Friday, June 28, 2013

Student Blogging

So far, the majority of my blog posts have been centered around teaching in a flipped classroom, but toward the end of the school year I used several other great websites that I would like to blog about. With a month left in the year I decided to introduce to the students. I was planning on introducing the last major project of the year, and I thought it was a great time to incorporate blogging within a project.  In the next post, I will talk more about the Math Is Everywhere project, but in this post I would like to explain how and why I introduced blogging to the students.

Before I even thought about using blogging for the purpose of the Math Is Everywhere project, I had another bigger idea that I plan to incorporate during this coming school year. One area that I know I need to work on as a teacher is encouraging writing within the subject areas that I teach (math and science.) Every year, I've tried to have the students keep a math journal, and I typically would dedicate a portion of the week to journal writing. Honestly, this wouldn't last long throughout the year. Disappointed in my own lack of focus on writing in the content areas, I decided to look for alternatives and that's when I began researching blogging. I saw the following video titled, Blogging With Students, and Lindsay Jordan (@lindsayjordan) does a really great job of delving deep into the subject. The video is 5 minutes and contains a lot of great blogging information:

Blogging with Students Link:

After watching the video above, I knew that I wanted to try it with my students this school year, so
 I quickly searched for a safe site to host my students' blogs. I honestly did A LOT of research and the best one that I found was There's a site called Quad Blogging that I follow on Twitter that sounds really interesting too. On Quad Blogging, your students are paired up with three other schools from around the world, so the students have an audience. Students read each other's blogs and give comments in a four week cycle. It's definitely an interesting concept. However, I tried out Kidblog and fell in love.

You can easily set up a class or classes of students to have their own blogs. You can control privacy settings so comments and blogs have to be approved by you first before they are published, or they can automatically be published by the students. You can also set the privacy settings so your students' blogs can be visible to anyone on the internet, or just viewable to students in a specific class.

Here's a quick 5 minute tutorial on how to navigate Kidblog. The video was created a few years ago so the interface is a little different, but the principles are the same.

Learn link:

After you set up your classes, I recommend that you write a few posts as an example for your students. I wrote three posts before telling the students I created their accounts. (PS- I would recommend keeping a log of usernames and passwords for each student on any online website.)  I took the students to the computer lab and their assignment for the day was easy: Read my blogs and comment. I purposefully made the blogs light hearted and funny and added in some funny pictures.

1.) My first post was a good luck message to the students on their state standardized test. The students read the blog the week after the test but they were able to thank me for my comments and reflect on the tests.

2.) My second blog was a story about one of the students on our team who won an iPad that was raffled off at an after school parent event. The students were very invested in the situation and knew that he had won, but I gave a lot of background information and side stories that they weren't aware of (Ex. I went dumpster diving to save the tickets so the student could figure out the probability of his change of winning! NOTE: I didn't actually jump in the dumpster, but I did dig through a bag of trash...with gloves on of course!) The kids thought the blog was great and they shared their congratulations to the winning student!

3.) The third blog post was a personal story about when I was a kid and how I once fell in the mud during a game of kickball. Many of the students could relate to being embarrassed at school and left comments about their situations.

My goal with these first posts was simple. I wanted the students to have a positive idea of blogging and I wanted to focus on writing positive comments or offering suggestions. It was important for me to break the 'writing' barrier of so many of my students. Blogging just didn't have to be another writing assignment. I wanted the students to see that they could express themselves in a fun way and receive feedback. That's the great thing about blogging. When writing a blog, you don't know who or how many people will read it, and you're almost guaranteed that someone besides the teacher will read it and offer feedback.

During the last month of school, my students wrote more than they did during the previous eight months. This isn't something I'm very proud of, but it's the truth. I know where some of my weaknesses are as a teacher, and I'm glad I found an online tool that can help me encourage writing in the content areas.

In addition to writing for the Math Is Everywhere Project, my students each wrote a 500-600 word post on the topic "Why My Family is Important to Me." They also blogged about each Skype in the Classroom call that I will explain in more detail in future posts. I've even had a handful of students blog over the summer about their travels and thoughts on the school year.  For next year, I plan to use Kidblog and possibly partner the students up at first so they will be sure to receive comments.

Lesson #10: Many fine things can come in a day if you don't always make that day tomorrow. 

Blogging has added another dimension to my classroom, and I'm glad I began this past school year and didn't wait until next year. If you're considering blogging I would look into using Kidblog or Quadblogging. I would also suggest writing a few posts first to set the stage for your students and to model commenting. Good luck, and as I end all my blogs with my students...

Happy Blogging!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Flipping - The Ugly

So far I've shared the good and the bad of flipping and in this post I will focus on the 'ugly' (Although, as usual, I'll try to put a positive spin on the situation.) Before I talk about the whole purpose of this post, I feel as though I need to give some background.

As a teacher, I have always put a huge emphasis on choices. I try to incorporate mini character education lessons as often as I can. (Not necessarily planned lessons all the time. I just try to use anything that comes up daily to teach the students about making positive choices...) Also, for the past two years, I've helped organize a whole school, full day event called Choices Day. This event focuses on three areas: Character Choices, Health Choices and Safety Choices.  I was very proud of Choices Day and hoped that the students would remember some of the sessions they attended throughout the school year. I also helped organize a monthly parent involvement series called, It Takes A Village. One of the topics throughout the year was on Internet Safety.....So now back to flipping.....

I used many Web 2.0 tools especially toward the end of the school year and each time I introduced a new tool, I talked to the students about making smart choices online. I told the students that no matter what they write online it could be traced back to them. I'm not sure if they understood or believed me but I felt that my warning should be enough to keep them from making poor choices online. I always wrote a letter to the parents and I even had students sign a contract before using any tools online.

I decided to increase my use of online tools because I saw so many of the benefits. Conducting a weekly chat room allowed me to offer extra homework help or time to discuss topics that we typically wouldn't get to during class. Flipping allowed me to extend my class time to differentiate my instruction as well as offer my students a platform to connect with one another outside of school. Blogging increased my students' desire to write and create digital portfolios, etc.

However, less than a month after I started this increase in technology (many of it centered around flipping), I had a huge problem on my hands that made me question if I should stop and go back to my normal teaching methods...

Not long after I created many accounts for the students on many different sites, a few extremely tech-savvy students decided to push the boundaries. They created fake accounts and posted inappropriate comments for all students to see. Luckily I saw the comments and deleted them before nearly any students saw them. But, I realized I had a BIG problem on my hands.

I pride myself on creating a safe classroom environment and quickly the online communities that I started building began to fall short of what I would deem as a 'safe.' I was so disappointed. I was mad. I was frustrated.....

The company deleted the fake accounts created by my students and, in two days, they were able to trace the accounts using the IP Addresses from the students' home computers.  Boy, did this wake me up and it woke my students up!

I knew my students were online at home and it was just a matter of time before they were required to be online at school. Should I delete everything and leave it up to the next teacher to handle? Or should I take the situation as a learning experience for both myself and my students?

I chose the latter and I'm glad I did. I talked to the students in much more depth about making good choices online. I dedicated an hour or so to the topic of Digital Citizenship.  The lesson comprised of 5 sections:

1.) Educational Purpose (Vehicle) - How each tool gets the students from a different point A to point B
2.) Following Teacher Instructions
3.) Leaving Your Fingerprint
4.) Poor Choices
5.) Showing Good Character

Honestly, it was one of the best, if not THE best lesson I taught all year. It was by far one of the most important. The students were fully engaged. They asked great questions. We talked more about each student's presence online not just on school created accounts. We talked about Instagram, Vine, YouTube, and Kik. The 'gamers' in my class were quite vocal as they shared how they frequently are harassed while they play. I taught the students about IP Addresses and how every click of the mouse or stroke of keyboard really can be traced. They shared about more experiences than I expected and I shared some personal stories too. I learned from them - and they learned from me. It was a great lesson!

The students can't avoid being online and as teachers we must EDUCATE students about how to use each tool effectively. So, if you're planning on flipping or using any tools that put your students online, please be sure to put a huge emphasis on Digital Citizenship and be sure you cover all your bases. There are MANY online resources that focus on digital citizenship. Find what works for you and the grade level of students you teach. Here are a few of my suggestions:

1.) Inform your administration of all online tools you plan to use and check with your administration to see if there is a plan in place if students make poor choices online. (Most school districts have AUP's, however they may not cover everything that you may intend to use.)
2.) Inform parents of expectations
3.) Inform the students of their responsibilities
4.) If a student makes a poor choice - just like in real life - use it as a learning experience.
5.) Finally, carefully teach digital citizenship (just like we would character education!)  - Speak frankly to the students - don't try to scare them - but be honest.  But also don't be naive and expect that you won't encounter any problems!

Below is a four minute video that hopefully will make you think, hence the title. Being online has many pros and the possibilities seem endless. Just like anything, we must prepare our students not just for the present, but more importantly, for the future!

("We Think" link:

Lesson #9 - Kids are growing up on a digital playground and no one is on recess duty!

We must model the kinds of behavior we would like to see from our students. - Stephen Balkan

What are some of your experiences with your students online? Have you encountered any 'ugly' situations that you tried to turn into positive learning experiences? Share your thoughts!

Thanks for reading,
Arin (@ArinKress)

Flipping - The Bad (Part 2)

In my last post, I discussed the major CON to flipping - the technology hurdle. Every teacher has a unique situation when it comes to providing equal access to technology for all students. If you are just starting to flip, obviously this problem will be in the forefront of your mind, and don't give up if at first the road is rocky.

Currently, I'm facing another hurdle. This post is entitled "Flipping - The Bad (Part 2)" solely because the situation below is a current 'problem' in my mind. However, I think reflecting on the situation will make me a better teacher in the end, and make my flipped classroom that much better!

"The Bad"
Some people who oppose flipping say that the only method that is used to create the videos is direct instruction and that the students are participating in a very passive form of learning. Below I give my thoughts on this topic. Please remember that I am flipping a 5th grade math class so my thoughts may differ from a high school Spanish teacher who is conducting a flipped classroom, for example.

Creating a Flipped Inquiry Based Classroom
My district just adopted a new math curriculum and it's nearly all based around inquiry learning. Typically, I really enjoy inquiry learning and I think it's great for the students to work together to discover the concept being taught. However, when I sat through the training for the new curriculum, I didn't see a clear area that could be flipped.

I really started to analyze this situation and I realized that the majority of flipped videos are of the direct instruction nature. I began to wonder how I could flip something that is inquiry based. Of course, this made me ask a few questions:

Is inquiry learning better than direct instruction?  Or, does each have a place in a math class?

Can I somehow create a flipped inquiry based classroom?

What do I like about inquiry learning that I can mesh with what I like about flipped instruction?

Last year, when I flipped I created two types of videos: Screencasts (Direct Instruction) and what I call "Real World Flipped Videos" which I discussed in a previous post titled "My First Flipped Videos." The Real World Flipped videos were less direct instruction in nature, but I wouldn't say that they really were based on the principals of Inquiry Learning.

So this summer, I found out about Dan Meyer's Three Act Math Tasks and I realized that his method is very inquiry based. Here's a four minute video of Dan explaining his method. He offers a few examples of specific problems in the video as well:

I really admire his approach because I think giving students minimal information about real life situations will allow the students to ask the appropriate questions. THIS is inquiry learning. THIS is what I hope to emulate.

I think the inquiry-type videos will be rather short. Most likely I will explain the situation.  The students will then have time to think about the questions they need to ask,  post their thoughts and comments on Sophia and hopefully be prepared to tackle the problem in class the next day.  I also plan to record a lot of my students' conversations and explanations and put some of these videos on Sophia too, so the discussion can continue. It will be a different approach to flipping, but I still think it can work.

Because this will be my first year teaching this curriculum, I'm going to try to be true to the curriculum, and be creative by using the videos that I create to extend the students' learning. I have to remind myself that flipping ISN'T about the videos. It's about the increased time in class that the students have to work with one another and myself. The videos will set the stage for the great collaboration that can happen in class, and I think this can definitely be done in an inquiry-based environment.

Lesson #8: What once was perceived as a negative, can be deemed as the biggest positive when looked at through a different lens. 

Be sure that if you stumble, you fall forward!

Hopefully next summer I'll be able to include inquiry flipping as a PRO instead of a CON. Right now, I have a lot of questions but I'm hopeful. And, if I stumble at first, like I did this past year, hopefully I'll still make progress! I'm excited to look back on this post after the first few months of school and reflect on the progress made.

Feel free to leave any comments or thoughts below.
Arin (@ArinKress)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Flipping - The Bad (Part 1)

So like anything in life, flipping has its pros and cons. I obviously see that the positives far outweigh the negatives and that's why I'm choosing to stay on this crazy, but rewarding path. In the last two posts I discussed how flipping helped with differentiation, motivation, and excitement and how it positively changed both the individual (home) and shared (school) learning environments. Now I will frankly discuss the frustrations that I faced as a teacher in a flipped classroom.

Technology Hurdle:
One of the biggest problems that most of the naysayers will bring up is the lack of technology equality for our students. If students don't have access to the internet, how will they watch the videos after school?  Won't the students get behind? It's not fair to penalize students for not having the resources at home.

I knew what I was facing but like I've said before, experience is the best teacher. I surveyed my students' parents the day before I flipped and found out that 9-10 students didn't have internet on a regular basis. I teach 52 students so I thought 20% of the class was a manageable amount.

I remember being SO excited to start class on the first day I officially flipped.After doing a brief survey of the class, I found out that I had exactly 10 students who still needed to watch the Sophia tutorial. I didn't think it would be too hard to get students on the computer but between my classroom and my teaching partner's classroom we only have a total of 4 computers. Like I said in my last post, my goal was for each tutorial to take under 20 minutes to complete. So, being the amazing math teacher that I am, I quickly figured that it would take at least three 20 minute time periods before EVERY student would be ready to move on. Because I didn't want to leave anyone out,  I surged forward with my original plan, and this is how it went:

(Keep reading- I'll update you on this poor runner at the end of the post!)

Yea, I totally crashed and burned. At the start of the clip, the poor young man above was trucking along and feeling confident. He even passed off the baton in time and then BAM - head first into the ill-placed hurdles. (Why were they there anyway????)  I felt like I prepared well for flipping, I created the tutorials, I was trucking along very nicely. I passed off the baton to the students so they could do their part and then BAM --- I hit a roadblock.

After trudging along, a whole hour passed before I really got started to maximize the "in class" time effectively. I was losing my mind because I ended up LOSING time, instead of gaining time! I held all the other students back, because I wanted to talk as a whole group about the video or answer any of the students questions.

I'm a really positive person and I remember saying to myself "THIS IS SUCH A DISASTER!" But when I took a breath or two and evaluated the situation it was easy to see. I really was only facing one problem: Equal access to technology. So the first day flipping was a disaster, but I would not be defeated by silly hurdles that stood in my way. I realized that I had to find my way around or over the hurdles to make flipping a success and luckily there are many different solutions that teachers and schools can try. Below are just a few of these solutions:

Technology Solution:
Some teachers burn the videos to CD's or put the videos on flash drives and loan them out to the students. Some schools keep the computer labs open before and after school so the students can complete their online assignments. Some teachers allow students to access the videos during their lunch/recess or study hall periods or encourage them to go to the local library after school.

I did a combinations of the above after that fateful day in March. I let students come into my room before school started to watch the videos; some students would opt to watch during their 30 minute lunch/recess time (although I didn't require this); one student brought in a flash drive that I would put the videos on.

Many students were VERY responsible and made it their goal to find a way to watch the videos before math class. However, I did frequently have a few students not watch the videos and they would watch the videos while the other students discussed the tutorial in small group or asked questions. Most days the students who were ready to move on did so without the other students, and I thought this was fine. The students who still needed to watch the videos never really missed MUCH because after they watched the video during class I met with them in a small group to discuss the videos and answer any questions.  It wasn't a perfect science, but I found a way to make it work.

Another thing that I did was that I played the video(s) for the students on my laptop while they all watched together. (Luckily my school installed wireless a few weeks before I started flipping!) Also, I'm lucky enough to have a space set aside from the rest of the class (the middle room) and there's enough space to fit up to 9 students comfortably. So if I had a large amount of students who didn't watch the video, they would watch it together and we would discuss the quiz questions and discussion questions. Again, not ideal, but I didn't feel like I was crashing head first into a stack of hurdles.

This year, however, the technology hurdle will most likely be decreased because my students will have access to 11 Learnpads. (Learnpads are tablets that are 'purpose built for education.' Here's the link to their website if you're interested: I hope to make it my students' morning routine to complete the tutorial before math class using the Learnpads if they didn't complete the tutorial the night before. This will be a lot easier than having to use the four desktop computers that students had to log in and out of. So, this year I'm much more optimistic about flipping and I hope that I have enough options to get past this hurdle.

So in the end, if you think about it, we make accommodations for every lesson we teach. No lesson is fit for every student in every class. To me, figuring out how every student could have access to the online tutorial didn't become a hassle but it was just another hurdle that I had to figure my way around!  I hope that you too will figure your way around the hurdles that pop up in the flipped classroom.

Oh yea, about that poor runner. In the description of the youtube video it says: "I wasn't disqualified and we won the race!" :)   To him, winning the race seems to be all that matters, I just hope his face was ok!

Lesson #7:  Look at providing technology access as just another accommodation. Don't view it as a hassle, but as a hurdle that you will find your way around! 

I will continue discussing some of the cons of flipping in my next post. So, if you've flipped, how do you get around the technology hurdle? Do you jump over it, duck under it or slither to the side of it? Or, do you do what this runner decides to do? I'm sure many analogies can come from this video:

Thanks for reading,
Arin Kress (@ArinKress)

Flipping - The Good (Part 2)

This is my second post about the pros of flipping. In the previous post I discussed how flipping can help with differentiation, motivation and excitement. Now I will discuss how flipping changed my class's two learning environments: The Individual Learning Environment and the Shared Learning Environment.

Homework (Individual Learning Environment)
When I started researching the flipped model of teaching, I realized quickly that I had to first reflect on my current practices. I reflected on WHAT I typically assigned for 'homework' and the amount of TIME I typically assigned for homework each night.

The typical rule that I use for homework is 10 minutes for every grade level. I teach 5th grade so many people wouldn't find 50 minutes of homework unreasonable. I also only teach half of the subjects (Math and Science) and my teaching partner teaches the other half (Literacy and Social Studies.) So, it seems fair that I would only assign up to 25 minutes a night. When I decided to flip I read a lot about how the videos should be short -  approximately 10 minutes or less. So I planned to create tutorials on Sophia that would total 20 minutes. (That would give the students enough time to watch the videos, take notes, rewind or pause at certain points, complete the quiz, leave a comment, etc.)

I also reflected on what I typically assigned for homework and I quickly realized that my typical homework assignment could easily be completed in class where I would be available to help. This solved the problem for the students who struggled completing the assignments at home and whose parents couldn't help. What I enjoyed about flipping is that I was offering what I would deem as quality instruction AT home in addition to AT school. I know 20 minutes doesn't seem like much, but 20 minutes of quality instruction is MUCH more beneficial than 50 minutes of work that may confuse or frustrate the students.

Another great thing about flipping is that you figuratively open your classroom doors to your students' parents. It's an open invitation into your classroom!  From a teacher's perspective I was a little leery at first and almost didn't create my own flipped videos because I was nervous that my students' parents would be critical of the instruction I was offering their child. However, as a professional, I realized that I shouldn't care who viewed my videos. Would it change my instruction if my audience were my students? their parents? my administrators? other educators? It shouldn't matter who's viewing the videos, because I should always try to offer the best instruction I possibly can. And that's what I tried to do. I had some parents tell me that they enjoyed watching the videos with their child and that it helped them understand the math instruction their child was receiving better because they were hearing it from the teacher's mouth themselves!  I know that my videos weren't perfect and there's a lot of room for growth, but flipping allowed me to open the doors to my classroom wider than I ever had before!

In Class Time (Shared Learning Environment)
It was amazing how much more class time I had after I started flipping. This was the part that I was the most unprepared for though. I put a lot of time into creating the content that I was teaching through my videos, video taping, and creating tutorials on Sophia that I really didn't plan as well as I should have on what the students would be doing IN CLASS. When the students came to class the next day, we would discuss the video and talk about any questions. I let the students choose if they wanted to work independently, with a partner or in a group. Students worked on what I typically would assign for homework and independent practice in class. Surprisingly, most students FLEW through this work and as I checked their work, the majority did great. I was able to meet with students individually or in small groups if they needed extra help on certain concepts. The students who understood the content were left with a substantial amount of time for math extension activities and small projects the students could complete. I had time for a lot of hands on and discovery type activities that I typically wouldn't get to. For example, when learning about volume, students found the volume of containers using centimeter- sized marshmallows. When we studied surface area, we had enough time for students to wrap different size boxes and determine the surface area of each box. Typically I wouldn't have time for these activities before I flipped.

However, this is by far the area of flipping that I see I need to improve. I learned firsthand that the 'in class' time is where great collaboration can happen and I want to systematically plan for this more next year. I want to teach students how to communicate with each other, how to disagree properly, support their reasoning effectively, and how to use math vocabulary properly to explain their thinking. I hope to use the fishbowl approach that is explained here that Chris Opitz utilizes: (The clip is about 9 minutes - a perfect length in my opinion :) -
Link to video and article:

Finally, not only would the students have their teachers and classmates accessible, but they will have many more resources at school, like manipulatives, resource books, other technologies etc. I'm currently spending a lot of time researching Project Based Learning (PBL), which nicely compliments the flipped classroom. In future posts, I'll explain how I plan to use PBL in my classroom. I also will detail my ideas on the physical layout to my classroom that will help me create a more collaborative environment.

There are many more pros to flipping but I feel these are the most important. The ability to maximize time in education is extremely helpful to teachers. So, if you're planning on flipping, I would recommend spending time reflecting on what occurs in both the individual and shared learning environments. What do you like that you want to keep? What can be changed to help maximize your students' time? In the next post I'll tackle some 'cons' of flipping. Stay tuned!

Lesson #6:   For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Flipping - The Good (Part 1)

So far I've talked about how great flipping is, but just like anything in teaching, some moments can be GOOD, BAD or UGLY. I'm going to be as honest as I can describing my experience with flipping, so you can learn through reading what I learned from experience.

One of the first things I started to realize when I flipped is that this model is wonderful for differentiation. On, when building your tutorial you can 'Insert' 7 different types of media: Text/Image, Video, Screenrecording (Screencast), Slideshow (Powerpoint, Prezi), Audio, PDF and HTML. Sometimes students learn best from looking at pictures and reading. Other students learn best by watching videos. Others learn best by listening to an audio file or clicking through a Prezi at their own pace. On Sophia you can add information for many different learning styles.

Instructing through video is great for students who need to pause or rewind what I am saying. If they get interrupted at home or need a concept explained again, they can watch the whole video or parts of the video again. I even had students say they went back and watched my videos as a review leading up to our state's standardized test. All the tutorials are archived on Sophia and the students have access to all the flipped content at any time!

I also would title each part of the tutorial as REQUIRED or OPTIONAL. Obviously, ALL students were expected to complete the REQUIRED activities, but I would add other videos, websites, etc. for students who needed a challenge or needed extra practice.  I found that many students who were gifted gravitated to the OPTIONAL activities and were excited for the challenge.

Here's an example of an OPTIONAL video I put on Sophia when we were studying Unit Conversions. This was the last video of a three part "Video Bonus" series.

Another example of differentiation is below. Even though I did try to create a lot of videos myself, sometimes you find videos that use programs that you don't have access to, and teach the concept better than you could. This is what happened when I was teaching volume. I required the students to watch the video below that discussed how to find the volume of a rectangular prism:

As an OPTIONAL activity, I added a link to the site below. Students could watch videos and answer questions about finding the volume of a cylinder, learn about surface area, etc.

Or students could review Periemeter & Area using the following link:

It became much easier to differentiate instruction using Sophia and this is one of my favorite aspects of Flipping!

I had a HUGE increase in student engagement when I started Flipping. Like I said in my very first post, this could have been due to the fact that watching the videos for homework was something NEW. I really only flipped for about 6 weeks total and throughout that time I saw a very small decrease in engagement from the time we started flipping. But overall, the majority of the students were on an engagement high. Most students would ask me, what type of video I was going to post that night for homework, or as soon as they would walk in the door they would want to talk about the lesson. Even if their comments weren't math related, I would always bring the math up to try to gauge their understanding.  Not only did the students talk to me about their 'homework' outside of math class, but they would converse amongst themselves more about math and that's something I rarely saw before I flipped.

Along with being more engaged, my students were definitely more EXCITED to learn in the flipped classroom.  They loved the technology that was being used and that they were able to use. Many of the students have cell phone or tablets, and they thought it was really fun to be able to do their homework at their brother's soccer practice on their phone. Also, students were excited for the change during math class. I'll explain more about how my math class structure changed in future posts, but students were MUCH more actively engaged and excited to learn math. They were able to choose who they worked with and work at their own pace. This was much more appealing to the students, especially the ones who weren't being challenged enough in my classroom.

Lesson #5:  Experience is the best teacher! 

I can share a lot about my experience, but actually instructing using the flipped classroom model will be the best teacher. Hopefully you will experience more "good," than "bad" if you are considering flipping! In my next post, I'll continue to discuss the benefits of the flipped classroom. Feel free to share your own experiences or ask questions about Differentiation, Engagement and Excitement in the flipped classroom.

Friday, June 14, 2013

My First Flipped Videos

Like my last post alluded to, video creation is where flipping became fun for me. After doing some research through reading everything I could get my hands on and participating in a Sophia flipped class webinar, I kept hearing my fellow flipped teachers talk about the program Camtasia. I also learned the term Screencast and that seemed to be a one stop shop for educators looking to flip.

ALL of this was new to me, but Sophia guided me along. I took the flipped certification course on Sophia which helped teach me again about flipping and it gave me even more tools on how to flip. The course is easy, free and well worth the little bit of time it takes! Sophia offers a FREE screencasting tool that will put your screencast into your Sophia tutorial. I'll blog about the specifics of Sophia another day because there is just a lot that should be shared.

However, this post needs to be on video creation! I wish I could remember who quoted everything or gave me certain ideas pertaining to flipping because few are my own. However, there was one concept that I read a lot  that goes something like - Flipping is NOT about the videos. The main focus should be on face-to-face instruction time that you are able to get with the students IN CLASS. So even though you should put time into planning and creating the videos - what occurs in class is really what flipping is all about.  The collaboration that is able to happen between the students and teachers, the extension activities and small group interventions that are able to occur is what really appealed to me as a teacher.

However, during Spring Break, because I hadn't really seen flipping in action yet, I did devote a lot of time to the videos. The content that I was going to teach centered around the measurement unit, which was perfect because there were a lot of real world connections with measurement.

Perimeter Video

So, below you will find my first 'flipped real world video.' My aunt video taped this with my iPhone and I used Camtasia to edit the video.  The handout that the students filled out included a simple chart that included the title of each puzzle, length, width and unit. The students then calculated the last column - the perimeter.  Having the students fill out something DURING the video also allowed me to know if they watched it or not.

Circumference Tutorial:
The next three videos were in the same "Tutorial" on Sophia and the students were asked to complete the entire tutorial one night for homework. The first video is a screencast that I made using Camtasia. I used SMART Notebook software for the lesson and printed the slides for the students  to fill out with the video.

The next two videos I made were of the 'real world nature.' As you will see in this video, I ended up making fun of myself about half way through and the kids thought it was hilarious :)  The handout that went along with this activity was a simple four column chart - the title of the columns was object name, diameter, RULE and circumference. The students would fill in the columns as instructed in the video and then they would determine the rule after filling in the entire page.

And yes, we did talk about having the car running in a closed garage :) It's funny how many math topics and other topics we could discuss based on such short videos :)

Finally, here's the last video for the Circumference Tutorial. Altogether the tutorial was a little long, I think the real world nature of the videos were able to keep the kids attention:

So, these were my first attempts at flipped videos. In class the students discussed the vocabulary, what they measured and we talked in small groups about my videos. We cleared up any misconceptions that were posted in the comments section on Sophia and were able to do a lot more extension activities. Not all went smoothly however and my next three posts will be titled "The Good," "The Bad," and "The Ugly."

Lesson #4: When making videos, be yourself! Add humor, be natural. The kids are invested in YOU, not a robot. 

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.  - Mary Lou Cook

I hope you have fun creating the videos and your students not only learn a lot but enjoy them as much as you do!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Breaking Through Walls

Early on during Spring Break I decided to flip my classroom. I knew that there were tons of websites that had videos that could teach the concepts to the kids, and then I would supplement the instruction in class. So, I started looking on Kahn Academy, TedEd and YouTube and again I got overwhelmed! There was just WAY TOO MUCH to wrap my head around but other than the volume of videos I found, I ran into another problem. 

I'm going to be honest, some of the videos were good, probably better than I could make, but there was just something that didn't sit well with me about assigning ALL the videos that were created by someone else. I know I'm a control freak and it seemed odd that I would give up my platform for instruction because it was easier for me to find videos than to create my own. Now, I really hope that I'm not offending anyone who is flipping and doesn't create their own videos. As long as the videos offer quality instruction, that's fine. It may be where you are right now. Everyone has their different levels of tech-savvyness (is that a word?) Like I said before, I love educational technology, so I decided to take a different path. If you're flipping right now and are starting out using other videos that are already created you may want to look into slowly creating your own - and hopefully you'll find, that the fun is just beginning!

Another thing that I noticed by watching several Kahn Academy videos and YouTube videos of teachers who were flipping is that there were really only TWO types of flipped videos. A screencast or a teacher video taping him/herself in front of a whiteboard or SMARTboard. Again, there's nothing wrong with this but during my research I read something that gave me another 'aha' moment. I read an article about a 2nd grade teacher in West Virginia who was doing a flipped lesson on traditions. She said that she video taped herself in front of her Christmas tree, spoke about one of her family's traditions and then told the kids to come to school the next day ready to discuss a tradition they have in their own family. So simple - yet so profound! I know it sounds silly but again I felt like angels began to sing:
As educators we always talk about creating 'real world' experiences with our students all the time right? Well, the flipped classroom allows for videos to be created anywhere, at anytime by anybody! My mind immediately started to race to all the places I could find math or science in the 'real world' and how I could create videos that would supplement the lesson I was trying to teach.

Because I was visiting my parents for Spring Break, I didn't have to look far for inspiration. The first 'real world' flipped video that came to mind was that I wanted to show my students what it is like in a coal mine. My dad is a miner in Pennsylvania and for years I've been asking to go down in the mine with him. How cool would it be to do a video IN an actual mine, interviewing REAL coal miners about topics we already study in science. My mom works at a bank and again, how easy would it be to interview her about math related concepts in an actual bank! Unfortunately, I had to put both of these ideas on the back burner because they didn't fit into my curriculum this year, but they are still still a possibilities! 

And really anything is a possibility! That's why flipping became so fun for me. My first focus wasn't on screencasting, or teaching the content in the same manner, just on a video. I got excited about extending their learning beyond the four walls of my classroom....

Recently I've learned the term 'flatting your classroom.' As teachers we need to flatten our classroom walls and bring the real world inside! Through teacher created videos we can do just that! Think about every concept we teach - there's a link to the real world. All we have to do is video tape it and let the students make the connections. 

Of course my mind then went in another great direction! Why would I have to do the flattening? I wanted to excite my students so much about learning that they do the following 

I want them to BUST through the classroom walls and flatten it themselves! I want them to find the real world connections. After creating some of my 'real world' flipped videos, I had students begging to do the same. It was an amazing experience - so if you haven't, try it out! Go for it....the summer is a great time to do something like this. Anywhere you go, have the curriculum in the back of your mind, and your smartphone in your hand! 

I'm sure that other teachers who are flipping have done something like this before, and I'm not the first. But I can say that these videos compared to my screencasts were much more worthwhile. I'm challenging myself this year to make more 'real world flipped videos,' I would challenge you to do the same!

Good luck!

Lesson #3:  Create an environment where you're not only flatting the walls of your classroom, but students are begging to break through them!

In the next post, I'll give a few specific examples of real world videos that I created and some ideas I have for this year! Leave a comment below to offer your own insights about teacher created videos. I would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?

Like I said in my first post, during Spring Break I went a little overboard. I loved the idea of the flipped classroom so much that I couldn't wait until the next school year. I thought it would be a lot of work but I hoped the benefits were worth it!

Just in case you're not aware of the basics of the flipped class model it's pretty simple. The definition I like best is that in a flipped classroom what occurs in the 'individual learning environment' (home) is switched with what typically occurs in the 'shared learning environment' (school). Students receive direct instruction typically through teacher created videos at home. Then, students have more time to collaborate with their peers and teachers at school to work on assignments that typically would be assigned for homework.

Although I had used Twitter in the past, I never used it for educational purposes. It's funny now, but I never thought to look up anything teaching related on twitter. However, toward the beginning of Spring Break I randomly typed in #flipclass in a twitter search. I have no idea how I knew exactly what to search but it must have been fate. As I quickly scrolled through all the posts I felt like the heavens opened and this is what I heard:

Ok, that may be an exaggeration - but you get the point!

There was just too much to click on, too much to read, too much to favorite, too much to research. I knew I was on to something, and Twitter quickly became my best friend.

One of the first tweets I read was from Crystal Kirch about a flipclass webinar that she was going to conduct in TWO days on (I recommend participating in any Sophia webinars - They're very helpful and FREE!) Again, I figured it must be fate, so I decided if I was going to flip my class in less than a week, I might as well learn from teachers who are currently flipping. So, I participated in my first webinar and learned so much. I learned all the basics of flipping, some basic tools I would need to create videos and much more.

I also began internet stalking Todd Nesloney (don't be scared Todd, I'm harmless...) I read as much of Todd's flipped classroom blog as I could. (Check it out if you haven't already:  And I began to use many of the resources on another one of his websites as a starting point. (

 It was pretty amazing that through Twitter I found so many teachers who felt just like I did. We want the focus to be taken off 'the test' and put back on 'the student' - each student individually. We want the students to have ownership of their learning and focus more on their passions than the standards. I think all teachers feel this way, but on Twitter I found teachers who were doing something about it!

What I discovered on Twitter during that weeklong Spring Break changed me as an educator. I saw that teachers out there were doing the things that I wanted to do in my classroom. By flipping the classroom, you are able to have more of that very precious commodity of TIME. And I realized that flipping my class this school year would involve a great risk - but TIME is exactly what I needed.

See, one of the craziest things about this story is that I decided to START flipping three weeks before my state's standardized test, when I typically would be in major 'test prep mode.' However, not only did I still need to review, but I was very behind on the content I still needed to teach. So I decided to go for it. If flipping could help me save time, and possibly increase student engagement, I thought it was worth a shot. In the end I knew it was a risky decision, but one I decided was worth taking.

I knew that I had to start creating videos for the first week back from Spring Break as quickly as I could.  In my next post, I'll explain how I took an unconventional approach to creating my first videos. The ones I created over Spring Break are by far my favorites and I'm excited to share some of my ideas.

So if you're contemplating flipping, I recommend weighing your options. In future posts I'll give my opinions on the pros and cons, but for now here are my two cents on taking risks... :)

Lesson #2:
Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is? - Frank Scully

Progress always involves risk; you can't steal second base and keep your foot on first." - Frederick Wilcox 

Monday, June 10, 2013

I Hate Chalk

My name is Arin Kress and I'm a 5th grade math and science teacher in Ohio. Over the last few months something happened to me as a teacher. Something inspired and invigorated me. Something opened my eyes to a whole new world. In order to have an appreciation for my current frame of mind I feel it’s necessary to give a brief history of how I came to love educational technology, and it all starts with the most random educational tool you would expect: chalk.

Yes, chalk.

In April of 2006, I was a senior at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC. Like every other senior education major I was hoping to land a job before graduation. I got my first interview at a nice rural school in Lancaster, SC and I remember one part of the interview vividly. Toward the end of the interview the principal asked me if I was comfortable using a ‘white board.’

Ok, quick side story. There’s just something about chalkboards that are cringeworthy. Think about it. Most people would rank ‘nails on a chalk board’ extremely high on their ‘most annoying sounds’ list.  I'm guessing that most of you will avoid clicking the video below just because you know what it contains... Regardless, I still had to include it (I'm trying to make a point here!)

Well, in addition to this terrible sound, I have a terrible texture aversion to chalk (and cottonballs too but that’s another post for another day.) I hate the way it feels. I hate the way it writes. I hate the way it breaks in the middle of writing. I actually have a vague memory or some kid rubbing a chalk-filled eraser on my arm when I was a kid and AHHHH…Ok, to summarize - I HATE CHALK.  

So when I was asked in the interview if I was comfortable using a ‘white board’ I perked right up and said, “SURE, I would love to use a whiteboard!” I had visions of writing in beautiful bright colors on a dry erase board and not using terrible white chalk on a dingy green board. Luckily I just showed my interest in using a ‘white board,’ and I didn’t share this entire chalk hatred story with her!  I know we didn’t go into much detail about the actual use of the ‘whiteboard’ but I do remember assuring her that I was very excited about using one!

I guess my reaction to her ‘white board’ question was a little too good, because not only did I get the job, but to my surprise a brand new SMARTboard on wheels was rolled into my classroom during the second week of school. I’m going to be honest, I had heard of SMARTboards before, but I had never used or seen one used before. I still remember my students' faces lighting up when it was rolled in and smiling along with them because they were so excited! However, deep down I feared that my own lack of confidence with technology would hold me back as a teacher. So, I decided to do the exact opposite or what I would typically do with a new piece of technology. I decided to act like I had some idea of what to do with it and I tried to learn as quickly as I could!

In addition, the talk among the teachers was very interesting. Our school had only bought a few SMARTboards, and many teachers asked, “Why did Arin get one?” Most hypothesized that it was because I was a young teacher who could possibly catch on to the 'newfangled technology' faster than veteran teachers – but secretly I had a feeling it was because of how I responded to the infamous ‘white board’ question.  And, fortunately for me, the path that hating chalk led me down has been just as amazing as it has been unexpected!

Although I would classify myself as a technology amateur outside of the world of education, from my second week on the job I learned to embrace it. So, during my three year tenure in Lancaster, SC, I became a SMART certified teacher and conducted numerous trainings sessions for the staff at my school and others districtwide.  I became the teacher many would go to for technology help.  I served on the district's technology training committee while in South Carolina and after moving to Ohio, I have served on my district's Assistive Technology committee for three years. 

From the beginning, the SMARTboard opened my students’ eyes to a new way of learning. Their engagement kept me going, and their excitement challenged me to find better ways to use it. The SMARTboard was just my gateway to other pieces of technology though. Everything just began to snowball from that wonderful day my first year. 

And after seven years, it’s easy for me to see that my love for educational technology hasn’t waned. However, doing anything in the same manner for a long period of time can get boring – for both the students and the teacher. Sure, I had added to my 'toolbox' a plethora of educational tools to use, but I needed to change not necessarily WHAT I used to teach with, but HOW I actually taught...

Then, this past Spring I was searching for a way to rejuvenate and that's when it happened. I was at an ‘Assistive Technology’ meeting and someone mentioned ‘flipping the classroom.’ Honestly, from the little that I knew about it, it sounded like a lot of work, time and technology expertise. I again questioned my abilities as a tech user.

But, all of a sudden I had flashbacks to that fateful interview, flashbacks to the SMARTboard rolling into my classroom, flashbacks of my students’ eager faces to use something ‘new.’ I wanted that for my students NOW.  I wanted to be invigorated again, and more importantly, I wanted my students to be invigorated again. So I decided to take the leap. In my mind, a switch had been ‘flipped’ (no pun intended!)  I was ready to take the leap into the flipped classroom!

During our weeklong Spring Break, I did everything I could to research the flipped class model:
I read the book, Flip Your Classroom, authored by the flipped classroom pioneers: Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. On my personal twitter account, I started following #flipclass, #mathchat, #5thchat, #tlap and found several amazing educators to follow - Chris Kesler, Chrystal Kirch, Delia Bush, Dave Burgess and Todd Nesloney. On twitter I found out about, Camtasia, Kidblog, Skype in the Classroom, Remind101 and much much more. I participated in a flipped class webinar on Sophia and I was hooked!

I became a tech junkie more than ever. The students embraced the change and seemed just as invigorated as I was! For the last eight weeks of school I tried out every new piece of technology I could get my hands on. The idea was to try out the various technologies this year so I could have a better idea of how or even if I wanted to use them next year.  Luckily, my students this year benefited too! Some students even would ask why I didn’t start fun activities like Flipping, Skyping or Blogging earlier in the year! I was honest with them. I either had just learned about the idea, or I finally decided to not let my fear of the unknown hold me back!

Now, does educational technology have its downfalls? YES! Does it need to be balanced with other sound, research-based teaching practices? YES!  But kids love technology, and if you personally don’t love it, find a way to EMBRACE it! It’s not going away, and honestly it can be a teacher’s best friend.

In future posts, I hope to talk more about my journey as a teacher and a self proclaimed lover of educational technology. I hope to honestly share my ups and downs – the good, the bad and the UGLY. I hope that through this blog I can reflect on my journey and realize that the journey that lies before me will be an amazing one as long as I’m willing to have an open and creative mind and put my students’ needs first. 

I hope that you too will reflect on your journey as an educator. How have you evolved as a user of educational technology? How have your students evolved as technology users over the years? Are you on a similar path as I am? Novice turned junkie? Do you see the benefit for your students, so you don't mind taking the leap? I hope that if you decide to read along you will find some lessons that I have learned and will share your experiences as a learner as well.

Lesson #1: Be open to unexpected opportunities – embrace them. Try to find the good in every situation!

So when life gives you an oversized touch screen on wheels – create fun interactive lessons!

And when you realize you may have unknowingly fooled your employer, ask a lot of questions, research as much as you can and act like you know what you’re doing - great things can come from it!

In the end, I’m glad I hate chalk and I’m glad I answered that interview question with such naive excitement! I love the path that it put me on and I’m hopeful of where the future may lead me!