Friday, January 30, 2015

Mastery Learning Week 1: A New Start

This semester, I have decided (along with colleague Brian Germain) to take a fresh look at our approach to mastery learning here at PHS.  Although we have spent the past couple years attempting to up the engagement through "gamification," many students were still struggling in this type of learning environment.  Yes, many students were excelling, but frankly, too many were not.  I therefore believe that I must think beyond "engagement" and focus more on some of the structural (and instructional) components of the system.  A new approach is needed to truly make this work for all of our students.

After getting some excellent new ideas during a conversation with Brian Gervase (an incredible educator in CA), we developed a new mastery learning framework and presented it to our administration.  We are grateful that they decided to support us in our new approach, particularly since it is considerably different from a traditional approach to instruction, assessments, and grading.

Although there are several changes on the horizon, here is the most fundamental of them all:

Proficiency-Based Credit

In other words, we are no longer trying to fit a mastery learning approach into a traditional grading system. To earn credit for the course, students must demonstrate proficiency in all of the course's standards.  How long this takes simply depends upon the students' pace.

For example, if a student demonstrates proficiency in all of the World History Semester 2 standards by May, they then start Brian's US history class.  The student earns full credit for my course, and gets a jump start on Brian's.  On the other hand, if a student does not complete the course by mid-June, they will have an incomplete and not receive credit until they do.  This may be done over the summer or next fall.  

We will surely face many obstacles and setbacks along the way, but I truly believe that this is the way students should be LEARNING in school.  To borrow a quote from New Haven's High School in the Community:

"Time is the Variable.  Learning is the Constant."

My goal is to contribute a post each week reflecting upon our new approach here at PHS.  I will be sharing our strategies, resources, failures and successes.  If you ever have questions or comments about our experiences, or could offer some advice and suggestions, please post them in the comments section below.  Also feel free to reach out to me directly, I always look forward to connecting and learning with fellow teachers who share my passion for education!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

How Will I Make 2015 The Best Year For My Students?

Looking ahead, here are two changes that I believe will make a positive and lasting impact on students’ learning in 2015.  

A More Thoughtful And Strategic “Flip”

After 4 years of “flipping,” the majority of my 70+ videos were created to deliver content.  Although there is certainly value in this, particularly since it helped make mastery learning possible, I must think beyond this approach to flipping.  

Moving forward, I plan on conducting a more “formative” flip.  Instead of anticipating which new content and skill videos should be front-loaded, I will first gauge students’ comprehension and skills as they progress through each unit.  Instructional videos will then be created if and when students need them.  

For example, if students are having difficulty taking and defending a position, I will create a video providing strategies and walking through exemplars.  If students have trouble grasping the root causes of the Cold War, I will create a “special topics” video explaining this issue in greater depth.  

Transforming Passions Into Actions

This is our third year of 20 Time projects and my focus this semester is to help transform students’ passions into actions.  I will push students to not only develop a project that they are intrinsically interested in, but also one that makes a positive impact on a wider community of people. This is out of most students’ (and adults’) comfort zone, but they will get so much more out of this experience if they channel their passions to help others.  Not only will they harness their creativity to innovate, but also build confidence and self-worth knowing they they made a positive impact.
There you have it, two brief thoughts on improving in the new year.  If you have any thoughts or comments on these, or if you would like to share your ideas for a better 2015, please post them in the comments section below!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Flipped Learning Chat on Education Talk Radio

Last week, I had the pleasure of discussing Flipped Learning with Larry Jacobs on an episode of his radio show Education Talk Radio.  We were also joined by Eric Moberg (one of my incredible former students at PHS) and Kathy McKnight, Director of Research at the Center for Educator Learning & Effectiveness (Pearson).

The best part of this episode is how Eric took center stage.  Not only is it evident how talented an individual Eric is, but it was also great to hear how passionate he is about education and the experiences he had in our courses at PHS.

If interested in listening to our conversation, it is linked and embedded below.

A Teacher And A Student Look At Flipped Learning 

Check Out Education Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with educationtalkradiotoo on BlogTalkRadio

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The New Immigration Debate

The recent speech by president Obama about his new executive actions on immigration provided a great opportunity to discuss and debate the issue in class this week.  Before diving into the discussion, we started by watching the speech in class, then reviewed the Newsela article "Obama's Immigration Speech, Cheered By Immigrants, Angers Congress."

Beyond having a class discussion about the merits of Obama's immigration plan, I also wanted to have the students debate whether or not the president's proposed executive actions are constitutional.  Since this issue can get incredibly complicated, I created this brief video explaining the key points for each side of the issue.

The class discussions went well and I am very proud that the students stuck to arguments and justifications based more upon facts than feelings.  I understand how emotionally charged the immigration issue can be, so having Freshman students discuss this at such a high level was just awesome.  Feel free to use this video if you think it will help your students as well!