Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Reaction to Amendment 66

While I know that tax hikes in hard economic times are not the popular thing, I was shocked to read the following reaction from the anit-66 people from the Denver Post:

"Passing Amendment 66 would have gravely wounded the state's economy and business climate, while rewarding a reform-resistant education system with an un-earned windfall."

It stopped my breath for a minute- reform-resistant? We are not reform-resistant, we don't have the ability to change when we don't have the resources. How can you expect people to grow if you don't give them what they need - tools, training, and other resources. And not all of us are reform-resistant. In fact, if  you read (which by the way you can thank a teacher for that) up on educational reform, you will find that the Flipped classroom started here in Colorado and is still going strong with some of us. However, we have had to buy our own equipment while not getting a raise for over 4 years.

Every time I think that somehow someone out there will understand what needs to happen in education, I am shut down by ignorance and people who only look for the bad instead of taking the time to find the good.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Doing more with less

At the local YMCA, there was a group of people lobbying hard against a MLO (Mill Levy Override). In this upcoming election, I am sure that this community is not alone. The majority of MLO monies usually go to public services (such as firemen and policemen) and to education. As I was leaving, I overheard this conversation:

Man: Well they say that the schools need more money.
Woman: They have plenty, they need to learn to make due with less. We are all having to do that at home so why not at school.

It took everything that I had not to jump in that conversation.

Here are some thing that need to be heard:

  • Over the decade from 2001–02 to 2011–12, in constant dollars, average salaries for public  school teachers changed -2.8 percent with Colorado the lowest (-5.5%) 

  • My state is 29th in spending money on education 
So while I am personally getting less and receiving less from my school district, I am expected to perform more. I am expected to raise the bar of excellence and prepare students for jobs and experiences outside the classroom yet we don't have daily access to computers. Every year it is a fight to get any monies for classroom supplies such as staples, post it notes, three whole punches, etc.

So while I am getting paid less, I am expected to do more and now my job is dependent on my student's performance on tests that they themselves are not held accountable for.

Is raising taxes a popular idea right now? No - and I get that. However, if we want more from our students and we want them to achieve more, then we have to give them more.

Friday, September 27, 2013


I just finished hosting a webinar on how to use flipped learning to meet the needs of the common core. We had over 150 live participants and around 400 people signed up to access the video later. It was awesome to have that kind of audience of educators.

While preparing for the call, I found out that only about 5% of US Educators have heard of the concept of flipped learning or flipped classroom. That shocked me. Because all of the teachers that I know and that are in my circle of friends know about this. Which brings me to the point of this blog- how many times do we not share because we think of the 95% instead of the 5%? How powerful is the  mob mentality?

What I mean by that is some of us are so accustomed to doing something amazing in our classrooms - so amazing that we no longer see how amazing it is. And since the people we work with also see it, then we assume that they know all about it and we fail to educate them on it. Whether it is flipped learning, or how to introduce grammar, or how to set up a lab for success, these little tips and tricks make our lives easier and make our students more engaged so why aren't we screaming them from the rooftops?

I think the reason is two fold:

1. Educators tend to be very humble. Yes there are the exceptions, but for the most part, I have found that they just see the amazing stuff as part of their job. They assume that this is what all good teachers do. But we have to accept that NOT ALL TEACHERS ARE GOOD TEACHERS. And that bothers us to the core. We tend to feel like a united front against all of the attackers that are out there. But why do we think this way when we know what not all government officials have the public's best interest in mind all of the time? Or that not all weather forecasts are accurate 100% of the time? We have to learn to take pride in what we do and then be willing to open ourselves up and invite the world in.

2. Educators, just like other humans, fall prey to the mob mentality. What I mean by that is we tend to assume that if people know us then they know what we do; meaning all the cool stuff that is going on in the classroom. If no one else is sharing their tips and tricks and bragging about their success, then why should we? We assume that because people know us that they understand us and that is an incorrect assumption. If no one is being brave in your building and talking about something, then chances are you won't either. So whatever the mob is doing, we tend to follow along.

We need to change both of these things and invite people in - which is scary. It opens us up to criticism and close examination of what we are doing in the classroom. And some people don't want to do that - and I get it. With pay for performance and merit based pay and all of the host of other bills and regulations that are coming out, it seems that the culture is becoming more guarded. If we share what we do and someone does it better, they get paid more and possibly get your job. But we have to believe in ourselves more that that. We have to believe in what we do and the choices that we make to help our students succeed. We have to take chances and share our ideas with our coworkers and help clear up misconceptions about ideas such as the flipped classroom/learning concept.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Going Dark- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I love this term...going dark. It means that some serious stuff is about to go down and people need time to focus on that. I am as guilty of this as anyone else.

Flipping my classroom does not mean that my life is easier, in fact I would argue that it is much harder. I have to be "on" every minute. I can't switch my brain off and drone on with lectures, I get to walk around the classroom and create relationships with my students.

It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to do this, which is why I have been living in the dark. For years, I have been successfully flipping my classes and having amazing success and keeping it all to myself. Not because I am ashamed or afraid, but because I thought that no one would want to hear what I have to say. So starting this school year, my goal is to blog at least once a week about what is going on in my classroom - the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Background: I am teaching four classes this year - one AP Literature ( a new prep for me - never taught, never trained), DP Senior English, Film as Literature, and Theory of Knowledge.

Plan: In the first few weeks to evaluate where my students are in reading and writing and set goals for them and an action plan to help them improve through my teaching.

Update: I have finished collecting the reading/writing samples and are evaluating the data. I am going to share data with the students today. I have created them score tracking sheets so that they can track their performance on various reading and writing tasks. They are going to record not only the score, but a focused improvement area as a type of metacognitive step.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

I'm teaching what?

Gotta love August! I just got a call from my Assistant Principal and guess what - my schedule changed. Now I am teaching both DP (Diploma Years) senior, but AP Lit Seniors as well!

So as my head is spinning, I am so thankful that I have flipped my classroom. There are so many things that I will need to offload for my students in order to have the time in the classroom to practice writing (both timed and not) as well as testing. I am thinking about flipping all literary terms and grouping them so that we apply each to a certain part of the syllabus. I don't know what that will look like, but I am spitballing here. I have to go back to the basic question - what is the best use of my class time for my students?

I am so glad that I use that question to ground me for every class that I teach. I feel that if I did not do that, I would be huddled in a corner crying about being given an upper level class that  I have NEVER taught or been trained in. This one questions allows me to look at ANY class and get a handle on how to help my student's succeed.

That does not mean that I will not be stressed - not in the least. But at least I can create meaningful content both in and out of the classroom with some experience.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Sadness of Leftover Mac-n-Cheese and Writing

I know that this is a strange post title, but I have found it to be oh so true. I have loved mac-n-cheese since my childhood, but if you don't eat it all on the first go around, then reheating it does not bring back the original goodness.

I bring this up because I was thinking about the writing process. Students think that their papers are like mac-n-cheese. Sit down, make it and then you are done with it. But that is SOOO wrong.

This past year, I implemented a 10 step writing process for all of my students major papers (see below)

This is what I found:
1. Making the reflection piece worth as much as the actual writing piece made a huge difference in quality
2. The biggest impact from the student's perspective was having to read their papers out loud and then listen to it and edit their paper.
3. While this is very technology heavy, it can be done in other ways. This is where the flipped classroom helps me in giving me more time to focus on the best use of class time and homework load.

Let me know what you think about this and if you have a secret for reheating mac-n-cheese let me know!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Standards Based Grading

The number one request I get is about standards based grading. I am in the process of creating videos to explain the concept, but in the mean time, here is what I have to share:

Standards Based Technical Document

Standards Based Grading for Back to School Night

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Things that I have learned from 7-11

I know that this is a strange title for a post, but it is true. Even though 7-11 is not an educational institution, I found that I still learned so much from them (No - I do not own stock in 7-11 but I do love their slurpees. I will be a slurpee fan until I die!)

1. Know your audience - they knew that a long name would not work and they needed to let their customers know when they would be open. Keep it short and simple and sweet - how often in education do we NOT do this??

2. Duck rule- I found myself at a local Kum and Go ( I know...horrible name but I did not choose it) and was willing to try their Kooler (aka slurpee). It was not the same!! Just because something looks like a duck and walks like a duck does not mean that it is a duck. In education, we are always looking for the next big thing or the silver bullet that will solve all of our problems. We need to be weary of ducks that come waddling our way and investigate for ourselves.

3. Give them what they need - 7-11 is not a replacement for a supermarket and they know it. They only stock what their customers need. Why don't we do this in the classroom? I know that differentiation has been a buzzword for a while, but is there more that we can be doing to give the kids exactly what they need and nothing more or less?

4. Keep current - 7-11 always is running promotions with the current movies that are out. We as educators need to stay current in our pedagogy and practice as well. Sure they have a whole department that dedicates itself to doing this, but we can make a small effort. Any change is better than no change at all.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Disagreement helps or hinders knowledge

I was watching the video on Ted by my acquaintance Ramsey Musallam. He did an amazing job- check him out here.

One thing that he mentioned in his talk was about flipping the classroom. He spoke about flipping the same old material and then just transferring it to video should not be the focus of our student's experience. I could not agree with him more.

Although he and I might differ in what we call our classrooms and how we manage them, we both want to create more instructional time when we can encourage our students to ask the questions that will inspire them to learn more.

Some may say that our ideas of flipping are too different in ideology and pedagogy. I say the fact that people are even having that discourse is amazing! We should all be reexamining our teaching and assessing of student learning. And the fact that this little disagreement sparks this conversation, I say Huzzah!

This year, one of the TOK prompts that my students wrote on and that I graded for IB spoke about how disagreement helps or hinders knowledge. I say that it can do both, but the dialogue can change someone forever..

Monday, April 22, 2013

Flipped Videos - Alone or Collaborate

Over the past few webinars and Twitter discussions, the idea of collaborating making a better video for students has come up a few times. Although I do see the benefit of collaboration, I will not say that they are better than others. I have been on my own and making videos and content for over four years and I would not say that my videos are any less than people who are collaborating in the video process. In fact, my videos are very specific and tailored for my students. That is not to say that I do not collaborate. In fact, I collaborate more now than I ever have done in the past. I seek the feedback of others in my department and in my school before I record a video or create a meaningful activity.

I am of the opinion that you don't have to make videos with other people in order to make them more meaningful. The purpose of flipping my class is to make learning more meaningful for my students,  to make learning supportive and and relevant to them. If other teachers want to collaborate and make joint videos, then I think that is a great idea. But I think that you have to go back to your reason why you are flipping the class and the answer to the big question - what is the best use of your class time?

I am selfish in my motivation - to help my students. If that is a bad thing then so be it....I am ok with it as long as my students are succeeding.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Teacher without a voice

I have been dealing with laryngitis for over a week now and sounding like a 1-900 number operator for weeks prior. This has made me really step back and see what I am doing as a teacher. I cannot lecture (or should not be lecturing) so what can I be doing in the classroom? So much! My kids have been watching their videos that I have previously recorded (thank goodness) and have been actually reading and leading their own discussions in class without me. People love to sub for me. They leave notes like "the kids are so well trained and know what they need to do.." Well, they aren't trained, but they do know what they need to do. They need to take responsibility for their own learning and they do. It is funny what happens when we step out of the way and let them lead.

I know that many teachers do not feel comfortable giving up the power that comes from knowing all the answers. And it may be uncomfortable to say "I don't know" to students, but that is exactly the modeling that we need to be doing for them. We need them to see us not know an answer and then model for them how to find it. Those critical thinking skills are so key and so very lacking in our schools. So if you want to help your students this week, take a moment and come up with a problem that you don't know the solution to and then find it with your students. The experience will be very rewarding for you and the students as well.

Friday, February 8, 2013

CCIRA and a peek inside my class

I was so fortunate to be able to speak at CCIRA (Colorado Council International Reading Association) yesterday to a crowd of about 40 educators. It is amazing to see the epiphany light bulbs going off in a classroom when people start to ask the right questions about their classrooms and stop focusing on what their limitations are!!

I totally understand about focusing on limitations. I work in a state where I have not gotten an anual pay raise for four years, and the governor keeps cutting the education budget, and in this economy no tax payer is going to approve a tax hike. On top of that, as mentioned in previous posts, I don't have a job title that evokes respect (high school teacher). But when you can get them to focus on the students and the simple things that they can do, you can actually see the passion for teaching coming back into their eyes.

I am the first to admit that flipping a class is difficult. It is not give the kids a book at home and have them teach themselves and then do homework in class while the teacher reads email. Neither is it having kids watch videos at home and then doing homework in class while the teacher reads email. It is a tiring and mind bending undertaking and it does make you more tired. But the benefits so outweigh the negatives.

Someone asked me yesterday what my class looked like. No two flipped classrooms are the same mind you - so you can see what a day in one of my classes (British Literature) looks like:

1. Kids come in and journal for 15 minutes - the topic is related to the information that we have covered and either tying it into a concept that we will be discussing on that day or to a relevant topic in their lives or the world around us.

2. Quick 5 min share out of ideas from journal

3. Students come up and get books and green sheets (a study guide that I developed that they fill out while we are reading in class).  We then read in class (either popcorn, readers theatre, me reading, or listening to the piece on CD). I am constantly walking around the class and stopping them to ask them questions that will aid in comprehension. This usually is about 30 minutes.

4. Then they have 5 minutes to complete the green sheet and return the books to the cart and turn in the sheet to the turn in box.

5. After this, they turn to the writing section in their spiral notebooks and we do an intensive workshop on a writing or grammar concept. This usually takes 20  or so minutes. I have them look back at their journal prompts and we work with that as the text for our writing or grammar focus. After I give them some instruction, I am walking around asking questions and helping students individually.

6. To wrap up the class, I have someone (or sometimes more) share with me what was one thing that they learned in class today. I then remind them to go to Moodle and do the assigned homework. I give them time at the end to ask me any questions one on one while the rest of the kids pack up and straighten up chairs and pick up trash.

7. Class ends and off they go....

8. Sometime later - I post to Moodle what we did in class as a reminder and for those who were absent  and use to remind them of their homework.

I hope that this helps you get some type of visual....remember though, no two classes look the same - even for me.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Monday, I had a sub cover my classes for me while I was at a committee meeting. I had planned a fun and highly connected activity for the students to complete. When I returned yesterday, I found out that a few of my students just decided that the lesson was not worth their time and decided to do homework for other classes instead. The justification? Not every lesson from every teacher has a purpose.

When did it become ok for students to decide whether or not that they were going to do an assignment? When did they become the judge of what is a valuable lesson?

This is a slippery slope that I think education has been going down for quite some time. And to me, it all comes down to respect.

In this country, teachers are seen as people who just work from 8-3 pm and go home and have nothing to do. The government has no respect for the profession, the media has no respect for the profession, most parents don't have respect for the profession, so what else can a child do?

This is not true in all countries and it is one of the reasons that I have always wanted to teach in another country. I have heard from friends that have taught in some Asian countries that teachers are treated with great respect. That would be an amazing thing to be a part of; working in a place where you are paid a decent salary (many single income families here in the US are on food stamps and welfare), and treated with respect and as a professional.

I left a very lucrative profession and made a conscious choice to become a teacher. It was my dream since I was a little girl. Education is my second career and up until this point, I have never questioned it. But as the years toil on and we are expected to do more and more with less and less (no raise for four years yet healthcare costs going up 125%), and being held accountable for student learning that they are not even held accountable for, and getting less and less respect - maybe it is time for a change. But who will change? Society or me?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Flipping 501- Lesson 1

In college, classes that met every day had a five in their course title. I have really considered Flipping 101 to be a misnomer because it is an every day job. So I think from now on I will call it FL501.

 There are also so many misnomers and misconceptions about what makes a flipped classroom and what does not. Bottom line is that there is no one best way to do it - the best way is the way that works for you and your students.

Over the next few weeks, I will be taking some of these myths head on and helping you decode and debunk the term that is now being thrown around like yesterday's trash.

So here is lesson 1 -

Flipping is not about technology

Many people come to the flipped classroom looking for a quick fix. That is not what this movement is about. If you are looking for a way to make your life easier, then you need to look elsewhere. Flipping is about the best use of your class time. Thousands of us already make decisions on what is best for our students on a daily basis.

So the first step is to look at your classroom - really take a fresh look at it. Start with the seating arrangement - is it conducive to collaborative and deeper learning? Look at the structure of your lessons. Do they encourage deeper thinking? Reflect every day on what you are spending your time on in the classroom. Is this really the best use of your class time?

This is the first step. We will go over what to do with this data in the next blog....