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Taking the “rut” out of “routine”

May 25, 2012

I have been flipping my biology 12 class this semester and have found the video notes and added time in class to be so valuable.  With that said, the initial appeal of anything new can sometimes wear off after a while.  With only a few weeks to go I could tell the students were needing something “new” and exciting to wet their appetite so i decided to bring back the QR codes.

I’ve used QR codes before to link students to websites and videos but I wanted to try out a new idea I was toying with.

Enter the QR Code Scavenger Hunt…

We are just finishing off the circulation unit and I used this activity to review what they’ve done and to introduce the last fetal circulation part.

First, the students answered a bunch of review questions.  A letter in each answer revealed the location to a QR code (library, gym, drama room and two administrators offices).  The librarian actually hid the QR code on one of the books and gave them other clues to find it.

Side bar- this led to a great idea by the librarian to attach QR codes to books so students could scan them and it would take them to authors websites or sites of books of the same genre…great idea!!

Here is the hand-out I gave them to find the locations- 0_QR Code Scavenger Hunt

When they found the bar code, they scanned it with their electronic devices (I made sure to have at least one person per group with a device).  The bar code took them to a clip that I recorded and uploaded to YouTube.  Each clip was about 1 minute long and they wrote what they saw/ heard on their usual note template.

Here is a sample of one of the QR codes they found…scan it if you have a device

Once they had all of the video notes written down (5 total) they raced back to my room for their prize.

I was very pleased with how this activity went.  The students reviewed previous info and gathered the new content.  We will be going over the new content tomorrow in class.

This lesson could have been done the “traditional” flipped way but I wanted to mix things up.  Today I saw students ridiculously excited.  They were energetically discussing concepts from the review and racing from place to place with the hope that they could be the first ones to get back to me.

Other students, not in my class, were baffled by what was going on and I had a number of them come into my room to find out what was happening.

The goal of the lesson was to check understanding of the previous concepts, acquire new content, and most importantly, to inject some fun into the lull that can sometimes arise during this time of year

Mission accomplished!

***Speaking of “mission accomplished”…that will be the theme of the next QR code activity…”Mission Impossible”! I want to create some more interesting videos with a theme!




The power of positivity: A coach’s perspective

May 12, 2012

I watch a lot of  major league baseball and love watching how the coaches develop players; especially the young pitchers.  These pitchers have a ton of talent but need help transitioning to the major league level.  The persistent theme, that I have seen, is they always stay positive with their “young” players.  When a pitcher struggles, the pitching coach comes out and tells them something positive.  They may have just walked the last 3 batters but the coach will say something like, “Get one more ground ball and you are out of this inning.” They don’t point out the obvious negatives and instead direct the pitcher’s mindset to something positive.  It is something that has obviously worked at the major league level so my question is, “why is it that I so often see the negative coaching style at the high school level?”.

I’ve seen other coaches yell, swear, and flat out humiliate their players in order to get results.  Unfortunately, the only result that I noticed was tight players who are afraid to make a mistake for fear of being berated. I’m not saying that players don’t sometimes need a fire lit under them but the persistent negative approach is not effective.  The coaches are not creating hardened, mentally-tough players that are good under pressure like most argue.  The players that excel under that instruction would excel under any coach.

I have coached girls and boys volleyball from grades 8-12 for the past 9 years and I’ve always tried coaching through positivity.  I’m not perfect and sometimes my emotions get the better of me.  But, from what I have seen, the effect of those emotional outbursts is poor play and a degradation of the player-coach relationship.

This past season, I coached the Senior boys volleyball team at my school.  I had coached this group of young men since they were in grade 9 in both the fall, school season and the spring, club season.  Over those 4 years and 7 volleyball seasons, we built a trusting relationship were I tried to be positive during each practice and game.  Each season they continued to improve their skills until they surfaced as one of the top teams in the province.  Now enter their grade 12 year and they were ranked #4 in the Province to begin the season.  For the first time they had expectations to succeed (at least from the rest of the province).  Unfortunately, the players, and myself, got wrapped up in these new expectations and forgot why they were out there in the first place.  They played volleyball because they had fun doing it.  They were a close group and had a ton of fun off of the court as well.  The first few tournaments didn’t go as well as hoped and the pressure built.  The disappointment of the boys not playing to their ability got to me as well and, rather than continue to build on the positives, I focused on the negatives.  How did the players respond to this?

Not fun anymore…player-coach trust gone…playing tight…scared to make mistakes…compounded problems…wanting to quit

This went on for a couple of weeks and with about 3 weeks left until Provincials I called a meeting and apologized to the team.  I had turned into everything I said I wouldn’t be as a coach.  I was negative, I yelled, and I motivated through fear of losing playing time.

I was the reason why they were not having fun anymore.  The players, the reason why I coach, were not enjoying coming to the gym.

So, I changed my mindset and became that positive role model again.  I coached by celebrating their successes rather than pointing out their failures.

The team went to Provincials energized and confident.  They played to the best of their ability and finished 4th overall in the Province.  I know that the success of the season isn’t dependent on where they finish in the standings but it was a nice bonus.

Take away:

I can’t change what other coaches do or how they treat their athletes but I wish they would take time to reflect back on how their coaching style may impact their athletes.

For the vast majority of players, they are not going to play professionally.  They are going to play high school, or maybe college, before they move on with their lives.  If you are a new coach, or more importantly a veteran coach, think about why those players are playing and what they are going to take with them when they are done playing.

Just my thoughts,


Student feedback on flip- Heading in the right direction

April 21, 2012

After 3 weeks, and 2 units completed, of flipping my Biology 12 class i gave my students another survey so I could get their take on the changes.  I’ve been continually reflected during the past 3 weeks in order to find ways to improve the class and getting student feedback is a great way to do that.

Note- I realized after I gave the survey that I could get them to elaborate on their yes/ no answer.  They did give their likes/ dislikes of the flip class at the end

Here are the results to the the survey that I gave them:

1. Did you watch the respiration videos?

Yes- 23 students

No- 1 students

2. Did you find the activities that we did in class helpful?

Yes- 19 students

No- 5 students

3. Did you find the discussions with other students at the beginning of the class helpful?

Yes- 21 students

No- 3 students

4. How do you feel, after watching the videos and doing the in class questions and assignments, about your grasp of the Respiration process?

Extremely confident -12 students

Somewhat confident but need more help- 12 students

Not very confident- 0 students

No idea what is going on – 0 students

5. Please describe the effort you have been putting in during your time in class?

I’m trying as hard as I can…max effort- 5 students

I’m putting in a good effort each day- 18 students

I’m not really trying- 1 student

Minimal Effort- 0 students

6. Would you like to continue trying the video notes so we can have more time in class for the activities/ labs/ discussions?

Yes- 21 students

No- 3 students

7. What have you liked about the “flipped Class”?

  • I like having more class time to learn on your own! it’s a really good idea and i feel more confident than sitting in class doing it

  • I really like being able to go back and watch the videos at any time

  • I like that we can come to class with a decent idea of what’s going on. I like that the videos are short and simple, and even for review (midterm/final) or if you missed, it’s easier to catch up.
  • More constructive use of time during class, class is more exciting, I learn better by talking with others rather than just copying notes. Also less time spent on homework.
  • If I miss a class the online video work good to know what’s going on. Allows for more class time work. Can watch multiple times for a better understanding. Really like watching and taking notes at the same time.
  • The in class assignments/activities which help us to understand the processes rather than just writing them down in our notes and memorizing the information given. They rock!
  • I like the fact that I can learn the concept the night before and then come to school with questions for Mr. Harkness. This way I have a night to sleep on the concept and let it register in my brain. Also, if I’m unclear on a concept, I can just re-watch the video to help me review. I also like the fact that we can learn the notes at our own speed, on our own time. I enjoy the flipped class 🙂
  • Not getting bored out of my mind during taking notes, more time during class to actually do things

  • Lots of time to understand the concepts better and time to work on our assignments.

  • I liked how each of us can work at our own rates and put in our the own amount of effort we want to.

  • Time efficiency, good discussions, easily understood notes.

  • I like doing the activities and such but would rather just be doing the notes in class because I felt I learned more and better by doing so.
  • I liked that I could sit at home, and just watch your videos on TV. It was great for reviewing, gave me the option to go for a walk, and just listen to the videos. It makes it feel so much easier, 30 minutes, rather than taking 3 hours (3 class days) to go over it.
  • It makes studying easier because I can watch before the test.

  • its good and the discussions are good but i think groups should be made by the students. If you want to work hard go with hard working people, if not then whatever.
  • More in class time

  • It gives me the chance to learn on my own time and have the privilege to go back and listen to the videos again if I am not grasping the concept as best as I can.
  • not much ( I appreciate his/ her honesty)

  • I am able to understand the information better through activities and work rather than notes

8. What would like to see changed for next unit?

  • I know that you want to keep the videos short so people will actually watch them, but if you need to make them longer that is fine with me.
  • I would like to take a little more notes in class to go over the things in the videos

  • I think we should keep the videos, but in class actually go in depth as a whole class together into some specific details. Most of the specific words are not remembered or understood by watching the video once. But, I think we should go over what details we NEED to know. (too much detail in the textbooks that we don’t actually need that we don’t need to stress about)
  • Maybe have the longer videos broken into two shorter ones if possible?

  • Nothing
  • Video and in class notes Also many practice questions(mc questions)

  • Making more recap sheets/ tricks to get the information digested in our brains.

  • A bit more time going over the notes as a group and reviewing would be appreciated! But for the most part I quite enjoy the system we’ve got going! Thanks!
  • A different approach towards discussing the video

  • Maybe give us brief notes that we can copy on some of the harder concepts

  • I’d like us to use our class time more effectively by either working on the assignment in class more or working on projects.

  • Maybe some interactive notes such as videos/animations during the flipped lessons.

  • Notes in class.

  • I would like some more review, just to explain the video, taking 10 or so minutes to review our notes. And then letting us go free to work in groups to answer questions and what not. Although, I think it was highly successful, there is a lot of group work. And by that, I mean a little too much. Spending the whole hour in a group, I would do maybe 30 minutes, but not the entire time going over and reviewing it with our peers. I think the outcome of this would be more comfort and the knowledge gain would be the same. Except for those that may goof off once free to work on an assignment.
  • More time for the assignment.

  • Less time doing group discussions and a little more time just doing written questions.

  • more group discussions

  • I prefer the power point presentations over the last video you made, where you did the notepad. It’s easier for me and I would like to see more diagrams and pictures for when you explain the main ideas.
  • no more videos

Take Away

From the feedback, it looks to me like the majority of the students are enjoying the new approach but the in-class portion needs to be reassessed.  The discussion groups have been the most debated topic that I need to try to find a solution to.  Some love it and some hate it.  As we all know, it is tough to make perfect groups.  I try to spread out the strong students so they hopefully serve as a spark plug for some of the weaker students.  From the feedback, I can see that this may lead to some frustration as they feel they would get more out of talking with other strong students.  I think I will continue to keep mixing up the groups and I will do a better job of “policing” the groups to ensure all students are involved and engaged in the discussions.

Another take away is that students are having a tough time letting go of the in-class notes.  What I have tried to explain, and I will continue to reiterate this, is there is nothing different from last years in-class notes and this year’s video notes.  Both cover the same learning outcomes in the same amount of detail.  The only difference is the time, place, and delivery method of those notes.

Also, from the feedback, some students aren’t understanding the other aspect of the flipped class; students need to become more responsible for their own learning.  This means that I am not going to “spoon-feed” them the answers.  I try to create labs and activities that build connections and provide opportunities for deeper understanding of the concepts from the videos.

I think it is so easy to get fixated on the 1 or 2 students that aren’t enjoying the flipped class since they are usually the most vocal.  After seeing the feedback and the success in the classroom it is clear to me that the new approach is working.  There are obviously some things to tweak and change and I am still going to try to get those “vocal” people on board.

Overall, I think the flip class is heading in the right direction.  Students are enjoying coming to class and they are learning what they need to know.  I think my version of flipped class will continue to grow and will continue to get better.

Any advice? suggestions?


Flipped Class- Students Speak and I FINALLY listen!

April 21, 2012

“Just tell me what I need to know” seems to be a major concern to some students but there has been no secret of what they need to know.  I give them the learning outcomes at the beginning of the unit and they use them as a checklist at the end of the unit.

This is what I found so puzzling! How could they not know “what they need to know”??

What I just realized, after reading the latest Flipped class feedback, was they understand exactly what they need to know BUT what they don’t understand is…

How do they know they ACTUALLY know it?

I have been so concerned with coming up with activities to facilitate developing deeper understanding in the flipped class that I lost focus on finding ways for students to find out IF they have developed that understanding

The students need to be able to “check in”.  By this I mean, the students want to be reassured that they know all that will be expected of them during summative assessment.

I need to to come up with some better formative assessment tools to give them so they can “check in” during the learning process

This assessment could be:

  1. online/ in-class quizzes
  2. partner assessment
  3. Summarizing main ideas with partner feedback on twitter

This will be the next direction of my focus.  If any teachers have any good formative assessment tools they would be willing to share I’d love to hear them



Please…please… just tell me the Answer!!

April 18, 2012

The flip class is starting to evolve but in doing so I have noticed 3 groups of students emerging and they have different interpretations of what they should get out of class.

The groups I have seen are:

1.  Super high achieving- never score less than 98%…ever (2 or 3 students)

2.  Lower achieving students (usually due to motivation)- 40-60% ( 2 or 3 students)

3.  Everyone else

Both 1 & 2 are really having a tough time adjusting to the new system.  I have heard from both groups, “please, just tell me the answer”!!  Both are used to being told what they need to know and how they need to learn it.  They are the ones where I see the most resistance.  For some reason, these students seem to take the change as a personal attack against them.  They get defensive and snappy when they are asked to try the new activities.  One student, obviously not a fan of my videos, told me she found another version of my video and that it was “way better”.  I have learned, now, to take these comments with a grain of salt and use them as constructive feedback.  When I asked her to explain she said, “the other video had working animation and you just had pictures”.  I told her that I was still learning and I would look into it.  Honestly, I was happy that she took the time to go look for another video! Another student, the top student in the class, left the last flip class and I swear I could see smoke coming out of her ears.  The topic was difficult and she is not used to not knowing the answers to any questions.  Even though she was able to work through the questions, by discussing with other students, it was out of her comfort zone.  I did touch base with her the next class to again explain my reasoning for the different format and she said, “I understand what you are trying to do but it’s hard”.  I really don’t think it will take long for her to buy in.

Group 3 is the group that is the biggest and the group I see the most progress with.  These students are watching the videos, taking the notes and actively participating in the activities.  Their understanding of the concepts is increasing because they are “doing” instead of “watching”.  I had one student tell me, ” I really appreciate the amount of time you are putting into this.  Both of my parents are teachers so I know how much time it takes to get these lessons ready…and they’re not even teaching “hard” courses!”.  Her words, not mine! I know I should just be happy that they are learning but it does feel good to get some thanks every once in a while.  Also, I talked to a couple other students individually and they said they really enjoy the videos because they can rewind when they don’t understand something and they both also liked the discussion groups.

Take away

To anyone on the fence of whether to do this “Flipped Class” thing, I really think it is helping and, even though there is resistance now, they will continue to buy in when they see more success.  Real success.  Not short term in Biology 12, where they memorize a few facts, but long term where they are able to make connections between those facts and apply them to other ideas.

Just a few thoughts.  Please let me know if you have any suggestions!

Another survey is going out to my students this week!  Stay tuned!


Flipclass- Seeing some success but not everyone is convinced

April 9, 2012

Well, another week of flip class down and I can see that it is starting to come together.  It has been hard to get into a groove since we did it for 2 weeks, then had two weeks off and now we have 2 four day weeks due to Easter.  The time off for me has been great since I have time to get the videos and activities done but I don’t think it has helped the students get into the new feel of the classroom.  Overall, I am pretty happy with my new classroom model but here are some of my thoughts on how it has gone so far

The Good

-I feel that my relationship with Ss is better than previous years, at this point in the semester, due to the extra time I have one on one with them.

-The vast majority of the students are doing really well with the extra time.  They are on task and using the time to help better understand the concepts.  The projects they have made have been outstanding.  The extra time that they have spent on activities/ labs/ projects have paid off too.  They wrote their first test (digestive system) and I was more than pleased with the results.  The students that were near the top for the pre-flipped tests were still there.  These are the students that will be successful regardless of what I do so I was not surprised.  The really nice surprise came from the rest of the class.

21/25 students scored 61/75 or better = 81% and 17 of those above 90%

The other students scored 55, 50, 39, 31 out of 75

The 55 and 50 came from students who have really struggle on their first 3 units(~50%) so seeing them score 73% and 67%, respectively, I am very happy with their progress.

The 39 came from a student who has missed about 50% of the classes due to hockey playoffs.  I have a feeling his understanding will increase a ton when hockey wraps up over the next couple weeks.  The great part of the flip class is that he still has the video notes so at least he comes prepared for the classes he does attend.

The student with the 31, and the only failing mark, is my big concern.  She was there for every class, “participated” in every activity, and handed in her unit project.  So my question to myself is, “How can she do all of that and still not understand the concepts”?  Now that I know she struggled I can spend more one on one time with her to check her understanding.  I will also talk to her about not being afraid to admit she doesn’t know and to ask for help; whether she asks me or another student.

The not-so-good

-Of the 28 students, only 20 of them watched the last video and filled out the summary notes (this was on the new unit, respiration). I know it might take a little while for the students to get used to watching videos but hopefully it won’t be too long now.  Also, once they see their test marks they might be more motivated to repeat it.  Regardless, I sent the 8 of the students to go watch the video while the other students broke into discussion groups to talk about questions from the video. To be honest, my greatest fear is that the students will come in no one will have watched the video.  I guess I have to trust that if I make the videos interesting and have activities that help them learn what they need to know then the students will buy into the process.  One student said to me today, “At least they are short so its not a big task to do at the end of the night”.  That is a huge selling feature of the videos.  They are all less than 13 minutes and most have been under 10.  When all is said and done most said they were done under 30 minutes.  For bio, the videos aren’t even every night.  So far there has only been 3 videos per unit (6-12 classes).

-One of the top students in the class isn’t buying into the activities.  He is going through the motions but I can see he is just doing it because I ask him to not because he thinks it is beneficial.  After talking with him, asking questions, and seeing the work he is doing he has a pretty good grasp but not mastery.  I don’t know how to get him going.  I can see others benefiting from the activities but what can I do to get more out of him?

-The time it is taking to get all the videos, video note/questions, activities, and labs is definitely a down side.  I still have to make sure my other 3 different preps (math 9, Biology 11, and electronics) are getting the most out of me as well.

The really-not-so-good

One of the students that I sent out to watch the video returned about 15 minutes later while saying “That was the biggest waste of time in my life!”.  Ouch!!!  That one hurt.  In hind sight, it was a great comment, although the packaging could have been more polished.  I asked the student to stay after class so I could pick her brain.  To give a little back ground, this student took the course last semester (pre-flip) with me and is now hoping t0 upgrade her mark.  When I asked her to elaborate on her earlier comment she said, “I hate watching videos! I don’t get anything out of them!”.  I asked her if she took notes and wrote down her comments/ questions?  She did not.  After explaining the rational again for the videos and summaries she she said, “Okay, and I guess I could have wrote my comment instead of saying it from of the class”.  “Yes, that probably would have been better”, I told her.

All of this occurred before she wrote her first test.  Last semester, writing a similar test, she scored under 50%.  This semester she scored 91%.  Is this increase in understanding due to her increase in effort or the new model or both?  I think it is both.  Hopefully, after seeing her new found success she will be a little more open to watching the videos

Take away

I know that as we go along more of them will buy in; especially, when they start to see their success.  As for me, I need to keep what is working and tweak what isn’t.  I’m giving another survey at the end of the next unit so I’m looking forward to more feedback.

If you have any suggestions or feedback please feel free to comment

Week 1: Flipped Class

March 17, 2012

Week 1…complete!

Before I get into my feedback I will share the feedback of my students.  I gave a survey to my biology 12 group who I started the flip class with last Friday.  The timing for the survey wasn’t the greatest since today was the last class before Spring Break and a lot of students were already off on their holiday.  I still wanted to get some feedback to help me reflect over my 2 weeks off so the 16 students responded and the other 10 who were absent due to hockey playoffs and school/ family trips will fill it in when they get back.

15/16 students watched all 3 videos

15/ 16 felt the length was manageable

12/16 felt the activities they were doing in class helped to develop their understanding of the concepts

10/ 16 found the student-led discussions at the beginning of class helpful

14/16 were confident/ extremely confident with their understanding of the concepts after the videos and activities

15/ 16 would like to continue with the flip class

I asked for feedback on the feedback and here are ALL the comments:

  • I would like to continue the video activity with some organized notes. And i also want to do some practice questions in class time
  • The videos are a great idea, they are very helpful and not boring. No negatives about the videos, but it would be great if you could give us additional printed out notes to give us more info on the content. The jokes are pretty great as well 😀
  • put more visuals/diagrams in the videos, make sure the writing is easy to read against the background.
  • Nothing. Perfection was achieved.
  • I find the videos very helpful considering we have time in class, although to be used to its full potential i think we should have a big assignment to test ourselves. The video information will not be all memorized until I have an assignment. 😀
  • If you could talk a bit slower during the video. Especially when you are discussing something important that needs to be written down. P.S. I like the videos!
  • Many times I have asked for help and never received it, even after you noticed my hand up. I am trying my hardest yet still need the help. Please pay more to the students needs during class.
  • Can u please not abbreviate ur notes so much. As much information the better, in full sentence
  • Notes that we can look at while watching the video.
  • I would like to see the videos as supplementary notes. Something to recap the lesson if you want to review something or if you are away that day they can be useful to catch up. But I do not like them as the core lesson. I find it useful to write it out and have commentary and active discussion.
  • have notes that we can print off and then we can highlight stuff as we watch the vid
  • grow back the stache
  • Continue the questions in groups at the begining of class.
  • It’s hard for me to know weather this helped be because in bio. my marks and understanding change with each unit. Check back next unit
  • I like how I can stop and do my own summary of the video notes at my own pace but I’d like even more if had more open discussions at the beginning of class discussing what is going on so I have an even better understanding and it helps when you just clarify the main points and I can write them down as well as already having my own notes
  • More recap notes please

My thoughts:

What went well

  • The videos were easy to create/ upload and the students said they had no problem accessing them
  • The students are watching the videos
  • The students had more time to work on questions, activities, and labs in class.  This was great!  I really feel that the extra time helped them understand the concepts better.

What did not go well

  • Even though there was more time to work with students in class, obviously I did not spend enough time with certain students.  Unfortunately one student likes to waste class time and then expects my help immediately when he realizes time is running out.  I need to do a better job of keeping him on task or find a way to get him engaged in the activities
  • The discussion questions, even though some students found them beneficial, need to be reassessed.  I have been giving them some direction but I am trying not to spoon feed what they should talk about.  What I will do is circulate quicker to drop some directing questions
  • During one of the videos, I used a red pen on blue background.  It looked fine on the computer but some students watched it on their phone and the text was not legible on the small screen
  • The first 3 days, with creating a video each night, was pretty busy.  With teaching 3 other different subjects I hope I’m not spreading myself too thin.  I have 2 weeks off now for Spring Break so I will get a head in terms of videos

Where to go from here

  • I will continue tweaking the format of the videos to make them more interesting.  I will include more diagrams/ animations to help those visual learners
  • I’m not sure what to do about the video/ notes concern.  I thought the note template offered enough structure and the content from the video was enough.  Does anyone have any suggestions?  What has worked for you?

Overall, i am pretty happy with week one and excited to start week 2.