I'm shutting down this blog for a while, so bye!
I have always done some kind of a year-in-review blog post, so here it is....
Someone asked me at the staff year-end party* to rate the school year on a 0-10 scale. I replied pretty quickly this year was a 6 or 7. The previous year was a 5, and the one before that was a 2 or 3 [father died in April, many students had serious trust issues]. So I guess we are on the upswing!
* That's right, we have a rockin' year-end off-campus staff party. I know you're jealous but I am not sorry.
However, the school year began with a shitflood. That is not a metaphor. I blogged about it carefully a few days afterward: the street's underground sewer pipe got clogged and burst into my basement with several inches of sewage on the 3rd day of school. I had to take a personal day on Friday to start getting that resolved, but the stench lingered for several weeks and resolving the damage distracted me for much of the month. Looking back, I'm impressed by how well I kept up with blogging in September! That's when I tried the 20 blogs in 30 days #flipblogs gimmick. Like all the others, it fizzled and failed.
October is when a couple major things occurred: I got notified that I would be a keynote speaker at FlipTech LatinAmerica (originally scheduled for July, but then moved to September) AND finally got a site for the FlipTech New England conference. In this blog post I can finally vent my persisting frustration with the administration of Newton Public Schools about scheduling this event. One person in particular was a thorn in my side -- she wouldn't reply to phone calls and emails, and she seemed resistant to the concept of flipping but didn't explain her reservations. Ooooh, I wish I could in good conscience type her name right here but that feels like a bad idea and it wouldn't help anyway. Instead, I got the idea to use my daughter's middle school in Waltham and that plan came together in less than a week after over 2 months of trying to get Newton's approval. Yay!? I remain disappointed though that Newton Public Schools, which used to be a national leader in pedagogical practices ... is hardly even a trend-follower nowadays. Barely treading water, and perhaps slowly drowning. That is a metaphor.
Meanwhile, at school I was piloting a new civics curriculum! Oh, that whole thing deserves its own blog post or two. I haven't taken the time to properly reflect on that effort yet, but:
However, October 2019 is also when I got to finally see Hamilton and I really raised my game on Instagram, so the month was not a total loss....
A perusal of my November blog posts reminded me about this ridiculousness:
That same student did more and worse things later in the school year. Admin's approach was apparently not successful, and I guess I didn't fix it either. Life Lesson: Teach explicitly & directly about the 1st Amendment as early as possible (instead of saving it for April / May like I did in 2019).
In November just before Thanksgiving, I got to visit Philadelphia for the first time. I dragged the kids to some historical sightseeing while my wife ran her first marathon. What else were we supposed to do??!!
That month at school, I mostly recycled the Declaration of Independence / Road to Revolution unit that I had done as a history teacher. Ugh, unfortunately that approach needs revisiting as well. It's like instead of embedding a Civics unit in the middle of a History course, I did the reverse: suddenly switching from a Government class to a US History course, with similar results. Another WASTED couple weeks.
In December I had this terrific experience at the Edward Kennedy Institute: an invitation to an event with 2 Republican and 2 Democrat representatives (including Joe Kennedy III! -- far right of the photo). It was too close to the vacation week for me to properly explain / express to students, but the speakers gave me some hope for bipartisanship.
At school, I revised my usual Declaration of Independence summative assessment to something different: rewrite the document during a 45-minute class period as if you were a ________ complaining to __________. Each of my 4 sections got a different scenario, like "zoo animals to their zookeeper" or "renters to a landlord". This was sort of an act of desperation to fit the calendar, but I loooooove the responses I got. Instead of a weeklong project as I used to assign, I got great individual results from everybody in just 1 school day. Well, not exactly everybody because a handful of students did not show real understanding of the document's 5 parts before that assessment. And predictably they struggled on it (even with modifications, as appropriate for students on IEPs).
Sample response below:
Okay, Dawn and Brienne and whomever else is reading this! My response is longer than a tweet, and I haven't yet mastered the tweet-thread genre so here's a blog post. (sorry) Also, this blog post got a lot longer than I intended, so I will start with a direct answer to Dawn's question and bump the rest of my response farther down.
I have blogged a few times about my systems for mastery, how I plan curriculum units, and my constant search for ideal assessments. So I won't repeat all of those ideas in this post. Basically, though, flipping my direct instruction required me to consider the standards and benchmarks more carefully. To produce a lesson of 10 minutes or less, I had to really boil down the material into the essentials. I kicked out a lot of the "fluff" in favor of stronger in-class experiences and clearer flipped-video presentations / introductions.
If students can show their understanding of the key elements in the videos, then they have met that (lower-level) standard and can progress forward to an application / analysis / deeper (higher-level) comprehension task. If not, then I return them to the video lesson to correct their misunderstandings. When they do, then they have met the standard. Everyone. Meets. Those. Standards. (Eventually.) Again, I have to carefully craft these formative assessments, but I believe this makes me a better teacher.
Maybe some students don't "climb the ladder" to the highest levels of understanding, but my conscience is clear because the opportunities were there. I don't have to do the AM or PM interventions because I have already 'cloned myself' in the form of a video lesson. When students miss those deeper-learning activities, then I meet them during the Intervention period to summarize the experience as much as possible. However, these can't always be simulated and that has to be OK. Those students tend to show at least a proficient level of understanding on the higher-level summative assessments, so again my conscience is clear.
I am not sure whether to be proud about the lack of before and after school remediation meetings with students. I made the flip several years ago, but I can still recall the frustration of trying to replicate a full-class presentation in just a few minutes ... or just handing him/her a copy of my outline notes. (What was the point of presenting them for 30-40 minutes of class?!)
Flipping my direct instruction changed much more than just homework practices. It forced me to reconsider so many concepts, policies, and beliefs that were ingrained from 12 years of (arguably) successful teaching ELA and Social Studies:
The hashtag #sblbookclub that appeared in the tweets above relates to a group started by the inimitable Ms. Kathryn Byars: an inspiring fellow Social Studies teacher, who sparked this successful Twitter-based summer reading club. How else would I have been connected to Dawn and Brienne?! Thank you @mrsbyarshistory!!
Hopefully this somewhat disjointed blog post was helpful.
Let me know in the comments if it is/isn't!
I mentioned in a previous post that the FlipTech New England conference did not work out the way I expected. You can even see the beginnings of that attitude in an earlier post. I had grand plans: at least 150 people from all over the world, gathering in my daughter's middle school just a few hundred yards from my house. Would we have enough food? What if the session classrooms are overfilled?? Are there enough hotel rooms in the area? Hahahahaha!! Registrations were super sluggish, and we pulled the plug in early-May.
THEORY #1: the wrong dates
I replicated the model of FlipTech East Coast, which got well over 100 attendees: the last weekend of June. Everyone's school year would surely be finished, even if we got a bunch of snow days. That was one of the easiest decisions I made, but it was probably a fatal flaw.
ISTE19 is in Philadelphia on the Monday-Wednesday before FlipTech. Last year it was in Chicago with the same timing, but I believe ISTE is attracting a lot of attention in the Northeast region. I probably lost some potential support from MassCUE because their lead organizers are heading south that week. I've come to realize that other tech-savvy folks in the NYC - Philly - Baltimore - DC area made a similar choice. It's really tough to compete with a monster like ISTE....
THEORY #2: excessive pricing
Again, I copied the price structure that seemed to make FTEC successful and profitable for the FLN. I tried a couple promotions like Early Bird Specials, a 28%-off promotion until April 28th, a group discount, and a 1-day ticket option.
However, the sticker price may have scared some people away. Again, if you're deciding between ISTE and a smaller local conference (and probably other summer PD options too), then psychologically all the 3-digit prices seem similar ... even through $149 is a fraction of the $500 for ISTE! Oh right: a superintendent's office might actually pay for that because they've probably heard of it before.
THEORY #3: no 'big name'
With all due respect to the scheduled presenters and keynotes, Aaron freakin' Sams is the OG. He literally wrote the book on FL!
Theories #2 and #3 are connected, because FTEC could perhaps justify the dollar figure because of the Aaron Sams factor. How many people went to last year's conference for that reason? We have no way of knowing, but I'm sure the number is larger than zero. If I hadn't been picked as a presenter for FlipTech East Coast then I sure as hell would have paid to go there anyway in large part to maybe possibly meet Mr. Sams. (I did!!)
THEORY #4: what's the flipping point?
This might be my most unpopular opinion, and it is not yet fully formed.
Flipped learning / flipped classroom is not a new idea anymore, right? I'm sure that at least 60% of teachers have heard of it ... although what they think it is might not be what it really is. Maybe it seems so easy, so accessible, so basic that some potential conference attendees think "Why do I need to shell out $$$ to go to that? I saw a few tweets / read a couple blog posts / skimmed an Edutopia article / watched a Youtube video. How hard can it be? FlipTech is for suckers."
And maybe that's the flipping truth. What if FL is a victim of its own success??
Or, worse yet, what if it is a victim of its own apparent easiness?! People think they know how to do it so they don't seek help. Then either it works (maybe?) or it doesn't (probably) or what they end up doing isn't actually flipping (augh!).
THEORY #5: organizer incompetence
This was a year of firsts for me: 1st time teaching civics instead of history, 1st time delving into real-life PBL, and 1st time organizing a conference. I often tell my students they can't expect to perform perfectly the first time every time .... and this year I was humbled frequently by my own advice.
There is a saying that the worst failure is the one you didn't learn from. Now I know lots of things I would do differently, so I guess it's not so flipped bad after all...?
Last day of school yesterday! In my district, that means an early release for students (11:30) and then our last faculty meeting for about 2 hours. This time, most of the meeting was taken up with goodbyes for several staff who are leaving, including two retirees who had their 1st day at Bigelow the same day as me! OK, but that's not what I'm blogging about today.
Early in the meeting, our principal had to show us a video from the superintendent. A few people around me said something like, "Oooh, he flipped it!" I actually got my hopes up a little bit. This screenshot is actually from a different video he made, but it gives you a sense of the visuals. The topic was school safety: telling us that there has been a committee working on new protocols for evacuation, shelter-in-place, etc.
Actually, I can't tell you many more details because I didn't fully understand the video's purpose. The principal told us before he pressed 'play' that we would have no time for discussion of the video. There was no assessment of understanding, and we all had to watch it at the same time, the same volume, the same speed, exactly once. Sure, he cloned himself in video form, but I believe that is not flipping. I got distracted from his message as I got more and more upset that maybe this is what people think flipping is. Oh god, is that true?!
, I expect that this blog post and probably the next one or two will not be very good. I am out of practice: only 6 posts in the past two months. I need to rub away some rust, grind some axes, get some whining out of the way, and then eventually get back to being a useful blogger. This is me apologizing in advance!
2 1/2 days of school are left in the year, but I haven't really been teaching since June 6. Nearly all my 8th graders attended a 3-day overnight field trip to NYC, but there's no way you could pay me enough to join that racket! They can't make me go, so I don't. Instead I was substituting for staff in 6th or 7th grade who agreed to chaperone. I might write about that experience later....
The most significant event of the past few weeks came at the beginning of May, when I cancelled the flipped learning conference that I had been planning to host and organize in my hometown. That responsibility occupied at least a couple hours every weekend since September, and certainly reduced my blogging frequency. Finalizing the conference site (after my school district's administration dragged its feet), advertising on social media, contacting potential sponsors, setting up Eventbrite ticket sales, establishing a non-profit corporation and back account for finances, seeking & arranging the session presenters, more advertising, identifying presenters and an appropriate format for the keynote.... it was a lot more work than I expected! I don't have much to say here about what went wrong (#whining), and frankly haven't had much opportunity to reflect on the reasons. The fact is that in the beginning of May, we had more presenters than registered attendees and I was really worried that the conference would lose money. The school rental fee alone was about $2000!
So with support of the FLN Board, I transformed the FlipTech event into a much smaller gathering with nearly all the scheduled presenters. There will be about 22 of us, meeting for free in my middle school library. Now it's more like a retreat or a summit meeting of veteran flippers from 8 countries and 9 states. I'm choosing to believe this is even better than the original idea, especially if we can leave this gathering with concrete plans for future communication and action. That's hard to achieve with 100+ people.
This is my 19th year of teaching middle school -- it's the only full-time job I've ever had.
I have seen and experienced lots of weird and wild things, but this was one of the most unusual weeks of my teaching career.
Of course, this was definitely the clincher [click pic for the link]
We have spent the past 2 1/2 months on a civics project, and I can't possibly go through all the steps and twists and turns in this blog post. Even this news story was a mini-saga in itself. The blonde girl at the end of the table used a family connection to get Channel25's attention. The reporter called my school just before 11:30. Within one hour I had scrambled to clear the library, get all 4 students to meet there, gained their parents' permission, scarfed my lunch, and changed my shirt. One hour later (1:30), the reporter and cameraman were leaving; and at 5:15 this feature was airing on TV and visible on their website. I believe these students said many more insightful things than you can hear in the 3-minute piece, but still it was the talk of the school building the rest of the week. Oh, and they will likely be the focus of a Boston Globe article next week. CRAZY!!
I also got some constructive responses to a reflection assignment AND my annual year-end survey. I will analyze those in a future blog post because I'm close to the 300-word limit, but here is a preview of my 74% approval rating:
...but at least I'm writing it! There are many more unhealthy things I could be doing with my time. It's a Monday evening -- only 6 or 7 of these left to go before the school year ends. This week is my last uninterrupted work week of 2018-2019, before we get all the weird things like MCAS standardized testing and Memorial Day and year-end field trips. The school year doesn't "wind down" ... it winds UP!
Matthew Moore recently made the excellent logo below, which illustrates the concept of 3 posts per week of 300 words (or fewer). Just write something and tweet a link with the hashtag!
Not writing is much easier than writing, but I am always glad when I did. Maybe not right away, except because I can check that box of my to-do list. But at some point in later months or years, I may look back at any of these blog posts for validation, commiseration, confirmation, justification, etc. That still happens fairly frequently.
Right now I feel apprehensive about how this action civics project will end. As with many small-group PBL tasks, I have teams that seem way behind and others that are way ahead. How to balance and juggle them all?! We'll just have to find out....
Who is this flipping guy?!
Andrew Swan is in year 20 of teaching middle school (currently grade 8 US Civics/Government in a Boston suburb). Previously he taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English, US History, geography, and ancient history in Massachusetts and Maine.