Tag Archives: education

The Art of Planning Deeper Learning

A Deep Learning Experience
Deep Learning experiences develop when the learner is able to identify and link pre-existing knowledge and understandings. As the learning becomes deeper the learner is then able to extend and apply their ideas. As teachers this is what our classroom should be all about – to use activities and questions to construct opportunities to achieve more complex and deeper understandings

Recently I had the pleasure of listening to John Hattie speak at a launch of the ‘New Pedagogies for Deep Learning’ project. John is highly regarded and well referenced with his research (meta-analysis) of what makes an impact in the classroom. John talked about the ‘effect sizes’ of number of teaching strategies and spent a bit of time discussing the concept of ‘Surface to Deep Learning’. The need for constructing opportunities to build Surface Understanding and moving students to Deeper Conceptual Understanding. The fact that a lot (up to 90%) of what is happening in schools is based around Surface Understanding indicates current challenge of incorporating Deep Learning. To have a significant impact in the classroom we need to build both Surface Understanding and Deep Understanding, but importantly teachers need to have the skill of knowing when to move between the Surface and Deep. He talked about SOLO Taxonomy as tool for planning and measuring Surface and Deep Understanding. The overview of SOLO was something that although simple seems extremely useful in designing challenges and assessing understanding during Deeper Learning experiences.

In reflection I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with my own Deep Learning that was occurring. John presented facts, thoughts and questions that helped me link some of my previous understandings about learning and my own experiences from my classroom. I was then able to look at learning with a different lens and extend and answer some questions about my approach to learning.

SOLO Taxonomy
SOLO stands for ‘Structure of the Observed Learning Outcomes’. SOLO Taxonomy was developed by Biggs and Collis (1982) and is often described as a ‘framework for understanding’. It describes the processes of understanding used by students when answering prompts. In this way it can be easily used to assess the level of understanding demonstrated by students.

Some levels of SOLO can be described as Surface Learning and others as Deeper Learning. The Surface Understanding is required for the Deeper Understanding to develop (it is not independent).SOLO table

In addition to assessing understanding it can useful for designing strategies and questions
for the classroom. One of the things that makes it work well here is the way it includes content knowledge (Surface Knowledge) as the building block for the Deeper Learning. Therefore as a planning tool it could be very useful to plan differentiated learning or responsive tasks.

The real art of a teacher that John Hattie described was the art of knowing when to move a student from Surface to Deep Learning. Also, knowing the occasions of when to move back to Surface Learning again.

As one of my goals is to increase Deeper Learning with my students this is an ‘art’ and ‘timing’ that I would like to develop. I also believe this is be a broader pedagogical push in education. We are rapidly moving away from students who need to ‘know stuff’ as knowledge is often only a google search away. The skills required of students to undertake Deeper Learning will be more valuable in the information rich world that they will grow up in. The timing is right to move away from the classroom that is based around Surface Knowledge!

Some things to check out about SOLO Taxonomy.
A good summary of Solo Taxonomy – About SOLO Taxonomy
Great video – Solo Taxonomy explained using LEGO
John Biggs – SOLO Taxonomy

Floating with Feedback on the Surface
…………….and then Diving Deeper
A critical challenge for our teaching team over the last few years has been investigating at how we can move towards personalising learning in our classrooms. By this we mean that for every student we know ‘where they are at’ and to then create appropriate experiences to ensure that ‘they move forward’. Essentially we were wanting to identify the ZPD for students and then utilise strategies that include differentiated learning to enable growth. There are many pieces to this puzzle, but we identified a key focus to be on formative assessment to deliver feedback from the learner. In our context this seemed to be the missing link for personalised learning – it was quality feedback from the learner that we needed to improve.

This direction was backed up by John Hattie’s research where he identified ‘feedback’ as one of the strategies with the highest effect sizes. One of the things that ‘expert’ teachers do to make a difference in their classrooms. Importantly he also identified that “feedback was most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher……………and then teaching and learning can be synchronized and powerful”  (Hattie 2009).

We went on a mission and implemented many forms of formative assessment with the aim of delivering precision in learning. We looked for assessment strategies that were frequent, useful, had accessible results and in most cases were enabled by digital technology. Our goal was to be making ‘Daily Data Driven Decisions‘ – The decisions that we make on a daily basis about students learning needed to have the support of useful learning data.

This has resulted in a great shift in our practice and more importantly in the learning that was occurring in class. However, as we reflected on our progress we identified a couple of areas we now wanted to address:

  1. Opportunities for Deeper Learning – We recognised that a lot of what we were delivering and assessing in class was Surface Learning and we wanted to include opportunities for Higher Order Thinking (which I now prefer to call Deeper Learning). It was interesting to hear John Hattie describe that most (up to 90%) of learning in classrooms could be categorised as Surface Learning.
  2. Stimulate ‘Inquiry’ in the classroom – We wanted to cognitively engage students in the scientific problems of the world around them. To achieve this we this we needed to focus on the timing of questioning/challenges.
  3. Collaboration – Collaboration is one of the key principles of our Colleges Pedagogical Vision. We are always keen to look for opportunities to increase Collaboration in the classroom.

Therefore, this next stage of things our goal was to create opportunities for challenging activities for our class (investigations) and to regularly use challenging questions (provocations) with our classes. Both designed to be collaborative and to simulate Deeper Learning. In a previous post ‘Harnessing provocations for Deep Learning‘, I have explored the nature of creating such provocations.

A model I found useful when describing the nature of investigations/provocations is The Learning Challenge (James Nottingham). In this model students enter a phase called ‘The Pit’. In such a phase here might not be an obvious solution to the problem and often there is ‘cognitive conflict’ in the student’s minds about a possible solution. In a well-designed challenge students have the knowledge and understandings (often some of their Surface Learning) to construct a new Deeper Understanding and a solution to the problem. The important concept for us is that the students didn’t have the answers first! We were trying to create an environment where it was a challenge for them to construct understanding. I often explain such problems to students as ‘chin scratchers’ or ‘thinking questions that need a thinking answer’ and that ‘they are tough problems to solve’ and to do this ‘learning is hard work’………..’A Learning Challenge’.

In important part of this next stage of things is that we didn’t want to replace our strategies using Formative Assessment, but instead we wanted to keep these and add challenges to create opportunities for Deeper Learning. We weren’t ‘Moving To’, but it was more the case that we were ‘Adding’.

Enhanced with Collaboration
Collaboration is not only something we value in our classrooms, but additionally it added a lot to the nature of the challenges we were creating.


With the inclusion of collaboration:

  • Students are more likely to spend time in ‘The Pit’ – The pit can be pretty lonely by yourself and it can be a rush to get out. It can be a lot more comfortable knowing you are there with the support of others and with this confidence students might be more likely persist with the challenge. Simply, more time in the challenge can mean more time to find links and to extend and develop ideas.
  • Students are more able to get out of ‘The Pit’ – Therefore we can design ‘The Pit’ to be a little deeper and increase the challenge in our classrooms. In Vygotsky’s explanation of the Zone of Proximal Development he describes the movement of a student from their level of ‘actual development’ to the level of ‘potential development’. He defines the level of potential development as the ‘level of development the learner is capable of with collaboration’ (with teachers and peers). It is often this collaboration with peers that is overlooked when considering the potential of learners and instead it is considered an individual limit for students.
  • Students could be more reflective – As students are discussing the problem with others it offers many opportunities for metacognitive reflection. Reflections such as – How has their thinking changed? What do they know now that they didn’t before? What strategy worked? Why did this strategy work? Could this strategy be applied to another problem? How would you change your approach next time?

The skills we aspire to develop in learners to prepare them for the future are developed in experiences that are challenging, collaborative and require deeper thinking.

Timing is Everything!
One of the skills of being an ‘expert teacher’ as described by John Hattie knowing when to move students from surface to deep learning (and sometimes back to Surface).

To plan our timing it has been useful for us to define what we mean by ‘Inquiry’ in our class and to categorise some phases of the learning cycle. It is important to clarify that we are not implementing an Open Inquiry Model where students are creating and researching their own questions. Instead guiding inquiry as we use carefully constructed questions (provocations) to engage learners in the chosen concept and to challenge them to build and extend on their ideas. To help us position these experiences in the Learning Cycle we have used the adapted phases of an Inquiry Model (Karplus) – Explore, Explain, Apply. Many will be familiar with a development of it in the 5E Instructional model (Bybee) – Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. This isn’t a strict formula of delivery, but more a tool to help us guide this movement in and out of Deeper Learning experiences.

In this phase we are wanting to stimulate thinking and cognitively engage the students in the key concept. It is not just an interesting introduction but a hook that makes them question their own understanding. In the remaining Learning Cycle this experience offers a great reference point for students to link upcoming learning. A good way to look at this is that the hook can be somewhere students can hang new understandings. Aside from offering this cognitive engagement and reference point it can also be beneficial to expose and gauge learning at this early stage.

The Challenges during this phase might often have a ‘Shallow Pit’ (smaller challenge) in comparison to later problems. As the students may not have collected the required content knowledge and understanding (Surface Learning) they might not be able to tackle a deep problem. A well-constructed challenge might offer a solution, but offer room for the concept to develop and for other ideas to be added as learning develops.

In this phase we aim to deliver develop experiences to allow students to be able to understand the concept. We might deliver Focus Lessons which involve explicit instruction to deliver much of the content knowledge. Following this we might include a number of activities and tasks that reinforce this understanding. It is also a phase where we use many of our formative assessment strategies to gauge student progress and where possible differentiate learning.

It is in this phase where we are strategically developing the building blocks (Surface Learning) for Deeper Learning.

In this phase we look for opportunities to deliver and assess Deeper Learning as students undertake more challenging questions. Students apply their understanding and link ideas – Justify, Explain, Compare…… (Relational). Students might also extend their ideas and apply their understanding to new situations – Hypothesise, Create, Predict, What Next…… (Extended Abstract). In the Science classroom it would commonly include experiments and investigations to enable these challenges, but can also include questions as provocations for this Deeper Learning.

In particular this is the phase for the bigger challenges. Provocations and Activities that really put the students in ‘The Pit’.
Based on student achievement it may be necessary to move back into the Explain phase may be appropriate to move

Visibility of Deeper Learning
Our initial work with feedback provided visibility of learning in our classrooms that allowed us to more accurately meet student needs. However, the limitation of much of this formative assessment was that it was based around multiple choice and short answer questions and as a result tended to focus on Surface Understanding. As we constructed Deeper Learning experiences for our classrooms it was then important to consider how we might assess understanding during such activities. Our challenge was to have visibility during Deeper Learning so we could increase precision here as well. It is during these that misconceptions and thinking processes can be more visible. Visibility here can be crucial in being responsive and knowing when and who should be engaged in Deeper Learning experiences.

As with our other forms of formative assessment we turned to technology to work effectively. We used a web based app called Verso which allows us to structure student collaboration around a stimulus question (provocation).  After accessing media students post an anonymous response before they read, comment and respond to the answers of others. Students supported by collaboration with their peers are able to build understanding to challenging questions. As a teacher being able to see every students post and interactions gives me great insight into their learning. It is during such challenging questions that misconceptions and thinking processes are even more exposed. Using Verso an additional feature is that you can group responses, this enables responsive instruction where you are able to use data to drive your decisions.

To see how Verso works see my video – A Tour of Verso

Once visible, the next part of the problem was how to measure and assess levels of this understanding. This is where SOLO Taxonomy ties everything together. A simple and effective set of criteria which is suited to assessing the level of understanding in student responses. Certainly it would seem a much more usable tool than Blooms which appears limit itself by linking the standard of the question being asked and the standard of the response. It would also seem that SOLO becomes quite usable as it integrates the content knowledge (Surface Understanding) rather than separates it.

Visibility enables the art of timing Deeper Learning experiences and allows us to respond effectively.

Solo Taxonomy, purposeful provocations, strategic timing, digital technology – these have all been tools used to construct and assess Deeper Learning Experiences.  What else do you think can be used in the art of planning Deeper Learning?

Harnessing Provocations for Deep Learning

Harnessing Provocations for Deeper Learning
Q head
What are Provocations?
Strategically created questions based around a specific concept.  They encourage students to:
Initiate new ideas and questions
– Us
e Higher Order Thinking Skills
– Be involved in rich discussion

What makes great Provocations?image
– Provocations that use  variety of stimulating media to initiate and open up thinking.  Engaging and relevant media will be more likely to motivate quality student responses.

Hooks – Provocations that are designed to create interest, but also to ensure that that this interest is aligned to the concept (hooked).  They aim to create student interest and inquiry within the boundaries of the concept.
Thinking Questions – Provocations that are Higher Order thinking Questions.  These are Open Questions that are often ‘unGoogleable‘.  Answers to these types of questions will offer greater visibility into student thinking and create great opportunities for formative assessment.  Answering these types of questions will also develop the skills required for students in ‘Tomorrows World’ – skills as ‘critical thinkers’ and ‘question askers’.

– When provocations are structured to be collaborative they will help develop many Higher Order Thinkingimage Skills.  In addition collaboration will also offer and opportunity for the students to spend more time ‘In the Question’.  More time discussing and considering the question will allow more opportunities for students  to make connections in their learning.

Video – Harnessing Provocations for Deeper Learning

Positioning Provocations in the Learning Cycle
As we explore concepts we aim to strategically position the provocations using a simple Inquiry model Explore – Explain – Apply.   Using this model we aim to guide students inquiry around the concept.  We aim to utilise provocations in the ‘Explore’ phase prior to supporting students with explanations.  In this phase we want to connect to previous understanding, explore solutions and expose misconceptions.  Provocations are also useful in the ‘Apply’ phase where it again offers the opportunity to connect learning.  Using the provocations in this way could also be the starting point for self directed experiments and student led investigations/inquiry projects.image

Working with Provocations effectively in the Classroom
We have been using an online app called Verso to deliver many of our provocations in class. Verso not only allows us to effectively manage the provocations, but it also has a number of features that enhance this pedagogical approach.
Accountable – it is easy to track each students responses and comments to ensure each student responds.
Authentic Reponses – Students can’t read other responses until they have posted themselves.
Student Voice – Responses are anonymous (for students) giving them the confidence to respond.
Collaborative – By structuring the provocations around collaboration it encourages the students to spend more ‘Time in the Question’ allowing more opportunities to make connections in their learning.
Peer Acknowledgment – Students are able to offer ‘Likes’ and ‘Helpfuls’ to each others responses and comments, which encourages collaboration.
Personalisation – You are able to easily group students to create teachable moments in the class – address misconceptions, group in similar ideas/different ideas.

I have discussed the trial of Verso in my previous post ‘Flipping Inquiry -Exploring Verso’.

Video – A Tour of my Verso account discussing features and impacts on learning

If you use Provocations in your classroom and have some great ideas or feedback I would love to hear?

How do you structure provocations?            How do you use them in class?
What makes a good provocation?                  Why do they work? 

The 3 Flavours of Flip

    3 Flavours of Flip    image


The Evolution of my Flip
The flavour of my classroom has evolved considerably over the last few years to include flipped learning.
In this evolution I can identify a few main phases:

  1. Phase 1: Delivering Content – The Initial focus was to purposefully utilise video in the homework space.  This closely followed by creation of my own videos and making these accessible on the class website
  2. Phase 2: Student Centred – This involved a real change to the classroom (physical group space) where things became a lot more student centred.  This type of classroom is described well in the document  ‘What is Flipped Learning’
  3. Phase 3: Responsive – More recently I have worked towards creating quick videos to respond to student needs.
  4. Phase 4: Collaborative –  Also recently I have moved media related to questioning and collaboration to the Virtual Space.

imageThree Flavours of Flip
This evolution has framed 3 main aspects of flipped learning in my classroom today.
I explain these below (and in the video) as ‘3 Flavours of Flip’
– Repository
– Responsive
– Questions

3 Flavours of Flip. A discussion of the evolution of Flipped Learning in my classroom

RepositoryThese are the videos that are pre-created to explain particular concepts. I often use Camtasia to produce these screencasts and if possible keep them to a few minutes to allow them to be easily digested. They sit on our class website so they are accessible when and if the students need them – this really helps to personalise learning.  I believe this to be different approach to a teacher who strictly schedules the watching of videos for homework. To compliment my own videos I also include a range of other videos from YouTube and related resources on our class website. I consider this to be our ‘filing cabinet’ of resources for students to access.

responsiveThese are the videos that are quickly created in response to what is happening in class. They could be solutions to problem that a number of students need help with. They might also be the quick explanation to a part of a concept that a few students are finding difficult. Often they are the things that I realise I might be repeating a few times and could be better on video so they are accessible. I produce these videos quickly and quite often use the iPad App Explain Everything to make a quick diagram and post theses directly to our class space.

questionsA recent focus for our team  has been ensuring that we create Inquiry in the classroom. It has involved us strategically using provocations to ensure students ‘Explore’ content prior to participation in tasks where content is explained. This is a consistent theme in many models of Inquiry – ‘Exploring’ always comes first!  It is likely that those who follow flipped learning have come across Ramsey Musallam (Chemistry Teacher in US) who has adapted the ‘Explore–Explain-Apply Model’ (Karplus) to ‘Explore-Flip-Apply’ to suit flipped learning. The use of provocations can also be quite useful in the ‘Apply’ phase where students are able to develop further connections in their learning. Where possible this provocation and exploration can be part of the initial process of an Inquiry Cycle where students create original investigations/experiments.

A tool that we have found very useful to achieve this collaboration is an online app called Verso.  In other posts ‘Flipping Inquiry – Exploring Verso’ and ‘Harnessing Provocations for Deeper Learning’ I have discussed the use of Verso.

Great Cakes………………..…Yum Lots of Flavour!
Creating a classroom learning environment is sort of like baking a cake.  In either case you need carefully chosen ingredients with the plan of creating just the right balance.
It could be considered that Great Cakes:clip_image002

  • Rely on a number and mix of ingredients (Pedagogies). You can’t just use one!
  • Are tasted as they are mixed to ensure that these are in the right balance.
  • Result in specific flavours just right for those eating the cake.
  • Have evolved from good recipes. This evolution could include new ingredients (tech/research)

I believe that as part of a Flipped Learning Model we are able to create opportunities for deeper learning by moving structured inquiry to virtual space.

So some questions this raises for me:

  • Is moving the questioning and collaboration to the virtual space part of flipping?
  • Could this be described as ‘flipping’ questioning?  or is ‘flipping’ really just about flipping   the direct instruction?
  • Have improvements in online tools meant that we are now able to work more effectively with collaboration and Higher Order Thinking with students?

I would love to here your thoughts on these questions.

Flipping Inquiry – Exploring Verso

Recently our Science team has had a focus on how we position Inquiry in our classrooms.  We have been working towards planning activities that encourage students to explore concepts prior to delivering an explanation.   Following this explanation we will plan for students to apply this understanding to further experiments, group activities and more analytical questions.

When studying Scientific Concepts there are a lot of different Inquiry models that are designed for the construction of understanding.   One of the keys principles of most models is that ‘Explore’ comes before ‘Explain’, then followed by some application or Higher Order Thinking.   An early model of this was presented as Exploration, Invention, and Application (Karplus) also as Explore, Explain, Apply.  Many will be familiar with an adaptation of it in the 5E Instructional model (Bybee) – Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.

In recent years our team has increasingly used short snippets of online video to engage students and to offer a version of the explanation.  In some classes we have been working towards a flipped classroom where there has been a clear focus on using the video to create a more effective use of class and homework time.  I have been inspired by the work of Ramsey Musallam who has adapted the ‘Explore-Flip-Apply’ Model as he has fit Inquiry into a blended learning environment (a flipped class).

This need of fitting Inquiry into a blended learning environment (1:1 netbooks) led our team to eagerly trial the Veso App over the last month.  The principles of its design are in alignment with exactly what we are trying to achieve pedagogically during the ‘Explore’ phase.  At Verso describe this as ‘provocations’ (read an extract from their site below):

Deliberate and thoughtful challenges created by the teacher with the intention of initiating thinking, extending ideas and exposing individual learning needs in order to inform practice.

Effective provocations cultivate curiosity through a combination of carefully selected stimulus and high quality prompts or questioning.

Provocations motivate students to think creatively; to discuss, question, predict and hypothesize.  They challenge learner s to engage in big ideas, encouraging further inquiry whilst supporting students to take control of their own learning pathways.

An example of a provocation

Student Responses

Student Responses

The Trial with Verso
Verso is a web based app (works well on everything) that creates opportunity for student collaboration/discussion around a stimulus question.  This includes the ability to add stimulus material – YouTube, Dropbox, links, photos, video………  Students are then required to post before they read and comment on others answers.   For us this really met our need as we sought opportunities for students to ‘Explore’ a concept.

Similar to when we have used Blogs and Discussion Boards in the past, we see more students having a voice compared to a traditional class discussion.  As also commonly seen with online discussions we see students who were normally quiet in class now having a voice.  However, a significant difference was that Verso was set so students were anonymous and that students were required to post themselves prior to reading the posts of others.  This really encouraged student confidence to generating original ideas and to use original wording in their explanations.

Student's comments

Student’s comments

Following the students writing their own posts, it was equally important for them to confidently comment on the posts of others (also anonymous).  This requires them to use their current understanding to analyse someone else’s post and write feedback.  Such a task involves Higher Order Thinking and really exposes current knowledge and misconceptions.  This is what it is all about – expose what’s there and have students construct their own understanding of the concept.  The engagement in this peer collaboration is also encouraged as students can ‘Like’ comments and they can reward someone for a ‘Helpful’ comment.

The sign of a great student centred activity is that all students are actively discussing the concept in their own words – Verso definitely hit the mark here.   As a teacher being able to see each student’s original post and comments also offers a visibility of their learning – you can almost watch it happen!

Verso also enabled levels of differentiation for our students.  In its collaborative nature this sort of activity allows students at all levels to be able to participate and improve their understanding.   Students with a limited understanding can build their understanding with the support of their peers; students with a higher level of understanding can test the limitations of their understanding by analysing and discussing the posts of others.  Additionally, as a teacher one of the great features is that you are able to group student responses together.  The creation of groups of students with similar responses or similar misconceptions can then allow responsive instruction where you might focus particular instruction on specific student groups.  This offers another level of differentiation as your enter the ‘Explain’ phase in the Learning Cycle.

It is this sort of match, where Technology is enabling the Pedagogy that working as a teacher is really exciting.   We are looking forward to ‘Exploring’ Verso as we purposefully ‘Explore’ with our students.

If you are interested in having a look, check out the Verso site.

Biological Whiteboarding

 Biological Whiteboarding
– The use of mini whiteboards in my Biology class

Whiteboarding in class

Whiteboarding in class

This semester one of my big wins has been the introduction of mini whiteboards to my Biology class.  Over the last few years I have been flipping my class, freeing up more class time to run activities.  The use of mini whiteboards really delivers the type of activity I want more of in my classes.  Using mini whiteboards has engaged students, encouraged collaboration and has offered great formative assessment.

The Inspiration
The idea of using whiteboards in my class came from listening to how other flipped teachers were using their redefined class time.  Although I had seen mini whiteboards in Primary classrooms I had not thought that they would have a place in my Senior Biology classroom.  I was inspired by maths teachers (Junior and Senior) who were describing how they were offering quality formative assessment – the thinking and the misconceptions were very visible.  I also heard how the boards created good opportunities for active learning and encouraged student participation.

Punnett Square Problems

Punnett Square Problems

Whiteboards in my Biology class
My first mission with my boards was Punnett Squares (for inheritance calculations) – it was the most ‘maths like’ idea I had.  I drew up some permanent lines for the punnet square using a permanent marker.  Students were then given an inheritance problem to solve. The boards worked perfectly!  Students were willing to take a risk and have a go at the problems – it is amazing how much erasability of the whiteboard increased student willingness to try.  In addition it was very easy for me to float around the room and see how students were approaching the problem.  If I spotted any misconceptions we could easily erase/mark the board to offer some help.  This was perfect formative assessment without the emotional cost of starting problems again. In fact many students preferred to do further practice problems (with easy edits) on the boards rather than in working in their books.

Then my addiction to Biological Whiteboarding really kinked in.  The boards and markers were just sitting there ready to go and I was finding a use for them in many lessons.   A wide range of my quick class activities and thinking activities just seemed to work better on the boards
–          Brainstorms – individual, groups, think/pair/share
–          Write a definition for………
–          Write the key words for this concept…………
–          Write down everything you know about…………….
–          Draw a model for……………
–          Show the main steps of…………..
–          Draw a diagram of……………
–          Draw a concept map for………………
–          Hot Potato – Write a fresh idea and pass the board on…………
–          Speed Dating – High speed rotation: Share idea and ask a question
–          Sharing Circle – In a circle show board and explain/defend/ask
–          Peer Assess – In pairs suggest an improvement to each other’s board

Sharing Circle with boards

Sharing Circle with boards

The patterns were the same.  The students were engaged – they loved the boards as much as me (well almost).  The thinking was visible.  There was little risk when it can be erased – participation was high and students seemed to be a lot more creative.  I saw so many more ideas and thoughts than I would usually see when they worked on paper.

Some of my favorite activities are just best when we do a diagram
The understanding of many concepts is often best explored and assessed with a simple diagram.  Some examples:
–          Cell Diagrams showing organelles
–          Cell membrane structure
–          Enzyme – Substrate fit
–          Mitosis & Meiosis diagrams showing chromatids
–          A diagram to represent Evolution
–          Chloroplast showing the stages of photosynthesis
–          Translation at the ribosome
–          DNA replication and enzymes involved
–          Draw a diagram to represent
–          Action Potential in a neuron
–          Examples of antibodies and antigens

Meiosis Diagrams

Meiosis Diagrams

Quality Conversations – The bonus prize
The real surprise during our whiteboard activities was the high quality conversations that accompanied them.  Every session there was a buzz about what students were doing on their boards or what someone else was doing on their board.  Students were explaining concepts, offering suggestions to others, defending their thoughts and most importantly asking questions.  These rich conversations are what I believe builds good understanding of the concepts we cover.  Students construct a model of the concept by building on and exploring what they know already.

My ‘Non-ICT’ Initiative?
For me this initiative offered a break from ‘yet another ICT tool’.  It was a chance to try something just because the pedagogy felt good.  There seemed no doubt that good learning was the goal, there was no ‘eLearning cool tool’ factor influencing my decision here.

Well, no sooner than I thought this and ICT found a way of sneaking in.
Students liked some of their boards and wanted to keep them and as a result they started taking photos of their boards.  They then wanted to share and compare boards after class.  They wanted to show students who were away their boards from a previous lesson.  Some students didn’t have phones and others were taking photos for them.  In a flash we discussed options and there was a shared Dropbox folder on our class site.  This online sharing was another win for the mini whiteboards.

The Tools of a Biological Whiteboarder
The Boards – I purchased some sheets of ‘White Marker Board’ from Bunnings and cut it into small and big boards.  The board with the Masonite backing was better quality than the cheaper stuff (I took a marker to the store and tested them).
–          Small Size 300 x 400 – size I used for individual work and inheritance problems
–          Big Size 400 x 600 – size for group work and bigger tasks

Markers – I grabbed some cheapo packets of 4 colours from Office Works.  I chose the ones with slightly smaller nibs than I use and they seemed to work fine.  All still going strong after a semester of scribbles.

Dusters – I ripped up an old towel and elastic band it to each packet of markers.  Tip – Boards are harder to clean if you leave the markers on for a while.

What about you?
I would love to hear from other ‘whiteboarders’ out there about their experiences:
–          What subjects/topics do you teach using whiteboards?
–          What type of activities work well for you? Could work well?
–          What are the benefits?
–          What is working for you?

Letting Go and Letting the Questions Flow

Q's pic 2

I am sure there are no arguments that the effective use of questioning and genuine classroom discussion is one of the keys to maximising learning.  In recent years many of my students interactions (including questions and discussions) have moved online……………. and wholly virtual cow, this is a game changer!

The last couple of years I have been flipping a number of my classes with the use of online video.  This has allowed time in the classroom to be increasingly student centred and to be all about the learning activities that work best when we are as a group.   This has resulted in the shift online for both the independent work (mostly at home) and for some of the collaborative work that can flow in/out of the classroom.  Sitting alongside these tasks is our questions and discussions, which we have trialled in a variety of formats – learning management systems, quiz tools, blogs, Google forms and message boards.

I see these online questions and discussions mostly slotting into a few main categories (See detailed reflection of my current state of affairs HERE):

1. Checking student progress – What has been finished? What were the key words in your summary?  What were the concepts that you have summarised?

2. Student ‘help’ questions – What don’t you understand?  What do you need help with? What do you want me to cover in class?

3. Formative assessment – Question’s to test understanding of the concept?

4. Student Inquiry – Genuine student questions related to the concept. What does this make you wonder?  Why does this occur? What areas interest you?

The last category (Student Inquiry) is really where I want to shake things up a little.  After all, when we learn Science, what we are really talking about is the process of students understanding the amazing world around them.  With this in mind, it means that the ‘what does this make you wonder’ questions are what we need to hit to truly cognitively engage students in Science.

I believe there are some great benefits to the other types of questions and strategies I am using in my class.  However, I am wary that with these alone it could lead to a more ‘factory like’ content delivery schedule and I could miss some of this essential engagement and inquiry.  I also wonder if my previous attempts to curate these types of student inquiry questions on our blog/message boards have actually got in the way of the natural flow of this type of questioning – too much control!

Some questions for me:

  • As a science teacher how can I foster natural inquiry and discussion about Science?
  • Could this be another area in the student centered classroom where I need to step back and release responsibility?  Am I able to let the questions flow naturally?
  • Where in the learning cycle would be the best place to encourage this?
  • How can I facilitate this so that it will be intuitive for students to ask and answer?

As I step back and decide where to next, I have a few guiding thoughts:

  1. Don’t start with the tool – I want to be really clear about my needs before I choose and settle into a tool.  Don’t get me wrong, I still intend to get really excited by the fantastic tools out there.   Currently I am looking forward to getting on Verso to enable the setup of the inquiry.  There are also some great options for putting quizzes alongside your videos – Google forms (now with embedded video), Sophia, Camtasia and TED Ed.
  2. Go for something intuitive – It needs to be intuitive for students.   It can’t be too many clicks away or too hard to post.  Having notifications could also be beneficial to hook students back into the discussion.   For many the discussion formats of Facebook, Verso, Edmodo , Schoology and Ask 3 (if an iPad school) are all the sort of online discussions that seem intuitive for students.
  3. Plan for Inquiry – Plan opportunities and activities that encourage students to inquire.  Plan activities that scaffold the skills to ask and answer questions.  Consider the timing/position of these discussions in the learning cycle.

I would love to hear from other educators about their approaches in using ICT to create questions and discussions that promote inquiry.

Flipping In

Don’t flip out about my flipped class because my flip is all about what I am flipping in and not what I am flipping out.  If I haven’t lost you by using the word flip 5 times in one sentence, let me explain.

Over the last 2 years I have been transforming my classroom by utilising ‘flipped learning’.  In class I am using screencasts as a tool to deliver direct instruction with the goal of more effectively using class time.  This isn’t always a strategy that is well understood by teachers who have not used this approach.  Often they have a perception that there is an increased focus on the direct instruction (now in the videos) and that class time is used to complete homework questions (students working mostly individually).
So, to keep me sane, here are the points I would like to make:

1. Focus on what is being ‘flipped in’.  What is happing in class is very far from students sitting around doing homework.  Like many other classes that use flipped learning, our time together as a class is very active and has allowed us to find time to implement many other learning strategies that were difficult to find the time for ‘pre-flip’.
For me it has really allowed me more time to:
   – structure specific learning activities/experiments
   – to implement formative assessments,
   – work with small groups
   – students to work collaboratively – use the time ‘together’
   – for me to work with students individually
These are all the things that the discussion of flipping should be about.

2. The flipping out bit isn’t just ‘out to homework’.  Sure, direct instruction can be accessed at home and this helps create class time to work together.  However, I would like to think of it more as moving the instruction to be anywhere and anytime.  Particularly as students are now 1:1 and also mostly all have phones, this instruction is now at their fingertips.  Instruction is now anywhere and anytime they need it – at home, in class, when they are stuck on something or anytime a question pops into their head.  It is really just putting the access to the direct instruction in the student’s control.  Combine this with a pause and rewind button, you now have control on the pace of delivery.  The direct instruction can now be delivered most effectively at the point of need and at the pace they need.

3. Direct instruct still exists in my class. When you say this, I am sure the FBI (Flipping Bureau of Investigation) doesn’t hunt you down and take your ‘Flip Licence’ away.  At least I hope not!  Yes, direct instruction is still needed and still has a place.  Now, direct instruction isn’t the starting point, not everything has to be delivered in this way and as a result direct instruction is only a small proportion of class time.  When direct instruction is used, it can be done in a more targeted approach using formative assessments.   It can be used to target a specific area of need for the whole class or a specific audience (smaller group).  Direct Instruction is now a purposeful tool rather than daily practice.

4. This baby isn’t my Silver bullet.  Flipping your class is far from the ‘Silver Bullet’ that will improve learning outcomes for everyone in your class.  I prefer to think of it as one of my ‘Sliver Tools’ on my ‘Silver Educational Utility Belt’.  Yes, I am using the image of a Batman style utility belt.  It has a pile of amazing tools that can be busted out to get the job done.  The modern classroom requires this approach – no classroom can be solved with just one tool.  Every great classroom has just the right mix of things happening – flipped learning can be one of these things.

5. The ‘Flip Community’ now makes sense.  I have trialed lot of different strategies in education and I have never had such an interest in the associated community of educators as I have with the ‘Flipped Community’.  When I stop to think why this might be the case, it is true that the flip bit is what we all have in common.  However, this bit isn’t what really hooks me in.  What really draws me in is the differences.  How do each of these educators use their class time – what else is going on in their class alongside this strategy.  I really want to know “‘What has been flipped in?”.

The power of the flipped classrooms is what I am flipping in (what is happening in class) rather than what I am flipping out (what is happening out of class).