Saturday, January 14, 2017

Lessons learned this week

I feel that often times adults in education, if they are paying attention, learn more than our students do.  This week I learned a lot about my teaching, myself, and students in general.  Here is the list of things I learned:

1.  I need to remind students that learning is a personal journey and that one size doesn't always fit all.  We had conferences this week and I had a lengthy conversation with a student about the flipped classroom model of instruction.  She told me she was not really a fan of the method because she doesn't like to attempt to learn from videos and feels more comfortable reading and having lecture.  I told her I respect her telling me this and that she doesn't have to watch the videos and if reading was her preferred way of learning, she should do that.  This caused me to remind all of my students they can either watch the video or read the book, whichever helps them learn.  This reminder led to renewed conversations this week in class and rejuvenated the energy level in the classroom.

2.  I learned that when you do three really fun and engaging lab activities in three different classes in one day, it's not as stressful as it sounds.  I teach three different classes this trimester (traditional physics, college in the schools physics, and physical science) and Thursday was a lab day for all of them, which meant three different labs.  On many occasions I have dreaded these days for the large amount of work that goes into them.  This one was different.  Why, because all of the activities led to great exploration and learning!  My college physics students built egg drop landers, which they dropped Tuesday.  Thursday was data analysis day.  After we got through a couple of technology glitches it was really fun watching them have discussions about what the data was telling them and if it matched what they thought they saw.  This was a lot of fun.  I required a parachute because we were looking at terminal velocity, and they found clearly on there data when the parachutes deployed and their new terminal velocity.
     In my traditional physics class we are looking at lenses.  They did a lab where they were given the focal length of a lens and had to do a series of experiments to see if the experiment gave them the same focal length as was given to them.  They did the first set of data collection and started doing the math and many groups determined the math was not getting them the correct answer.  Many students would simply say "I don't get this, I'm giving up" not this class.  When I recommended simply doing more trials and looking for patterns, they jumped in and really enjoyed doing multiple trials and finding out the human errors involved.  This was a great learning process on many levels.
     Finally, my ninth graders are building cars and relating them to Newton's Laws of Motion.  Watching them discuss with their partners how to build the fastest car, watching them struggle with the calculations, and the teamwork they showed in the learning process, made this another fun activity to watch.
     I left Thursday exhausted but excited from watching the different levels of learning that happened.

3.  I learned that "average" may not be "average" anymore.  I know we all tackle grades and the issues with grades.  Grading has changed over the years and my opinion has changed over the years.  I gave a test yesterday to my 9th grade physical science classes and the combined class average was 72%.  I liked that average because it was an "average" test score based on what I know.  As a teacher I hope for higher, but understanding where my students are this was a good average score.  This average score would not have been acceptable for other classes, such as my advanced physics classes.  These classes have class averages in the 80's.  I'm not sure what to make of the different averages.  Part of me thinks it's different expectations, but part of me is not really sure.  Any comments on this would be greatly appreciated.

4.  I learned this week that devoting my life completely to my career is not where I am anymore.  My wife and I, for many reasons, have not been able to have children.  We attempted to do the foster system route, but that did not work out well.  This year, as I have mentioned before, we are hosting a foreign exchange student.  This has caused me to change me schedule in terms of my teaching.  I used to be one of those teachers that was the first one in the building and the last to leave, because I get up early and can leave and my wife worked later and I could get home later.  This year, driving a teenager has really opened my eyes to the benefits of time management.  I am not spending as much time at school and except for a few days when I have an hour to set up 3 labs, it has gone well.  I have even gotten away from the constant social media lifestyle and have found I find better information for my teaching when I am actually purposefully looking for it, rather than just mindlessly scrolling through the screen.  I know many of you have learned these lessons before, but it's new to me.

We are still trying the gofundme for a hopeful trip with our exchange student.  If you are interested in helping out, here is the link again:   Thanks for looking at the campaign, we appreciate it.

Looking at the length of the post, I should probably stop now.  Thanks for reading and please contribute in the comments section.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Change is the only constant

Happy New Year!
You may think the title is about the change of a new calendar year.  To be honest, that was the beginning of it.  But it is parts of many things.  The kicker to make me write this was: 30-days-blogging-challenge post by AJ Juliani.  I have been making the change to blog over that last 2 years, and it has been fun seeing people actually reading what I post.  The more I thought about other changes I came back to the quote that is the title of this post.  A retired colleague of mine told me that this fall and the more I reflect on it, the more truth I see in it.
The change in my teaching is what caused me to write about this blog.  As mentioned in earlier posts I started flipping my classes because I wanted to do more in my science classroom than lecture and labs.  I have noticed the change in my students because they appear less bored, ask more questions, and their test scores are higher.  My approach to flipped has changed over time as well as I learn about it and my students.  When I first started flipping I gave my students not sheets they needed to fill out and bring back.  This has changed into google forms with videos and questions that I call my "Video Assessment" which is simply a formative assessment to see where the students are at.  I have also changed the google forms to make them "quiz" forms so the students can see their scores right away.  This has had great results in that the students see their scores and want to improve their scores so they go back and do the video assessments again.  Continual learning!  With the classes that the students see their scores I gave them a score sheet where they need to write down their scores and things they learned from the videos.  This form needs to be completed and turned in before they take the exam at the end of the unit.  Once the students realized this was made to help them they did not fight the process.  This process worked so well that first trimester, which was the first trimester I implemented the score sheet form, the students had the best initial score average and final exam score average of any of my conceptual physics classes over the 4 years I have taught the class!
I also created three different classes with the flipped model, which is a big change.  My college class does not have the questions in the video assessment, but they do have summaries and they need to ask questions based on the video.  This has had positive responses as well.
Change has happened in our building as well.  We are still in the early stages of PLC's in our district and I believe it is going well.  Our district also has faculty facilitated professional development, which encourages staff to try new things in their classroom in order to stretch what they do.  This has been interesting because not only can we as teachers take professional development from our fellow teachers in our district, but we can also go outside the district and find our own professional development to help our personal goals.  Like any system their are positives and negatives to a system and it has changed a lot in my 15 years in the program (more change!).  I have learned and changed so much from these opportunities!
The final education change to think about is what you are reading this post on, technology.  This is the first education "technology" I remember using:
Image result for apple 2e computer
There was a lab that had a bunch of these and we played fun games like number munchers, Oregon Trail, and other games.
When I started teaching 15 years ago the technology in my classroom consisted of the original Ultrasonic Motion Sensors and the Universal Lab Interfaces:

This equipment had to be connected to older computers and was a pain to set up.

Now, I use Vernier probes in many of my labs, but now the students bring their own sensors to class in their smart phones as shown in this post:

These are just a few of the many changes in education.  If you have read this far, I thank you.  I would like you to look at one more change our family has had this year.  We became foreign exchange host parents and want to show our exchange student a different part of the country.  We can't afford to go where we want, so we are asking for help (with gifts) to fund the opportunity.  Here is the link for the gofundme site:  Thank you for helping or for sharing our link with others.  We appreciate it.

Thank you for reading this post.  I appreciate it.  Happy change!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Flipping into the holidays with many things on my mind and on the horizon

Well, today's the coldest day today we have had in Minnesota in the last few years.  Because of the cold weather I have had a lot of time to think about what is going on in my classroom and looking at the future in my classroom and out.

Here's what has happening in my classroom:
I am teaching 2 physics classes in the flipped classroom model and they are doing well.  My college physics class is learning about the flipped classroom and is coming ready every class period with questions, which lead to great discussion.  Unlike my other classes that do a formative assessment along with the video, the college google document is the video, a portion where the students write a summary, a portion where they ask any questions they have, and a portion where they choose learning targets (called test prep questions) that lead to discussions in class.  Here is an example of the form they complete:  They are learning how to study in the way I do things and are doing well.  I have had fun getting to know these students and am confident they will do well in my class.

My regular physics class, which is a traditional level class, has a wide variety of motivation in flipped classroom completion, but their test averages are still over 80%, and they are doing many labs that are challenging them and causing them to learn.  Here is an example of the physics google form, for comparison with my college class:

I know in the future I will be changing and modifying my videos this summer to enhance my flipped learning experience.  I have been touting the successes of the flipped system in the improved test scores of my students.

My physical science class is not being taught in the traditional flipped classroom style, but the energy they have has led me to modify how I do things with them with more hands on than some of my peers, and that has worked well.  They are doing well and grasping information, as evidence by the good first test score and the very high scores they got on their weekly formative assessment Friday (for those of you are are wondering, the score for the formative assessment is just for analysis of what they know and will not be in my grade book at any time).   They will get to take their next test Wednesday, and based on the formative assessments, will do well.

Here's what's happening with my professional development I get to facilitate:
I also had the opportunity to introduce the professional development group I facilitate the idea of flipped classroom.  I introduced them to the ideas through google assessments that are similar to what my students do.  Here is an example;
I think they enjoyed the information and hopefully will use it in their classroom.  They asked the almighty question about how much time it takes to go to this method and I left them with these thoughts:  1.  Don't do this all at once (something I should have listened to).  2.  If you know what want to make a change in your classroom to do things better, you will take all the time you think you need to make the change for the benefits of the students.
The professional development happened during a very stressful time for me.  My mother was in the hospital with what was diagnosed with severe viral pneumonia.  She was in the hospital for 9 days and thankfully is now home and recovering.  I left her hospital room and went to conduct my professional development session on the same day, and the facilitating of information was just what I needed.

As I mentioned in my last post my wife Amy (the strongest and most positive person I have ever met) and I are hosting a foreign exchange student from Kazakhstan and we are trying to show him a different part of the country, but funds are tight.  I know this is a busy time, but if you would be willing to visit our gofundme page at: and support our effort, it would be greatly appreciated.  If you make a donation you will be receiving a token of our appreciation.  Thank you in advance for the help, and thank you if you would be willing to share this with someone else.

As we are entering the winter break time I wish all of you time to spend with your families, time to relax and laugh, and to do things that truly make you happy.  Happy holidays and I hope you have a good end to 2016!  Thank you for reading my posts.  Please comment if you like, or share with friends if you like what you read.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Exciting First Trimester and News!

This is going to be a little bit of a lengthy post, but there are fun and exciting things I need to share:

1.  I thank you for taking time out of your busy day to read this post, I greatly appreciate it.
2.  This trimester I continued to refine my flipped classroom model, not quite to flipped mastery, but I'm working on it.  My conceptual physics class, which is made up mainly of juniors whom I was told is a very challenging class, had a trimester of class like I have never seen before.  I had made it my expectation that they could not take an exam until they watched the videos and completed the assessment that went with the videos.  This year I added a "reflection/note sheet" that they had to fill out.  All they had to do was fill in their score, something they learned, and a question about the section.  I'll admit most have not filled out many questions, but they are filling in scores and summaries and a very large rate.  The result of this?  No student failed my class and I had a 75% pass rate on my final exam (last years pass rate on the final exam was 63%, for comparison).  I'll take that as a win!  Also I had many students say they didn't want to put their initial score down and went back and watched the video again for review!  Instant reteaching opportunity!  Win again!  I'm looking forward to continuing the flipped model and trying to push into more flipped mastery.
3.  My beloved Chicago Cubs won the World Series!  Still can't believe I get to write that!

4.  My wife and I have the honor this year of hosting a foreign exchange student from Kazakhstan.  We want to give him the opportunity to see different parts of the country but, due to many things, we do not have the financial means to do this.  So, we decided to set up a go fund me account to see if we could get some help in this adventure.  If you would be so kind as to visit our page at:   We would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks for reading this!  Please send any feedback you have about the post!

Monday, January 11, 2016

The way I do things

Tonight in our flipped classroom chat we were asked to discuss our work policy/pedagogy, etc.  Here's how work is turned in, corrected, ect:

1.  The students in my conceptual physics class can't take the test until they watch the videos for the particular chapter.  This ensures the students they are exposed the content.  The video assessments (here is an example: have multiple choice questions that are often on the tests at the end of the chapter, and I use the video assessments to drive our discussions in class.  Also, we discuss all answers to the work the students do, so if they are paying attention in class they have the answers to the homework.
2.  The "book work" and worksheets the students do in class I provide them with answers so really the concentration is on learning the material and being confident to ask questions about what they do not know.
3.  For my regular physics class I don't allow revisions or retakes because I allow the students to have a notesheet, or what I call a cheat sheet, that they can use on the test to help them with any information they can write.  For my college in the schools class they are allowed to use the AP physics formula sheet to help them with the math questions on the test.  I figure with these aids the students have the support they need.
4.  For my conceptual physics my students have the option to do a "test buy back" where they can answer the questions on the test up to the next letter grade higher than what they had.  So, if they got a D on the test they can find the correct answers, either by consulting their returned work, talking to classmates, or talking to me, to go to the next letter grade.  The students like this option and take advantage of it.

I know this is not a perfect system, but it seems to be working for me.  If you have any thoughts, questions, or ideas for my class structure please comment below.

Have a good week!

Monday, November 30, 2015

What I have learned & want to learn! Oh, the list could be so long

This week I am looking forward to teaching my three levels of physics classes in the flipped classroom model.  For many reasons I spent our first trimester not flipping my classroom and now I am back and ready to go!  I have learned so much since I last flipped my classroom that here are just a few things I have learned about flipping:
1.  Modeling & practice are key!  I am doing this tomorrow.  The students will be modeling how I want them to flip and take notes.  This will help me with students knowing what I want.
2.  Encourage and encourage more and more questions.  This is something I want my students to improve on.
3.  I am doing a bold experiment this year where my students have to come up with something they are interested in, generate a list of questions for an "expert" in that field, and have an online conversation with an expert.  I have a grand plan with this, and am looking forward to it.  I will be keeping you posted on how this goes.

Well, here is my shortest blog ever.  If you have any questions, thoughts, or ideas about what I am doing, please leave a message!*

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Enjoy the journey because the destination can change

This post will not completely be about flipped classroom, but rather a look back at my teaching career and life, which has been an interesting ride.  I'm sorry if you get bored reading this, but I consider this blog to be a great release of thoughts and I ideas and I feel this is a story that people may appreciate So, here we go:
Part 1-college.  Being a high school science teacher I have many opportunities to talk to students about college and what to expect.  I often tell them that I transferred from the University of North Dakota to the University of Wisconsin-Superior after my freshman year because I made a career change decision.  I tell them, and others, that I hated my first months at UWS for one reason, it wasn't UND.  I loved UND!  This was the place that I was bred to go to, and making the decision to leave was hard.  So, 19 years yesterday, October 24, 1996, I emailed UND to get an application to return to the place I felt I was meant to be.  Things changed the next day, October 25, 1996.  On that day I met the women who became my best friend, my soul mate, and for reasons known only to her, my wife.  Once I met Amy I had no desire to return to UND because I knew I wanted to be with her, and I began to look at things differently and really enjoy where I was and had a great 4 years at UWS.  We did great things and really got everything out of a college experience we possibly could.  We travelled a lot, representing UWS across Wisconsin and the midwest, and we did travelling as a couple for fun.  We learned a lot from each other and it was a great time.  We graduated, got married, and attempted to enter "the real world"
Part 2-getting into education.  I loved my student teaching experiences and thought I was doing a good job.  I graduated from UWS in December of 2000 and by March had my first long-term sub position.  I thought I would be teaching right away the following year so I looked forward to interviewing and beginning my career.  Twelve interviews later and we were into September and I still did not have a full time teaching position.  Needless to say, this was huge blow to my ego and my plans.  But, just like in college, I had Amy there to help and be the rock for me to hold onto.  Then, lucky number 13 came when I interviewed at St. Francis High School.  The committee saw the spark in me and gave me the opportunity to teach.  A choice I am still amazed by.  I remember after the first year asking for a letter of recommendation because I didn't think they would be hiring me back and my principal looked at me and said "If you were not coming back, we would have told you by now."  I luckily have never heard "you are not coming back next year."  Honestly, I don't know what I would be doing professionally if they had not taken a chance on me.  And I'm shocked that this will be my 15th year being allowed to teach at St. Francis High School.  I have been able to teach physics, a subject that I had not taught before this, and love the topic, to create two difference classes and the administration has seen to allow me to teach a college level physics class.
Part 3-roadbumps and swift kicks in the butt.  In 2004 the rock of my life, my beloved Amy, suffered an injury which ultimately led to her not being able to work full time.  This was a huge blow because I was still early in my career and she was the primary income provider.  After the initial blow and shock and fear about what we would do.  We knew we could not have children, which was a big blow, but this blow was one we were not ready for.  These things led me to making a great professional decision of going back to UND to get my  Master's degree in the program that initially led me to UND out of high school.  In 2011, after much pain, a long time commitment, and much research, I graduated from UND with my Master's in Science Degree in Space Studies.  At that time I was the first member of my family, both my mother's and father's side (all aunt's, uncle's and cousins) to earn a Master's degree.
That pride in accomplishing a goal was gratifying and has really made me look at education differently.  It also was part of what led me to the flipped classroom.  During this time Amy stopped working for a while and ultimately made me the primary income provider.  This was not something I was prepared for.  We had hard decisions to make during this time.  I was looking at possibly working for NASA in their Education Division.  This was part of my dream.  To work for NASA would have been an amazing opportunity!  I was even offered a position with NASA!  An opportunity most people jump at.  Yet, when I was offered the position I had to sit and think about if I really wanted to change what I was doing and move along to another adventure.  As a linear thinker I made pro and con lists about the entire process.  But my final reason for not going was "it didn't feel right."  Not a very scientific reason, but it was the truth.  It was a decision I never regretted and opened up other opportunities for me.
During this time of turmoil I saw an opportunity to be involved in professional development in our district.  When asked why they decide to jump into these type of leadership roles most people say "because I want to further my career" or "I want to help others succeed."  For me my answers were "I like talking to people about education and how to do it better", but my main reason was "because I need the bump in money to be able to survive financially.  Honestly, if I had not gotten this professional development opportunity we probably would have filed for bankruptcy.  This is not the reason I like to give but, just like when I started at St. Francis,  I needed the job, it was the truth.  Now in my fourth year of professional development I really enjoy working with all of the different people.
Also during this fun time I was coaching basketball, a sport I had been involved with since 1988!  I really enjoyed working with the kids and the coaches, both on our team and the other teams.  But one day we were told that our staff was going to be no more and if we wanted our jobs back we were going to have to reapply for them.  This, like everything else that has happened, made me take pause and re-evaluate what I wanted to do and where I wanted to do them.  I first decided I wanted to stay in St. Francis, but quickly decided that for many reasons I wanted to be out of the athletic sports area.  So now I am in my third year of coaching speech and debate.  There are many similarities and differences between activities and athletics, but I really enjoy the change.  This change came at the perfect time for me.  Amy told me she saw my stress level decrease dramatically when I stopped coaching sports, which is something I drastically needed.
Part 4-the future:  With all of this going on, I find myself looking at where I want to go in the future.  Amy's health is stablizing, she is able to work a little more, we are in a much better place financially, and Amy is still my rock.  I'm trying everyday to be her's, but often times I feel that I don't quite live up to the role of "primary care provider" that I should.  I really don't know what or where I am going or what I am going to do.  I enjoy what I am doing at St. Francis but I find myself thinking "what else can I do"  which leads me to....
Part 5-my flipping road:  So, if you read this far, congratulations and I hope you are ready for some more!  Here's how I got to flipping my classroom, and how I want to continue moving forward.  In high school I was part of distance learning for calculus.  I liked this idea, but in the early 1990's it was not easy exchanging work.  Fast forward to my interviews with NASA.  I got to see the interactive programs NASA was producing and what, if I would have taken the position, I would be doing.  I loved the idea of interacting with professionals.  The big lead that led me to the flipped movement was my Master's Degree.  You may be thinking how does a master's degree in Space Science lead to wanting to flip a classroom?  Well, my program was an online program, where we did many different activities such as watch videos online and discuss them, have chat sessions online, and complete assignments online.  During this program, that I loved and still want to continue with research, I began to look at different ways to incorporate technology into my teaching.  This program, along with technology professional development about moodle, led me to the beginnings of my flipped experience by using message boards.  Then I was lucky enough, mainly through my increased work at St. Francis, to go to an ISTE conference and hear more about this process.  This may not have happened if all of the above had not happened.  I have been able to share my excitement of flipping the classroom with many in professional development areas, and with teachers in my own building and district.  Everyone I tell about this seems interested and I hope they at least try this approach.  Now I am in my fifth year of flipping my classroom and am enjoying it more every year, because I get to lead the students down new and exciting roads.

So, hopefully you enjoyed reading about my interesting journey with many twists, turns, roadblocks, and challenges.  I think of my journey like the theme song from my personal favorite Star Trek Series, Enterprise.
I am learning to enjoy the ride, enjoying more the amazing wife and travel partner in this journey who allows me to be who I am, and helps lead me at times and stands by me at others down this long road.
I hope you enjoyed reading this.  I know many people have similar stories, but I wanted to share my story with you.  Please feel free to comment and ask me questions.  Thanks for reading this.