Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What's Your Why?

At my school, we were given the book, Awaken the Learner by Darrell Scott and Robert Marzono.  In Chapter 1, the idea is presented of determining your why.  It states, “Unless a person fully understands why s/he is motivated to act and think in various circumstances and relationships, s/he won’t find satisfaction or fulfillment in life.”  This got me thinking about my why.  Why am I in education?  Why do I stay in the classroom?  Why do I get up every morning and drive 45 minutes to work?  Why?  Why?  Why?

As a part of the district teacher of the year application, I had to write my philosophy of education, which I have not done since I first applied for my position 8 years ago, when I was still naive and idealistic.  Note: I still am a bit naive and idealistic, but is there anything wrong with that?  Again, I was realizing that I had to determine my why.  Initially, it was hard for me to articulate it because I know I love my job, but WHY???

I ended up re-watching one of my favorite YouTube videos by Aaron Sams, one of the pioneers of flipped learning and it hit me.  I get up every morning to make a positive difference in kids life.  To teach them science and not only the standards, but scientific inquiry and the passion I have for science.  To look at the world around them, think critically, ask questions, and research answers.  To prepare my students for the real-world and to be positive contributors to our society.  No matter what career field they enter in, I want to impact their lives.   

Now, I don’t know if this idea is fresh in my mind because we are reading this book or because it’s a common theme in education right now, but I am currently at CUE 2015 and I find that I keep hearing people (not necessarily directly or in these exact words) discussing the idea of What’s your Why?

Jennie Magiera, our keynote speaker yesterday definitely hit upon this.  She asked the following and made us ask/think about the following questions:
  • Is what you are doing better for the students?
  • Is it qualitatively changing the experience for our students in a better way?
  • How can we get better at inspiring our students?
  • What are you having your students create today?

Sugata Mitra, our keynote today, stated, “It’s not about making learning happen, it’s about letting it happen.”  This builds right into my philosophy. Letting learning happen drives inquiry and engagement, which hopefully motivates them for a successful future.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014


This week was a GOOD week!

On Monday, we started the DNA unit and it is going great.  Most of the students are progressing through the unit at an appropriate pace or even faster than I expected.  I even had to create an additional assignment on Friday for students that were done with everything on Thursday.  We are doing a lab tomorrow and I'm not at the point where I can have my students doing labs on different days.  I'm open to the idea of it, but I don't know how my 7th graders will respond to that.  Plus, with labs, I like students to collaborate and when students get ahead, they would be doing the labs by themselves.

New things I've realized:

  1. I no longer do ANY direct instruction.  I start the class period with 3-5 minutes of guiding directions of where they should be and where they should be by the end of the class period...and that's it.
  2. My system of checking in on students is working really well.  It keeps the students and myself accountable.  I can see who has all of the assignments done and who hasn't even finished the first one.
  3. My conversations with students are going well too.  I can see what the students are learning 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Conversations with Students

Every Sunday night, I participate in the the #CaEdChat on Twitter.  Last week, I was challenged to blog more and tonight, I was reminded of that challenge.  So, here I go =)

After a relaxing week off, I have been reflecting on what I need to improve on in the next couple weeks before our next break.  Every year, I want to get better at talking to my students about the content and assessing their knowledge on a day to day basis.  I do this periodically and I love the conversations I have, but I don't think I try hard enough to have these conversations daily.  So, my goal is to talk to every student every day for the next three weeks.

In my last blog, I explained my unit sheet.  I'm still using those and will be starting a new one tomorrow for our DNA Unit.  So, the students will have the list of assignments and the order in which they need to complete those assignments.  I will now carry a roster sheet w/ every assignment that should be completed in the next three weeks.  Every day I will talk to the students and mark off the assignments they have completed.

In addition to talking to my science students, I want to make sure that I talk to my mentor group everyday.  My mentor group is my zero period class and I generally talk to them quickly once a week, but at this point of the school year, I think I need to expand and increase those conversations.

So here's my plan:

Talk to my science students about:
1. Their progress through the unit.
2. Their understanding of the main concepts in the unit.
3. How the concepts are connected

Mentor Group conversations:
1. Grade point averages and increasing grades
2. Task completion (vouchers received from classes)
3. Behavior

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Diving into Personalized Learning

I was on the California EdChat (#caedchat) this evening and was reminded of the importance of blogging to reflect and analyze my practice.  I took a few weeks off because I'm still learning how to budget time and manage being a full time working mom of 2 boys (a 3 year old and 3 month old).  It's hard and exhausting, but here we go!  This week begins my first official week of personalized learning.  I am extremely excited and anxious about how this will play out with the students.  I have so many ideas of how it should go and how the students will react, but no one knows until you dive in!

On Friday, I introduced the concept to my students and gave them the following unit sheet:
It has a place for them to plan out the next three weeks, which I had the students begin to complete on Friday.  There is also the list of assignments the students should complete in order to master the content.  I have built in choice assignments that hopefully appeal to the different learners in my class.  There are videos, basic worksheets, and even an opportunity for the students to make a music video.  If none of it appeals to the student, they have the opportunity to do independent research related to the topic or create their own assignments, they just have to clear them with me first.  We are also doing a consumer challenge in which the students will work in groups to test the claim of a product or compare two products (why not try a version of PBL w/ personalized learning...can you say crazy!)

We started the consumer challenge at the beginning of the week.  I introduced idea, we did some team building and following directions activities.  On Thursday, most of our students had their Chromebooks, so I showed them how to make a copy of the planning sheet, which is a Google Doc, and share it with their group members.  Below, you can see two different groups working on the Google Doc where they are developing their questions, determining the products they are testing and they began writing a material list and creating a procedure.

Final thoughts for tonight: I feel that the amount of personalization for the students will continue to increase as we go through the school year.  Like anything, I feel that I need to scaffold it for my students.  Start pretty structured and continue to give more voice and choice to the students.  Ideally, I would let them run with the concept completely on their own ASAP, but these are 7th graders.  This is their first year in middle school, their first year w/ A-F grades, their first year w/ multiple teachers and passing periods.  I truly believe in this style of learning and I believe that my students will be successful.  So, here we go...wish me luck and I'll be back to let you know how it's going =)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

My Pedagogical Flips

This week I have been reflecting and focusing on how I will be teaching my class in the 2014-2015 year.  I have flipped my classroom, but now want to incorporate personalized learning and project/inquiry based learning.  I truly believe in these three approaches and see the many benefits, but I did not know how or what this would look like in my middle school science classroom.

I was introduced to the flipped classroom in Fall 2012.  This is the practice of taking what is traditionally done in the classroom, like lectures, and flipping it with what is traditionally done at home, like practice problems.  This practice allows for more interaction with the students, collaboration, labs, etc.  I researched and watched many videos, but initially struggled with the idea of letting go of the lecture.  It was all I knew!  Then, one day it clicked in my head.  My students were not learning material from the Cornell Notes that we took in class, they learned when we applied those concepts in labs and activities.  So, my first flip occurred and I flipped my class.

In Summer 2013, I read the Flipped Classroom book and attended a session at ISTE by the authors of the book.  At the end of the summer, I began thinking about the flipped-mastery approach.  This model allows students to move through the curriculum at their own pace and demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways.  I was not sure how to implement this and how it would look in my classroom, so I held off.  At the beginning of the school year, my principal shared that we would be applying for a personalized learning grant and I became part of the team that would plan for our school.  I quickly found that personalized learning was a lot like flipped-mastery and again, I was sold.  I created a personalized learning / flipped-mastery unit for my 8th graders on astronomy and they loved it.  The feedback I received was extremely positive.  They could move through the curriculum at their own pace and do the assignments in whatever order they wanted.  I was able to have actual, meaningful conversations about the content with each and every student.  I had never done this before and in reflecting, I realized I had my second flip.

This summer I read about project-based learning, which introduces a project at the beginning of a unit and the students learn the material as they progress through the project.  Now, my dilemma is how to include all three techniques that I believe in into one classroom.  Tuesday, I received my new book, Flipped Learning from the authors of the Flipped Classroom.  In the book, they transform from the idea of the flipped classroom to flipped learning.  Flipped learning is when direct instruction is delivered individually and the group learning space is used for interactive learning by applying concepts and engaging creatively.  As I was reading I came across a quote that connected it all for me.  "Flipped learning provides a viable method to escape the tyranny of content-driven instruction to the land of projects and inquiry...This type of learning is more organic and values the passions and interests of the students without denying the value of content knowledge."  And it clicked for me again.  Flip number three.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

OC GAFE Summit

This weekend, I attended the GAFE (Google Apps for Education) Summit in Orange County.  I just had my 2nd baby, Nolan, and have been out since May 12th.  I have not been officially working for almost 3 full months.  Yes, I have been on Twitter, I read a book about PBL, and did a small amount of planning, but nothing like I have done the past couple of summers.  This summit was two days of intense training and amazing keynotes.  Talk about getting back into the game!  In my last session, the presenter stated that she believed every teacher should blog and she challenged us to start blogging.  Challenge accepted!!!

This morning's keynote speaker shared her story and the way she's been so innovative in her classroom, which was truly inspiring.  She had her students creating videos, screencasts, music videos, interacting in Google hangouts, writing grants, and so much more.  Talk about authentic engagement and active learning!  At one point, she talked about how excited she was about technology and she would want to share both her enthusiasm and the new technology, but some teachers would literally run away.  I think  that I am a lot like her in this aspect.  I get so excited about technology, but I have to remember that not everyone is as excited as I am.  For example, when I flipped my classroom, I read about an entire high school that flipped and saw some major changes in the percentage of students passing classes. I was sold and suggested we flip our entire middle school.  If a high school in Detroit, MI could do it, why couldn't a middle school in Riverside, CA?  My very wise administrators said no and told me to take baby steps.  Start with one colleague, then go from there.  I am realizing that teaching your colleagues is no different than teaching your class.  The keynote shared this as well.  I really want my colleagues to embrace technology like I have, but I have to remember that they are individuals and need to be invested in order to fully embrace and learn, just like our students!

 She ended the presentation by stating that these innovations did not just magically happen over night.  They took time and there were lots of failures.  She also stated that we should get out there and present.  So, as I drove the Ortega Highway home, I made a goal for myself to present at a conference within a year.  I don't know what I will present or how, which makes me nervous and anxious, but that's my goal.  Hopefully, my name will be in the program of ISTE or CUE or some other conference and I, Ashley Fulmer, will be a presenter!