A Reverse Flip in the Classroom

Earlier this year I had heard about the “flipped classroom” idea but was a bit unsure how I could do the same in my classroom (middle school humanities). The original premise of the ‘flipped classroom’, pioneered by Colorado science teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, was providing students with content (via teacher-produced videos of lectures) outside the school hours. The intention was for students to be able to become familiar with the content on their own and then time in class could be used for discussions, hands on activities and differentiated instruction. I was intrigued, but as a teacher in China my first thought went to the Great Firewall of China and how challenging it could be for many of my students to access any videos I made or recommended. Then in October I attended the Learning 2.012 conference in Beijing and participated in Jeff Utecht’s “Flipping Your Classroom” extended session and with a better understanding of what a ‘flipped classroom’ could look like, I had a renewed interest in the possibilities for my own classroom.

A Twist on the Flipped Classroom Model

I walked away from Jeff’s session with an idea of how the ‘flipped classroom’ could be expanded to address more of the skills our students need as 21st century learners. With all the content available on the internet and beyond the classroom, why not give the students the practice and responsibility of gathering relevant information themselves?

In Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”, Jonathan Martin asks…

Why do we, in the status quo,  replicate in person in our classrooms what is easily available elsewhere, the content delivery/skill modeling, and then have kids apply their learning to difficult problems at home, without us there to help?

In my case, teaching middle school humanities, I had been spending a lot of time presenting content during class time and sometimes struggling to find the time for the discussions and activities that provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate and solidify their understanding and application of the concepts. And with many of my students with English as their second (or third) language, I also had challenges with finding ways to differentiate the content.

Jeff proposed putting the responsibility of gathering the content on the students themselves. In doing this, students gain the practice and experience of a very important skill that they will need to have to be successful in the 21st century in school and beyond: accessing and evaluating information. But in asking our students to do this will mean that we will need to provide them support and guidance in finding relevant and reliable information. A significant section of Jeff’s session focused on the search and evaluation skills our students will need to do what we ask of them. This means that class time will be needed to teach and/or review search skills with students. (see Jeff’s Flipped Class page for helpful links.  I also recommend various lessons from Common Sense media regarding online search) But the payoff is by putting the responsibility of finding content on the students, we are having them use these skills in a relevant context.

The other skill students will need to employ when gathering information is evaluating its reliability. Jeff recommended Chris Betcher’s “5 Factors for Evaluating Websites” which analyzes as source based on authority, currency, content/purpose, audience and structure/workability. This is very similar to the process we had already introduced to our middle school students with the acronym CAPOW-U (currency, authority, purpose, objectivity, writing style and URL source). Giving the students an evaluation tool, especially if it used school-wide, will be useful as they gather information and also to support their reasons for choosing a particular source.

Starting out with some Basic Flips

Now, with a new perspective on what a “flipped” classroom could look like, I’ve been trying some ‘mini-flips’ out in my grade 7 classroom over the last few months. (Of course I would love feedback on these activities if they are legitimate ‘flips’ or not!)

Modern Identity Issues Project:
*As part of a culminating project for our grade 7 unit on Identity, students chose a category related to identity (i.e. age, gender, socio-economic status, language) and, for homework, located an article related to that issue and then create an inquiry question based on the article. The link to the article and their question was put into a Google Doc shared with the whole class.

Then, class time was used for students to give feedback on the articles chosen (and they were tough on each other about reliability!) and have discussions with me and each other about the topics and how they could proceed with their project. I could also work with students who seemed to be struggling one on one or with small groups.

The Silk Road: Economic Concept:
*In our last unit this semester about the Silk Road, I presented four benchmarks related to economics to my students. I put each benchmark on a large piece of paper and had students do a “Chalk Walk”. Students went around to each benchmark poster and wrote down questions and statements about the benchmarks. My purpose in doing this was to get a sense of what they understood and what they had questions about. After students were done with the “Chalk Walk” I took a few minutes to quickly see what they had written. I realized, as a group, they had a good general idea of the concepts but needed clarification on some terms. So, for homework, they had to find out more about three terms/concepts: opportunity cost, cultural diffusion and sustainable development.

The next day, students shared their findings in pairs and small groups and then as a class we discussed the concepts and came up with a definition for each so students could add to their notes if needed. I was pleased with the outcome. Students came prepared with information and we could use class time for sharing and clarification.

Flipping Ahead

I am now more eager to find ways to ‘flip’ my classroom. It is a strategy that addresses the 21st century skills my students need to develop and become proficient with. I am already seeing the potential benefits of using this method with my students.

Students can…

*improve their research skills and evaluating sources
*be more engaged, less passive
*learn to differentiate for themselves (i.e. finding information in their first language or at their reading level)
*take more responsibility for their learning

It will continue to be a lot of trial and error to get the ‘flipping’ right and I know my students and I will all continue to need guidance and practice with this model. Many of my students come from an educational background where they are accustom to ‘set and get’ not ‘go get it’ but I think shift in our roles in the classroom will benefit us all in the long run.

Jonathan Martin summarizes how the ‘flipped’ classroom model transforms a classroom…

Increasingly,  education’s value-add is and will be in the coaching and troubleshooting when students are applying their learning, and in challenging students to apply their thinking to hands-on learning by doing and teaming:  so let’s have them do these things in class, not sit and listen.   We know that collaboration is a critical skill set which can’t be developed easily either on-line or at home alone– let’s have students learn it with us in our classrooms.   Let every classroom be a collaborative problem solving laboratory or studio.

I’ve never been really comfortable with being the ‘sage on the stage’ in the classroom but the idea of flipping my classroom will really allow me to be a better ‘guide on the side’ for my students.

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Tech Integration: How Am I Doing?

My students with new iPads

In the Right Place
In the last year, my learning curve for integrating technology into my classroom practice has been steep. Through my participation in the COETAIL course and the commitment my school has made to technology for learning, or eLearning, I have been provided relevant and practical professional development and support. I now have an iPad and a Mac Book Pro courtesy of my school. My grade 7 and 8 students each have their own school laptop and my grade 6 students just got their own iPads. We have a Director of Technology for Learning and eLearning coaches at each division level. My colleagues and I are sharing ideas and resources in both face to face discussion and through Twitter (#sisrocks) and our school’s eLearning blog. I am completely aware of the amazing opportunities and support I have for using technology in my classroom. With all this access to devices and guidance, the question I need to be asking is

 “How do I know if technology is being used effectively in my classroom?”

 To answer this question, I have to consider two parts in the equation: the learning goals and the technology tools.

The Goals
One theme I keep returning to over and over again based on my learning and experience this year is that the driving force behind the use of technology in education is the need to prepare our students for success in this 21st century digitally infused world. Now, the content of educational curriculum has to, in many cases, shift to realign with those needs, but that is a whole other HUGE topic to address in another post (or two). The point is that the focus has to be on the learning. David Carpenter discusses when planning with teachers, technology is the support, not the focus, in his post  “How Do We Connect Technology and Classroom Instruction Seamlessly?

 When working with teachers one on one or in small groups, we again use the UbD [Understanding by Design] approach to determine what the learning will look like and how we will assess it to then work backwards in creating the instruction and content. As the collaboration progresses, we discuss possible ways that technology and/or research skills can support and enhance the learning….the technology does not enter the picture until we are far along in designing how to meet the learning objectives.

The learning determines the technology. Not the other way around.

This means I have to do what I have always done. I have to make sure my lesson plans are scaffolded to meet the content and skills goals of my curriculum. If I am not on target with those learning goals, the technology tools won’t matter.

The Technology Tools
Once I am confident the learning plan is in line with the curricular goals, I can then consider how I can use technology to support and facilitate those goals. It is quite easy to ‘fall in love’ with an app or particular website or a cool lesson activity and then try to manipulate or even shove it into the curriculum (I plead the fifth on this…no contest). However, I need to make sure the technology used matches with what the students need to learn, practice and demonstrate. I also want to make sure I’m taking advantage of using technology tools and resources that address the critical thinking skills students need to be developing and practicing no matter the content. I am now at the point where I need to really take a closer look at how the technology being used in my classroom is providing those educational opportunities for my students (or not). In fact, this is one of my professional goals this year: to evaluate the use of technology in my classroom.

The Evaluation Tools
As I begin to more deeply evaluate the use of technology in my classroom a couple different ‘taxonomies’ seem to stand out as tools I could use for planning and reflection.

Two models that I think are useful for a guides for general discussion are the SAMR model (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura and the Tech Audit Tool being developed by Andrew Churches (based on work by Bernajean Porter). Both of these models provide general categories to classify how technology is being used in the classroom. At my school, we’ve used the SAMR model in professional discussions about tech integration and the Tech Audit Tool could also be used as guide for those discussions as well. Both models could also be used to show how projects can address multiple levels of integration.

(click on image to see full version)

Tech Audit Tool
Level 1: Literacy
: Teaching about technology
Level 2: Augmentative/Integrating
Teaching with technology
Level 3: Transformative
: Teaching through technology

However, as I evaluate my own practice, I want to get more specific about the learning that is taking place because of the technology. Two resources that could accomplish this are Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy developed by Andrew Churches and TIM (Technology Integration Matrix) developed by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy

Andrew Churches has taken the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy and applied to Web 2.0 tools and processes. This provides teachers with a way to look at the technology in their classroom related to different cognitive domains. Churches is clear about the use of the taxonomy, stating,

 Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy isn’t about the tools or technologies rather it is about using these to facilitate learning. Outcomes on rubrics are measured by competence of use and most importantly the quality of the process or product.

Mr. Churches provides various resources for planning, assessment and reflection regarding the use of technology to address learning goals.

Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Quick Sheets provide examples of technology tools and processes that could address each of domains:

  • Remembering
  • Understanding
  • Applying
  • Analysing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating

Bloom’s Analysis Tools (for Activities and Assessments) can help document to cognitive domains addressed in classroom activities and assessments over time.

These resources, and many others provided on the wiki, provide practical ways I could evaluate the use of technology in my classroom.

TIM (Technology Integration Matrix)

The purpose of TIM is “…to assist schools and districts in evaluating the level of technology integration in classrooms and to provide teachers with models of how technology can be integrated into instruction in meaningful ways.” It is a matrix of five characteristics of meaningful learning environments AND five levels of technology integration.


  • active
  • constructive
  • goal directed (reflective)
  • authentic
  • collaborative

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION (teacher’s technology literacy)

  • entry
  • adoption
  • adaptation
  • infusion
  • transformation

(click on image to see full version)

In addition to the matrix, there are resources with various printable indicators, a grade level index and a digital tool index that categorizes the videos of tech integration in classrooms found on the matrix. What appeals to me about this matrix is I can evaluate the learning opportunities I am providing my students (learning environment) and at what level I am facilitating the use of technology. The more and more I dig into the matrix, the more useful I am finding it to be for me to really be able to evaluate and to articulate what is happening in my classroom for myself and for others.

I have a much clearer vision of what technology integration should look like in my classroom but now I need to make sure it is happening and that I continue to reflect and set new goals for myself and my students. Of course, it could be predictable that I would conclude with a quote from a more famous ‘matrix’….

Sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. -Morpheus to Neo in The Matrix (1999)

For More Information…

The SAMR Model: Background and Exemplars by Ruben R. Puentedura, Ph.D.

Educational Origami (Andrew Churches’ wiki)

Edutopia: Technology Integration in Education resources


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Who is the Technology Teacher?

“All teachers are reading teachers.”

“All teachers are writing teachers.”

“All teachers are language teachers.”

Throughout my teaching career I’ve heard these statements discussed and debated. As a social studies teacher, reading and writing naturally fit into my lessons as a way for students to access information and communicate their understanding. As an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I shared strategies with other teachers to help their English language learners access content and develop language skills. Over time I realized the goal of all teachers should be to address communication and critical thinking skills in their classroom no matter the content area. This core belief of mine came to mind as I considered the topic for this section regarding who teaches the ‘technology’ standards.

What does Technology in Education mean?

I think we (educators) have to have important discussions about our view of ‘technology in education’. Although I am lucky enough to work in a school that is bringing the use of technology whole-heartedly into its classrooms (check out #sisrocks on Twitter), I know there are educators who are struggling with the idea that they believe they have to be ‘technology’ teachers. Another role added to an already full plate of responsibilities. I would hear similar concerns from teachers I worked with in the U.S. regarding reading and writing in the content area or addressing the needs of language learners in their classroom. Their concerns with trying  to meet the expectations of the curriculum and content standards while also trying to learn more about integrating reading, writing and language skills and integrating them into everything else they were trying to accomplish…And now with the push for technology in the classroom, I can hear the “I can’t teach technology!” or “Will there be an technology elective for them?”

Shared Vision = Shared Understanding
Schools must have a clear vision and understanding of what they mean when they refer to ‘educational technology’ or ‘technology for learning’. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has a recommended list of Essential Conditions to ‘effectively leverage technology for learning’ in schools and the first one, shared vision, is critical. According to ISTE, this means, “Proactive leadership in developing a shared vision for educational technology among all education stakeholders, including teachers and support staff, school and district administrators, teacher educators, students, parents, and the community.”

I think that the shared vision should include a ‘shared understanding’ that the role of technology in education is not just about bringing in the latest devices and equipment but about developing and practicing the skills needed in the 21st century As I’ve read through various sets of standards including those from ISTE, AASL (American Association of School Librarians), Partnership for 21st Century Skills and ATC21S (Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills) and noticed that the focus is not entirely on technology. It is on critical thinking skills and communication.

According to the AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learning

Learners use Skills, Resources and Tools to:

  • Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.
  • Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge.
  • Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.
  • Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.

According to ISTE’s NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) for Students

Simply being able to use technology is no longer enough. Today’s students need to be able to use technology to analyze, learn, and explore. Digital age skills are vital for preparing students to work, live, and contribute to the social and civic fabric of their communities.

According to Partnership for 21st Century Skills (Skills Framework)

People in the 21st century live in a technology and media-suffused environment, marked by various characteristics, including: 1) access to an abundance of information, 2) rapid changes in technology tools, and 3) the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. To be effective in the 21st century, citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills related to information, media and technology.

And, according to Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S), those skills are:

  • Ways of thinking. Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
  • Ways of working. Communication and collaboration
  • Tools for working. Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
  • Skills for living in the world. Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility

Schools must really look at their vision of 21st century learning as being driven by the changes related to technology but not solely focused on technology. Students must be prepared with the skills to deal with an ever-changing world. If a school systems’ vision is clear about focusing on those skills and there is a clear understanding by all involved, then there won’t be a question about “Who teaches technology?” because all teachers will be focused on preparing students for the real 21st century world. When you look at any set of the standards or guidelines for the ‘21st century’ (like those above), most teachers would see that they already incorporate these skills into their teaching. And the role of the technology is to support the development of those critical thinking and communication skills. A clear understanding of the relevance of these standards and what they mean for teachers and students is essential for any school to move forward in providing the best education for our students.

Side Note: My Connection

As I considered the topic for this post I was reminded of my blog post “Wandering” from Course 1. I discussed how my understanding of the role of technology in education shifted during Course 1 of COETAIL. My focus went from ‘how am I going to find time to teach technology’ to ‘what critical thinking skills are my students learning and using in this task’. That shift in thinking has also had an impact on my conversations with other teachers about the use of technology in the classroom, especially those that have some concerns about their confidence in using technology themselves. As a teacher, if I focus on the skills I want my students to develop and practice, and then I, or even my students, can find technology to complement their needs. The technology programs and software and applications will continue to evolve but the skills my students can develop in critical thinking and problem solving and communication will benefit them as they continue to navigate this 21st century world.

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Remix: An Attitude ‘Re’adjustment

Course 3 Round Up…

Visual Literacy: Improved the look of my blog and the use of images in my lessons…Check.
Digital Storytelling: Already happening in my classroom…Check.
Infographics: Related to work on reliable sources of information…Check.
Presentation Zen: Took a tedious PowerPoint and made it a conversation piece….Check.

Remix Culture: Well….um….Remix? Reuse? Mash-up? Transmedia?

I have to admit that as I worked my way through Course 3, this was the one section in which I started to feel a little out of my depth in applying it to my classroom. I make a serious effort to educate my students about plagiarism and using ‘permission to use’ media in their projects. We have expectations regarding citing sources and attribution in any type of assignment with media. How would I introduce ‘remixes’ and ‘mash-ups’ after all that? As I started looking through some of the assigned readings and media I realized I needed to take a step back and ‘readjust’ my perspective on this creative form.

After watching Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” videos, I quickly realized my perceptions of ‘remix’ were predominately based on what I knew about music and movies. I was familiar with how ‘sampling’ evolved through hip hop music and how the movies like Star Wars drew inspiration from other movies and sources. So how would these (often) big budget art forms translate to the classroom? I realized I needed to get a better understanding of ‘remix’ in general and then explore its application to the classroom.

According to Lawrence Lessig, “remix” is simply “a creative work that builds upon the creative work of others.” A simple definition that brought ‘remix’ to a much more applicable level. Henry Jenkins in Learning By Remixing points out that many of our students are already doing this creative work on their own anyway.

America’s children are become media-makers: they are blogging, designing their own websites, podcasting, modding games, making digital movies, creating soundfiles, constructing digital images, and writing fan fiction, to cite just a few examples.

Josh Karp also refers to taking advantage of what many of our students are already familiar with and transferring it to learning. In Remixing as a Classroom Strategy he states,

remixing is finding its way into the classroom as a way of fostering students’ creativity and helping them learn and express their ideas. It also doesn’t hurt that the medium is second nature to today’s students.

As I began to consider ‘media-making’ activities we already do in my classroom and school (digital storytelling, blogging, podcasting) I realized that ‘remixing’ wasn’t something that should just be happening in art and technology classes but across the subject areas. (and even among them…see an interdisciplinary example of remixing in “Teacher Created Transmedia Experiences”) Remixing, no matter the subject area, requires critical thinking skills. In just producing a digital story in my Humanities class, my students had to make countless decisions and solve various problems to complete their final project. Josh Karp continues in his discussion about remixing in the classroom saying..

…remixing forces students to take a critical look at source material and then apply it in ways that prove a thesis or illustrate a point. The students carefully determine whether music, video, text, software or whatever else they are remixing fits the requirements of an assignment, and then they figure out how it can be used to make it their own.

With my perspective adjusted regarding remixing and its useful, appropriate application in my classroom, I still had to consider how to still promote the expectation that we should not copy or steal other people’s stuff. How could I balance that with asking my students to deconstruct, remix, reuse, mash-up and reassemble other peoples’ creations in the name of learning?

In continuing his definition of ‘remix’, Lawrence Lessig adds that remix “doesn’t mean simply grabbing or using the work of others. It means using the work of others in a way that is transformative, or critical.” I think this means that the process is more complex than throwing some images or video clips together. It is thoughtful in production and in respect to the origin. Mr. Lessig continues,

When you use someone else’s work, you give them credit. We need to stand up and acknowledge what we’re doing, give people credit, and thank them…We have to respect the people whose art we build upon.

In this respect, the use of remixing activities in the classroom offers us the opportunity to talk about the ethical and legal considerations regarding the use of others’ work in our own. So by having my students create ‘remixed’ products that address our curriculum goals, we also create learning and discussion around how we handle others’ creations in our own creations. Henry Jenkins, concludes

…in emphasizing totally “original work”, schools sacrifice the opportunity to help kids think more deeply about the ethical and legal implications of repurposing existing media content; they often do not provide them with the conceptual tools students need to analyze and interpret works produced in this appropriative process; and they don’t teach them the relationship between analysis and production.

I’ve come full circle. My original concerns that using remixing as a learning tool in my classroom would somehow conflict with the expectations around avoiding plagiarism have been replaced with the optimism of how the two are connected. Using remixing as an educational tool requires addressing our ethical and legal responsibilities and those responsibilities guide the production of a remix or a mash-up as a reflection of creativity and learning.


Lessons that address Fair Use and Remix Culture
Teaching Copyright
: Fair Use: Remix Culture, Mashups, and Copyright (high school)
Common Sense Media
: Lesson: Rework, Reuse, Remix  (middle school)

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Digital Storytelling in Middle School Humanities

Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

This is my digital story about digital storytelling in my classroom. My advantage in this project was that I taught a digital storytelling elective at my school last year. It was new for me and I did a lot of learning along with my students. Two of the most useful resources for me were Jason Ohler and Alan Levine‘s websites regarding Digital Storytelling. I also learned that the drive behind digital storytelling is developing the story. The digital component is about how the story is delivered. As Jason Ohler emphasizes,

No matter how sophisticated our technology becomes, the future of digital storytelling will involve writing and conventional forms of literacy.

I found my students were happy to run out with a video camera (or even their iPhone) and make a funny, silly video. But the art of telling a story takes a lot of planning and revising and reflecting. Additionally, they need to use critical thinking skills in developing their final digital product. From “7 Things You Should Know About…Digital Storytelling”

Students creating digital stories develop proficiency with multimedia applications, but the deeper impact comes from their thinking critically about effective combinations among audio and visual elements. Each story challenges a student to cull—from personal collections or from other resources—artifacts that meaningfully support the story and to assemble them in a way that achieves the desired effect. In doing so, students develop a discerning eye for online resources, increasing their technology and media literacy.

Given the writing skills and media literacy needed to create a good digital story, this process can be used in any content area.

The project described in this video was quite extensive and involved but we were assessing several benchmarks (Digital Story Project Rubric). The amount of time we spent on this project was worth it because of the results in both academic work and problem-solving skills the students demonstrated.

I have used a very abbreviated digital storytelling process with students using content (i.e. daily life in ancient Greece) and giving them 30 or 40 minutes to write and practice a short skit to teach other students (which we video to share).

The Results
Putting this video together was quite a task since I wanted to be clear about this experience. It was also a huge learning experience for me as I tackled using iMovie after only a few basic experiences with it. (Thank goodness for YouTube tutorials!) So without further a do….


YouTube Preview Image


Project Documents
Digital Story Process Chart
Digital Story Rubric
Visual Portrait of a Story
Story Table

A Few Recommended Resources
Jason Ohler: Digital Storytelling
Alan Levine: 50+ Web 2.0 Ways to Tell a Story
Wes Fryer: Digital Storytelling on a Shoestring
Grazing for Digital Natives: Digital Storytelling
iLearn Technology: 31 of My Favorite Digital Storytelling Sites (grades 3-8) 

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