Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Joy of Connections

Here is our latest video production project thanks to the power of the network. After you watch the video, read the process of how it came about and why I love having Dean Shareski in my network.

So one of the things I love about Twitter and Google Reader is the wealth of ideas that it brings. I can't recall whether I saw Dean Shareski's post via Twitter or his blog on Thursday night but I know it led to a great Friday morning.

Dean poses the question "What does Joy have to with Learning" and shares a video by some students at Wartburg College. He then poses the following questions about doing a similar video in your school.

So please complete my mulitple choice question in the comments and add any insights you have because I need your help in understanding what to do with joy in schools.

With regards to creating a video like the one above do you:

  1. Do it because it's not only fun but likely does address some cirriculuar outcomes but you might have to look them up later. Fingers crossed.
  2. Do it and to heck with the outcomes, doing joyful things with students is important.
  3. Do it but perhaps as an extra-curricular activity because you're not sure where it fits with a robust curriculum but still think it's important.
  4. Not do it at all.
If I had to answer my motivation behind doing the video it would fall under #2 although it did address curricular objectives in our case. To be honest, I really just got caught up in how much fun the kids were having in the video. We have a couple video production classes so we could easily incorporate this into the class and add value. So that night I emailed our video teacher and said we needed to have some fun on Friday and learn a new skill.

We spent the half hour before the students came into first period trying to pick a song that was appropriate and the kids would know the words to (much more difficult than it would seem). We also tested how we would record each student, which turned out to be very easy in our iMac lab even though we hadn't used the cameras in this way yet. We came up with a couple song options and then waited to see if the kids would think it was as much fun as we did.

As they started to file in, we told them to sit down and get iMovie going. They were curious because typically they are in charge of working on whatever project they are working on so we don't spend much time telling them where to go as they walk in. Next we showed them the Wartburg video and the excitement rose. We then presented our song ideas and they didn't hate them but one student suggested another song which everyone liked better so we went with it. Then with no other instructions than to have a good time with it we had them start capturing and played the song.

Pure joy and hilarity ensued for three and a half minutes. Then after we finished the song and the laughter died down, we exported and moved the movies to one computer for the editing. Over the next several days we synced all the feeds, imported the mp3, edited the different cameras together while trying to get as many people in as possible, exported the video and uploaded to our YouTube channel. During this process students came in during study hall, before and after school to work on the cut, comment on its progress and often just laugh.

So while we did learn some new editing and camera skills, more than anything we just had fun as a class. Sometimes that's as important as anything else to keep progressing.

Thanks for a great couple days Dean.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Reflections on our Flipped Econ Class

So we are about six weeks into our flipped economics class and I thought I would post some honest reflections. For the most part the class has gone very well. We have students listening to the podcasts, taking notes in the Google Doc, posting to their blogs and interacting in the discussions in the comments. So here are some thoughts thus far on the process.

Good - The students seem to be listening and "enjoying" the podcasts. Several have downloaded them to their phones and I have even caught some listening to them at school (kind of a serial experience to be honest). Others have even admitted to listening to them on their drive to school in the morning. These also really came in handy during our snow days to keep the class moving.

Realizations - As expected you can tell a few have not listened to the podcast when you engage them in class discussion but this is no different than when I asked them to read prior to coming to class before. we really have bounced around as much as I would have thought but that just may be because we were covering the basics which are needed for other topics.
I think keeping them to under 20 minutes is the best length for a night's homework as the couple we have over that have not been received as well. I am also considering going back and added some video for examples for next semester as there are things that need visuals that we don't cover as well presently in podcast form. Although those that listen in the car or on non-screen based devices will not get the full experience I think it would help many.

In class discussions

Good - we have had some really good in class discussions that have gone much deeper than previous in class discussions teaching a more
traditional way. We have hit upon some advanced topics that we never got to in the past. Some students that I would not really have expected have become extremely valuable contributors to the class discussion.

Bad/Realization - This isn't really bad per say but it is so much more difficult to teach this way. You have to make sure you have some good stuff before you walk into class to spark the discussion. I have found I really like audio (been using npr quite a bit) to kick off the discussions. Then you really have to step back and throw questions at them and try to guide the discussion in the way you want it to go without stepping in and just telling them what you want them to know. Some days we do this better than others. The days it works its brilliant, the other days its only slightly worse than a the old method so I take that as a win.


Good - The task of having a scribe takes notes everyday has worked out well. Each person has done a pretty good job of taking the job seriously and getting some content. When we use the Researchers they do a good job of finding information to help explain things we didn't understand or were wrong about.

Realization - We need to find a better way to get them to go back afterward and add to the notes. I honestly don't know how many of them actually use them that much but how is that truly different from before. Still we need to encourage a better collection of the information. We need to ask more proving questions sometimes and use the Researchers in class more.

Blogs and Comments
Good - some of the blog posts and comments have been really inspired. I love the fact that these students are related so many economic topics to things they are passionate about. Get such a wide variety of posts and it allows us to get to know the students on a different level. Overall this along with the great class discussion days have been my favorite parts. It is also good to see some of the students who don't speak in class as much demonstrate their learning here.

Realization - It's more obvious when some of the students don't do their work. I guess it makes me feel like more of a failure when a student doesn't post to their blog than when they simply didn't turn in their homework. Also need to keep pushing them to put more economic analysis into the posts since some mostly summarize the article. Finally making them proofread their posts is also a struggle (note: of course I just realized I posted without proofreading this so I need to work on that as well).

Overall this has been a great experience thus far and it will only get better the more we are able to refine it. The things I think we need to work on the most going forward is getting more outside voices into the classroom through the blog and skype. We had our first guest speakers last weekend it went well but it is hard to get them to be questioners instead of lecturers as it is for us as well.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions and stop by the blogs at

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Daily - What it means to our students' writing

News Corporation has just launched The Daily, a digital only newspaper. Please read the article from the New York Times.

While as the article points out this particular version of a digital-only newspaper may not succeed, it is apparent that it is the beginning of a significant shift in publishing. So as an educator this brings a couple of questions to the forefront for me.

By the time our students graduate college how much of their writing will be for the screen instead of the page?

Are we teaching our students the skills necessary to compete in this environment?

How young should we be teaching digital writing?

While I'm not sure The Daily will be successful in this iteration, I am sure something similar will be in the near future. Will our students be prepared?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Flipped Econ Week 2

Due to some unforseen circumstances I was unable to be in class this week but fortunately I could follow along virtually. Another benefit to the current class structure. It does limit however how much I can summarize about the week here. Next weeks summary should be more informative.

This week the class covered the different economic systems and started in on supply and demand. You can now subscribe to the podcasts from the class on iTunes as well. There is a link on the right side of the main blog. The process of getting on iTunes is surprisingly simple and I hope to write a post about it in the near future.

This week the students blogged about such varying topics as the iPhone on Verizon, whether the incarceration of a rapper helps their bottom line, lunar mining and many other topics. Please stop by their blogs and weigh in with your opinion.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Flipping the Economics Classroom

After reading and thinking about what Karl Fisch is doing with his Algebra class as well as many others across the nation, I decided to go back into the classroom and help teach a section of Economics that I used to teach before becoming an administrator. Going back into the classroom has been great for me to reconnect with more students as well as try out a lot of the philosophies of teaching I have come to believe in the last couple years.

Up and Running
So in the last week we have kicked off 6 blog sites, a collaborative note taking system in Google Docs, a tracking system in Google Spreadsheets and podcasts in iTunes. You can check out our main blog site where we will be highlighting a post a day as well as links to the group blogs. In the last week students have listened to 2 podcasts, written 22 posts which have amassed 123 comments.

Here is a brief synopsis of what Brad Smith (he is the real teacher/leader of the course as I am just another participant), myself and 22 seniors are doing this semester.

Flipping When You Hear The Lecture
A lot of the ideas I used to design the semester came from our experience in Powerful Learning Practice (PLP) with Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum Beach. Brad and I also bounced ideas of PLPeeps Cary Harrod from Ohio and Dave Ostroff from Dallas. They were all a great help in pushing our thinking in designing the class. However, I still haven't fully embraced the idea that everything should be self-guided. I believe that there are still times for lecture and conveying the basic economic theories and vocabulary that are necessary to have class discussions. I just think that spending valuable time together to decimate that information is not the best way to accomplish getting this information. So Brad and I spent some of our Winter break podcasting many of the lectures we would typically do during the semester. We stripped the content down to the bare essentials because we new the real learning would occur during the class time discussions of current events, blog post and comments.

Class Time
So if we are not lecturing in the classroom, what are we doing? Well for homework we assign a podcast explaining some economic concept and then the next day in class we discuss some current event and how it relates to the concepts. We also have someone different assigned each day to take notes in the Google Doc for everyone to share and contribute to. We then assign two researchers to Google anything that comes up in the discussion that we need more information about. We proceed with the discussion until they got the information and then they would report back with their findings and add it to the Google Doc notes.

So for example this week we learned about the four factors of production, scarcity, value judgements and utility to name a few concepts from the podcasts. Then Brad and I would bring in something from the news and use that to start a discussion about how those concepts explain what we are reading or listening to. I have found the NPR app on my iPad to be a great place to find 4 or 5 minute kick starts to our discussions. We listened to a segment related to the oil price increases and discussed scarcity and the four factors of production. It also brought up the France Austerity Package which our researchers Googled and explained. We then listened to a piece on the Alaskan Petroleum Reserve and how each person's individual value judgements affect their own cost-benefit analysis. On another day we talked about the changing production demands in China from tea to coffee because of the associated utility. In a lot of ways it mirrored what I thought it would, including a significantly more in depth discussion of the economic topics in a significantly more meaningful way. However, it also showed me how quickly we touched on much more advanced topics that we will soon explore in more depth. The beauty of having the podcasts already there is once we make it through the basics we did last week and supply and demand this week we can jump to wherever the class leads us and reach the advanced topics they are interested in. The students in essence are making the roadmap for what we learn through what they are interested in. Hopefully they will start bringing in the starters for the class discussions as well.

Blogs and Comments
As part of the class structure, each student is required to find their own article, podcast, political cartoon etc. and analyze it in economic terms. The article can be anything that interests them and therefore they are learning economics through what they are passionate about. We have had posts about digital distribution of games, the falsification of the Wakefield study, MIT's use of iPads and even Oregon's bold uniform choice. So it is obvious that they are starting to see the concepts in the things that interest them.

The even bigger thing we are seeing is that they are asking each other great questions. Things like
"Also, do you think that this museum could hurt the beach based businesses by pulling people so far inland and if so, how much would it effect them?"

when discussing the new St. Pete museum.
"The coaching slots on the show are scarce, and that is why they are in such high demand by so many fighters, but why would Lesnar take this job?"

when discussing an MMA fighter's decision.

I know in the traditional model we didn't get people asking these types of questions even towards the end of the semester and now we are getting them in the first week.

Next Steps
So where are we going? We are looking now to hopefully expand out and get more outside comments. Hopefully some of the people who read this will stop by and comment and tell a friend or an economics class from another school will stop by and toss in their two cents. We are also looking forward to other teachers and administrators in our school leading some of the class discussions in the coming weeks, showing the students that these topics affect everyone. We will be looking for people to Skype into the class to discuss topics.

I will blog much shorter weekly updates of our progress and welcome any suggestions you may have to improving this class.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

DS106 Assignment1

So I saw multiple posts from my PLN about a MOOC on Digital Storytelling. I figured what a better way to try an open online course and have a creative outlet. So here is my first assignment. It is an iMovie template for a specific reason even though it isn't real creative.

The reason I used the iMovie template was because although I like doing most of my stuff in Final Cut Pro I have been wanting to play with the new iMovie and the trailer templates. All I had at home tonight was the photos from my trip to Brazil in November since I haven't gotten the video back from my dad.

So my first attempt was to use the still photos in the iMovie trailer template. Unfortunately it does not appear that you can use anything but video in the templates so I had to scrap that idea.

My second attempt was to use TubeChop to take parts of some YouTube videos and use them in the template. I just heard about TubeChop and wanted to try it out. While it is very cool and I am looking forward to showing it to my teachers, there doesn't seem to be a way to download the chopped video or MacTube it, only share it as a URL or through embed code. So once again I had to scrap that idea.

Then I started MacTubing an Amazon video from YouTube and some Brad Pitt to use as myself but I couldn't make myself do that since it was so cheesy (not sure why I thought I was above it tonight). I also decided I didn't want to use any copyrighted video so I scrapped that idea.

So then I realized I could make a video from the still photos. So I took them into iMovie and did a simple video of the stills out from there. Then I inputted the finished video back into iMovie and used the Adventure template to make the finished video. Then I shared the video to YouTube from iMovie which was remarkably simple.

So while the finished video wasn't overly creative, I did learn quite a bit tonight about some different processes that I can share with my faculty and students so it was successful. More importantly I got to spend the evening making something fun thanks to DS106. I'm looking forward to the next several weeks on the journey of storytelling.