3 Tools to Connect Your Classroom in Under 3 Minutes.

Are you short on time? Or maybe you’re just short? Or maybe like me…you are BOTH. ūüôā

When I first started to digitally connect with my students 3 years ago, I tried a class Facebook group. At the time I pretty much kept it a secret as I was not sure how it would be perceived by other teachers (I did run it by my principal). The response and feedback I got from students was so positive and the interactions so beneficial, I was enticed to try other forms of digital connection.

Below is a quick video I made to share at our staff meeting. I used¬†Pow Toons¬†to showcase another video making tool that is fun for both teachers and students alike. If you don’t have time to watch the video highlights are provided below.

3 Tools to Connect Your Classroom.

1. Facebook Groups.


Don’t have Facebook? ¬†You make the group and do not have to friend students. To start a group you need to add one person who is your friend (I always add my daughter and then once the group is up and running she exits).¬†No problem get a student to make the group for you.

I post daily reminders, pictures from class, documents and links of interest.

Students will ask questions and other students will usually beat me in answering and that’s magic!

I know some teachers prefer Edmodo to Facebook but I find with senior students Facebook can’t be beat. I should say, I¬†do not demand students join the group or Facebook, it is just another place they can access class reminders and updates, but not the only place.

2. Class Twitter Account

I have a separate account just to Tweet out class information, daily reminders and answer quick questions. This year, I invited parents to follow this account as well, as a way to keep up to date on class activities .

Use Future Tweets¬†if you don’t want to manually Tweet updates and reminders each day.

3. You Tube Channel

Don’t have your own videos to share? No problem!¬†There are so many amazing videos available videos on You Tube, why not have them collected all in one place? Again if you don’t have time for this consider giving this project to a student.

My You Tube channel is here.

Not sure how to make a channel? You tube has a great Help Center

What’s your favorite way to connect your students?

Break from blogging for #etmooc: Top posts of 2012.

I will be taking a break from professional blogging over the next couple of months to take on some new projects. This breaks my heart in some ways, but I am very excited to dive into the MOOC world (#etmooc) amongst other projects. Maybe I will see you there?

I thought I might highlight posts that had clicked for you and for me over the last year.

I appreciate your support and comments over the past year of growth and evolution.

1. Dear Points….We need to break up. Inspired by @MrPicc112

2. Excuse me, I think I am having a revolution.

3. Establishing classroom routines: flex time, learning journals, hot seat, packets and more!

4. Recipe for a #flipclass: Homework + worksheets + random videos.

5. Inspired Countdown 2012.

6. Celebrating Canuck chicks who tweet.

On Collaboration and School Culture.


Did they “teach” us that one at teacher school?
Do you hear it talked about in staff rooms?

Do you know what it looks like or feels like?

It is like that urban legend you heard about in grade 4, someone’s cousin had spiders hatch out of their cheek while sleeping one night.

Yeah that one…the one that scared the pants off of you, even though you never actually met the person.¬†I am not implying burnout is an urban legend, I am saying it is treated as such in teacher culture.

Teaching can be a tough job and there is a “survival of the fittest” culture in schools I have worked in. You can admit you are struggling…but only to a point, to certain people and in specific situations; if you show too much weakness others fear you might drag them under.

So how does this work if we are going to get teachers to grow, take on big bold risks, and try new things? How to support teachers when parents, critics or even other teachers have a go at what you are doing or trying? Attacks, no matter how well-meaning, can feel personal, consuming the small reserve in the energy tank.

Further, if the very adaptations that we as teachers have evolved over the courses of our careers have allowed for our survival how then to change AND not go extinct at the same time?

Last year I travelled through a wormhole of change. That I came out the other side is attributable it to one thing: a committed collaborative partner, Graham Johnson.

Graham and I, Pikes Peak, June 2011.
Graham and I, Pikes Peak, June 2011.

I have a strong support network outside of school, people who I trust, a husband who is in the biz, but they were not what kept me afloat. What kept me going and stopped me from giving up (cause there were days when I did consider giving up on change) were the continuous conversations that Graham and I had daily, sometimes hourly, about what we were specifically doing. When either of us hit a wall we dealt with it then and there, we brainstormed and co-created a viable solution. We established common goals (we wrote these out on paper) and committed to (even though he teaches Math and I Biology) common ground with certain practices (flexible assessment, Hot Seat, Whiteboarding, Learning Journals are all examples) We communicated via Twitter DMs dawn to late, phone chats and face to face debrief after school.

You might be thinking by now…yeah we know that¬†collaboration is important, yesterday’s days news….next.

BUT. Hold up…

Collaboration is NOT just something you should really try someday and when you do it will be fun; it is like having a snow plow with no blade, a motor boat with no motor, or an axe with no blade. You cannot do the intense work of change without real-time continuous, connected collaboration that relates DIRECTLY to what you actually doing in your class. To collaborate I had to be willing to co-evolve, to commit to a common end (and by this I do not mean improve Grad rates) and at times (more than I might like) I needed to compromise; I had to first converge in the here and now to survive, before I could diverge and thrive later.

I used to think that if I controlled everything I could assure the final outcome would be high quality, this was a guaranteed ticket to burnout and was never sustainable. Now I know that through cooperating, compromising and collaborating I can evolve AND survive.

If we continue yelling out and waving our arms at teachers: Change this way! Come on let’s go! Pick it up! WITHOUT the collaborative, connected mindset and ecosystem firmly in place, we will perpetuate the medium for burnout.

We need to out the culture of “survival of the fittest” and replace with a flourishing visible ecosystem that is fluid, open and dynamic. We need to buoy teachers with collaborative partnerships, collective groupings, tools to connect in real-time and conditions that normalize collaboration as an integral part of the day-to-day.

Then…we can wave away.

“We can see¬†the very beginnings of a¬†new story beginning to emerge.¬†it’s a narrative spread¬†across¬†a number of different disciplines in¬†which cooperation,¬†collective action¬†and¬†complex inter dependencies play a more¬†important role¬†and the¬†central, and the all important role of competition and¬†survival of the fittest¬†shrinks just a little bit¬†to make room.”
Harold Rheingold

From the horse’s mouth to your ear, #flipclass student speaks!

Kaitlin Graf is a Grade 10 student (now Grade 11) at Okanagan Mission Secondary. This is her second semester in a Flipped Math class with my colleague and fellow flipper, @Math_Johnson.

My name is Kaitlin Graf and I have experienced two semesters of Math (Math 10 and now Math 11) in a Flipped Class.  At first I disliked the Flipped Class but later I realized that it was actually very helpful.

I remember the first flipped class lesson I had. We all filed into the classroom and were handed a notes package along with a checklist of things we should complete before a test deadline. For example, there were journal entries we had to complete, several practice Moodle quizzes and of course math problems, we were assigned to do.  Instead of my teacher proceeding to teach us our 1.2 notes on surface area through the typical method of lecturing, we were given time to work through the material at our own pace. The concept of the flipped class and that we would be watching videos at home, and doing our homework in class. As a student, one of my favorite subjects is math, because of the structure and because for some reason I loved the boring, obvious, lesson plan. Since the flipped class took away the standard and traditional ways I didn’t like the flipped classroom at first. I felt that because our teacher was no longer teaching us and that there was no point on coming to class.

However, after a while in the flip class, I began to see the benefits of the flipped class and use them to my advantage. As a motivated student, I was no longer sitting around, waiting for the other kids to finish, I was no longer annoyed with the questions certain students asked and was not forced to re-learn things I was already confident I knew.

As well, I could move through the course as quickly as I liked, do as much or as little homework as I felt I need. After a couple of weeks into the flipped class, I actually started to like the overall idea of it. I also realized that during class there was now more time for the teacher to help you one to one, which in Math is extremely helpful.

The videos provided are additionally helpful because you can re-watch them as many times as you want. When you don’t understand something, you can just go online and find the section that explains your problem and move on.

At the end of the day, I cannot imagine returning to a regular Math class.

Why I fall in love with #flipclass everyday anew.

Last year I did some renovations to my teaching practise. The process was exhilarating, demanding, and left me with taste for change. I did some exploring over the summer and charted out a plan for the coming school year. I came back in September with some great new ideas: portfolios, full on standard based grading, 20% time.

I was ready to bring it.

Thing is….my students were NOT.
They had not spent the summer immersed in books, online courses and a trip to MIT.

All this change I was craving was not embedded in anything meaningful or reasonable for my students. I might as well shown up talking Japanese for the amount of sense it made to them.

Maybe you are saying: “Well if you just kept plugging away, if you just kept at it, eventually they would come around.”

Maybe your right, maybe they would have, maybe slowly, they would have had some magic transformative moment and inspiration would have been lit in their learning souls.

But by then…. I might have become a drooling zombie.

I could not push any harder, I could not…

In this space where students have very specific and prescriptive expectations about how things will and should work, and will say right to my face “Don’t you dare mess with it Ms Durley cause I need to get 90% for the nursing program.”

I hate to admit defeat, it is the hardest thing for me, a perfectionist people pleaser, to do. I hate to be so emotional about it, but I am. I have been carrying this silently inside for many weeks and it has been bogging me down, draining my drive and making me feel generally like a failure.

I have regrouped and gone back to the drawing board, I will give portfolios another shot, just scaled down. I still am working on standards based grading, with others in my department this time, to make it fit within the points driven paradigm of this system. I will offer some exploration time but in smaller chunks and with slightly different parameters.

Many of you out there in my circle of influence, write in dramatic landscapes of absolutes: no homework, no worksheets, no videos, no direct instruction, no marks, etc.

Do you know how it feels in a room of 30 Grade 12’s who want you to be something very specific, in a school of 60 staff members, and in a community with their eyes resolutely on the prize?

It eats at you slowly, bit by bit, erodes your confidence, your energy, your dreams, your ideals…..you.

I am fairly energetic and spend time on my practice. I am ready to take risks and change. I love reading the big sweeping ideas about how education needs to change and I need to read them, as they serve an important function in my evolution as a teacher.

But what I need, what I crave, what saves my sanity, is a sturdy and safe bridge to get me there. A bridge, a walkway, a map, a blueprint…. pick whatever metaphor¬†you want.

I need to know HOW… how to get there… and get there safely with these kids, the ones right in front of me with their mindsets, their parents’ pre-conceptions, the report card parameters, the school final exam policy, the AP exam in May, with ALL these realities on my plate.

So I fall in love with flip class everyday anew because I can do it within these four walls and my one mortal life. I can get out of school by 5, get to the gym, and be present in body and soul at the dinner table.

I can see and feel tangible changes in my practice, in how students are interacting in the room with each other, with me and with the content.

I can show up each day, have the wherewithal, the time, and the energy to look each child in the whites of their¬†eyes and¬†say: “Do you get it, what don’t you get, and how can I help?”

I have to remember how huge that is.

Flip class is my bad ass bridge, I will continue travelling with it to get me safely and sanely…there…with these kids….in this time and place.

BUT… my students are going to university!

Have you ever played broken telephone? Someone starts a message and the message is whispered around the group until out it comes on the other end all garbled and funny?

One of the messages I have “heard” over the course of my career is: “Part of your job is to prepare your students for university. This includes making sure they KNOW the content (every detail!) AND are really good at the game of school.”

No one has of course ever said this aloud or in writing, but the implication has always been out THERE, deeply embedded in the culture of science departments I have worked in.

But what if this message is no longer valid? What if in fact universities were changing too? Would this not be a great reason for us the secondary level to examine and maybe renovate our practices?

Scott Harkness, former student teacher extraordinaire who is¬†now teaching both Biology and Chemistry at Pen High in Penticton B.C., had this very clever and insightful thought “Why not find out WHAT uni prof’s actually want?”

Below is his post on what he found out:

I teach senior high school level biology and chemistry and over the past year I have changed the way I deliver, and the way students “acquire” content in my course. I have shared my journey and ideas with other colleagues along the way. Many have been receptive, and others…well…

Working in a department it is important to work as a team rather than against one another.  It is great to bounce ideas off of each other but some days it feels as if I am constantly fighting an uphill battle where I defend one argument and then another takes it’s place.  Even still, I feel comfortable moving in the direction I am, until university is mentioned.

The thinking goes something like this: ¬†“Students‚Äô in senior science course are headed to postsecondary. They need to know the INFORMATION before going to university or they will not be successful. We at high school need to make sure we cover the CONTENT otherwise these students will be at a disadvantage and it will be MY fault.‚ÄĚ

Is this in fact accurate? Is this what universities’ want?

I’ve never asked them…until now.

I sent emails to professors from UBC, U of A, and SFU asking them what their biology/ science departments are doing in terms of classroom format (lecture, etc), educational trends and expectations of students coming out of high school. I included in my email a description of a flipped classroom and how I am trying to move away from content acquisition and towards skill based, process oriented, and collaborative learning. I mentioned that I was hoping to get some insight into what the instructors were doing and to help get my students ready for the next level.

I had no idea what to expect or whether to expect any replies at all. I was blown away, excited and amazed at the responses I received. Below are summaries from 3 university professors.

Dr. Samuels
Head of Botany at UBC.
Her suggestions on how to best prepare students for their post-secondary education:

  • “Encourage all activities that promote active learning in high school [such as skill based, process oriented, and collaborative learning.]
  • Develop…‚ÄĚhabit of examining their own thinking will have a more successful transition to university.”
  • ‚ÄúApply what they have learned in novel contexts.‚ÄĚ

Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer
Dean, Faculty of Science, University of Alberta
Upcoming changes he mentions for the university :

  • We have been experimenting with flipped courses. Come September 2013 we will be expanding our number of flipped courses, at least two of which will be in Biology. If all goes well, then we will continue to move in this direction.

Dr. Lam
Biological Sciences at SFU
Upcoming changes he mentions for the university (Note the second one!) :

  • ‚ÄúMore inquiry-based and critical-thinking-heavy exercises. ‚Äú
  • ‚ÄúExperiment with a flipped classroom design (like the one you mentioned) for the lectures.‚ÄĚ
  • ‚ÄúAway from content acquisition and move towards skill-based, process-oriented, and collaborative learning.‚ÄĚ
  • ‚ÄúShift the focus away from knowing content and towards the useful skills and conceptual understanding that we want students to have when they graduate.‚ÄĚ

His suggestions on how to best prepare students for their post-secondary education:

  • ‚ÄúBreak the habit of memorizing things instead of understanding them. The more you can shift their focus towards understanding concepts with the goal of being able to use them as tools to solve novel problems, the better.‚ÄĚ
  • ‚Äú Build their confidence in their ability to figure things out for themselves. Give them challenges and problems that they don’t think they can solve, refuse to give them hints or answers, and teach them to ask themselves the right questions and to test the validity of their educated guesses until they start to understand the problem and stumble their way towards a valid solution. ‚Äú

These suggestions from university educators tell me that a big change is on the horizon at the university level. They indicate to me that change can start at the high school level.

We, who teach high school students, can no longer hang on to the illusion that if we focus on content ¬†we are “getting them ready for university”. ¬†Push for change in your classroom, in your department, and in your school.

The change is coming…will you be part of the new era of education?

“I think, increasingly, anything you learn is going to become obsolete within a decade and¬†so the most important kind of learning is about how to learn.”

Lawrence Summers –¬†Former President of Harvard

For more on this topic I suggest reading the following articles from the Globe and Mail:

Classroom of 2020: The future is very different than you think

Why university students need a well-rounded education

Recipe for a #flipclass: Homework + worksheets + random videos.

Simple. Send students home to watch videos (Videos don’t even have to be yours! Just find some random You Tube video!) Better yet, assign these videos for HOMEWORK, as in they MUST be done for next day. Then when students come back to class have them fill out gobs of WORKSHEETS.

Done. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. You have yourself a full-fledged flip class.


This is not the flip class I know, see, hear, or read about.

This is a reductive picture that some critics¬†are painting. These critics seem hell-bent on reducing flip class to “It’s ALL about homework and therefore is WRONG. It’s all about random video, so it is WRONG. It is all about WORKSHEETS so that makes it wrong.

Sorry fellows but I am not, nor is my practice a cheap balsamic vinegar that reduction will improve and thicken.

My practice is full-bodied, reflective, eclectic, intense, always changing and does not lend well to reduction. When you show up NOW and reduce my practice to one thing such as homework and then proceed demonize it, I feel confused.

You don’t even know me, you have never stepped foot into my work space, nor have you even asked me two simple questions that easily fit into 140 characters: “Do you use homework in your flip class?” and “Do you use worksheets?”

Have you ever renovated a major room in your house? Say your kitchen or bathroom?

Do you remember the chaos and disarray, the feeling of being off-balance as your daily routines vanished. If you did the renovation yourself you know the time, energy and passion that went in and the months it took to decide on all the key components of this new space, let alone decide on the finishes. Have you every renovated to beat the band and then a friend shows up and says “Huh, I thought you renovated? Isn’t that the OLD faucet from the OLD kitchen?” And you as the chief renovator feel all the work and effort is reduced to this: the OLD faucet.


Last year I renovated the inner workings of my practice. I pulled everything out; I got rid of 20 years of multiple choice tests; I emptied a 20 year treasure trove filing cabinet into the recycling; I pulled out every activity, every lab, every lesson and examined each to decide if they should stay or they should go; I moved away from a points driven system to a mastery standard based model; I read teacher blogs to track down and discover new activities that I could put in to my renovated practice; I re-invented my role in the classroom; I lobbied to attend more ProD; I began blogging on a regular basis; I could go on!

But what I need you to know, need you to know right now, is that the flip class teachers I know and who I collaborate with in the Flip Class community are educators who are 110% committed to renovating their practices out in the open, transparently; regardless of the disruption and stress that comes with such a major and public renovation. These are teachers who are reflecting on, sharing and revising their practices EVERYDAY.

I am not trying to equate effort to excellence. What I do want to make clear is that this change is not static, nor is it a one time application; it is a constant and evolving renovation.

These are not teachers who are stuck and are blindly, reflexively assigning homework and gobs of worksheets just to keep students busy, quiet and maintain control.

Could we perhaps talk about homework and worksheets in general and not attach them to flip class like we invented them or something? And can we stop assuming that we teachers using the flip class model are all worksheet and homework addicts and pushers alike?

Do I have vestiges and remains from my OLD practice. YES.
Is there more I want to change? YES.

Do I assign and mandate homework and worksheets? NO.

And if you would like to know what I do within this still under renovation flip class, just ask.

Flipping the department meeting.

Department meetings are…well…they are meetings!

They are useful in the sense that there is pertinent information that needs to be shared, especially at the start of the year. Unfortunately a lot of the items to share are just information; this how to order, this is how much money in our budget, etc.

Most of our meeting time gets eaten up by information relay and this leaves little time for any collaboration or sharing. Yes you could send people an email…but I think most would agree, they might not get around to reading all of it (if at all).

These meetings happen at lunchtime (our lunch break is 40 minutes) when everyone is short on time to fit in eating, taking a break and getting organized for the afternoon.

With that in mind, I thought I would do a trial “flip” meeting, get feedback and see if this is a more efficient use of people’s time.

Check out the video if of interest to you:

OKM Sc. Dept. Meeting.

What do you think?

Would you like your department meeting to be flipped?

Are your department meeting spent going over information or is their enough time for collaboration and sharing?

Getting started with #SBG in Bio #flipclass – Not perfect YET!

Last summer I worked to rewrite learning outcomes of Biology 12 into “I can” standards ¬†and move away from point collection. I wanted to have¬†student friendly language that described what the student should be able to do by the end of the course. I say by the end of the course, as all standards are in play all semester¬†and students may demonstrate mastery of standards at anytime.

I divided the standards into core (students need to show mastery in all these for B range) and advanced (into the A range). I decided on this division based on what students have struggled with in the past. When we cycle back (as I do several times throughout the course of the semester), some students have breakthroughs and are able to put it all together in a flash.

We established 4 levels for the standards: Mastery, Progressing, Starting, and No Evidence.

Note – This student used BLUE instead of GREEN.

I then gave all the standards to students in a duo-tang so they could track their progress throughout the semester.

Students used highlighters to track themselves (red=stop, yellow=caution, green=go) and the¬†duotangs were the catalyst for our “hot seat” conversations as a student headed into an assessment.

Example of standards for cell biology unit:


A1. I can recognize and explain the function of each organelle. I can relate the role of the organelle to parts of the body.
A2. I can look at micrographs and diagrams of organelles and correctly id them.
A3. I can write, work with and explain the balanced chemical equation for cellular respiration.

A4. I can explain how organelles function to compartmentalize the cell and move proteins and lipids through the cell.

I like how she moved to colours in the second column.

What worked well:

1. Students used standards to have conversations with each other.

2. Students could ask for help in specific areas.

3. Students have a strong awareness of where their weaknesses and strengths lie.

4. Students focused on what they could do rather than on their mark.

What I want to improve:

1. How to do justice to the standards and generate a meaningful percentage.

2. Standards are still too “raw” and obvious, which leads to students consuming content in bite size pieces rather than knitting it together into something of more depth, interest and meaning.

3. Find a way to use standards to communicate with parents in a meaningful manner.

4. Let go of more of the trivia of the course and replace with enduring understandings.

5. Increase my confidence when working with SBG. I still was shaky on how exactly it was going to work; students DO NOT like that.

Note: My work on Standard Based Grading is modified, blended and adapted from @kellyoshea, @samevns,  @bennettscience and @mrsebiology and I thank them for their diligence in documenting and sharing their work.

Reflect b4 it’s too late!

As I scramble today to gear up I thought I better do a serious reflection before I re-enter the “teacher time zone”. This semester I reflected more than usual; I tweeted, I collaborated¬†and I brainstormed on a regular basis about the flipped class transition. My reflection was not as regular and as public as I had hoped , but it never is enough is it? However I am going to grab this opportunity before it’s too late……..

What Stays?

1. Archived videos Рin lieu of synchronous class instruction. OK, my videos are not perfect. I am not Paul Anderson (I wish I was as well spoken) but the videos are a better way for students to access my organization of the content. I hope to improve the videos as I move ahead. Truthfully though, it felt epic getting them all created, loaded and figuring out how to use them to their best potential.

2. Journals РFrom their journals I read what topics, ideas, routines the students were struggling with and why. The journals allowed me to be compassionate when reading about life challenges some students are facing. Some students are much more communicative in the written word. Many took pride in their journals and took the process to heart. I did not expect all of this and so was pleasantly surprised here.

3. Whiteboarding РNext best thing to candy as far as I can tell. Students seem to rise to occasion whenever we whiteboard, they all participate, the energy level in the room goes up.

4. Inquiry Labs¬†–¬†I am hope to move majority inquiry labs and make cookbook labs a thing of the past next semester. These do eat time though so I will continue to find ways to stream line this process.

5. Good bye Multiple Choice – See my other post on goodbye multiple choice.

6. Multiple Assessment Opportunities – Students could apply for an out of class assessment 2 days in advance. They had to produce evidence that they had done significant prep and were ready to challenge the outcomes again. This was one of the best new things I tried!

What Goes?

1. Re-assessment without evidence – I got rushed by the end of the semester and was not being as strident in this regard. I will go back to insisting on seeing quality evidence produced prior to the writing of a re-assessment.

2. Watching videos in class with no earphones – Self-evident!

3. Hot Seat – I found this process of doing a one to one interview with students prior to an assessment became redundant. I was talking to each of them well in advance and the students became more in control of seeking me out when they needed to.

What to Add?

1. Classroom routines with a time management focus РI struggled throughout the semester to balance allowing students to make choices but not so that they would get left behind.

2. Open my door to other teachers – This semester my focus was inward and on my own practice. I would like to look out again and invite other teachers to come into to view the flipped class if there is interest.

3. Offer alternate projects – to demonstrate mastery of standards.

4. SBG – no points! I did a blended approach this semester and students slipped back into “how many points”, ¬†“is this for points”, ¬†“how much will this change my mark”.

5. Improved use of student phones or PEDs – create a class policy around appropriate use of cell phones with the students the first week of semester.

Phew made it!!