Retiring this blog

I will no longer be blogging at but after 3 years will be starting a new blog at

All the best.


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My top 5 Flipped Classroom FAQs

ImageOver the last couple of years I have been fortunate enough to connect with a large number of educators either at conferences or online. As people learn more and more about the Flipped Classroom they often have questions. I have found myself answering many of them more these questions on more than one occasion so I thought a blog post was warranted.

Here are my top 5 Flipped Classroom FAQs:

What do you do when students don’t watch the video?

Will firstly I should note that I don’t usually assign videos, or anything for that matter, for homework. Most of my students find they have enough time in class to watch the video that they don’t need to watch it at home. On the days I do assign a video for homework I do so knowing that some for whatever reason will not get to it. I don’t punish the students, I have found more and more that the ‘whack-a-mole’ approach to education is ineffective. Students need to see value in the video and ultimately take responsibility for their learning. Students value the videos because they make the in-class activities  more productive and beneficial for them and they don’t want to fall behind. When they haven’t watched the video they often find it difficult to fully engage in the activity and need to rely on their fellow students to offer guidance as they work together.

So if you aren’t lecturing in class what does a day actually looked like?

Here is a video I made explaining it.

How do you make your videos?

There are many different ways but my way is definitely not the only or best way, it just works for me! I use a Lenovo Convertible X220 Tablet PC that enables me to annotate documents on my computer screen. The software I use is a program called Windows Journals that allows me to write over top of my fill-in-the-blank Microsoft Word files. To record the screencasts I use Camtasia Studio which I have found to be the best Screencasting Software out there. It records everything on my screen, gives me plenty of options to edit and then offers a simple way to produce your video to YouTube or wherever else you need to go. I started off using a typical microphone headset but now I use the Samson GoMic. It has great sound and doesn’t look as wild when I choose to use the webcam feature.

How do I get started?

Start small, it’s the biggest tip I could offer. I have seen many educators (myself included) who have tried to record video after video without trying them out with their students. Bring your students into the mix, ask them what they like and what you could improve on. Start with a lesson, then perhaps try an entire unit and if still things are going well try a course. You don’t need to have all the hardware/software I mentioned above either. Download a free 30 day trial from TechSmith and play around with Camtasia and see how it can benefit your students.

Why do you flip?

I flip to make the most of my face-to-face time. I felt that I just wasn’t meeting the needs of my students when I spent the majority of class lecturing. I wasn’t able to differentiate my instruction so I found myself lecturing to the middle. I flipped because I wanted to do more ‘stuff’ in class with that face-to-face time. ‘Stuff’ will be different for each educator but more me I added the following:

  • Self-paced learning environment
  • Mastery based quizzes via Moodle
  • Daily in-class whiteboard activities or Math Labs
  • Learning Journals
  • Student-Teacher Interviews before summative assessments (Hot Seat)
  • Ability to work with small groups.
  • Increased time to build relationships
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A Simple Conversation

It is a form of abuse to put a test in front of a student when both the student and teacher know the test is going to result in failure. What is the point? Where does that get us? Does it move the learning forward?

Yet as I do not condone the above, I am most certainly guilty of it. In the past I had students come to class that were not prepared to be assessed. They often had poor excuses to be honest: they skipped class, they did not do their homework, or simply forgot today was test day. So as the compassionate young man I am, what did I do? I shrugged my shoulders and wished them luck while in the back of my mind I was really thinking how dare you not take my course seriously.

The part that comes next is something that I will always regret and is the reason I am passionate about trying to improve my assessment practices. The unprepared student would grab the test, put his or her name at the top, slowly look around at the rest of the class feverishly solving problems and then slump in their chair. On a few occasions tears would even begin to fall. What did I do? Nothing…. The student would sit in front of that blank test for an hour, although I am sure it felt like an eternity, while I would watch.

I don’t care who you are, that was messed up. No kid should have to feel that regardless of the situation they may have gotten themselves in.

Now I have a simple conversation with each of my students to avoid this.

Before a student attempts a summative assessment we have a quick conversation known as a ‘hot seat.’ On the hot seat students get a chance to demonstrate one-on-one that they are ready. Sometimes I will grill them with some questions, I may ask them to tell me what they found easy/difficult in a unit, or they may summarize the big ideas. But the important part is how I usually begin. “So, how are things?” “Are you ready to go today?” “What can I do to make sure you are successful?” And 95% of them are good to go, but some are not. On the rare occasion a student will tell me he or she simply dropped the ball during a unit.  They may have not used their classroom time wisely, forgot to study, or maybe just found the content difficult and need some extra TLC. If that is the case then together we devise a plan of attack for how the student will prepare for their assessment and when they will be assessed.

The shock I see in their faces when I tell them that they aren’t going to take their assessment that day is unbelievable, they almost fall off of their chairs. The best part is 9 out of 10 times students use the additional prepare time to get back in gear and do well on their assessment.

Now I know some may argue that there are deadlines in the ‘real world,’ and I agree there most certainly are. But if the compromise is that a student recognizes his or her mistakes, comes up with a plan to meet the learning outcomes, and then executes that plan than I am a happy teacher. My goal is to help students learn, watching them fail just wasn’t helping.

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A Case for Boredom


A couple months ago 60 Minutes did a piece on NY Times best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. In the segment Gladwell recited a quote had heard from his mother as a child, “It is important to be bored, it gives your mind a rest.”

This quote resonated with me and got me thinking…Do we let our children rest their minds? Do we allow boredom?

I find myself as a 29 year old new parent as being stuck between two parenting paradigms. When I was a child I remember going out to play, real play, the type of play where my mother knew where I was (approximately) but didn’t know what I was necessarily up to. I remember building snowforts, inventing variations of hide and go seek or tag and playing home run derby in my best friend’s backyard. I also remember being bored and then doing something about it, my mother didn’t solve my boredom for me. 20 year later and I don’t see that type of play happening in our community as much anymore…

We now seem to live in an over-scheduled contrived play date world. Some of my students for instance have piano, dance, and a basketball after school…and I don’t mean throughout the week, that is just one night! Heck, when I was in University I remember tutoring a grade 2 student in math until 10 at night! Yikes!!! Parenting it seems has turned into a never ending chauffeur service of going from one event to another to ensure our children are well-rounded and perpetually stimulated.

My concern is that we are not letting our children be bored. Boredom is seen as the enemy.

I see a connection between boredom and great things happening because of that boredom. When we give our mind a rest we are giving it an opportunity to power up and get ready for brilliance. This is the reason why I encourage students to take mental brain beaks in my classroom. By letting our children create their own play rather than bouncing them from one organized activity to another we give them the power to be bored and then the power to solve their boredom themselves.

So…maybe boredom isn’t so bad sometime. My guess is that if we let them be bored then we’ll get a chance to watch them be brilliant.

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Scaffolding Genius Hour


ImageOne of the ironic things about Genius Hour is that it is all about giving students freedom over what and how they want to learn. They love this at first, at least they think they do, and then panic sets in. “I can do anything?” “So what do you really want this to look like?” Students  have never really done this before. Quite often we have extensive criteria, rubrics, and even exemplars that they can physically look at. The students that tend to ‘win’ at school are really good at mimicking what we are looking for. Take away constraints and they feel like a fish out of water. I want to break this, but looking back at my first semester trying Genius Hour perhaps going all in wasn’t the way… 

My implementation of Genius Hour had a focus on freedom. Students rarely get a chance to work on something they love or are truly interested in so I did not want to bastardize a good thing by putting a lot of constraints in place like we as teachers often do. What do I mean by this? There were no grades, pass or fail was it. Criteria, yes, well kind of, it was co-created with the class and largely left wide open. 

Last week I gave students a survey at the end of our semester and the most common response was that students wished there was more structure, I cringed inside hearing this but I was also expecting it! This got me thinking and asking questions, specifically how could Genius Hour be scaffolded? Enter @kuhner15!

Brad had a fantastic idea, why not use some of Dan Meyer Three-Acts Math Tasks as a way of building up to a full scale Genius Hour project. Students can get used to thinking outside the box, working on problems that do not have a definitive start or end point all while still working in the comfortable confines of just answering a math problem. I really liked this! Dan has put together a great list of problems where students could pick out a question that interests them or begin asking their own essential questions. Just working on asking good questions would be a giant step forward in relation to a full Genius Hour project.

So, next semester I am thinking of doing a Dan Meyerish Genius Hour project first to get us heading in the right direction. What are some other ways that you have scaffold the Genius Hour experience for you students? 


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What fatherhood has taught me about teaching

ImageA short seven months ago I was fortunate enough to become a father to an absolutely amazing baby girl. When people told me you never know love until you have a child they certainty were right!

Watching our daughter grow and learn through the lens of a teacher has been an extremely valuable experience. Sometimes as a teacher it is tough to truly determine how much your students are learning. Are they just going through the motions with memorization and regurgitation, or is real learning taking place? As parents know, with a baby you can literally see them learn from one minute to the next. I have witnessed her stare at her hand in amazement and slowly move her fingers trying to gauge what they do, I have seen her learn to clap her hands by mimicking us, and most recently the progression from being up on her knees to rocking to crawling has taken place.

As I reflect on the past year I am realizing how much I have learned about how humans grow and develop at any age. Many of the assumptions I had about learning have been affirmed since entering fatherhood and I have also saw some things I didn’t expect to.

  • Failure and learning – You fall, you get back up. Babies have mastered this. Unfortunately I can’t always say the same thing about my high school students. They have been conditioned to think that failure is bad. I often ask them what the point of going to school would be if we knew everything…This is an important battle that we are fighting in our schools. Learning is messy, it is evident when you witness a baby try to crawl. It happens at different paces, it takes very different shapes, and that is ok.
  • Encouragement is a powerful drug – I knew positive reinforcement was important, but never to this degree. With a simple smile, head nod, or clap I feel my daughter would move a mountain for me. Even though verbal communication is a ways down the road those innate signals we give off saying ‘good job’ can easily be understood. I don’t think I do this enough with my students. I need to do a better job celebrating those small victories and find alternative ways to give encouragement.
  • Let them play – My wife and I have really tried to take the discovery learning approach with our daughter. Rather than show her how a toy can be used let her make her own ways up. This is tough, but fascinating. I catch myself doing this all the time in the classroom, giving everything away and not facilitating the learning instead. My hope is that when I let my daughter create her own meaning it will mean more to her. I also hope that this will help foster the most important 21st century skill, creativity.
  • Let them finish – As a first time parent we have received an abundance of gifts and as a result have plenty of toys for our daughter to play with. At times I catch myself trying to play with all of them at once! This is a classic case of over-parenting… she will be playing with some blocks and looks bored so I give her the linking rings and then comes her stuffy and then we’ll start reading her board books together and…whoa whoa whoa! Why do we as parents and teachers insist on doing this? On most occasions she can use play with a single block and be as happy as can be. I learned that my classroom does not need to bounce from one activity to the next, rather I need to let me students sink their teeth into the learning.
  • When in doubt get her Mom – Mom always makes things better! I wish this existed in my classroom. Things get a little dicey and I get mom to rescue me as she so often does with my daughter…

Happy New Year everyone, all the best in 2014!

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Room for Improvement

ImageLast month I led my class through our first attempt at Genius Hour and like anything new, there were some ups and some downs. Fortunately the ups far outweighed the downs, but the downs taught me more about my students than I expected to learn. Let’s take a look at the list…

The Ups:

  • Students were genuinely excited about learning in my math class, it finally happened! Ok, it does happen some other times too…But seriously, they really loved the idea of learning, making, or inventing something new. Horray!
  • Creativity & imagination – in my class I have to be honest, I value creativity as much as any skill at the moment but my class does not usually foster it…It wanted to see students attempt to move outside their comfort zone and allow their minds to run in a non-linear non-algorithmic fashion, and for some they took this freedom and ran with it.
  • SOME of questions students came up with were amazing and thought provoking. Can two HS students with no programming experience develop an App? (Spoiler alert, they can!!!) Is the butterfly effect real? (yes and no!) When do athletes reach their prime? (26ish if I recall correctly, I am over the hill at 29…) What is the best whiteboard pen? (Not the brand in which I just bought 200 of…) This last project was so well done the students were invited to our staff meeting to share their findings!

The downs:

  • Presentation skills – The class I attempted to use genius hour with is extremely talented mathematically. It is littered with the who’s who of the Principal’s list of our HS. Students are in leadership, they are in extra-curricular activities…the list goes on. I assumed they would give presentations that would be out of this world. Well…Some were fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but I was surprised how many made a powerpoint with a hundred plus words a slide and simply read it to the class. I was equally surprised how some bright, confident and personable students seemed to freeze in-front of their classmates. I have this listed as a ‘down,’ but it is was also an amazing moment when we reflected on how things went as a class because students noticed it too! It’s a 21st century skill we are going to continue to work on because it is so important.
  • Good Questions – This was much harder than I thought to develop. Students had a difficult job coming up with questions that weren’t Googleable. They wanted research projects: ‘Cool facts about Pi.’ I wanted something else, but clearly had a hard time articulating that point. For students in the 11th grade we have to move beyond just research but rather use research to support our investigations.
  • Openendedness – Students were not used to doing projects where there isn’t a clear outcome or goal. I kept hearing, ‘What exactly are you looking for?’ ‘Is this good enough?’ Have a I done enough work?’ ‘Will this get me an A?’ ‘Just tell me what you want…’
  • Rubrics – I used a rubric that I got from one of my twitter colleagues and it was a fantastic rubric, although for my next genius hour project I won’t use one. I found students focused on it too much and it became limiting. If a 4 was ‘A’ quality work I didn’t see my students go beyond that. How do you develop a rubric for creativity and innovation? Sure we probably could all agree on some things, but my path to innovation may look like a guy sitting on the couch watching the game where all of a sudden he has an ‘aha’ moment, whereas someone else may have a methodical plan from day one. As a class for our next attempt we will establish a simple rubric. Pass / Fail!
  • Just another project – We debriefed in a big circle with 30 students a week or so after the project and some students were honest which I greatly appreciated and said ‘they felt that this was just another project.’ Clearly they did not get into the project, their was no passion and no intrinsic motivation. I have to do a better job pulling this out of these students.

So those are my thoughts. My students should be commended for their effort and their willingness to be challenged and grow, but there is room for improvement. This next time around (Thursday) we’ll begin our second project. Students will be given roughly three weeks and 2 full classes to prepare their projects. We’ll spend significant time coming up with good questions using a Pro D activity I often use with adults at conferences called ‘What Sucks?’ This time we’ll do things a little differently…students will simply think about things that suck! As an example: The bus schedule in the area my students go to school is infrequent. How can this be changed given the number of passengers and city budget? We don’t have a cafeteria at our school…How can this be remedied? Who knows, maybe my math class will be on the list of what sucks!?!? Perhaps students can come up with a hack to make it better! In addition, each day over the next couple of weeks I want to model what good (and bad) presentations look like to help use hone in on that skill. Those are the two skills I want to improve the most in my students this time around, coming up with good questions and improving those presentations.

Stay tuned!

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