Flippin’ Out

Happy December, everyone!

I wanted to write a quick blog post about something I’ve been doing in my classroom to help my students move at their own pace and get me away from the front of the classroom: making videos.

This is something I wanted to do last year, but as with any kind of mastery, it is a slow and tedious process.  Much like this quote by Ira Glass about creativity, I’ve now been teaching long enough to know how far I am from getting really good at my craft. Ah, the burden of knowledge.

Anyway, this year I started making videos to explain concepts in my class.  I use Quicktime Player on my computer to record my screen and voice while I click through a powerpoint, or record myself writing on a paper using my document camera.  I knew if I was going to start doing this, the process would have to be easy, so I did not use programs where I had to do editing or mess with an audio track.

I initially wanted to do this as a way for students to revisit instructions or catch up with the class if they were absent, but I’ve started experimenting with assigning these videos for homework.  So far, the students seem receptive to the idea of learning from a video, and I’m hoping that this will free me up to do more activities with the students, if I’ve already laid the groundwork of a concept through a video.  

Anyway, here’s an example of one of my low-fi and quickly created videos.  You can see why I asked for a USB microphone for the holidays.

Have a good one!

Alex

In the future, when we all live in underground bubble houses.
In the future, when we all live in underground bubble houses.

Embrace the Future

As we enter into the “home stretch” of the school year, I thought I would share a few reflections on the research I have done this year.

A quick reminder for readers: I am a U.S. History teacher at Waltham High School and my research this year has been a qualitative analysis of technology integration in a classroom with no direct 1:1 technology. I have attempted to analyze the struggles, realities, and triumphs of embracing 21st century skills in a classroom with 20th century technology.

As mentioned above, I have attempted to integrate as much technology as possible into a classroom that has inconsistent access to 1:1 technology. The technology-based projects, assignments, and lessons that I created have primarily taken place in the four labs (three computer, and one iPad) in my school.

Part one of progress report I completed reflecting on my research question.
Part one of a “Penultimate” progress report I completed reflecting on my research question.

For the most part, I have been able integrate technology into my classes at least once each month. However, I have found it difficult to maintain an integrated classroom throughout the school year. Although applications have allowed me to sprinkle in technology, I am far from a place that is a truly integrated or “flipped” classroom.

As I reflect on the past year, I find it difficult to isolate just one or two reasons that I was unable to fully integrate technology into my classroom. I know that one of the reasons is that technology in my school is limited and in high demand. This leads to a race to secure coveted lab reservations. So, the lessons where I am able to fully integrate technology are only those which I am able to foresee weeks in advance and book space accordingly. For instance, I planned ahead to have my classes complete the Touchcast assignment and Paperless Research Papers. However, this advanced planning rules out spontaneity. If three days prior to a classroom lesson, I have a stroke of genius about a great way to integrate technology, I won’t be able to make it happen because the lab will already be booked.

The lack of 1:1 technology also limits my ability to give formative and summative assessments online. I have found this to be restrictive. For instance, if I did have regular access to 1:1 technology for my students, I would have been able to use Socrative, Poll Everything, and other similar applications more efficiently. (Aside: since most students have their own cell phones, I contemplated having students use them to access apps like the aforementioned. However, after some thought, I decided against it.)

Part two of my progress report. I reflected on a few successes and failures.
Part two of my progress report. I reflected on a few successes and failures.

Furthermore, it has been difficult to maintain a flow of lessons that embrace technology integration throughout the school year. I have struggled with the conflicting demands placed upon me as a high school teacher. Teachers are required to cover certain content by particular dates, as bookmarked by required student assessments. This demands a certain amount of teacher-centered learning. At the same time, however, teachers are encouraged to “flip” our classrooms and engage in student centered learned.

The assessments mandated by our school and state, remain traditional and primarily factual tests. For instance, this year I have been responsible for administrating four in-class writing assignments, a midterm, and a final. These are six assessments that took away from classroom time or interrupted the flow of a unit I was teaching. I am not saying that these assessments are worthless. But, in my opinion, they do not measure or give students credit for the skills and ideas learned through innovative, technology integrated lessons. Thus is life, but it hinders creativity.

I feel that we can never truly embrace 21st century learning as long as we continue to employ 20th century assessments. I believe this to be a fundamental problem facing education.

Despite these challenges, I do think I had a fair measure of success with integrating technology this school year. Although I felt restricted in my ability to secure lab time, I discovered useful apps like Google Forms, Google Classroom, and Remind. These apps allowed me to push my U.S. History students to use technology outside of school, for homework assignments. (I chronicled my trials with these apps in previous blog posts). Despite the challenge of sustained use, Google Forms and Google Classroom helped to transform a lot of my teaching this year.

Part three of my brainstorm where I reflected on the tension I felt this year as I attempted to integrate technology.
Part three of my progress report where I reflected on the tension I felt this year as I attempted to integrate technology.

Furthermore, at when point when I was able to plan far into the future, my Honor’s Level U.S. History II students completed projects solely using Touchcast. Touchcast allowed my students to participate in a “flipped classroom” while creating projects about a Cold War unit that in previous years, I had taught in traditional ways.

In the end, I have achieved one of my major goals for this assignment: next year, I will have at least two classes of tenth graders that come to my classroom with 1:1 iPads. I am sure there will be structural barriers to navigate, but I am excited to think of new ways to use this technology next year.

Moving forward, I have a few tools in my belt with some of the apps I tried and found success with this year. I have some interesting ideas about how to use iPads for formative assessments. Most importantly, however, I have a new way of thinking about my teaching. I maintain my ultimate goal of achieving a more technologically integrated classroom. I’m not there yet, but I’ll get there one day.

Touchcast: A New Look for the Screencast

For this month’s experiment in technological integration, I attempted to use a fairly new app called Touchcast. I chose to employ this application after learning about it in a course I took last summer. I liked the functionality and uses of the app. So, over the past few weeks, my students and I have been experimenting with this new app in an effort to “semi flip” my classroom.

Touchcast is new take on screencasting. For those of you that have used Explain Everything, you will be familiar with the idea of screencasting. Simply put, screencasting is when a user records their actions on their computer screen, creating a step by step video. Touchcast takes this idea to a different level. Instead of recording one’s computer screen, Touchcast allows its user to record their iPad screen. Moreover, Touchcast allows users to video record themselves or video record other individuals. While recording, or after recording is finished, the user can overlay images, more video, text, maps, and pretty much any other web based visual representation.

This is extremely useful for the classroom teacher, because once a Touchcast is finished, it can be viewed by members of the class. The reason Touchcast is so appealing is that students not only learn from making the project, but they can then view classmates’ projects and manipulate the images, watch embedded video, play with maps, games and any other vApps. (TouchCast vApps are actually just interactive web pages added on top of video. Usually, videos exist in their own box on web pages). Therefore, a finished Touchcast is more than just a static video; it is an interactive experience. The better the Touchcast is made, the more there is for the viewer to learn and do.

If all this sounds sort of complicated, it’s because it kind of is. The app is certainly a new way of thinking about technology, and there is a steep learning curve for students. Therefore, I knew I would have to give my students ample time to work on their Touchcast projects. I chose major events of the Early Cold War as the topics that my students would be covering. Therefore, my students would be building Touchcasts about the Early Cold War in place of the lessons that I would normally teach on the subject. This is the “semi flipped” classroom I mentioned earlier.

After explaining the uses of Touchcast to my students, and how it is different from a regular documentary, we embarked on a day of experimenting with the app in our school’s iPad lab. As you may recall, I am attempting to integrate technology in a classroom that does not have 1:1 technology. Therefore, lab time is essential. For the first day, students were instructed to play around on the app. A few students made goofy videos about cats and cute babies, etc.

Microsoft Word Version of the Project: Touchcast Project

I thought that the next day would be best spent researching appropriate, scholarly sources and having students write scripts to use when broadcasting their Touchcasts. I think these are important skills for juniors in high school to be able to effectively demonstrate. Accordingly, we spent the next two classes in computer labs, not to be confused iPad labs. Students researched their topics on history databases and began scripting and blocking their Touchcasts.

After these two classes, we returned to the iPad lab. I planned to give students three class periods to complete their Touchcasts, and on the fourth day, we would watch and manipulate the Touchcasts for an entire period.

The first two days of our iPad lab time went well. Students were still researching, finding vApps, and beginning the process of taping their Touchcasts. There were a lot of mistakes made, videos lost, iPads that ran out of battery, and problems that my students and I had to brainstorm how to fix (more on this in the next paragraph). Nevertheless, on the whole, the process was going smoothly.

As I mentioned, there were many unforeseen problems that we had to figure out. One of the biggest challenges was how to save student projects that were created on iPads that they did not own. One of my biggest fears was that students would work on the communal iPads only to have their projects deleted or the iPad they were working on disappear overnight. To avoid this potential issue, I had to find a way for students to upload their Touchcasts to the “cloud.” While my students were taping and scripting, I spent an entire period searching Touchcast for a solution.

I discovered a solution which proves that the fine people at Touchcast had thought about groups like mine that do not have 1:1 technology. Touchcast allows students to create their own Touchcast channels. Each of my student groups created one of these channels with a unique username and password. Each day when students entered the iPad lab, they would log in to their channel. After working on their Touchcasts, students would then upload their updated video to the cloud. After uploading their video, they are given a code by Touchcast that allows the user to pull the video down from the cloud to any iPad. This process allowed us to feel confident that student projects would still be there when we returned to the lab the next day.

Then, external events interrupted the momentum we had created. We had two, back to back snow days during classes where lab time was scheduled. Consequently, my due date was pushed back and we had a serious time crunch, because I wanted to finish the project before winter break. When we returned to school after the snow days, I gave my students two additional class periods to finish their projects. I explained that any additional work beyond those days would have to be done on their own time.

It was at this point that some of the pitfalls of the Touchcast App were exposed. Students began having difficulty uploading images and videos because of our school’s web filter. (I always joke that we are like Communist China). Other students were losing segments of their video or having difficulty understanding how to use the editing tools for Touchcast. That being said, I think many of these problems are ones that you have to expect when you are using new technology.

Shockingly, one student expressed to me that they wished they had simply written a research paper instead. I told the student not to worry, because we will be doing that next month!

After seven lab periods, students were finally finishing their projects. We had a few final hiccups were students had difficulty uploading their completed videos to their channels. However, by the last lab day, I had all of the completed Touchcasts.

In the end, I was satisfied with the final products. I have to give my students credit for creating a project using an application that was completely new to them. My students navigated a big learning curve, largely on their own, where they had to tape, edit, and imbed images and clips into a video. Impressively, they successfully did all of this and with only a few complaints.

The final projects all have issues. Some are not edited together tightly enough, and others lack a coherent story or do not include enough vApps. However, I think each video displays different strengths of the Touchcast app and the student groups that made them. Some Touchcasts use a lot of images and video clips, while others are more like documentary style videos. In the end, students provided solid content and varied videos. I think that they also enjoyed tapping into their creative side to present on the Historical event they had researched. I would definitely use this app again in the future. Furthermore, I can now say that I know how to use it.

Check out the finished videos below!

Truman Doctrine & Marshall Plan

Berlin Blockade & Berlin Airlift

Korean War

NATO & Warsaw Pact

Massive Retaliation & Brinkmanship

Duck & Cover – Civil Defense in the Nuclear Age

U2 Incident

 

Mr. Robot

My name is Michael DiLuzio, I am a history teacher, and my biggest fear is that one day I won’t have a job because a robot will replace me. In my most pessimistic moments, I think I will be the final generation of an extinct species: the human teacher. If I am being truly retrospective, I think this fear comes out of an acknowledgment that I am at a teaching crossroads. I’m entering my seventh year as a social studies teacher, and I think I am beginning to enter my prime as an educator (hopefully an extended prime).

However, while I am honing my craft, new technologies and innovations continue to pop up that challenge the treasure trove of lessons and pedagogy that I have built as an educator. The bedrock of what I do is beginning to crumble. The stories I tell, the lectures I give, the readings I discuss, the movie clips I play, and the discussions I facilitate already seem as though they are from a bygone era. The style of teaching I grew up with is beginning to go extinct!

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t get up and lecture everyday. I cultivate lessons with primary sources, my students debate important issues, jigsaw difficult readings, “save the last word for me,” “take stands,” walk around imaginary museums, and complete enough exit and entrance tickets to fill the Grand Canyon. They don’t, however, own their education, they don’t drive their own learning through inquiry, they don’t complete project based education, and they are not experiencing a flipped classroom.

Teacher jargon aside. It has become apparent to me over the last few years that the role of the teacher is changing. The teacher is no longer expected to be the “sage on the stage”, but to be a facilitator or a learning partner. At the moment, I am not sure if I completely accept this change nor am I sure that this dichotomy will continue. I’m conflicted about abandoning a lot of the ways that I grew up learning, because I still see a lot of value in teacher centered learning. There is nothing quite like listening to an expert.

However, I do realize that there must be a balance struck to satisfy competing masters: inquiry based learning, 21st century skills, content expectations, and standardized tests. Similarly, I realize I need to evolve as an educator or I will be left in the past. The future of education is ahead of me, and I don’t want to be a twenty-nine year old educator that refuses to adapt. I want to embrace the use of technology and the changing role of the educator.

Furthermore, next year, my tenth grade students will enter my classroom as a part of a growing part of Waltham’s 1:1 technology initiative. These students will have been using iPads as a resource for three straight years. This both excites and terrifies me. This excites me, because I will be able to use this technology to approach my teaching in a multitude of new ways. As currently constituted, when I want my students to have access to a computer or 1:1 device, I need to sign-up for space in one of the many overbooked labs at my school. Although, it is possible to sign-out these rooms when one schedules far enough in advance. The long range planning it takes to secure a lab lacks the spontaneity of transforming a lesson that you are planning on using tomorrow.

In addition, the use of a lab every once in awhile is not the same as truly integrating technology into my classroom. This is why I joined the Waltham Integration Network. I want to work with my colleagues to develop ways that I can more fully integrate technology into my classroom. However, I am still somewhat weary about the entire situation. I want to strike a balance between complete technological integration, project based education, and teacher cultivated lessons that are sometimes (gasp) teacher centered. I think there is a place in education for all of these different types of learning.

Therefore, over the next year I will be trying to answer the following research question: How can I teach 21st century skills and integrate technology into a classroom that does not have consistent access to 1:1 technology?

 

Brainstorm

The above bubbl.us displays a brainstorming session I had when I was flushing out my research question (click to enlarge). 

 

Although this question doesn’t exactly prepare me for dealing with next year’s 1:1 initiative. It does push me to think about ways to change my teaching. Over the next year, I will blog here about my attempts to integrate technology, my triumphs and my many struggles. Tune back in next month to see my progress.