I know this post will bear an eerie similarity to the last one, but once again I am going to take a stab at writing a useful blog. Not sure if it will be useful to anyone else, but at least I will try to make it useful for me. My school and I have reached a tentative understanding that I will be returning to a full-time teaching load, including math, and so it seems an appropriate time to begin a more reflective chapter of my career.
So that I might be more inclined to post, this blog will start with one post per week on Fridays. As those of you who know me can attest, I tend to be a fairly rules-based guy, so I am going to try to set up a template for my blog posts, with a few key sections:
- This Week Today — with apologies to John Oliver, this will be a retrospective of the week, with my key observations on what I did in my classes.
- The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly — a section outlining one thing that worked really well, one thing that didn’t work so well, and one thing that was truly awful.
- Thoughts on Teaching — a short piece attempting to extract from my brain any useful nuggets concerning computer science, math, and/or teaching.
- What I’ve Been Reading — links to the blog posts and articles that I have read in the past week that seemed to strike a chord in my teaching practice.
- Whimsy with Wistar — something off-topic that amuses me and hopefully amuses you as well. If you don’t like it, well de gustibus non est disputandum.
That’s probably too ambitious and may prove a barrier to entry, but here goes nothing.
For some reason, keeping my teaching blog going has been something that I have not been able to generate consistent momentum on. It’s a great metaphor for my workload that I don’t feel like I have time after completing the tasks of the day to spend more time on a reflective exercise like this.
Nevertheless, I’ll try again. My aim this time will be to write two posts a week: one post on Tuesday about what is going on in my Java programming class, and one post on Friday about what is going on in my role as our educational technology facilitator. If you like teaching, read the Tuesday posts; if you like educational technology, read the Friday posts. If you just want to take pity on me, read both posts (or maybe neither — caveat emptor).
Almost immediately after decided in the spring to switch my textbook to Objects First With Java, I started to have buyer’s remorse. This became more acute when I made the decision to flip my class, because the book seemed singularly unsuitable to flipping.
It’s a good book; don’t get me wrong. Its two big strengths are that it uses a classes-early approach (which I think is essential to teaching object-oriented programming), and its use of BlueJ reinforces the idea of object behavior. But the book itself is written in a very narrative style that requires the user to follow through most of the examples in the book. This just doesn’t fit very well with the approach of separating the content out into videos for independent study.
So I got turned onto a new book, which for me is really an old book: Java Concepts by Cay Horstmann. In the past I had used Horstmann’s other book, Big Java, in my programming class. One of the things that I noticed first about the book is that it also introduces classes very early, in the first real chapter of programming.
But I was very impressed with many other features of the book. I like that the book has separate tracks to cover both testing and graphics, which are not always given enough attention. I also liked how the content in the book is peppered with pullouts to cover programming tips or common mistakes for students to consider. Last, but definitely not least, I like that this book is available in a Kindle edition for students who might like to have their book in digital form.
The overall structure of the book seems much more conducive to the more segmented approach that I will use with my flipping and standards-based teaching pedagogy. It will surely add to the learning curve to be working with an unfamiliar book in my new teaching approach, but I felt immensely more confident after talking with our textbook rep and getting this change pushed through at the eleventh hour.
During these dog days of summer, my inclination to work is not terrifically strong, so I am proceeding fairly slowly in my lesson planning. I expect that when we return next week from our week-long trip to Maine, it will pick up in more earnest.
Anyway, after a bit of searching, I was able to find the YouTube video that I watched last year when I first started thinking about flipping my class. Here’s Paul Andersen’s tutorial on screencasting.
After taking a few days off following ISTE, I’ve begun working again in earnest this week on my ed tech work and my classes. One of my primary areas of interest at ISTE this year was the flipped classroom, because I am seriously considering flipping both of my computer courses this year. It was a little ironic that the session moderated by the two originators of the flipped classroom, Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, presented the most unconventional models of flipping.
My approach will probably be fairly orthodox, at least in my first year. My reason for flipping is very straightforward. The biggest challenge I have always had as a computer science teacher was that there never seemed to be enough time in class for my students to spend actually programming, because of the need to present new material. By pushing the new material into the evening work, I should be able to approach every day of class as if it was a lab day. Another side benefit of flipping should be that my students feel more confident and less bewildered in the evening without the need to do so much independent work.
I’m anticipating that this will require a larger investment of time, as it is for most teachers of flipped classes. In addition to the time spent creating the videos, I will need to be much more intentional about the way that I create the content for the in-class programming.
As for my videos, I am going to rewatch Aaron’s tutorial on their website, and I have gotten ahold of the tools that he recommended: a Wacom tablet for writing, Screenflow for recording and editing video, and Omnidazzle for some cursor accents. This week I’ll try to create my first video.
Here’s my report on the final day of ISTE 2012:
You’ll Flip Over This! Classroom Flipping: How We Did It
This session was marginally useful because it provided a very basic overview of the traditional model of flipped classrooms. The two tech facilitators walked through their efforts to flip learning at some elementary schools in Virginia. Most of this stuff was very basic or was already covered my previous workshops.
Even More Google Geekiness
This was a fun if disorienting workshop. The presenter, a hyperkinetic guy who was one of the founders of the Google Teachers Academy, ran through a total laundry list of new features in Google Apps that users might find cool or interesting. The list was so long that he had to rush through considerably, but I still found the session entertaining and productive.
Besides that, I had an underwhelming day. Two of the four sessions ended in walkouts with no makeup. I did have a chance at the end of the day to sweep the exhibit hall and talk with some of the LMS vendors that I had not yet connected with. It will be good to return home to Hotchkiss tomorrow.
Here’s my report from Tuesday’s sessions:
This annual meeting does not usually produce a lot of thought-provoking content for me, but it is a useful time for networking with colleagues. We independent school educators are such a small minority of the teachers in the world (and at ISTE) that it can sometimes feel rather lonely. It was nice to hear that there are other schools grappling with some of the same issues that Hotchkiss is (Google Apps, 1-1 programs, iPads).
The Many Faces of the Flipped Classroom
This was probably the best session of the day for me. It was a rapid-fire set of panels organized by Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, the two “godfathers” of the movement. Like my Sunday session, it was interesting to see that everyone seems to have a different take on what exactly “flipping” means. There were definitely people there who take a more orthodox approach, and then there were other panelists who openly condemned that approach as bad teaching. It was also interesting that Jon said the majority of teachers who express interest in flipping are math and science teachers. It occurred to me in this session that perhaps English teachers have been using the flipped model for years. I mean, the students read the book at home (the new content) and then they discuss it in groups (the processing) the next day. Isn’t that a quintessentially flipped class?
Mobile Devices + Social Media = Engaged and Empowered Learners
In this session, the people behind the Speak Up project presented their findings from their annual survey, this time focused on mobile devices and social media. The moderator presented her slides so fast that I felt I missed a bunch of crucial information. I hope that I can find those slides somewhere else for later consumption. Overall I came away feeling that most technologies can be put to productive use by teachers if they are creative, and it is better to embrace them than it is to ostracize them.
Google Certified Teachers Share: What’s New from Google for Educators?
This was a fun end-of-the-day panel. There were 11 Google Certified Teachers who each presented something cool from Google for about 5 minutes. Some of the things they presented seemed immediately applicable to our Google Apps installation at Hotchkiss. I was particularly interested in the Research feature that is built into Google Docs. The idea of giving students the ability to do quick research right inside a Google Doc seems like an instant win.