Friday, June 28, 2013

My Own Personal Mystery Box

After watching the two FlipCon13 keynotes, I was definitely in a mindset primed for discussing teaching pedagogy.  Here was the downside of watching the sessions in an archived format...missing out on all of those great conversations that must have been taking place at the actual event.  A couple of the other sessions I've watched so far touched on pedagogy a bit, though, thereby contributing to the evolution of ideas for face-to-face time in my classes.  The session on Peer Instruction led by Faulkner and Warneke focused on methods these two math teachers use in their classroom to facilitate group problem-solving connected to new concepts introduced in their homework videos.  Their model is based on the work of Eric Mazur, who I'd actually first heard of via a podcast by American Radio Works last summer.

Here's the link to the transcript and podcast if you're interested...

I remember being excited at the time about the possibility of creating powerful questions for my students that could elicit their misunderstandings, but I needed more concrete examples regarding what this would look like in my classroom.  The presentation by Faulkner and Warneke helped a bit in this area.  These gentlemen begin each math class with concept quizzes constructed of mostly multiple choice questions.  Their students use clickers to answer the questions on their own first, discuss their answers with their "pod" of classmates, and then change their answers as necessary.  They have seen substantial gains in student test scores since adding peer instruction into their classes.  Faulkner and Warneke also shared what I thought was an ingenious idea:  Embed questions within your videos and use the student answers as a "pool" of distractors to draw from when designing your question sets for peer instruction.  I currently use peer instruction in my classroom in a limited and somewhat casual manner.  I can see how being more intentional in its implementation could fit in with Musallam's "mystery box" approach to learning.  Peer tutoring would allow for more student exploration and learner-directed discovery.

Ellen Dill's presentation about student choice also helped me to consider part of Musallam's presentation regarding Explore-Flip-Apply, this time in the context of learning styles.  Dill teaches foreign language classes in which her students choose seven projects throughout the grading term to "show what they know" for the objectives in each unit.  The project might be cooking a favorite meal, writing and performing a song, or simply completing the standard worksheets that go with the unit.  The main idea is that the students have a CHOICE.  Dill presented all of these choices as options in a menu of learning styles.  I have seen research stating that teaching to various learning styles doesn't necessarily help students learn better.  An example of one of these studies can be accessed at the link below:

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students 1

In Dill's presentation, however, what resonated with me was the idea of student choice, which can be independent of learning styles.  This would fit perfectly into the "Apply" stage of Musallam's Cycle of Learning.  Once students have explored the problem and gathered information to explain or answer the problem, they are ready to take their newly-acquired knowledge and transform it into something personally meaningful.  It seems to me that this is when they transition from simply learning to remembering.  We all know that students remember new information better when it is relevant.  I feel like I could use a version of Dill's learning styles projects to inspire students to create in-class artifacts that redefine their new learning in a uniquely individualized way.

The remainder of the sessions I watched were less about learning pedagogy and more about the tools of the trade.  I ended Chris Koder's session thinking more about if I want to give students guided notes to fill in while they watch my videos.  I learned that Marc Seigel is the guru of Google Apps, and although I have been using Docs and Forms for awhile in my classes, he convinced me I need to take the plunge and integrate them into my videos.  Knowing that my students will all be getting iPads soon motivated me to watch the presentation by Malatlian and Porazzi-Sorrells, and although I wasn't looking for a new way to make my videos, I can definitely envision using Explain Everything instead of Camtasia for select lessons in the future - thanks to this session!  

**One side note regarding technology: Although I love using it and know that it can be very powerful in the classroom, sometimes I'm overwhelmed by all the options out there. I want someone to tell me, "This is THE BEST software for creating your videos, so use this one." I don't want umpteen million choices for screencasting apps - please just give me ONE that does everything I want!**

In summation, I finished watching these sessions with more questions than answers: How is my classroom going to run on a daily basis? Should I continue to give my students quizzes on the videos? Should those quizzes be incorporated into peer instruction? How am I going to write high quality questions for those peer review quizzes? What will my videos look like if I'm taking the "mystery box" approach? What are some science mysteries that could get my students excited and curious? Could personalized student projects truly be designed to hit on the course objectives, yet be flexible enough to adapt to student interests? And, most importantly, what would be the best way to get all of this great information to my fellow district teachers and administrators so that I'm not the lone "crazy" at my school? I'm starting to feel like my future classroom is my own, personal mystery box right now. Following Musallam's Cycles of Learning: I've got lots of questions and motivation - now it's time to take what I know and make it personally relevant.


  1. Love Eric's Confession of a Converted Lecturer. He was so raw and so honest. By the way, I agree about the tech stuff. I am overwhelmed by the choices. I've decided to use Camtasia because it can do pretty much anything I need but takes some time to use. If I just need a whiteboard, I will use the iPad App, Explain Everything over Educreations because I like the idea of having my video on my device and choosing where to host it. Besides, Explain Everything is good enough to do all is need. Then again, exporting from Explain Everything is a pain and takes a lot of time. You see? Way too many options!

  2. I think it would be an interesting exercise (for myself) to divide my video topics into those that would be best handled by Camtasia, and those that are suited to a whiteboard. There are a ton of Biology concepts that lend themselves to diagramming - maybe Explain Everything would be best for these? Need to ponder...