Flipping Me Off

In school, when it comes to kids and teachers and expectations, the arms race always escalates. As soon as teachers set a rule to “make” kids do a thing, kids will find a work-around to not do that thing.

I’ve been aware of the concept of the flipped classroom for almost a decade, since I read an article in THE Journal about a pair of science teachers in Colorado who wanted to open up classtime for their students to do hands-on activities. A year after I arrived at my current school the flipped instruction model took my department by storm.

Recognizing that my Algebra II students needed more time & support in class I flipped my class at the start of second semester three years ago and never looked back. Students definitely appreciated the help in class, from me or from their friends.

But….

I noticed an issue almost right from the jump. Some students were not watching the videos and taking notes. They were moving the scroll bar until they found an example, copied it down, and moved on to the next example until they finished the notes.

It’s not a problem local to my class. I’ve heard the same from my colleagues in the building and even from my PLN (one of my online teacher connects calls it “the power of the pause”).

There’s no learning happening. It’s like ditching every class and getting the notes from a friend. You got the notes but missed out on the learning. And that’s not good.

So: how to fix that?

A few years ago I’d have got all indignant and made a speech. I’m a little more grown up these days, a little more cognizant that I can’t make my students do anything.

So instead I decided to ask them what do they need from me to help them learn. I put together a Google Form back in the fall, gathering 114 responses.

And here’s what they told me:

Roughly 40% my students admitted to pausing the video to copy examples, rather than watching and listening to the notes.
We were already doing the 3-2-1 summary, so I was happy that they’d be willing to continue that. But the Google Form answer? Hmmm…
At the time I was locked out of my Youtube channel and couldn’t upload video with captions. Instead they just got the mp4 embedded in Canvas. That has since been rectified.

So we made some changes. I didn’t move to the Google Form (yet). Started by implementing some retrieval practice tools (courtesy of Pooja Agarwal & Patrice Bain and their book Powerful Teaching), and to encourage compliance I bribed them with points on the notes summary and the in-class work “check for understanding” page.

I felt like maybe we were on to something.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and we closed schools and embarked on two months of emergency remote teaching. Working off advice from a former colleague, I started using GForms as my shell (easier start-up than EdPuzzle), now I could ask questions whose answers came directly from the notes, insert questions where they worked out an exercise and either inserted an answer to the form (had to be the exact answer – if not, they can’t submit the form, and they would email me which started a math convo) or took a snap of their work and uploaded it.

This version of The Flip was perfect for emergency online teaching. How will it look in a regular face-to-face classroom? Hmmm…


Some of my math department colleagues are wondering if the flip is the best way going forward – a couple of them strategically “unflipped” portions of a module or two this year. Myself, I want to find a way to get the basics to my students before we meet, saving classtime for practice and productive conversations and partnerships.

And to be honest, I’m never going back to assigning “homework” – regardless of district our students have unequal access to support at home, and with the popularity of Mathway and Photomath I have to assume that any procedural math that isn’t done in front of me was done by an app and not by a student. Which is doubly unfair.

I’m exploring some ways to build a “blended” classroom rather than a strict “flipped” classroom. As always I’ll have way more usable tools than I have time for in one class period. So similar to the way I approached extended e-learning, I’ll have to pick one and roll with it. That sounds like work for the summer.

I’m hopeful that I might be able to glean some ideas from Michele Eaton‘s new book The Perfect Blend. Her experiences with online/blended learning in Indianapolis should be informing all of our plans for hybrid or 100% online formats when school resumes in August.

The Director of Virtual and Blended Learning for Wayne Twp. Schools in Indianapolis sharing her knowlege.

I’m thankful my students were honest with me when I asked them about the flip and how it could be improved. I think they were thankful that I asked them in good faith how our class could be better, instead of lighting them up for “cheating” on notes. And I think implementing some of the tactics I gleaned from professional reading paid off this past school year and will continue to in the future.

Did the reading on my own, consulted with friends and experts when I had questions. Kind of like a mini-flipped learning model. Hmmm…


This is my contribution to the #MTBoS2020 blogging initiative started by Jennifer Fairbanks. That makes 4 out of the 5 months so far (I’m on a roll now). But take a look at the #MTBoS2020 tag for some great thinking about teaching and math from my online PLN.

What Is Normal?

It’s America’s Favorite Parlor Game: “what is the world gonna look like on the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic?”

Followed closely by: “When can we go back to normal?”

The real question is probably: “What will normal look like?”

A couple weeks ago a handful of my teacher friends started to mentally do the math and have serious wonderings about whether schools could open on time for in-person instruction in August.

Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Jennifer McCormick laid out some of the possibilities in a media conference last week. Illinois governor JB Pritzker mentioned that school districts should begin planning to open up online in the fall.

I mean, you can’t not plan. The work involved to open online is gonna take all summer. After dropping online learning in teachers’ (and students’) laps with literally a weekend’s notice this spring, we have to show up ready to go with real online classes in August, if it comes to that.

The San Diego County Schools leadership have put together a lengthy document that is being benchmarked by the Clark County School District in Las Vegas.

Of note:

  • SDCOE feels that student enrollment will decline as some parents seek established distance-learning programs which will be seen as “safer and more stable”, while other families hurt by the economic downturn will be priced out of the housing market and forced to leave the county. (Editor’s note: that’s a real concern in my district too – in a town that is widely considered affluent, our marginalized students and families sometimes are hiding in plain sight.)
  • Officials also outlined plans for accommodating 50% of the normal enrollment on a campus down to 20% of normal. They discussed how to make work assignments or accommodations for employees in high-risk groups. And the plan also included an outline to support mental health of students and families.
  • The plan also recommended the board “(c)ollaborate with employee associations when developing plans that impact the work of their members.”

When I shared this plan with some of my Indiana teacher connects that last bullet point was a piece of the planning that stood out to me. One teacher mentioned that she and her spouse are both in education, with three children in different grades. Any kind of staggered work schedule would drown them in child-care costs and probably result in one of them leaving the profession.

I’m sure the district-level and state-level administrators here are working through the possibilities and the appropriate pathways to protect students and staff. As I’ve said throughout my career, “hey, you guys tell me what to teach and who to teach and where, and I’ll handle the rest”. This new school year is gonna stretch the spirit of that motto for sure.


Meanwhile, talking through it with my junior-to-be son, who’s hoping against hope his football team will have an opprtunity to earn their way back to the state champiosnhip game, we pondered what an online start to the school year might look like.

I mentioned that I was concerned about starting a school year with six classes of kids I never met and don’t know, and oh yeah BTW we’re gonna teach exclusively online for maybe nine weeks, maybe longer.

He shook his head and said, “Nope”.

That is a very perceptive 16-year-old. He knows you don’t just sit down and start doing work for someone you don’t even know. For my son, middle school and freshman year was not a great experience. Things turned around this year mostly because every one of his teachers is either a) one he’s had before, b) one of his football or wrestling coaches, c) another sport coach, or d) me. The relationships made all the difference. I shared this with one of my online connects and he pointed out that it would really be critical if we looped kids into the conversation about what all-online school from the jump might look like.

My district sought out feedback from teachers, parents, and students after a few weeks of Emergency Remote Teaching, and acted on that feedback, so it wouldn’t be a big stretch to at least reach out to students for their input: “What would teachers need to do to build relationships with students if the school year begins online?”


Tomorrow my school is doing a socially-distanced student pick-up for graduation materials (the graduation ceremony is obviously canceled, and when and if we do offer some type of in-person celebration many of the students may not be able to return), and we’ve organized a teacher cheer line to greet the kids as they snake through our parking lot. I selected a time near the end of the schedule as I’ve got a lot of end-of-alphabet seniors I taught as juniors last year that I’d like to say “so long” to.

I’ve got a few I would have sought out after the ceremony for a smile and a fist bump. This year it’s just “deuces” from six feet away. That’s not normal.


And one more thing: I think The Shutdown is making everyone a bit nostalgic. Things we used to do, not even thinking twice about. I read somewhere that a side effect of quarantine is that we aren’t getting new experiences so our brains are sifting through and fronting old memories. (That would probably explain a series of really bizarre dreams as of late). Shoot, I was talking with Mrs. Dull about how my kindergarten teacher Ms. Stanek wan’t gonna let us go on to first grade unable to tie our shoes – we practiced with a construction paper cut-out of a shoe with yarn laces until we got it right (the things you remember a million years later, right?)

So I get a notification on my phone last night:

That was cool. I mean, it’s nice to be remembered. Especially by a brilliant member of the Air Force who has been around the world twice and left me in the dust math-wise long ago. But the comments: “GOAT”. “I hated math yet his class was my favorite to go to!”

It’s been a while since those guys & ladies were my students. They are adults now, out there doing awesome things. And every time I think of them and those classes, I smile.

I could live with that as normal. It’s a good reminder of the relationships I’ve been able to develop together with students. I’m not sure how I’m gonna make that translate to teaching and learning from behind a screen, but it’s one more not-normal thing we’ll all adjust to before school starts back up.

Like Neil Peart wrote long ago: “He knows changes aren’t permanent/But change is.

Better Together

The Avengers Marvel GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

You’ve heard the saying “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with“. That if you want to get better, hang with people who are better than you. There are folks who feel that limiting the circle to five sells the effect short. That the network effect extends to friends of friends.

I’m feeling it today, for sure – the benefits of being connected. Some years ago I stumbled across the #connectedtl Twitter chat (RIP), which I immediately dubbed “my West Coast teacher brain”.

That group was one of many that informed and improved my teaching. Definitely raised my average. And continues to push it upward to this day.

As my online connects pivot to teaching online full-time due to COVID-19-related school closings, and share their best stuff, I’ve got an embarrassment of riches from which to choose, and a recognition that I’ve got to keep things simple for both myself and for my students. How to marry the two? With some design guidance from Chevin Stone I settled on using Google Forms as my shell, allowing me to continue to use a blended learning format and seamlessly link to tools students can use to display their understanding.

So far, so good. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get better.

Julie Reulbach is a blogger & presenter & Desmos Fellow, and brilliant. Also: a proponent of being who you are, and being cool with that.

Today she hosted a super-timely webinar on creating assessments inside Desmos Activity Builder. (The organizers promised to post an archived version later this week). I’m good enough at AB, but I could be better. So this webinar was right up my alley. Me and about 200 of my closest friends. Of course I scrolled the list of participants in the Zoom meeting, looking for familiar faces, but one of my local connects found me first. We kept a side chat going during the webinar, and the next thing you know we had agreed to collaborate on a Desmos assessment for geometry.

My department chair convened a virtual meeting with all of us this week to touch base and trade ideas and resources. One of the takeaways was that traditional methods of assessment are not going to work during an extended period of e-learning. Not that that should come as any big surprise.

Our district Director of Secondary Curriculum is our former DC, so he’s a math guy and a Desmos guy. His guidance to us was that we needed to create assessments that allowed our students to explain or describe the process, to display their thinking, rather than just “show their work” which likely comes from Photomath or Mathway.

Conveniently, that’s the direction I’ve been trying to move for years. And conveniently, it’s what Desmos does best. And you put two teachers together, trying to learn and improve, well, there’s strength in numbers. Today was a good day to be a connected teacher.

Because we are, always, better together.

Source

One-Man Book Club: Copyrighteous

N.B – I make no pretense of objectivity in this post. I’ve had the chance to interact with Diana Gill on Twitter and meet with her IRL at the eVillageNWI conference the last couple of summers. She is the real deal. A fabulous human being and absolutely brilliant as a teacher, coach, and presenter. For full disclosure, she gifted me my copy of her book.

We lived in Vegas for a while at the start of my teaching career. It was a huge culture shock for a Region guy whose dad worked in a steel mill for 40 years. My world was What You See Is What You Get. Pick up your lunchbox and hard hat and go to work. Out there I felt like everything was Style over Substance – like I had to learn to see through everybody’s front. Ironically enough, teacher-wise I’m probably a mixture of the two. You can’t wring the blue-collar out of me: one of my colleagues in my first year commented to my department chair, “he’s a bit of a workaholic”. I think she even meant it as a compliment. Meanwhile, I buy what my UNLV methods teacher was selling us back in the day: “As a teacher you put on 900 performances a year. And you have to nail every one of them”.

In her new book Copyrighteous, Diana Gill leads with a recollection of starting her teaching career by being given a scripted curriculum that stifled her creativity. She eventually broke the mold, creating her own classroom experiences tailored to her students’ needs and interests. In the process she learned to remix existing activities, respecting others’ creations while putting her own stamp on them.

When I first heard the basic outline of her book, I was definitely intrigued. To the extent that I have a “brand” it is as “that creative teacher”, ditching the textbook and creating (or at least sourcing and serving) tantalizing learning experiences in my classroom. And from the jump I was sure to share what I had learned with others, and always give credit when I shared online what my students had done that day. We share a philosophy of teaching in that regard.

Things have changed for me from the neck up the last year or so. I’m losing my teaching mojo. Maybe my style just doesn’t play in my building. I’m teaching a new (at least new in the last 8 years or so) prep. As awesome as our LMS is, no textbook means I’m pretty much writing my textbook digitally as I go. Building a plane while I’m flying it. We are “encouraged” to plan together and use common materials, and in my building that means TPT. That’s not really my style. And besides, I had… concerns, based on the experiences of some of my online teacher friends. I reached out to my MTBoS connects, and they came thru with the goods. In the end tho, I bent the knee to the stack of worksheets. I felt like I was letting myself and my PLN down. But wait. Can I do both? Keep pace with and use the same pre-made materials as my teaching colleagues, while staying true to my creative self but more importantly continuing to use the tools and activities freely shared by my PLN to offer my students engaging learning experiences?

I’m trying. I needed an activity this week to give my students a chance to collaborate and get extra practice on proving parallelograms in the coordinate plane. And in like 30 seconds of searching, bam, there it was, via @mathequalslove and @mathymissgrove –> Two Truths & A Lie, Parallelogram Edition. It might be a really good mashup, and remind me again how to combine the two in my classroom – a common curriculum and custom goodness. I was able to make some slight tweaks to meet the needs of my kids, and to use some advice the creator of the activity gave in her recap of the activity on her blog.

I feel like I should do more of that. Copyrighteous shows the way. And it came along just when I needed it.

So here’s my 15 second recap of edtech since it came on my radar screen 10-ish years ago: We’ve moved on from “Hey look at this shiny new toy, what can I do with it?” to “How does this tech or this process support teaching and learning in my classroom?” Now add in, “How can I respect the rights of the creators of the materials I’m using, while still presenting lessons that fit my personality and meet my students interests and needs?”

That’s Copyrighteous in a nutshell.

  • Find the thing that works for you.
  • If it doesn’t quite work for you, remix it until it does.
  • Always give credit.
  • Make something if you can’t find something.
  • Share with your people.
  • Ask for feedback.

It’s been a long time since my days in the College of Education at UNLV. I don’t know if they teach this stuff at teacher school in 2020.

But I know they should.

Winds Of Change – Camp #eVillageNWI 2019

Camp eVillage Logo

Back in May, in the midst of working on my presentation for a couple of IDOE Summer of e-Learning Conferences, I shot my district’s Director of Secondary Curriculum (also my former DC who sat in on my interviews) an email with the work in progress. I asked him to take a look and see what I was missing. He gave me some great advice about modeling exactly and explicitly what a Three-Act Math task looks like in the classroom, and he also stated that I should include a nod to the “why” of Three-Act – what’s the research behind it?

So I made sure to include a link and quote up front from Graham Fletcher‘s 2016 NCTM journal article “Modeling With Mathematics Through Three-Act Tasks“.

Who knew I was completely on-trend?


Trend

I’m far from the first to note the evolution of Ed Tech themes. When I first stumbled upon some of the teachers leading the way in integrating tech in the classroom, the trend was tools – how many can we use, what’s new, what’s first, what’s cool.

Gradually the focus has changed to pedagogy – how can we use technology to support teaching and learning? And every session I attended this week that featured tools led with research justifying the lesson design.

It was notable. And, obviously, good. The tech should serve the teaching, not the other way around.


idoe_logo_student_success
These ladies are leading the way in pushing math teaching forward in Indiana. Which is pretty damn cool.

The second thing that jumped out at me on Thursday dawned slowly. I spent my first two breakouts in math sessions, one with Denis Sheeran and another led by Emily Bruning and Robin Conti of the Indiana Department of Education.

Sheeran presented on the 1:1 math classroom, using the tools we give our students for something other than $250 pencils or e-worksheets.  His session featured sites like Which One Doesn’t Belong, Would You Rather, Open Middle, Desmos Activity Builder, and hyperdocs.

Things that have been staples of the #MTBoS ever since I’ve been on twitter.

The #eVillage conference is smaller and more rural than my “home” SOEL conference in Hammond. Out of 300 attendees, let’s make a wild guess and say 15% were high school math teachers. That’s 45 of us, who were probably all at at least one of those two Thursday morning sessions. And I saw a lot of knowing nods when Sheeran asked if we were familiar with these tools. In the Middle Of Nowhere, IN.

Cornfield GIF
Source

The MTBoS has gone mainstream. Which is good. Selfishly, I didn’t feel like such a misfit being in a room with My People. But more importantly, this classroom culture change has taken hold with the rank-and-file in the classroom, far beyond the twitter-famous math teachers I’ve been stanning for so long.

But everything blew up in my mind in the next session, where IDOE reps gave us a status update on the state’s Math Framework.

They led with a Which One Doesn’t Belong, but with a hook. All the numbers came from The New Teacher Project‘s The Opportunity Myth report.

That was kind of eye-opening. Less than half of our students feel a sense of pride about school during the day and basically about one out of every six days on average we are engaging our students with something other than Stand and Deliver & here’s a worksheet.

Not even once a week!

It made me want to keep track in my own classroom next year. But give the IDOE credit. They are trying to turn the battleship around. And I met a bunch of good teachers this week who will be pulling on the steering wheel.

It started with a series of statewide IDOE workshops. My DC attended one last school year and told me when she came back had she known what the content was she’d have taken me along.

It was all #MTBoS/#iteachmath stuff. The stuff I’ve been doing for years. They’ve updated the state website to align various activities with each standard. All Three-Act and NCTM Illuminations and Desmos stuff.

For Me GIF
Source

And I sat there and thought, OK, here we go. Everything that had been considered “fringe” math teaching practices, accessible to only a few well-connected or really brilliant teachers, is now normative. This is the baseline.

The future is gonna be so awesome you guys.

I hope I’m there to see it.


Sometimes I wonder if all the side work, all the googling and twittering and connecting is worth it. I mean seriously, I could stand and deliver and worksheet and quiz myself senseless, and everyone would be happy.

But then, you find your people and you don’t feel so alone.

No Rain Bee GIF
Source

I got a book recommendation from the Queen Of Camp eVillage last school year. 

So, she pretty much nailed that one right on the head. I worked #ZamboniLakeSuperior into my preso, which turned out to be kind of prescient. I was able to connect it back to Sheeran’s keynote, so attendees at my session could get a real-life sense of what it looks like.

I’m working my way through Sheeran’s book Instant Relevance.

Sheehan Dedication
I got an autographed copy, you guys.

Three Ways. That’s a Ton Of Snow. The Logo Game. So much of what Sheeran wrote about, I’ve done, in some way, shape or form. Not because I’m so brilliant to think it up myself, but because I’ve been connected with folks online who have taught me to seek out connections outside of class and bring them into class so my students can connect our math back outside our walls.

Does that make sense? If you follow me, congratulations. I’m not sure I follow myself sometimes. But bear with me.

I know for sure I need to keep reading, keep tweeting, keep sharing, keep going to conferences, keep learning. Keep bringing what I learn to my building and my department. Some of my colleagues are down with it, some aren’t. Some folks have their own thing they are trying to share with me. I should pay attention to that too.

Honestly, I spent a little time Thursday basking in a sense of smug “told you guys” satisfaction. But I also felt even more like I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle.

“So, tell me, do you believe in a zone, or a man-to-man defense?”

You’ve been in that meeting, too, huh?

I don’t know if my style is gonna win any state championships. But I do know it is the best way to teach for kids. Which in the end is really what we’re here for, right?

I’ve always kind of dug the way the leaves on the trees turn their backs when a storm is coming. The outflow of a storm brings winds and a temperature drop that is unmistakable. You don’t need to be a Ph.D. in physics to tell when change in the weather is coming.

Just gotta pay attention to the wind.

And then maybe bring in the patio chairs, because the stuff is about to start flying.

 

A Homecoming, Sort Of

South Shore E-Learning Logo

At the closing session of the South Shore E-Learning Conference in Hammond I bumped into one of my tech coaches from my current school. She led a contingent from our building, but I never had a chance to say hi until the last 20 minutes of the second day of the conference. I told her, “I’m not ignoring you. But these are the days every summer when I get to hang with my Hammond friends.”

Sometimes, you need to be around your people. It’s good for the soul.


It’s Year Four of the conference, part of the Indiana Department of Education’s Summer of E-Learning series. (Prior year reflections: 2016, 2017, 2018)

And after this trash fire of a year, I needed this one like a starving man needs a cheeseburger. Honestly I was hoping we might be able to lift each other up. It’s been a rough year in the HMD. Three closings and attrition due to retirement didn’t come close to accounting for all of the 150 teaching positions that needed to be cut. RIF decisions were made based on evaluation scores. To the cynic, every single teacher in the district was at the mercy of their administrator. I overheard one teacher say “I hope National Board Certification counts for something”.

I mean, Jesus. Literally heartbreaking.

But here they were, giving up two days of their summer to learn and improve. Admittedly, there are enticements. The lunches are awesome. The organizing committee keeps outdoing itself for the social. And for the fourth straight year the keynotes were top-shelf. Plus, this:

The team couldn’t set up the venue until after the Morton High School graduation ceremony had been completed. So there they were, starting at 10 pm (a mere 9 hours before breakfast would be served) getting everything ready to go.

My dad worked 40 years at Inland Steel. I can dig that level of work ethic.


I took a different approach to documenting my learning this time around. I can’t remember which of my people suggested it first, but somebody pointed out that instead of tweeting our thoughts from each session (limited reach, 280-character max), maybe we would all get more benefit if we could find a way to share our session notes with each other. We bounced around ideas like a shared Google Doc, then Chevin Stone suggested making a Google Form that we could share far and wide so all of our group could submit notes to one central source. Perfect!

Like 36 seconds later she had the form put together and we started to dish out the link. I’m super-excited to see what everyone learned. I still tweeted a bit from each session but I took notes like I was taking notes for friends and I think that is going to pay off in the long run.

So, about those sessions: there are always decisions to make. Good sessions going head-to-head. But in the end I pulled the trigger on a couple that I think are going to benefit my students in the long run: Ken Shelton‘s Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy, and former Hammond High student Angelica Rodriguez returning to her hometown to speak on Being A Latina In Tech.

I’ll always remember that session for the way three of the attendees started networking and sharing resources for their students to support what Ms. Rodriguez had described as ways to open up pathways for current students. I wish I would have written some of them down in my notes, but I was too busy just listening. That’s always what I’ve appreciated about the South Shore Conference. It’s an opportunity for teachers to share and be heard. The big-name keynotes are awesome and inspiring, but I love when classroom-teacher firepower is on full display.


I’ll be pretty honest. Most years the “theme” for my reflection on #SSeLearn develops organically. I know what I’m going to write before I pull out of the parking lot in Hessville. This year tho (totally on-brand for 2018-2019) the ideas were just floating around unformed in my head. All the way down the Borman I was trying to get a grip on what I had learned. This post has mostly been stream-of-consciousness until I figured it out.

What tipped me off was waking up this morning with an inordinately large number of Twitter notifications on my phone. When I see that I always briefly think “Oh crap, what did I do?” (I’ll always be that kid who gets nervous when he gets called to the principal’s office).

So I took a look. And most of those notifications were my Hammond friends giving each other props for their presentations and wishing each other well for the summer. And my purpose for being at the conference this year became crystal clear. I was meant to learn about and see other people’s struggles, and how they battled to overcome obstacles. And supported each other.

Students who were told by college professors they would “never become engineers”. Students who were told by guidance counselors that the advanced courses they were trying to enroll in “weren’t for students like you”. Students who were told their meticulously researched paper including multiple primary sources did not align with the assignment because it didn’t match what was in the textbook. Men who would wear the uniform of the armed forces of the United States of America in battle, who could never rise above a certain rank because of the color of their skin, who would come back home to face discrimination and racism.  Teachers who knew their school was going to close at the end of the year or knew they were out of a job on June 4 and still went to work every day kicking ass and taking names for their students, right up until the very last bell.

And still, here they are.

That tweet up there with my goals? Check and check. It was good to be home. I saw some old friends.

And I learned.

 

 

 

One-Man Book Club: Every Tool’s A Hammer

“Making” is the flavor of the month. And if you follow folks like Josh Stumpenhorst you know it’s seeping into schools far beyond STEM spaces into creative spaces. In really, really cool ways.

The famous saying goes “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” My corollary is: Every book is a teacher book. I guess in a less flippant way, I’m always open to learning something about what I do, regardless of the source.

No really, I mean it.

But I read a lot. Probably too much. Some of it ends up impacting my practice, some not. I long ago left behind the section-by-section, textbook driven method of teaching for a more engaging, student-centered model championed by my online PLN. That kind of makes me a “maker” I guess, whether I’d use that term for myself or not.

I’ve never considered myself a Creative Teacher™ although that term is subjective too.

But now, a day short of finishing my 16th year, it’s what I do. I wouldn’t go back. It’s a tough sell in a very traditional building, but I’m down for life.


I found kind of a kindred spirit last week when I swung by the library and picked up Every Tool’s A Hammer: Life Is What You Make It by Adam Savage. Of course I knew him from Mythbusters. I didn’t know a lot of his background as a creative person tho.

So when he busted out a Matrix – inspired outfit for a shoot near where some of the movie scenes took place, it was the culmination of a life – long interest and a comfortable fit. The knowing nods from the crew confirmed it.Savage Matrix

Tracing his journey, Savage notes that there are places that will feed your soul, and places that will drag you down. Sometimes you just have to learn what you can in a place, and move on to a less toxic environment.

But he did some of best work when surrounded by like-minded people.


So what does any of this look like in a classroom? Do you have to be 3D printing your own custom-designed mobile device stand? You can, of course, but maker mentality sometimes has more to do with designing (lessons, classroom layout, Canvas pages) than with crafting a tangible “thing”. I mean, what does a standing ladder rack have to do with teaching?

Ladder Rack

Savage has a term for it: First-Order Retrievability. He built this rack so he could see all of his hand tools at a glance, instead of having to dig through a drawer to find just the right tool. The classroom equivalent is assessing what tools I need on the daily, and making sure they are accessible with a minimum of search. Dry-erase markers, Ladibug doc cam, pen, pencil, handouts, passes? I knew a teacher in my first year who wore an actual toolbelt in class, with markers and calculator and eraser and passes all stowed neatly away.

My other takeaways:

 

  • Lists

Oh my goodness did we connect here.  Actually Mrs. Dull is the Queen of Lists, so it’s not a new concept for me. We both make lists to help us organize our work, but for slightly different reasons. I’m old enough to worry about being forgetful, so my list-making started on the last day of a school term – a list of everything that needed to be done to post grades, and everything that needed to be done to set myself up for the start of the next term. I didn’t want to walk out the door only to remember something vitally important in the midst of the evening rush on the Borman.

Next up was tackling the flow of Thanksgiving dinner. A list of everything I planned to serve, in the order I needed to start it, so that everything could go on the table at once.

Then Adam Savage introduced me to checkboxes.

And yeah, I’m kinda hooked.

 

  • Loose Tolerance

“Every maker needs to give themselves the space to screw up in the pursuit of perfecting a new skill or in learning something they’ve never tried before.” That sounds a little bit like the Teach Like A Pirate mantra, or maybe a quote from Julie Reulbach’s “You Are Enough” address to a group of math teachers. And that’s definitely part of it. Savage talks about how book learning and hands-on learning are both necessary – “Doing puts the kind of knowledge in your body that can only be gained by an iterative process”.

To Savage, this means giving yourself cushion with material. If the dress you are trying to make calls for four yards of fabric, buy eight or twelve. If you are making dinner for 20, buy enough to make 25. There’s room for screw-ups that way. In the classroom, maybe that means piloting some new tech on a low-key Friday with your students before you invite your admin to come watch you roll it out live.

Or being willing to be bad at Three-Act Math enough times to get good at it.

 

  • Use Cardboard

If you’ve got any familiarity at all with Adam Savage, you have probably guessed that he was that kid who saw a spaceship or a racecar or a knight in shining armor when he happened across a cardboard refrigerator box out on the curb. As a professional maker now he swears by cardboard as his “material of choice” for any kind of mock-up.  The concept goes hand-in-hand with loose tolerance. Pixar’s Andrew Stanton says the laptop is his “cardboard”. It gives him room to mess up. He went from animating & storyboarding to writing for Pixar. And that’s a little intimidating. But Joss Whedon gave him some advice: translate the movie you see in your head onto the page:

Cardboard

“I can be messy” seems like a pretty good teacher motto, since the best lessons rarely are on point from the first iteration. Class Motto since I learned to teach different: Be messy. Tweak it and try it again. Keep what works and throw out the rest.

 

  • Super-secret special tools

To Adam Savage, there is a class of tool you cannot buy – it can only be gifted to you by someone more experienced than you. As he says, “you must be lifted up to it by your maker community, by your collaborators and coworkers and clients.” A good idea, tool, or technique spreads through a shop with lightning speed. He tells how he crafted a dozen mini radar dishes for a set in Space Cowboys in a fraction of the time it would take to glue plastic strips together – it involved a acrylic and a laser cutter and a wooden bowl and a heat lamp.

mindblown

He said: “By the end of the day most of my coworkers made it past my desk to take a look at this new technique and figure out how they could incorporate it into their repertoire.”

I’m on a mini-crusade these days to find a way for the learning that happens at summer conferences to come back to my building in August. I’ve been pushing for a way for the teachers who present or attend to share what they’ve taught or learned with their colleagues. And on a wider scale, I can learn something from every teacher in my department, and probably from every teacher in all the rest of the departments. How do we carve out time to make that happen? I don’t know. But I bet you it would set the world on fire.

 

  • And, Oh, yeah, Sweep up your shop every day

Or as I like to say, I’m not leaving on Friday until I’m set up for Monday.


So what does “the maker mentality” look like for a teacher? Well, specifically for me as a teacher? I’ll cede the floor again to Adam Savage:

“…the deeper I got into the writing, the more wary I became of speaking from a position of authority because my talent lies not in my mastery of individual skills, at which I’m almost universally mediocre, rather in the combination of those skills into a toolbox of problem-solving that serves me in every area of my life.”

I’m not sure I’d sit on a chair that I built, but I put together a pretty wicked pot of gumbo for when we invited the bishop of the Diocese of Gary for dinner last Mardi Gras day. And I think I’ve gathered enough tools and techniques to create some learning opportunities in my classroom. Some of them were even kind of memorable. I got an email over the weekend from a student who found something she wanted to share with me, and with my classes next year:

And yeah, I’m definitely in favor of letting my kids help me fill my toolkit. They know me better than I know myself sometimes.

Electric Slides

“Hey, Mr. Dull, What’s with all the slides lately?”

Electric Slide GIF
Yeah, not that kind of slide. (Source)

I think I might have mentioned recently that my Algebra II kids are perceptive, but it’s been kind of hard to miss these days. It started with the investigation they did into the math behind their NCAA brackets, then we did a one-day dig into the Monty Hall Problem. There was an Iron Chef day in there somewhere, and this week we rolled out a stats project that was set up in a slide deck.

So yeah, I apparently have a shiny new toy. Sue me.


It’s been a long time coming, actually. The great Katie Bradford first introduced me to hyperdocs at her session at the South Shore e-Learning Conference in Hammond three years ago. Chevin Stone presented blended learning ideas at the same conference.  I knew at the time that this was an ideal lesson design tool that eventually would work its way into my repertoire.

Later I (virtually) met the Hyperdocs Girls through Matt Miller‘s Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit. There’s a book (of course), and a hashtag, and plenty of folks sharing what they do, and an online exchange called “Teachers Give Teachers“. So when I needed templates and ideas, well, no shortage of resources out there.

I’m not as advanced as far as digital design as some other folks. I’m mostly focused on the lesson design aspect right now, making sure I’m asking the right questions, pointing my students to the right resources, and giving them an opportunity to discover, and then to show what they’ve learned. It’s a work in progress, but so far so good.

I’ve been pretty amped about the stats project, so let’s check in for an update:

And the first day was off to a flying start. My kids had a wide range of GSuite readiness, but with proper support from me and each other, they were able to create a Form to ask their survey question, connect it to a Sheet to hold the responses, and add a link to their form to a shared Doc (“The Big List Of Questions”). We spent the remainder of class answering each other’s questions so everyone had data in place for Day Two.

Straight. Fire.

I can’t tell you how psyched they were to open up their spreadsheet and find they had 30, 40, 50 responses to their question. Very few had any experience with Excel, so I gave them a quick walk-through on inserting formulas into a cell so they could display the measures of central tendency and the standard deviation of the data.

I had to be careful to not oversell the next piece. Desmos rolled out a suite of statistics tools this year, including the ability to create a box-and-whisker plot and a histogram. Super-easy and beautiful. I told them it was gonna blow their minds when they saw it.

It was a calculated gamble. More than anything this unit (even more than standard deviation) my students were dreading doing the math and drawing that accompanies making a box-and-whisker plot by hand. I knew that if we let the tech handle the drudge work we could free up brain power to do critical thinking and sense-making. Judging by the looks on their faces when I modeled how to make a list (copy/paste from a spreadsheet!) and then in like 3 clicks have a boxplot ready to be analyzed, I guessed right.

So Day Three is given over to analysis. I’ve got a series of questions set up in a Form, basically the quiz they didn’t think they were going to get. (My DC supports my semi-regular need to try whatever crazy thing shows up in my TL, while serving a check on my students’ need to get concrete practice on skills). I’m holding my breath there. Day Three is a Friday. Their routine has been all kinds of scrambled by SAT Day and state testing the last two weeks. Spring Fever has definitely set in. My students may be disinclined to do Actual Math.

Or they may dazzle me. I’m actually kind of counting on it. That’s the powder keg waiting to blow in a 1:1 environment. We can use their devices as $250 pencils, keep giving them electronic worksheets, or we can use the tools that are out there to help them discover concepts, analyze, and make sense of what they see.


I’ve been sharing some of the baby hyperdocs I’ve made with my tech/instructional coaches, with my Alg II team, and with others in my department who might be receptive. Don’t know if the concept will catch on in my building, but like a lot of things, I’m willing to scatter some seeds and see what happens. Maybe one or two folks ask around. Then, it’s on.

I’ll teach you, teach you, teach you

 

Adventures in #EduProtocols – Iron Chef

drinking from the hose
Source

The benefit of being a connected teacher is that awesome stuff shows up in my TL daily. The downside of being a connected teacher is that awesome stuff shows up in my TL daily. Like, almost too much to use. My big challenge over the last eight years or so is to sort out what works for my classes and what doesn’t, even if it’s really, really cool.

There’s plenty of things I keep on the shelf for future reference. This week it was time  to walk our talk on an EduProtocol I’ve been dying to try. Took the dive into Iron Chef.

I’ll cede the floor to the authors of The EduProtocol Field Guide here and here for the details on implementing Iron Chef in the classroom.

EduProtocols
The EduProtocol Field Guide by Marlena Hebern & Jon Corippo

I’ve been using The Fast And The Curious with my freshman Algebra Lab Class for the last month or so. We do the same Quizizz Monday through Thursday, see how far we can push the class accuracy number. Then Friday is activity day, where I build in a Desmos activity or Three-Act Math or something else. They’ve been factoring polynomials of different types in their regular Algebra I class. I wanted a way for them to collect and share their learning.

This sounds like a job for Iron Chef.

I’ll be the first to admit I fall in love with awesome ideas a little too quickly. I’ll also admit that I can’t always picture the implementation in my head. Sometimes I need to see it. That was the case with Iron Chef. Did a little digging. Found a template. Let’s go.

I had them use their existing notes for each type of polynomial, but the beauty of the Iron Chef template is teachers can insert links to resources to guide students who may struggle to find appropriate/helpful sources or who might be less motivated to search.

Then I asked them to include a set of steps on the slide for factoring that type of polynomial, and a photo or video of them working out a sample problem.

1st Hour – wow! They were so awesome I really didn’t want class to be over. I wanted to just sit in the moment. One of my teacher friends read my mind. Like, I was wondering if maybe she was there in the classroom, hiding somewhere, watching.

6th Hour, that’s a strong-willed class. They really don’t share my enthusiasm for a lot of the things we do. But still they did good work.

The hook to Iron Chef (just like the TV show) is a “secret ingredient” that is announced during the work time and that all students must incorporate into their slide. I was tempted to go with “basketball” since we were in the middle of March Madness, but I opted for “music” since that’s a little more universal, and I hoped it might hook some of my more reluctant students into participating. Hey, it’s their work, not mine, right?

The class period ends with each group presenting its slide deck so students get a look at multiple examples of each type of factoring, and each student gets to present his own work to an audience of his peers.


The beautiful thing about eduprotocols is that they are a shell. Like Jon Corippo likes to say, it’s like making nachos. You have a framework, add what you need, serve it up. In class it looks like: Introduce the format, insert your content, students do awesome stuff, rinse, repeat. I get students collaborating and creating, doing a “brain dump” as Matt Miller calls it, presenting, learning. It’s a win-win.

We can do Iron Chef as often as we need to. Definitely putting this one into the rotation.

 

Adventures in EduProtocols: The Fast And The Curious

At my building we’re in Year Two of a 1:1 environment. There are a lot of things you can do with a device for every student. Some of those things are even better than pencil and paper tasks.

Some aren’t.

Not everything is gonna make fireworks explode.

Caesars Fireworks
Source

Tasks like My Math Lab and Canvas quizzes leverage the technology for self-grading practice or assessment, and that’s cool. It’s got its place. Kids get plenty of reps and instant feedback. Saves teachers a ton of time grading so they can get down to the business of using what they learned from those formative assessments to adjust instruction. I’m not sure I want 25 kids staring at screens all day every day tho. I need some interaction, and in math, some pencil/paper practice as well.

I launched a flipped instruction model at semester last year to carve out more time in class for students to work together on problem sets and to get help from me when needed. That part has paid dividends. That classtime is pretty valuable real estate. Could I get even more out of it for my students? I mean, I see all of them every day, even if it’s only a quick two-minute check-in. The piece I could get better at is holding them accountable for taking the notes, and being more formal about checking for understanding.

EduProtocols

There are a lot of ways to do that too. I’ve been enchanted by the prospect of introducing eduprotocols to my classes this year. We’ve done an Iron Chef-inspired student-created slide deck for the open house, and we’ve used Cyber Sandwich to great effect in Algebra Lab. Launched Worst Preso Ever in Lab last week and my kids had a blast.

But where Jon Corippo hooked me was The Fast And The Curious. I first saw him on Matt Miller’s Ditch That Textbook Virtual Summit. Jon’s a pretty good interview if you get the chance to catch him. (Quickie tutorial on TFATC from Matt Miller here). The game app Quizizz is what makes the whole thing run. It still takes time to create, probably about the same amount of time as a Canvas quiz, but has the added benefit of cutthroat competition. That leader board had them cheering and agonizing all through the first 15 minutes of class. Plus Quizizz offers a ton of data including overall class accuracy, student accuracy, and percent correct for each question.

That’s the real benefit. After the quiz is done, we look for areas where we can give some instant feedback and remediate problem areas. Then we take the quiz again. There is pretty much guaranteed to be improvement, and for my Algebra Lab students that is huge. They feel (accurately) that they’ve learned something and that they are now primed to work on their regular Algebra teacher’s daily assignment.

That sounds like a win to me. Wait til tomorrow when we do it all again and push their accuracy rate through the roof. I told them we were shooting for 95% at the end of the week. From their response at the beginning of class, I might as well have told them we were gonna fly to the moon.

By the end of class tho… I think they believe they can do it.

Come Fly With Me
Yeah, totally had the COB playing while they mathed this morning. So chill.