Archive for the ‘Flipped Classroom’ Category


I showed up to EdCampRI with the excitement and nerves of someone going on a first date.  This is usually how I approach new situations, as I don’t know what to expect.  Like any good teacher, I did my homework prior to arriving.  I found that Ed Camps are supposed to be grassroots forums where educators can freely discuss anything with one another.  No one single person is supposed to be in charge and the agenda is driven by the interest of those in attendance.  These events are frequently referred to as un-conferences because unlike traditional conferences, no one is really a lead presenter; dialogue is supposed to be organic and Socratic.  Multiple rooms are set up with laptops, projectors and speakers so anyone who is working on a cool project or has information of interest to the group can freely share it to the benefit of everyone.  Mediocre educators don’t wake up early on a Saturday morning to attend an all day affair on improving their practice to lead to better student learning so I new I would surrounded by an extraordinary crowd.  Teachers from CT and MA hopped borders to flock to the Ocean State in pursuit of educational excellence as well.

Besides sounding like a genuinely beneficial experience, I was sold on EdCampRI by the fact that this was a free event with breakfast, lunch and a T-shirt provided.  You mean I get to learn, network, and eat for free?!? God Bless America.  To stick with the first date analogy, the awkwardness of those initial early morning conversations is palpable much like those first exchanges of dialogue sitting with a suitor whose character and interests are yet unknown.  Everyone makes small talk and asks the same questions like “Where to you teach?”.  I believe in punctuatlity so I arrived at Rhode Island College where the EdCamp was taking place at 7:45 even though registration didn’t start until 8am.  Interestingly enough, the first person whom I told I worked in Putnam, CT said, “Isn’t that the district that just got covered in the New York Times.”  I said, “Yes! My rockstar colleague Tom couldn’t make it today, but we sure are doing some great things in the quiet corner of CT.”  The ice was officially broken. Check out the NYTimes article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/23/in-flipped-classrooms-a-method-for-mastery/?_r=0

EdCampRI started with an intro and overview of what the day was all about.  We were told that a registration wall would be set up that showed 3 times for sessions in rows and 10 rooms in columns where people could present.  If anyone had an interest in a particular topic, they were to put what they wanted to talk or learn about on a slip of paper along with their name and post in on the wall in an open time and room slot.  There seemed to be some hesitancy, and I’m not exactly the shy type, so with my sleeves already rolled up, I dove right in.  I took a few quick strides to the board and taped up a slip in the second session row that said “All things flipped learning @Mister_Germain”


Teachers peruse the session board at EdCampRI 2013 to set and sign up for learning opportunities.

I decided to attend “Advanced Google Apps with James Pearse” as my first morning session.  Contrary to what I thought EdCamp was supposed to be about, Mr. Pearse, assertively took control of the room by hooking up his laptop to the projector and immediately beginning a presentation that you could tell he had given multiple times before.  No one seemed to care too much at first because he mentioned how he had just come from the MassCue Conference at Gillette Stadium this week where his presentation was packed out and he was clearly knowledgeable about this topic.  However, after about ten minutes of discussing how to make a google document, he either 1) Realized that everyone’s eyes were glazed over or 2) Remembered he titled the session ADVANCED Google Apps and decided to ramp things up.

One of the first things that struck my attention was his mention of setting up folders for all students through google drive.  That way, teachers could avoid the overwhelming email notifications and mess of documents in their own drive every day.  I literally had this same conversation the day before and he showed a couple good strategies for setting up a folder system.  More information can be found at mrpearse.com.  Actually, what really struck my attention was when Magister Revkin stepped in to show a super quick way to do this through Google Scripts.  He is a Latin teacher who has posted tons of great tech resources on his blog at http://eghstechtips.blogspot.com/p/links.html.  The crowd was all pretty excited to see him take over for a bit because he showed us all some awesome things that could be accomplished with Google Scripts like using Doctopus, Formmule, Autocrat, and Flubaroo.  There were many yells of “Wait…I can’t see…what did you say?” and things of the like during the whole morning session that made following along with the actual conversation a little difficult.  It also didn’t help that there was another little presentation in the same room behind us which was pretty distracting.  Luckily, all in the room were innovative teachers not afraid to experiment, so I am sure we will be able to recreate the awesomeness we saw simply by tinkering on our own.

The best part about this session was following #EdCampRI on twitter.  I was able to find a google doc posted by someone in the session about “Why is PD so bad?” where all the participants were taking note together.  In my own session talking about how awesome Google Drive is, I was able to use a Google Doc to virtually be in two places at once as I followed along the conversation in another room about fixing professional development, an issue that definitely needs serious attention.


Educators need to leverage the power of twitter to connect with each other and tap countless great possibilities. Don’t feel like you’re stuck on an island in your school. Hit the twitterverse to connect and collaborate with others.

This first session set a dangerous precedent for me as I was the one who called a session on flipped learning which lead everyone to expect a full on presentation from me.  I took the helm to start, but had no intention of droning on for an hour.  Unlike my first session, I decided to use good pedagogical practices by giving a quick pre-assessment.  I asked how many in the room of 30 were flipping their classrooms currently.  About two people raised their hands, giving me a quick glimpse into the experience level and what would be most likely interesting to everyone there.  Still, in one hour we were able to have a great conversation about

  • the philosophy of flipped learning

  • what students do in class

  • how to improve writing skills

  • mastery learning

  • collaboration with staff

  • ensuring learning objectives are met

  • preparing administration to see a different model of education

  • turning the classroom into a game

Myself and one other teacher were able to show some of the cool things we have been working on which prompted a lot of discussion and questions.  This still wasn’t exactly what I was expecting at an EdCamp, but it was closer to the mark than the first session.  In line with my learning from earlier, I opened a google doc I shared with all participants so we could take notes and share links as a group.  This worked like a charm.  One of the things I posted was my current Mission Guide for class https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZQAG1MrNJS-eDOdTRTOAVI-7TFlSxWcwYySzpPliqAg/edit?usp=sharing.  Everyone seemed so interest in the flow and organization of my class (both physical and virtual) and the types of assignments we were doing so we spent some time clicking through to look at some of the higher level Bloom’s tasks my students are able to accomplish.  I think the group got some good ideas on how to scaffold learning through videos by starting with guided viewing notes, but what they appeared to like best was how flipped learning can lead to so much inquiry based learning.  I went over how questions during each level leads to a challenge at the end that is driven by self interest and usually in the form of quick research papers.  This received a lot of positive feedback.

At the end of the session, everyone clapped, which I found particularly nice.  Two groups of teachers came up to me later to say that they were talking in the back during the presentation and could tell I was “an awesome teacher” whose passion and energy “they so appreciated’ which going a step further to say that my students were “beyond lucky.”  While it made me blush, I thought back to the last time someone has told me I was a good teacher….hmm….that hasn’t happened in a long time.  My mind was drawn to the RIDE Technology in Education Conference last month where the National Superintendent of the Year spoke about visiting teacher’s classrooms just to thank you, and I wondered why that isn’t done more often.  In a profession that is so difficult, yet so noble that has such a high burnout rate yet such a high potential to have impact, one would think more love and appreciation would be spread.  But alas, this is not the case.

At lunchtime, I was offered the opportunity to give a pitch for the Level Up with Gamification PD I am doing with Tom Driscoll at the Highlander Institute in Providence on November 14.  I brought the energy with my best video game voice and within 5 minutes, the session was sold out.  Currently, we are in the process of trying to get a bigger room so this link will be open to registration again soon http://www.eventbrite.com/event/8589195515/SRCH


The thrill of a sold out conference after a shameless pitch!

The last session of the afternoon that I chose to go to was “Bringing EdCafes to the Classroom.”  Two teachers from the Massachusetts-New Hampshire border have worked extremely hard to combine the essence of TED-talks and socratic seminars to a form that works best for their students.  Both of the energetic duo walked an attentive small group through the process of getting students to take ownership for their learning by becoming an expert in a topic and leading a discussion with other classmates.  Multiple students give presentations in different parts of the classroom at the same time, which is how this even mirrors an EdCamp; everyone is free to choose the session they want to sit in on.  We all bounced questions off each other, freely discussed many points of ponderance and left with the attitude that “we can do this.”  Not only is this approach to learning empowering, it is necessary to create independence and 21st Century skills.  No classroom should go without EdCafes.  To find out more, visit the website: http://whatisanedcafe.wordpress.com/.  If you are not interested in re-creating the wheel, consider contacting these teachers to see if they will share their templates and other documents with you as they were kind enough to do with me.

jk18emfje68dbgm2pvzj_reasonably_smallThe day concluded with what is called “The Smackdown” where 30 minutes are reserved for educators to come before the crowd and share their favorite tech companies.  Here is what got shared this year: http://bit.ly/EdCampSmackdown.  While not necessarily linked to the classroom, If This, Then That looked like the big crowd pleaser of the day which I will definitely be using to connect all the apps I use to make my life more streamlined.

All in all, educators left refreshed with the idea that education is changing for the better with the help of other dedicated individuals and aid from revolutionary technology. Rock on EdCampRI.

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Today, I just happened to stumble upon this article on CNN entitled, “America’s Students Failing to Learn History.” (well except there weren’t capital letters in the title because CNN doesn’t do that for some reason).  The statistics actually broke my heart a little bit, as they would any history teacher or anyone who cares about the future of our nation.

It’s vital that young Americans learn the history of our amazing nation.

Being an American requires knowing what it means to be an American. It’s the fabric that binds us together and helps us understand who we are.

Today, unfortunately, many of our students are failing to learn American history, including our founding principles and values. And they’re failing to learn why America remains an exceptional nation.

For two generations, we’ve watched our nation’s memory of the past slip away.

The problem of historic amnesia is widespread, as evidenced by alarming results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests students in grades four, eight and 12 in several broad subject areas every few years.

Among the survey’s most frightening findings is our students’ lack of knowledge in U.S. history. Just 20% of fourth-graders, 17% of eighth-graders and 12% of 12th-graders were at grade-level proficiency in American history in the 2010 exams.

This lack of knowledge goes to the very basics.

Only one in three fourth-graders could identify the purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Less than half understood why George Washington was an important American leader. And a majority of fourth-graders didn’t know why the Pilgrims left England.

These are frightening statistics, indicating that our children lack an understanding of our nation’s history and the traits that have made America great.

As the author of three children’s books on American history, I’ve visited many classrooms across the country to share the adventures of Ellis the Elephant, my time-traveling pachyderm, with children ages 4 to 8. I’ve found most young students to be energetic, enthusiastic and eager to learn.

We can get children engaged in learning at an early age if we as adults have enthusiasm for learning as well.

Our history includes wonderful role models. In writing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (published this week, in which Ellis the Elephant discovers the American Revolution), I was reminded that the brave men and women who fought to win our freedom were surprisingly young. Thomas Jefferson was 33. James Madison was 25. James Monroe was just 18, barely older than a high-school graduate. And yet these patriotic heroes were engaged in profound, often dangerous work. They were models of sacrifice, civic-mindedness and determination.

With education surveys showing dismal results, we must find creative ways to teach our children American history. In “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and the Ellis the Elephant series, my goal is to highlight the wonderful achievements of our country, to arouse a love for America and to communicate why America is indeed a special nation.

Like children’s books, educational video games, too, have enormous potential to make history come alive. And we are only beginning to see the potential of online systems like Khan Academy to revolutionize learning. There are many ways to improve the challenged state of education, but parents, teachers and mentors must pursue them eagerly.

It was 232 years ago this month, on October 19, 1781, that the British surrendered to George Washington’s Continental Army at Yorktown. This pivotal moment concluded an eight-year war in which thousands of brave men and women gave their lives to win the freedom we enjoy today. Yet we are for the first time in our history beginning to lose sight of our founders’ sacrifice and wisdom. We must fight historical amnesia to ensure that future generations continue to appreciate the greatness of our nation.

-Callista Gingrich

Callista Gingrich, while presenting data that makes me want to scream also presents the important point that all across the world, we now have unprecedented potential to get people hooked on history by making it FUN.  Every day in my classroom, I strive to make history come alive the way my teachers in high school failed to do for me.  I’ve ventured into the flipped class and gamification because of the benefits it offers students. Engagement is up, learning is increasing and visible daily, and we are acquiring more skills overall.  It used to be enough to simply teach facts and dates, but in this day and age, teachers need to be curators of interesting content and entertainers.  My students don’t care about how many little random facts I know, but they do care about how fun we can make learning together.  If we want students to fall in love with history, we have to make them fall in love with the way we teach.

I once worked for a man who called himself Mr. Salmon (no joke), but I’m not one to fight the current and swim upstream on everything.  My students are digital natives and grew up with Youtube, cell phones, and video games.  Leveraging that technology has been a gift from the heavens in terms of how they consume information under my supervision.

*Side note: While pivotal and of the utmost importance in the Revolutionary War, the surrender of General Cornwallis did not effectively end all fighting, as battles raged on for almost another year.

Here’s what a colleague of mine had to say in reference to the above article:

Here’s my theory on this…

  1.  The popularity of STEM education.  Less focus on history and social studies.
  2. The popularity of getting students “career ready.”  Don’t need to know history and social studies if you’re an Accountant or Engineer, etc.
  3. The popularity of a Howard Zinn approach to history and social studies.  Washington and Jefferson owned slaves is what kids remember rather than their other contributions to our government.
  4. The popularity of comparing U.S. students to Finland, China, etc, and how we do in Math and Science, but not history or social studies.

Humanities departments in colleges are facing enrollment issues in history, religion, philosophy, etc. majors.  My view is that not everything in education or college should always have to translate to “skills needed for a future job.”  Sometimes, it’s good to know our history for the sake of being an educated, well-rounded, and civic-minded citizen, not just seeing the world in dollars and cents.  Thank god our Founders knew their history when creating our government.

P.S. – This reads like an op-ed but I think about this topic a lot.”

Spoken like a true analytical thinker, especially when considering this email was fired off in the four minute passing period between classes.  This is no surprise to any historians, as earning a degree in this worthy discipline really just means you know how to think critically, analyze anything thrown your way from Puritan thought to the NY Giants (lack of) offense, and write with such a connected flow we seem like children of Ernest Hemingway and Diana Ross.  Weird combination? Ok, so we are strangely clever too.  We need more historians in the world and more historical education.  Long live history!

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…that time I wrote a book.

The Constitution of the United States set forth the minimum age for securing a presidential bid as 35.  I think for that reason, I always believed 35 to be the age where society has set the bar for maturity and wisdom.  I know since Colonial America, many things have changed (such as life expectancy) and I, like Thomas Jefferson, believe that the Constitution should be rewritten every so often to reflect such changes.  I have looked at the age of 35 for quite some time, thinking that I will be “old” at that point; that by the time I reach such an age, I will need to be considered an accomplished person.  I set up a list in my gym locker of all the things I want to accomplish before I turn 35 and I am proud to say that I have just achieved my third one: become a published author.

Working with 19 other talented authors in a crowd-source network online, experts in different areas took to compiling a comprehensive guide for flipping any classroom.  These are not just the do’s and don’ts, but a definitive manual for leveraging technology so all students win.  Remember, teaching always has been and always will be all about the students.  Hopefully in the midst of whatever task one commits to, no one ever loses sight of that.  Everything from a partial flipped class to subject specific tips and anecdotes are covered in this staple of blended learning.

Flipping 2.0: The classroom evolves

Flipping 2.0: The classroom evolves

So the title of this post isn’t totally clear in its indication that “I wrote a book.”  In fact, I co-authored a chapter in this book.  I was fortunate enough to get to work in person with my colleague and educational technology guru, Tom Driscoll.  We spent the better part of the warm school months crafting a narrative in humid classrooms in an effort to help students utilize technology to enhance their learning experience.  One of the truths of the flipped classroom I am sure anyone who flips will find for sure, is that students who are brilliantly savvy in technology literacy now have expanded opportunities for inquiry.  Why not make a marriage of inquiry and technology to promote a deeper understanding of any subject?  Well, that is exactly what Tom and I have been establishing in our classrooms, and that’s exactly what we wrote about.

Join us on twitter September 17 at 9pm ET for a #flipping20 chat moderated by Tom Driscoll, fellow author Troy Cockrum, and project point man Jason Bretzmann.

To purchase a copy, please click Buy Flipping 2.0 or contact me directly.  I do travel quite frequently, so I may be able to hand deliver a copy and save you on shipping costs (it’s reasons like this that USPS is sadly dying).

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