Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Student Ownership

One of the main principles of the flipped classroom is student ownership. Students should own the content by being more active in discovering and learning it. The teacher should step aside in order to guide and coach students.

This week I continued my flipped inquiry teaching. Students were to decide who was the "greatest" of ancient, Mesopotamian civilizations. They began in teams of their own choosing and researched their civilization. Again, this went well. I checked in often, guiding them to points they may have overlooked and pushing them to dig deeper when they though they were "done." I laughed as one student felt he took "like, the most notes ever." Funny because it was not prompted by me, he was just motivated by his teammate and his learning. I loved hearing students say things like, "We should look that up." Then as I prompted students to figure out how to combine notes and make sure it was easy to read (for when they would be separated from their partner), a student said "we should think about this." With these comments, I felt like students were owning their learning.

On Friday they were separated from their partner and participated in mini-match-ups with another civilization. One-to-one they debated who was the greatest. Walking around the room there was excitement and engagement. When finished they needed to chat with their teammate about information they felt they still needed as well as ways to counter the civilization they had just faced. Rather than digging very deep here, they asked for another round of mini-match-ups. I was a little disappointed, but happy about their enthusiasm. I had originally planned to have the match-ups on Friday and Monday, hoping the students would refine and revise over the weekend. However, I got the feeling they were ready to go and I wasn't going to convince them they needed to dig deeper, and perhaps they knew better than I that they were ready.

Monday we had the open discussion. We had seven students in the inner circle (one for each civilization) and seven in the outer circle. Originally, I want the outer circle to have a backchannel discussion. I had never tried this before and unfortunately "Today's Meet" was blocked. Instead the kids in the outer circle took notes down and then switched places for round two. The discussions were great. Students had good content and helped draw quieter kids into the discussion. Everyone was very prepared.

Finally, students posted power rankings (NFL style) on Edmodo. Students did a great job with this. Here's an example:

#1. Persians: Having the biggest empire in the area until Alexander the Great conquered the Persians certainly makes the Persians the favorites in the power rankings. Tolerance of the conquered, excellent road systems, standardized coinage and not to mention the invention of ice cream makes Persia the undisputed king of the power rankings.,
#2. New Babylonians/ Chaldeans:The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Gate of Ishtar, Tower of Babel, what more can I say? How about this, the Chaldeans had a great double wall and an army that conquered the mighty Assyrians. Combined with great knowledge of the skies, time and mathematics, the New Babylonians firmly state their case for their #2 ranking. 
#3. Assyrians: Tough fighters, the Assyrians fight their way up to the #3 spot. Equipped with iron, siege weapons, and the most disciplined army in the world, the Assyrians ruled Mesopotamia with a literal Iron Fist. On the flip side, in the capital city of Nineveh contained the world's largest library. Proving once again that you need brains as well as brawn to rule Mesopotamia.
#4. Sumerians: Sometimes being the first to do something doesn't mean you get to be #1 in the power rankings. This is true of the Sumerians. Although they were the first civilization, created a writing system and sparked the beginning of the Bronze Age, the constant warfare that Sumer succumbed to in the real world also puts them at #4 in the power rankings. 
#5. Phoenicians: It's hard to judge where exactly Phoenicia fits on the rankings due to their different nature. The Phoenicians' vast trading of their snail's purple dye and their abundant cedar trees benefited every civilization. The great ships and command over the sea edges the Phoenicians over the Amorites because of it's strong fleets which allowed for trade in far away lands. 
#6 Amorites: We have to give the Amorites and Hammurabi for creating the first unified code of law, but there's not much else to write home about. They did conquer all of Mesopotamia for the first time though.
#7 Israelites: Rounding out our list is the Israelites. Known as God's chosen people, the Israelites have been through their share of history. They built a grand temple which was pretty impressive. Maybe if they had only listened and followed god's commandments they would be higher up this list.

Excellent, right? I followed that with a quiz today where accomplishments were listed and they had to identify the correct civilization. Many students expressed frustration that some of the items on the quiz weren't in anyone's power rankings. Some said they wanted a study guide or continued to struggle to know what is expected. This leaves me wondering about student ownership. Do they have it? Its seems a bit like they still want to know what the "right" answer is. Perhaps, I didn't need to give them a quiz. Maybe the power rankings were enough to assess their learning. I'm not sure. I have not graded them yet, which may give me a better read. But certainly, I am left with questions. Questions about what I am doing and how I am teaching.  The Flipped classroom and increased student ownership is definitely an adjustment for the student and for the teacher.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What is "Flipped Inquiry"?

Today I introduced my second "flipped inquiry" unit of the year. What is "flipped inquiry," you might ask. Good question. I like to frame any of my flipped definitions from the "Flipped Mindset" blog post. Off the cuff, I would say it includes:

  • High-level thinking--investigation of non-googleable questions (in my case historical);
  • involving student choice with resources (which might involve video clips/screencasts), product, and/or questions,
  • Best use of face-to-face class time--coached & guided by teacher, 
  • refined and revised with peer and teacher feedback
In this unit we are looking at Ancient Mesopotamian Civilizations. Students are in self-selected pairs. In random order they were able to select their top choice based on availability. They have a variety of sources to help them defend their group as the "greatest." In the first steps today, students did a pretty good job of identifying the "best" parts of their civilization. However, something felt off, they were not going deep enough. Next class I will encourage them to face the aspects of their civilization that don't seem as great and get them to attempt to spin it in a positive light. 

Some potential EduFails with this one:
  • How can I get them to dig deeper? They seem to be satisfied finding a few positive accomplishments and ignoring the rest.
  • I can't shake the feeling (stemming from the last project) that I want more student choice with the questions/investigations. Can I let go (of control)?
I'll try to keep this process updated as we proceed with this unit/process/investigation. In the meantime, how might you define, "Flipped inquiry"?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Learning is a Process

Two weeks of school down! Now in my second year of a flipped classroom, thing are going well. I started my first inquiry question with my Western Civilization class. After watching John Green's Crash Course video on the Agricultural Revolution, I posed the question "How did the Agricultural Revolution lead to the $0.99 Double Cheeseburger?" After posing the question, a student said quietly, "I think it would be more interesting to trace it to the schools." A reminder to me of the importance of student choice and how I need to continue working on that.

They were to answer the question by creating a flow chart. Then they had a lot of questions and I took a moment to remind them of the marshmallow challenge we did in the first week of school. One of the lessons of that activity is that school tends to teach us there is only one right answer, only one way to do things. The Ted Talk asserts that the mindset that there is only one right method does not lead to success in the challenge. I reminded them that there is not one way to do this, which seemed to help settle them, and allowed them to draft without fear of failing.

As for resources, I gave them a list of possibilities. Some were video links, some were articles from, and even the textbook. I told them they could use what ever resource(s) they need. If they don't like videos, they don't need to watch them. If they love the textbook, they can use it.

The drafting and revision process was very refreshing. This is not something that was common in my classroom before. Students arrived with drafts on Monday and compared with others at their table. I visited each table clarifying points I viewed as essential and seeing how they were progressing. I loved hearing things like, "I wasn't really sure what to do, but this helped clear things up for me." They continued to refine their drafts with help from me and their classmates. The final drafts were great. I was pleased with the products, but even happier about the process. Again this is a big shift for me in my classroom.

On a side note, I played the Hawaiian Folk play list on while they worked. It really helped facilitate a calm, productive work time.

Even more importantly, learning seemed to happen. One student reflected, "we had to find our own flow and that involved going over materials many times." I like the sense of ownership this allowed her in her learning. Overall students had positive comments about the learning activity.

So, a quick assessment of how "flipped" this was:

  • Higher-order thinking emphasis--Students had to master the content and then reorganize it in a logical manner. Learning was also a process that was adjusted as needed, not just a race to "get it done."
  • Best use of face to face class time--students were actively working to put together knowledge in class. They had their classmates and teacher around to clear up confusion as it presented itself.
  • Student-centered--I still need to work on allowing students to develop their own questions. But students were able to use the sources that worked best for them, using as many or as little as needed. They could also emphasize various events on their timeline based on their interest.
I will continue to refine as learning is a process for the students and the teacher.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Flipped Inquiry, the Way of the Future

As I stated in the last blog post, my attempt at inquiry learning last year turned out really well. On this day before the 2013-2014 school year begins, I am reminded that this is the pathway I want to continue on. Throughout the school year I hope to reflect on the process and outcomes. Below, I will paste in full the reflections I made last year as we worked through this unit in class. Hopefully this will inspire you to give it a try as well.

After dabbling with a flipped-mastery model, I was left looking for something more. After a Twitter conversation with @historyfriend, I was re-invigorated by the idea of an inquiry-based lesson. This has always intrigued me, but I have never been sure how to structure this somewhat unstructured process. My Twitter colleague was kind enough to provide me with examples of how she structures her class and it really helped me get a vision for it. Not only that, but this model seemed to encompass many “flipped” principles even though I don’t believe @historyfriend is a self-proclaimed history flipper. In this inquiry model, students are very active in class researching answers to questions and then coming up with even more questions (great use of face to face time). Throughout the investigation they are actively trying to construct meaning (not just memorization). Finally, in this process, much of the content is student-created and not just read from the textbook or heard in a lecture, so it seems very student-centered.

Some steps in the process,along with reflections:

Creating a driving question. I tossed many ideas in my head about what the questions should be. I chatted with @history friend and brainstormed with my husband. In the end, I found a great question on It was: How influential was the United States in determining the outcome of the war? First of all, it couldn’t be answered with an easy “yes” or “no.” And in order to answer this question, they would need to examine the war before and after the United States entered. Each groups examined this question from a different lense of the war: Europe, Africa, Pacific, and Homefront. For my first attempt with inquiry learning, I am happy to create the questions, but I could envision coming up with questions as a class or student developing their own questions in the future.

The Research Process. Throughout this week students have brainstormed questions they need to answer in order to answer the driving question and collaboratively researched answers. They have complied all these ideas on large piece of butcher paper. Ss could use textbooks, library books, or the internet (in the future I could record some lectures or post videos from other sources). All group members were involved. As they did this, I walked around to groups seeing where they were at and discussing their learning. They rotated the paper around, reading responses from each other, asking clarifying questions. When they felt like they were “done” I asked them to try to answer the driving question and then assess what else they needed to look up. They were working together to help each other understand.

Drafting Day. I explained they are drafting so they have a more polished copy for the rest of their classmates to read. They also have the benefit of having the piece of butcher paper (would be even better with Google Doc) and their fellow researchers. They started today by sharing important points and they asked questions of each other along they way as they drafted.  Each person responsible to create their own response, with the support of their collaborators.

I like the differentiation opportunities. Students that know a lot about WWII can go above and beyond and research new things. Peer editing, “wanna look it over?”

Blog Posts. Students posted their response on Edmodo. Members from the same war theater had similar events but all seemed to have a slightly different emphasis. I felt like the understanding of each student was excellent. I was also happy to see that much of the content I would have taught through lectures or activities was covered adequately and then some!

Commenting. The students then had to comment on a post from all four of the “lenses.” I did a little modeling in class about what an excellent comment would look like (comparing your lense to another) and many of them did that very well. More higher-level thinking! Very few comments just said “good job.” Another positive outcome, was peer feedback. One student stated, incorrectly that the Soviet Union was part of the Axis powers. In the comments another student, very kindly pointed out the mistake.

Final Steps. In class, split up the groups so that each had a representative from all four lenses or fronts. I had them come up with a list of the main events/people/ideas from each front. I tried to emphasize that the Homefront expert should try to forget he/she is the homefront rep and they should all be contributing for each topic. I collected these lists to create a study guide for the students, to my delight, the terms were very much in line with the questions I would ask on the test. Then I had them decide on a turning point in the war. I had hoped this would lead to interesting discussions and debates about the significance of each front, but unfortunately it did not. Word got around that a few groups were picking the Battle of Stalingrad and then everyone seemed satisfied that it was the “right” answer. This little letdown may be due in part to it being that last moments of an afternoon class, on the first day back from a long weekend, and the last thing they had to think about before going to their last class of the day, gym.

Review. After the mini-failure of the last class, I was nervous about how review day would go. Did they want to slip back into their passive habits? So I handed out their study guide, compiled of terms from the day before. In entirely new groups, they took those terms from the study guide a created a web. I loved that students were collaborating and actively creating meaning of the content. Reviewing what they needed to and getting some prodding from me to think a little harder to create those connections. We ended with a short whiteboard review in groups. And I felt that overall students were in a better place than they usually are in the class before the test. I suppose in more traditional models, it wouldn’t be until the night before that students would be reviewing information that they had heard me babble on about a week ago. Why would they review beforehand, they were just trying to cram the knowledge in to get through the test. I feel like in this model, students had been so active in the process of learning it, that there was little to review the night before the test.