Tagged: learning

Coulda Woulda Shoulda

I had the opportunity to discuss the idea of Flipping yesterday – I was conscripted for the assignment – and was both terrified and excited.

My plan started with a PollEverywhere multiple choice question asking the participants if flipping was new, if they’d heard of it, or if they equated it with videos.  From there, I’d begin my spiel focusing adding/deleting to what I’d say based on the numbers from the poll.



Then, the discussion ebbed and flowed around the responses to questions I created from the Flipped Learning pdf.  I wanted to push the idea that many of them, based on their response, were already heading down the flipped path: they were adjusting and modifying instruction based on what students needed, they were modifying their environments as needed, etc.  The next step was up to them, how did they see themselves moving forward.  I used a couple of questions from Jon Bergman’s “Questions before you flip;” however, I kept it a little too open.  The questions didn’t guide the discussions in the way I had hoped.  And, suddenly time was up, and I hadn’t helped them accomplish anything.  My one goal, to give them something to move forward with on their own, had not materialized; I’d failed.  Ugh.

Not everything was bad.  I know my beginning was sound; though, I should have let the participants give me their definition of ‘flipping,’ i.e., an open-ended question instead of the multiple choice.  My presentation, the launching pad for the time-block (thanks to the help and feedback from folks on Twitter: Doug Ragan, Kristin Gregory, Marcia Powell, Marc Seigel, & Julia Winter — Thanks to them again!) was solid and did let me address a few key ideas.

The most important piece of advice, though, I didn’t take to heart: sharing my story.  I ended up getting too caught up in not wanting to influence how ‘flipping’ was perceived, I forgot to show what I do.  (This was also the most important critique for improvement I received from a colleague I work with who attended.)  I use videos, it works for my classes; I think it works great for any science class.  All I had to say was, “it may not be what’s best for you & your subject;” but it would have given them an idea, a place to start.  I failed to give them this starting place, I failed to give them a concrete example.  I was afraid the ‘technology’ would seem to overwhelming; I would be reinforcing the perception that flipping is just videos.  

Continuing in this vein, should have been to show my day to day use, like what I do to track 1) that the video notes for class are taken and 2) how well the students understood and could apply the information from the videos: my flipped questions.  I could even have discussed my growing desire to change these questions to something more open-ended and why I feel that change needs to take place; how the responses determine what I need to re-explain at the beginning of class and how I might need to tweak what’s done in class to address common misconceptions.  In addition, I could have pointed to the other ways I’ve flipped my class by showing the explore labs and simulations, i.e., not videos, I use for each major concept/unit.

Once, this had been done, I should have focused in on a few steps to flip a lesson.  This would have made flipping seem do-able and would have provided a stepping stone for each teacher upon leaving the room.

First, how do they want to curate their resources.  This means, I would need to know who already had a website (an oversight that hit me the last 15 minutes of my session).  If you already have one, this question is answered.  If not, then, do you want a website, a wikispace; do you want to use Dropbox, Box, GoogleDrive (an obvious choice especially since every single person in our district has a google account); do you want a blog?  Associated with this would be determining what students do, and do not, have access from home; then, having a plan to address those without access.

Second, in my mind, would be determining if a video is the right choice.  There are so many videos already out there in all subjects done by other teachers, that they could have found a couple to explore related to the topic they would want to flip.  If a video is not appropriate, what would be: an article to read that requires a written response to be brought in or blogged about?  I don’t know, but they do: they know their subject, they know their students (I don’t have to know this and I forgot that).  Again, the follow-up to this, what can you do for those without access?  For videos a USB perhaps or a DVD or the first five minutes of class or something I haven’t written…a chance to discuss this with others in the session might have turned up other ideas.

Third, determine what will be done during the face-to-face time with the students to build upon and apply what they had just designed as their students’ homework.  The crux of the flip: how will you focus this crucial learning time to help the students grow and internalize the material and concepts.  How will you utilize the community to help each individual?  When thinking about this, they could have also discussed common misconceptions they already know to anticipate as well as determine what assessments, whether formative or summative or both, they would use to check for student understanding and growth.

I think these few changes would have made my session so much better.  I have two hopes now: 1) I did not turn anyone away from the idea of flipping; and 2) I will get to redeem myself in the future.  I guess that’s the beauty of living and learning (and failing oh so publicly).

I leave you, though, with a question:  what else should I add to my list of three?  What have I forgotten?

Playing with Chemicals

photo (1)

Data requirements for lab.

This week, I had the AP students do some very simple labs focused upon law of conservation of mass, but connecting it to stoichiometry. Students mixed a white powder with a liquid to produce a gaseous product (massing beakers initially, with and after, see image at right), share their data on the board, then graph the class data on a TI calculator (see image below).

photo (2)There were a couple of points to this. First, the initial share was with total mass before and after and the students see they don’t match — the gas was lost. This means different data is needed, but it still has to come from what they collected. Why not compare the mass of the gas (that lost mass) and the mass of the solid? When this is graphed (solid mass on the x-axis, gas on the y), a linear relationship is evident; further supported by the linear regression done. [I’m reading my notes from this summer, one-finger-typing my lists and such and my students were waiting on me; even made a point of telling me to just ask them what to do next time as they do this all the time in math. They enjoyed that way more than they should have.] We do discuss just what the linear equation means (y=mx+b). In this case, y = 0.502x +.055, the slope tells them that 0.502g of gas is produced for every 1g of solid used and that there’s error because ‘b’ has a value other than zero (the error in the class data).

Then, the second point of the discussion — the part I did not carry off as well as I wanted — determining the ‘ideal’ relationship for this solid and this gas. Enter the chemical reaction (just in case they had not determined it was baking soda and vinegar) and I place the molar masses of each substance underneath, totaling the masses of reactants and products to show the masses are equal, show conservation of mass. This wasn’t exactly a revelation to this group, but I didn’t let them tell me what the ideal equation for the line should be: the total mass of the gas divided by the total mass of the solid. This is the point that gets us to stoichiometry. As soon as you start comparing the masses, ideally seeing that molar ratio behind the mass comparison because molar masses were multiplied by coefficients, you are performing the basics of stoichiometry calculations.

They answer four questions

  • How good is your point? Explain. [Their point on their graph has a smiley face above it.]
  • How many grams of gas should you lose? Explain how you know.
  • ? g of gas if 5g solid used? Show 2 ways.
  • ? g of solid if 5g gas produced? Show 2 ways.

All of these are answered by evaluating the graph and their point on the graph

  • it’s good because it’s close to the ideal line
  • more or less gas should have been lost — based on whether it’s above or below the line (getting to another rabbit trail in the discussion about the source of error: below the line, not enough gas produced; above the line too much; and what could have caused this)
  • the first way, find it on the graph; second way, calculate by multiplying masses (factor label)
  • the first way, find it on the graph; second way, calculate by multiplying the masses, but inversely as the gas needs ‘canceled’

The goal with this set of labs is to have the students (1) want this ‘proved’ again to see this truth with a different reaction; (2) lead to other questions like what the graph would look like if the amount of solid is varied with the same amount of liquid or vice versa, keep the solid constant and vary the liquid; i.e., predicting limiting reagents. Again, the whole point is to get them to take the data, see the linear relationship, but ask why and want to see more data to prove it — not exactly carried off in this way. Instead, I had them do the lab several times, plug in our data, examine the graphs produced, and see that, “yup, it’s linear, again.”
My problem here was my approach. This would work well for chemistry if I fix the conservation of mass introduction & link to the results — what does conservation of mass mean? reactants should equal products, so we balance the equation, but is there another way?…work to masses of reactants and products and what this means for the lab, compare the line produced to the ideal one they find…ask if this is the case all the time? is it predictable? Push for the questions because it’s new. AP, on the other hand, should be about predicting the results, predicting the graph, predicting the ideal line. This information is not new it’s review, so, I needed to take it to that point instead of getting caught in no-man’s-land between new & review where I lost some of the effectiveness of the enterprise.

[Thanks to Jim Cortez for sharing this during our summer APSI.]

Exploring Chemistry

I’m liking the challenge and the potential impact of ‘exploring’ each concept before students actively study as I attempt to implement explore-flip-apply. My twist, though this is blatantly stolen, is to have the students reflect on &/or explain the exploration in a blog post.

My post is coming up prior to any data to support an assertion of actual improved outcomes and increased learning. However, the questions asked, exposing the interconnections between concepts, was absolutely amazing today.

WaterElectrolysisThe activity, using a 9-volt battery to eletrolyze water, is part of my first unit and I wanted it to both review and set the stage for stoichiometry. There were four questions I wanted them to answer:

  • What is the balanced chemical equation?
  • Is there qualitative evidence to support the balanced chemical reaction?
  • Could you collect quantitative data to ‘prove’ the balanced reaction? How?
  • Can you draw a particle diagram(s) that models what’s going on in this reaction?

I had the equipment out — battery, sample cups with tacks, small plastic test tubes, and two different salt solutions — and we got started. One of the first questions asked was how to capture the gas in the test tubes. This is not a question to be taken lightly, since the point was to have the captured gas push water out of the test tubes to visually see the difference in the amounts. Rather than let the students struggle, I made a mistake I think, I showed them what to do — fill the test tubes with the salt solution, invert, and quickly fill the sample container with more solution. The whole apparatus is now placed upon the battery. Immediately, bubbles begin forming, an unmistakable difference in rate apparent. The students get theirs going.

I wanted them to work alone to answer each question first, thinking about them while they watched the reaction, then using their ideas during discussion. Again, I think I jumped the gun a bit — struggling is not something they enjoyed — and I cut this time too short.

We jumped into the group discussion with the first question and a uniform response was provided, a balanced equation for decomposition of water. I jumped to the last question here, I’m leaning toward making it the second question next time, and, again, a confident reply of ‘sure’ from the group. The second question was the first divergence from my script: how can you know that the gases are actually hydrogen and oxygen? The observations also helped to push this question forward from left-field. After a bit, all the test tubes lost the apparent doubling of gas in one test tube versus the other; there was still more in one, but it didn’t look like twice as much. To try to show this, I introduced some UI to the solution and filled the tubes and sample cup again. One complication, the salt solution used sodium bicarbonate.

Shifting our focus again, during this time of waiting and watching, we jumped to the third question; surprisingly tougher than I thought. They were still focused upon how to measure the products, how to verify they were oxygen and hydrogen….I just wanted them to think how a balanced equation had to be based on an equal mass before and after. So, I kept trying to push them back to the law of conservation of mass, the law behind a ‘balanced chemical’ reaction. Again, I gave in, and just told them this.

Concluding the UI variation….

Gases are now being produced in a blue solution, but bless it, one of them begins to lighten (I won’t go so far as to say it turned yellow, but it did become less blue). This lead to what exactly this change in color meant. We take a turn into pH, the equilibrium of water ionization and baby steps to electrochemistry. Using the equilibrium equation as a new starting point, I try to encourage them to work out what’s ‘left’ when each gas is formed, pushing them to visually separate the equation in their mind and the bell rings.

I try to frantically throw information at them as they ready for the next class and assure them we’ll do a quick finish-up tomorrow, in class, and their blog post will be due tomorrow now, too.

[Follow-up: so quickly refocused upon goals from yesterday, added some explanation about self-ionization of water, rewriting the equilibrium equation twice. Without going into detail on redox, so just in terms of particles, if hydrogen is removed (or oxygen), seeing what is left behind helps to explain why the indicator changed color, why the pH is different. I’m really hoping this turns into a seed to reap from in future concepts.]

Linchpin or Doormat?


Absolutely necessary or essential.

necessary – needful – essential – imperative – requisite


The thing we wipe our feet on coming & going

It’s obvious what I’m reading from my title; and yes, I’m a little behind the pop-culture curve.

You can also tell I’m a bit ambivalent. There is a fine line between being a, or the, doer (responsible, reliable, flexible, a linchpin) going the extra mile to do your job well and being used by those that, simply, don’t. Being used is not part of anyone’s job description, but it is the result when colleagues abdicate their duties/responsibilities and expect someone to pick up the slack, effectively purloining the efforts of others. The reason for this is irrelevant. Yet, to allow it more than once, is my fault (shame me once, shame me twice) and the extent I allow it is indicative of the value I place on the work. Getting used tends to cheapen any accomplishment.

While it is also the height of vanity to think any one person is irreplaceable, when I’m not present, I’d like there to be a gap. I’d like my absence to be noted, felt. I’d like to be a contributor, not a space-saver. I also agree with the importance of doing your best and being your best in all situations. The cliche about attitude is everything is paramount to anyone’s ability to overcome obstacles, to persevere through the challenges, to attain the goal or goals set. And, requisite to accomplishing anything: not being afraid to do the little extra required; work is not a dirty four letter word. Lastly, the importance of giving of your time, your self (not your mere presence), and, that giving is not giving if you give to get; gifts should not have strings

My ambivalence also stems from something I can’t quite put my finger on, something disingenuous. It’s an unsettled, skeptical feeling I have after reading the book. If you are giving to the world around you, a true gift without strings, you’re not focused upon yourself. The whole book, though, is about giving and knowing you’ll be rewarded; the whole book is focused upon ‘self.’ Frankly, focusing on yourself tends to leave little room for others. Plus, I don’t really see the insight in writing that craftsmanship will find a niche in the market; I don’t see the insight when ‘capitalism’ is ‘bad,’ but greed is not discussed; I don’t see the insight in disparaging day-to-day work.

I guess, I feel like the message is to create your linchpin status at any cost. You need to be liked, you need to give, you need to be focused on yourself, you need to…whatever. No, you don’t. There should be a line, a mental stop sign, because you do not have to like everyone you work with (or be liked by them…liking is irrelevant) to do a job well and maintain professionalism, because you don’t have to be stepped on and treated like a door mat to create a linchpin status, because several working together for a common goal can usually achieve more than most individuals. I absolutely agree, to do your job well, to do anything well, requires doing more than the minimum. It does require an internal commitment to being more than average and an understanding that doing this work will probably not result in applause. But, it also requires finding the right people to accomplish a task. It requires looking beyond your self to really find the purpose to make a difference.

Struggle is Not Weakness

Frigid Perfection

By <rs>snaps

Perfection, the unattainable dream of many, seems to drive much of what people do, or don’t do. It’s pervasive, especially in the ivory towers of education; at the vey least, its classrooms. Whether it comes from the students (I need to be perfect for daddy) or the parents (a B, no, you need to get an A), its malingering affect is seen in our interpretation of struggle as slow/dumb/stupid, choose your epithet.

This interpretation is not mine, rather it’s from an NPR interview with Jim Stigler our librarian shared with our staff a month or so ago, but it resounded with such clarity within me. In essence, there is a cultural difference between East & West that boils down to expectations about how students will perform in school.  In the East, the expectation is that every student will struggle in school with something.  Not so in the West.  Our treatment of the non-struggling student is they must be smart, therefore, the struggling student isn’t.  This expectation and interpretation, then, ultimately informs a student’s definition of ‘smart,’ simultaneously creating the grade-defined neurotic & the apathetic classroom-dropout (body present, mind elsewhere).
What are we doing!? Everyone knows failure happens, it’s part of learning, it’s part of living. Yet, everything we do as teachers is to make it easier, gamify it, make it fun, at all costs cover-up the struggle involved.  Do not misunderstand me, if any student learns the content while gaining the lesson of perseverance, do it, gamify away.  That’s not my point. We have lost sight of the importance of working at something and letting students puzzle through and struggle openly and for as long as it takes for them to achieve understanding.

Failure is success if we learn from it.

Malcolm Forbes

Because when they struggle openly, their achievement is sweeter and much more satisfying because it is publicly acknowledged.  It is also far more likely that that student will persevere with each new challenge faced.  Without developing this immeasurable skill, I believe we do a disservice to each student we come in contact with.

Of course, how to do this, that’s the million dollar question.


dis·ci·pline [dis-uh-plin] noun, verb

2. activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training
4. the rigor or training effect of experience, adversity, etc

The world is filled with amazing, explicable and inexplicable, events.  With science, you can dabble and play and discover and explore.  All the while, becoming more aware of the visible and invisible world around you.  Ideally, as we move through various science courses, becoming exposed to hurtling baby bottles, the glowing beauty of magnesium reacting in dry ice, test tubes of snails and elodea, and the fiery, brilliance of the Pillars of Creation, we develop more than a mastery of trivia.  The fact is our daily lives are interwoven with science when we cook, or drive, or simply breathe (or attempt to discern the real in the rhetoric of politics).

Science, though, is more than the flashy; there’s depth and breadth.  Science is comprised of disciplines.  It’s history is filled with trial and error, sustained effort, point and counter-point; it is filled with force of will.  I sometimes think this is lost in translation when I attempt to ooh and aah my students with this demo or that lab.  I become convinced of this when so many of them seek the easy answer simply to avoid using that mysterious bundle of electricity between their ears.

There are days I blame student apathy for this lack; this all too accurate Zits portrayal…

Other days, it seems more likely the flimsy facade of frustration.  (Pretty good alliteration, huh?  Mrs. Parsley would be pleased).  Sometimes the frustration is long-endured, but most of the time its the knee-jerk reaction to not getting something the first time; that classic riposte, “This is stupid.”

The ‘lack’ is not always effort or time spent studying.  More often, it is a lack of self-analysis, a lack of focus, a lack of efficacy.  Studying, like anything, can be done well or poorly.  Studying for long periods of time, reading the same passage in the book over and over, just doesn’t get it done.  Yet, so many students are stuck in this rut of studying for hours, carrying these habits to college, never recognizing the need to begin studying smarter.

Students need to learn to learn. Within discussions of study habits, the theme of procrastination is omnipresent.  This is the biggest cause of less being done.  It is also the easiest to fix.  Self-discipline plays a role, but it has more to do with recognizing that any project can be broken down into smaller parts; smaller tasks.  A basic of goal setting.  This is truly the realm of self-discipline: taking the time to break it down.  Once simplified, the tasks are do-able and harder to justify putting off.  Note taking is another change that often needs to be…adjusted.  Too many students want to write everything down; it’s too slow, there’s not enough time, there’s no processing.  Shorthand to the rescue.  Not my mom’s shorthand (though, that would have been really cool; the only symbol I use and teach to my students is ‘therefore’), but something personal.  Each student needs to develop a means of shortening words, using symbols as they can, to get the key points and not get bogged down in too many details.  Then there’s Cornell notes; the only way to take notes.  Now, I do like the summary at the bottom.  This is a fabulous self-assessment tool because if you can’t summarize the information into a few bullets (3-5 typical), you don’t get it.  It’s a forced processing of the concepts, but, it does lose some effectiveness if it’s put off.  Ideally, it should be done the same day the notes are taken.  As for the left-side division, it’s worthwhile when it’s used as a weekly self-quiz.  I’m less sold on the Cornell note thing being the only way.  If students process their notes daily and do self-quizzes weekly, a rigid structure of note taking is irrelevant.  Students are better off taking the effective components and putting their own spin on it.  My hope is that these little changes (plus a few more as needed by individuals, some out-rightly stolen from Cal Newport), will have a dramatic effect, letting them see first hand that studying does not have to be long and drawn out; helping them develop the perseverance and grit necessary to get through the tougher areas of any course.

When this happens, no, it doesn’t magically eliminate the drudgery, but it does give it context.  Science, and its history, are no longer a de facto result of happenstance.  The discipline of science is brought to the forefront; the ooh’s and aah’s become more than an appreciation of the moment.  They can become an appreciation of a field.

The Re-Test

By pianetatschai (Valentina Pasquale)

I’m ambivalent (greatly ambivalent) about the whole idea of a “retest.”

Yes, I absolutely want my students to learn the material.  Should it matter whether they learn it in the designated time frame or not?  If they learn from their failure, that is success; that is an intangible goal of perseverance.  Part of ‘school’ should be the development of skills for success: perseverance, focus, diligence…grit.

Yet, it is these very same skills, if applied in the first place, which make the need for a ‘retest’ unnecessary.  So, within me, there’s this battle.

Previous experience with retests and test corrections adds to the side against it.  The only students who would leverage these opportunities to their advantage were the ones that did not exactly need it.  Truth be told, I wanted the struggling students to have another shot; a chance for the late bloomers to shine.  This just wasn’t the case.

So a month or so ago, surfing through the myriad of blog posts in Google Reader, I found an older post on Kelly O’Shea’s Physics! Blog! discussing the retest and using an application process.  Students apply for a retest?!  What a thought!  A glimmer of hope arose.

Blatantly stealing her ideas, each student has to do Test corrections (for multiple choice an explanation of elimination needs to be provided; for calculations or short answer problems, an explanation of what went wrong the first time has to be included).  Within each course’s Dropbox, a folder has been created, each with practice problems and concept review questions.  The students do not have to do the entire worksheet or all the problems;  they should pick and choose the concepts/skills needing practice.  Though I cannot set aside a day on the weekend for the actual retest, lunch or after school are available.

A few kinks will need worked out based on the initial run with my freshmen classes.  Right now, I’m semi-requiring a meeting with each student to review their test corrections, practice problems, and try to reexplain any concepts that still seem shaky.  Time will be a constraint.  Additionally, student awareness seems to be the biggest obstacle; awareness of what actually is confusing or difficult (common answers still circle around ‘everything’ being confusing or ‘nothing; I just didn’t study’).  Genuine self-analysis should improve with doing.  It does take time to develop.

This, unfortunately, has not completely alleviated my ambivalence.  The extra time investment required now, had it been applied initially, would preclude the need to do the test over again.  I keep coming back to doing things right the first time.

Ultimately, if it helps them figure out how to study better, it’s a good thing; and with better study skills, fewer retests should result.  It boils down to the students figuring out there’s no shortcuts.  They have to be diligent and put in the time required to understand.  I can’t learn for them, but I can give them opportunities to do so.  Here’s to my retesting the retest.  We’ll see how it goes.