COETAIL, Course 4, Professional Development, Uncategorized

Flippin’ Classes and Studying with Games

Image courtesy of Eric Dufresne from Trois-Rivières, Canada – Flickr

I’m not sure what to make of the flipped classroom model and teaching classes designed as video games.


It seems as though the purists’ model of a flipped classroom puts the classwork at home and the “homework” in the classroom. The students get their lectures online and then come to practice under the guidance of their teacher while they are at school.  I like the idea that students are getting more time in class to practice skills with the help of their teachers.  I don’t like the idea of students sitting in front of their laptops watching Khan Academy lectures at home.  But the model on Mind/Shift only has students watching 3 teacher-created videos per week, and the prescribed length is 5 to 7 minutes long.  What is the great advantage to freeing up 15 minutes of class time a week?

I’ve also heard and read about the changing role of the teacher in the classroom.  We are no longer dispensing education, we are guides and coaches. I personally think that it is a good idea to lecture in class.  I don’t think that you should lecture all the time, but I also don’t think you should rely on internet videos to do all your lecturing for you.  I think that students can be motivated when they see their teacher speaking about topics they know a lot about.  Students are impressed by my co-teacher because he worked on a nuclear submarine. There’s no doubt in their minds that this guy knows a lot about science.  It is his passion and it comes through in his teaching.

In short, I think that we should have a mixture of mini in-class lectures and practice/workshop time. Call me old-fashioned, but I just don’t think that completely eliminating direct instruction from the classroom is the best idea.

The Gaming Classroom

Complete Honesty: I won’t be turning my classroom into a video game.  The whole concept really turns me off.  I like video games but I don’t play a lot of video games.  I have felt the pull and have been “addicted” to video games in the past.  This is one of the reasons I actively avoid them.  If I allowed myself to start playing video games they would end up eating a lot of my time. This year, I’ve seen some kids who are seriously addicted to gaming.  They can be seen playing games between classes and in the cafeteria during lunch. They talk about games with their friends incessantly and they watch Youtube videos of other people playing video games. Again, call me old-fashioned but I don’t think that inserting MORE gaming into their lives is the best idea.

Also, isn’t the gaming classroom relying a little too much on extrinsic motivation.  Will the students only be interested in creeping up the leaderboard?  Will the teachers be trivializing their content?  It seems like the gaming classroom is a LOT of work for the teacher, but also really LAZY.  Laying the gaming framework in the classroom seems like it requires a lot of setup and establishment of rules, adding to the already packed teacher workload.  However, I say that it is lazy because teachers are resorting to turning their classes into video games (A surefire HIT with the kids!) instead of inspiring a real love of learning in the purest sense (Ideal… but really hard to pull off.)

One last poo-poo in the face of the gaming classroom; are the hardcore gamers sold on the idea of the gaming classroom or are they just counting the minutes until they can play a REAL video game?


This premature curmudgeon must end on a positive note.  Although I am against the idea of modeling a class after  a video game, I think iPad apps and online educational games DO have a place for reinforcing/teaching skills.

Although I have some doubts about the flipped classroom, I am definitely FOR supervised practice/exploration/workshops in the classroom.  I just don’t think a little lecture here and there really hurts.

Everything in moderation, right?

COETAIL, Course 4, Professional Development, Uncategorized

PBL or CBL or… PBL?

Brett (AKA:Mr.T) supervises a challenge.

In reading through the materials on project, challenge, and problem based learning, I’m not sure I see a real distinction between the three.  I’m not sure that I am supposed to see one at all.  I do see the appeal of setting goals for students that are based on real-life situations.

This year was the first time I spent all of my time in math and science classrooms.  Prior to this I taught third grade, ESL, and world language classes.  Teaching grade three probably gave me the best chance to engage my kids in some PBL/CBL-style situations, but I was too wrapped up in teaching reading and writing that I may have missed my shot.  I feel pretty confident saying that the grade 8 students at our school will tell you that they’ve been engaged in a lot of problem solving and project-based learning this school year.

They’ve generated electricity using steam engines constructed from soda cans.  They’ve modeled true situations using their knowledge of exponential growth.  They’ve build windmills from paper and currently they are analyzing the methods used in the ongoing search for the missing Malaysian airliner for the science unit on waves.

A lot of these ideas were generated by my co-teachers, who have put a lot of effort into giving our lessons context.  I really respect them for this.  I can’t take credit for cooking up these schemes, but I have put my efforts into making these lessons as accessible as possible for our English language learners-and it hasn’t been pretty.  In fact, the whole process has been rather ugly.  The three of us have been learning how to present challenge/problem/project based lessons as we go.  There have been some pretty tense times throughout the course of the school year, but I’m glad that we have continued to attempt to provide genuinely engaging lessons and eschewing paint-by-numbers teaching as much as possible.

I know that I have been referencing my co-teachers a lot on the blog, but co-teaching is my reality.  So, once again… thank you Brett and thank you Ryan.  You have taught me as much as you’ve taught the students this year.


Tupac would Appreciate TPACK

Image courtesy of gilar666 via

“We’re not being taught to deal with the world as is it is. We’re being taught to deal with this fairy land that we’re not even living in anymore. And it’s sad.”-Tupac Shakur

Reading about the TPACK framework once again reminded me of the fluid nature of education.  Priorities are always shifting.

When I first looked at the diagram that gave equal weight to content, pedagogical, and technological knowledge, I scoffed a bit.  How could technological knowledge be anywhere near as important as content or pedagogy?  Should we write off all the master educators of history since they all predated technology? They’re all missing that particular third of the teacher puzzle, right?

Although I still have a hard time acknowledging that technology could be equally as important as content and pedagogy, I do realize that a modern teacher who can fully employ technology as a teaching tool is teaching BETTER.  Technology is unavoidable.  Trying to avoid technology is a futile exercise.  We all need to use it better.

I’ve had the opportunity to co-teach with two teachers who have really embraced tech in the classroom. They’ve encouraged it on all fronts, including the use of personal smartphones, when appropriate. The TPACK model stresses the ever-evolving nature of technology.  My co-teachers are aware of this and take advantage of it.  I’ve learned a lot from them.

So, thank you Brett and Ryan.  I knew you guys were ahead of the curve, but after reading about TPACK, I’m realizing how cutting-edge you really are.  Tupac would have appreciated your classes… maybe.




I stumbled across a very cool infographic today that I thought was worth sharing.  I found this on a blog called Hydro-Logic and the graphic deals with water usage in India.  It focuses on agriculture specifically.  I feel that it really contains a lot of information in a compact, attractive package.  It comes from a project through the Columbia Water Center which is definitely legit, but Pepsico is also a partner. I’m not sure how that works exactly.  Perhaps Pepsi is more philanthropic than I thought.

From the Columbia Water Center.

This is very interesting to me, as a person who currently lives in India.  Although I know that there is a lot more to the story of water than is shown in this infographic, but I appreciate the simplicity of their design.  It gave me enough information to make me really start thinking.


Slide Show Syndrome

I remember when people actually used to use slide projectors.  When I was a kid family friends would relive their recent vacations with a real slide show in their living room with the lights turned low.  It sounds nice, but invariably the slide shows would drag on longer than they should have.  It used to be a common joke, tolerating someone’s slide show.  “Hey, do you want to come over on Friday?  I’ll show you some slides from my trip to Europe.”  *GROAN*  Right?

So what made people think that turning slide shows into digital presentations filled with lengthy paragraphs of dull text and rife with stock images stolen from the internet would make quality teaching tools?  As teachers, we need to be aware of what makes for a good “show” in the classroom.  Garr Reynolds, although I think he aims more at businessmen than teachers, makes a lot of really good points on his blog about making streamlined and effective PowerPoint presentations.  He touches on one of my biggest PowerPoint/Google Presentation pet peeves: having a presenter read his entire slideshow with little to no added information.  Why are you up there, man?  How much are you getting paid to stand there when you should have just emailed your PPT file.  Garr encourages presenters to make striking slides that provide visual anchors to the content that  is being discussed during the LIVE presentation.  All the rest else can be included in a handout.  Matt Helmke reiterates this in his presentation stating that the “Handouts can set you free.”

I’ve been working with a colleague to help middle school students create monthly middle school presentations.  The topics are varied, but essentially the show ends up being a summary of what is happening in the middle school, a kind of middle school current events.  I went through a recent slide show and discovered that it could have used some serious work. ***The presentation has a lot of names and faces from the middle school.  I’m not entirely comfortable sharing that out at large.  If you’d like to take a look, send me a message and I’ll provide you with a link***

The first thing that surprised me was that many of the photographs of student events were filled with the backs of people’s heads?  Surely we can find better photographs than this. 

I’m not in danger of giving anyone’s identity away here because there are ONLY backs of heads. Where are the faces?  Is this an image that the kids are going to remember?  Why did we include this?

There are other sequences in the slideshow that are fully standalone.  They require no live presentation.  This isn’t really appropriate when gathering the entire middle school together. Is it?  We should provide our students the opportunity to get in front of a group and practice public speaking.  I’ll be reducing the text and getting the kids out in front more next time around.

My main takeaway from this reflection is that I now have the opportunity to teach students how to make quality presentations. If I can connect with them at a young age, I’ll be doing my part to attempt to put an end the endless stream of ineffective, mind-numbing slide show presentations.


2013 in review

These year in reviews are always fun to look at 🙂 [2012]

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 8,500 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. I thought it was kind of fun to look at…so I’m sharing 🙂

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


Pourquoi pas?

I’ve thought about starting a blog for awhile…but life as a teacher is busy. And summer as a teacher is sometimes too sweet to start something like this. But I want somewhere to diary what I’m doing in my classroom. So here goes a little about me (in no particular order)…

Things I want to do:
*run a 5k under 25 minutes
*learn portuguese
*improve my French even more (i.e. speak more often)
*go back to France
*finish PACE
*save money to buy another vespa
*visit lots and lots of countries

Things I’m passionate about/enjoy doing:
*eating healthy
*cooking with my husband
*supporting local business
*les mills group exercise classes
*my cats
*my family
*college football
*looking professional and stylish at school
*incorporating technology meaningfully into lesson plans
*meeting my students where they are
*keeping my students informed
I still have a lot I want to do with the look of the blog, but actually having a post is good for now 🙂