Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Technology - The Rate Limiting Step

Edmonton Public Schools eliminated all curricular consultants during the spring of 2013. The Alberta Government was allocating less money to School Boards so consultant positions were deemed unnecessary.

I got to go back to the classroom.

To be honest, I was excited to try flipping my classroom and couldn't wait to start creating vodcasts.

When studying kinetics in chemistry, it is the slowest step of a series of chemical reactions that determines the overall rate of reaction- otherwise known as the rate limiting step.  This idea of rate limiting step will serve as an analogy to the success of my flipping journey.

I assumed that I would have a classroom with a SMART Board, easy access to Youtube, students with easy access to the internet, maybe a document camera and a webcam.


I have a blackboard, whiteboard, projector that projects onto the whiteboard, Youtube that must be downloaded as the bandwidth can't manage the giant population of the school and no webcam. I do have a wireless mouse, keyboard and really great tech support if I need it.  I also have access to two class sets of Chrome books, two sets of laptops and two sets of net books that I can book out in advance.

I  have 35 students in each of my classes with almost no room to get around to each student. And the students are in desks of which I can't pair as there is a bar one one side of the desk making it impossible to get in and out of. So the idea of group work - a necessary part of flipping -  is physically challenging.

So, how to flip?

I've started slowly with the creation of a student website that includes Google Doc notes particular to each class I teach. I used to have an overhead projector and Google Docs represent a 21st century version that allows students access even if they miss a class. However, this is not flipping at all. Students help generate the notes during classroom discussion, however I struggle with the notes as science doesn't translate easily on the keyboard.

At this time, my classes are teacher directed but I engage students with many hands on activities where they are showing me what they know. But I know I'm not getting to every student in every class every day and that is bugging me.

So, how to flip?  The reality is that students need to have equal access to the technology to watch the vodcasts.  If they don't have access then I need to find a method for them to access them.  Will they seek out the technology and watch the vodcasts on their own time?

Rate limiting step!

In the next couple of weeks, I'm going to try to flip some lessons. Is the access to technology going to limit my success?

Welcome the catalyst of change.


Monday, 4 February 2013

The Flipped Classroom - finally more time!

This is the story of a typical high school science teacher who seemed to never have time.


I began my career teaching the grade 10 science classes. These classes were perceived to be the best for new teachers as there were no high stakes exams partnered with them - in Alberta, the grade 12 exams are worth 50% of the mark. I was given the textbook and program of studies and naively believed that the textbook reflected the curriculum well.

Fortunately, I had a colleague who was extremely organized and talented who set me on the right path for planning and aligning my lessons to reflect the program of studies and not the textbook material. After two to three years of teaching, the textbook became a reference book for the students and not a teaching doctrine. I began to realize that the textbook was generally a great reference but included significant material not found in our program of studies.

My teaching assignment diversified to include the grade 11 courses of chemistry, biology, physics and soon the grade 12 chemistry course. Again, I used the textbook to guide my lessons as I knew where I could find activities that aligned with the curriculum and practice problems for the students.  But over time, I found new resources, activities, labs and required the textbook less and less. Even for the high stakes courses, I didn't require the textbook. My lessons were dependent on students taking notes and then, if we had time, engaging in an activity where students would demonstrate their understanding.  Sometimes I felt that I rushed the notes just so we could get on to the "fun" stuff. I began to create more engaging activities and had students singing, writing, role playing, building, cooperating, etc. Unfortunately, "getting through the material" seemed to consume most of the class time.

After a few years, the school I was at opened its doors to grades 7-9.  So Grade 8 Science was added to my assignment.  I loved teaching those students, their excitement just entering the door was contagious.   I started to rethink how I taught my day to day lessons. I decided that I would challenge the students to develop inquiry labs from scratch and not use the labs from the textbook.  If students knew the answers, what was the point of doing the lab?

As Bob McDonald from CBC's Quirks and Quarks says, "Ask any scientist and the only thing they like  discovering better than an answer is a really good question."

So I found the time to complete an inquiry lab with the students once to twice a unit.  The students couldn't wait to get their hands on the materials and challenge one another with possibilities of how to develop their investigation. I would see groups of students completely engaged, collaborating within and between their groups (which I encouraged) and at the end of the inquiry lab there would be four to six labs created - all unique and all developed by groups of students working together (authentic, eh?).

Back to the Grade 12 high stakes Chemistry 30 course.  After a few more years, the school opened its doors to the International Baccalaureate program and its additional high stakes exam. Now I had less time to reach into my collection of engaging activities as I had two masters to satisfy. Notes and lecture became the mainstay of  lesson delivery and I became more exhausted each day as I was doing the "show" all day - the provider of knowledge.

Thankfully, the IB Sciences curriculum requires students to design their own experiment so I was able to resurrect the inquiry model periodically.  But the demands of teaching two programs forced this to be very occasional and not collaborative in nature.

So, notes and lecture seem to be the method of information delivery that most science teachers use.  We were taught in that manner and feel that it is the only method that will get the job done.  That may have been true even ten years ago.

However, with the ubiquitous nature of digital technology, science teachers finally have a choice.


Science teachers across North America have begun to "flip" their classes so that the lecture is watched at home (or at hockey practice, the bus, the gym etc.) and once students arrive in class, the teacher can spend the time engaging with students however they see fit!

Read my previous posts to see how you can flip your class to afford yourself more time to engage students, develop inquiry labs, and teach students to the mastery level. You may notice that your high stakes exam marks also increase as real learning occurs and not just cramming for the test!