where I set up my webcam or bring someone else into support my filming. An example of the integration of techniques I am therefore considering is shown here with a vodcast by noted practitioners of the flipped classroom technique Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmanns who are discussing a similar topic.
With respect to my own class progression my first semester has been completed and the average class results are higher then in previous years as are those of the best students but this is a small and talented cohort some I don’t want to over analyse those facts. For now my flipped classroom journey goes on.
People fear close analysis of their student’s results because of concerns of what it could reveal about them as teachers. This fear can stop analysis which could provide a fascinating insight into student learning. For this reason it is great that one group of teachers have allowed me to analyse the results of common assessment tasks for a whole year group across a whole year of learning using IBO MYP Science. The questions I intend to provide data driven answers are:
1) Is one type of science more difficult to succeed in than another?
2) Are all assessment tasks of a certain criteria of equal difficulty?
3) In middle years general science classes does a higher level specialist get better results?
I ask the first question because in theory the criteria referenced system used by the MYP for science is for five of the six criteria used related only to general science skills. So only has one of six criteria, Criteria C – Knowledge and understanding, would provide an opportunity for any divergence. An appreciation of this could help teachers provide alternative or extended teaching to reach certain aspects of understanding and re-address any imbalance.
The answer to the second question should help teachers identify which assessment tasks need to be reviewed to improve alignment.
I ask the final question because I want some data driven evidence, and not the reactionary gut instinct that too often drives change, as to if having specialist teaching their own units only is beneficial or if the rewards of a skills based generalist are greater.
Is one type of science more difficult to succeed in than another?
Hypothesis: Physics is the most difficult followed by Chemistry and then Biology based on numbers of students who select these units for Diploma studies.
Method: Compare the overall average level for all assessments with those gained just in each science
Standard deviation = (Max – Min/ Number of samples)
For all assessment tasks this value is ±0.07
So subject areas from easiest to mist difficult are Physics, Biology and finally Chemistry. These results stand surprisingly against popular belief and against the numbers reflected in IB Diploma selection. Both Physics and Biology stand outside the standard deviation of the average indicating changes need to be made.
Evaluation of the assessment tasks is obviously ongoing but it should be noted the assessment task with the lowest average value was related to biology and has already been dramatically modified to reflect the teacher’s opinions. This should bring up both the biology average and the overall average up. There is also continued work in developing the chemistry assessment requirements.
Are all assessment tasks of a certain criteria but in different units of equal difficulty?
Hypothesis: The collective teaching experience would identify assessment tasks which where inconsistent with the criteria requirements causing students to under or over perform in excess of one level.
Method: Compare the overall average level for all pupils of each criterion (and within that each subject) to ensure that all the assessment tasks lie within one level.
The maximum and minimum levels all lie within 0.5 of a level of the criteria average.
The agreement between assessment tasks within each criterion is within an acceptable range.
In middle years general science classes does a higher level specialist get better results?
Hypothesis: Criteria referenced method of assessment is transparent and skills based and therefore results will not be aligned with a teachers specialist area.
Method: Compare the change between the overall average of students for each teacher across all criterion and those of each science topic taught.
|Specialist||Overall Average||Stan. Deviation||Biology Units||Chemistry Units||Physics Units||Average Change|
Analysis: The only specialist that improved beyond their overall class averages standard deviation was the Physics specialist yet this was not the largest change for that subject further indicating a lack of alignment between specialist and class performance. The greatest change occurred in the chemistry units which had already been identified as the most difficult to succeed in – so this further confirms that point.
As predicted in the hypothesis the criteria referenced assessment system means that a specialist teacher is not shown to have a significant impact on the performance of students in that class. Considering the spoken opinions of less able students against Physics it is interesting that the class with the lowest initial average had the greatest boost whilst studying that subject.
- The six units studied in the year which can basically be identified as two of each science; chemistry, biology and physics. And by pairing these up ensure that all assessment tasks are reflected for each subject (considering per unit does not allow this comparison)
- Each of the 3 teachers had a defined specialism and this was reflected in the units they organised
- The units were not all taught in parallel so randomizing, and so eliminating, the effect of students learning from their experiences and so improving throughout the year
- As this sample is taken from a further through the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme it is hoped that the core skills will already have been developed