Thursday, October 4, 2012

Flipping OUT

My flipped classroom journey began about six months ago. What a long, strange trip it's been!

First, let me give you some demographic information about my school.
  • Our school contains about 950 students in PreK-6th grade
  • I teach four blocks of math, 29 students per block
  • Each block is 80 minutes long
  • Our Free-Reduced lunch rate is under 20%. (The achievement gap between our high- and low-income students is what inspired me to do this in the first place.)

Last spring, a friend who teaches college math told me about how they are using the flipped classroom model at UAH. I was immediately intrigued because I'm always looking for new ways to be innovative. I feel like my high achieving students are doing well, but the struggling students are falling more and more behind. I went to Dr. Coman, our instructional partner at Mill Creek, the next day for resources. She had already been collecting articles about the model and happily shared with me. Over the summer, I continued to let the idea stew and read as much information as I could on the topic. I knew I was going to do flipped classroom, but I wasn't sure how.

I found lots of evidence of flipped classrooms in colleges and high schools, but not in a middle school setting, and definitely not a sixth grade in an elementary school. I know from experience that the key to starting something new is to model and provide scaffolding, so I started there.

I would caution anyone trying something new to not be afraid of jumping in head first, but also know your limits. This year, we have not only adopted Common Core, but we have a new textbook series as well. I figured with all the changes, my old lesson plans were moot anyway, might as well start fresh! However, coming up with nightly videos was more than I was willing to take on at the time. Do I want to create my own cache of videos? Of course. Everything I've read says teachers who create their own videos see much more growth than those who use stock videos. I believe it, and hope to be creating my own. I've researched and downloaded great apps for the iPad to implement it, but I am still in the overwhelmed-barely-treading-water part of the school year. Maybe next semester. Until then, I love the Khan Academy videos. I almost hesitate to say that because it's so cliche, but "Sal" teaches the way I do. The terminology is the same, the technique is the same, in short, the expectations are the same. Oh, and the kids like the Khan Academy app. Several of them have created accounts and are actually engaging in it on their own, earning badges, doing extra practice problems, etc. I love seeing kids excited about math so much they do extra work! There have only been a couple topics so far (writing and solving expressions) that were too complex for the level of my students. I found videos on TeacherTube that were appropriate.

Instead of just sending kids to Khan Academy and telling them to search for a specific video, I provide links to them on my website. This is supposed to help prevent confusion about which video to watch, since many of the topics have multiple videos with varying difficulty. I still have kids watch the wrong video occassionally, but that's because they don't follow directions.
Note-taking is a skill that we focus on in sixth grade. In the past, I would say, "WRITE THIS DOWN," or provide outlines for students so the most important information is obvious. Taking notes at home, I knew the quality of notes would vary greatly unless I was very specific in my expectations. I created an outline (see below), copied it on bright green paper, and gave every student a copy. I spent one day in class watching a video with the class and showing them how to take notes. I am happy to report that this process solved the "how to take notes" challenge. It's surprisingly been an non-issue, but I really credit that to modeling and scaffolding. If I had just said, "take notes," I know it wouldn't have worked.

 A lot of teachers hesitate because they don't think the students will watch the videos. I handle that just like if they didn't do their homework. We use a "red form" (see below) in sixth grade. The student has to fill out what assignment they're missing, sign it, I sign it, and their parents have to sign it that night. I mark in my grade book who fills out red forms and whether or not they return them signed the next day. The red forms are great documentation for us for PST or parent-teacher conferences. As with the first six weeks of school every year, I had many, many kids not watching the videos for a variety of reasons. They didn't write their assignments down, they forgot to check their planner, they forgot their binder at school or at home, whatever. At first I wasn't having them fill out red forms and I was getting all sorts of ridiculous excuses, "My mom was on Facebook so I couldn't use the computer," or "My brother was on his PS3 for so long it broke the WiFi." As teachers, we get frustrated when kids go home and tell ridiculous stories to their parents, and then their parents believe it. We always make the deal that we won't believe what they tell us about home if they don't believe what they hear about school. I had one student write on his red form that he couldn't watch the video because, "I had no time to do my homework." Mom wrote back, "He did have time to do homework. I made jelly that night and he wanted to help. I did let him help and once we were done it was time for bed. I reminded him in the morning to do his homework but there was not enough time before the bus came. I told him to go to the lab in the morning to do the homework but he did not do this." It made me laugh. Now that I'm enforcing the red form policy, the excuse is usually just, "I forgot," or "I left it at home." We're now happily into week 7 and I may have five or six kids a day not have their notes done.

Side note- My husband tells me I'm not allowed to complain until the eight week mark about the kids being irresponsible, disorganized, or immature. They always are. I always do.
Dealing with students who don't have Internet access is another barrier to overcome. It started with asking my administrators to make supervising the computer lab my morning duty station. No problem. I surveyed everyone the first week of school and found fewer than ten did not have a computer or Internet at home.

The first couple weeks, the excuse language was TERRIBLE. I had too many kids making up reasons just to come to the computer lab.The alternative is sitting the gym,so I know why they wanted to come to the lab instead. I simply instituted a rule that said if they're not on my list of students without Internet, they have to have a note from a parent stating why they couldn't watch the video at home. It's worked well. More of the kids are getting it done at night, and the times when they have computer or Internet issues, they still have a back-up plan. I also gave everyone my home email so they can get ahold of me if there are issues. I haven't had anyone need to use it for that reason, but the support is there. I keep a clipboard for the students to sign in each day. Again, I feel like documentation is key so no one can come back and say the support wasn't there. I've actually had kids try to claim they went to the lab and no one was in there. I have a clipboard full of names that says otherwise.

The problem now is because most of the students who don't have Internet at home have to eat breakfast before they come to the computer lab, they arrive about the time I need to go upstairs to supervise the rest of the students, who have now been released from the gym. So far it hasn't been an issue because I've had a student intern do it for me, but next week she's moving on to her next placement. I don't know if I can trust them to just come up when they're done? I certainly can't leave the rest of my students upstairs and trust they'll do their morning work. It's only a couple students in the lab, and for the most part they're pretty responsible. We'll see.

Creating a working structure for the class period was the next hurdle. I've fiddled with it a bit and I like what we're doing. My class period goes like this: When the students come in, I have a standardized test problem for them to work on the board independently that is relevant to our unit of study. I let a student do the problem on the board. Then I assign 10 minutes to work on the group challenge. This is usually four to six word problems relevant to the previous night's video. While everyone is working, I check their notes to make sure they're done and to check for understanding. We use a 1-4 numbering system. One means I didn't watch the video, two is I need help, three is I understand the lesson, and four is I can teach the lesson to others. They write the number on the top right-hand corner of their paper so I can do a quick check without interrupting. I record their scores in my gradebook for my information. At the end of ten minutes, I do the group challenge problems on the board. This is my instructional time. Usually by the end of this short instructional period, anyone who was a two is now a three. Some of them just need to see me do it to understand. Next I give about twenty minutes to work on the traditional homework problems. It's usually ten standard practice problems and two or three word problems. I circulate the room, working with groups or pulling students to my table to help when they're struggling. I save fifteen to twenty minutes at the end of class to go over the answers and take questions. If a student has a question, they have the choice of doing the problem on the board, having me do the problem, or having a peer do the problem. It's usually a pretty even divide between the three. In the last five minutes, they have to summarize the essential question and provide an example on an index card. We call this the "tweet" of the day. Likening it to Twitter is a gimmick to keep them interested. I don't grade it (although they can get in trouble if they don't do it), but they are allowed to keep their tweets on their desk during a test, which provides one more incentive to do a good job and keep up with it daily.

You'd think since I'm not standing up front and teaching, it'd be less work on me, but it's not! I feel like I'm running a sprint pace in a marathon distance. It does make the day fly by!

It's too early to have data to see if it's making a difference, but I feel like it is. We just took a test on multiplying fractions. Ordinarily I'd still have students incorrectly multiply the whole numbers, then fractions instead of changing to a mixed number. I didn't see that very often, which is encouraging.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to beat me at Scrabble

You know one of my all-time favorite games is Scrabble. I've been playing since I was old enough to spell, on one of the turn-table deluxe versions with the grooves for the tiles. 

My highest play ever. I'm still ridiculously proud of it.
One of my crowning achievements growing up was beating my grandma at Scrabble. I was twelve, and I remember the feeling of joy and accomplishment at this seemingly insignificant feat. Because in our family, adults don't just let kids win. You have to earn it. This tough-love attitude extended to all venues, meaning we also did our own laundry, made dinner once a week, broke the rules and suffered the consequences (oh, did we suffer). But if Grandma had let me win, I wouldn't remember the first time I beat her, would I?

When I play anyone now, even past, present, or future students, I don't let them win. But I do hopefully teach some strategy.

So here's my definitive "How to beat me at Scrabble" (or Words with Friends) strategy list.


This is not optional if you want to win. You cannot stack words if you haven't familiarized yourself with this list. Keep it handy while you're new and pretty soon you'll know it forwards and backwards.

AA:  n pl. –S rough, cindery lava
AB:  n pl. –S an abdominal muscle
AD:  n pl. –S an advertisement
AE:  adj one
AG:  adj pertaining to agriculture
AH:  interj – used to express delight, relief, or contempt
AI:   n  pl. –S a three-toed sloth
AL:  n  pl. –S an East Indian tree
AM:  present 1st person sing. of BE
AN:  indefinite article – used before words beginning with a vowel
AR:  n pl. –S the letter R
AS:  adv to the same degree
AT:  prep in the position of
AW:  interj – used to express protest, disgust, or disbelief
AX:  v –ED, -ING, -ES to work on with an ax (a type of cutting tool)
AY:  n  pl. –S aye
BA:  n  pl. –S the eternal soul in Egyptian mythology
BE:  v AM, ARE, ART, WAS, WERE, WAST, WERT, BEEN, BEING to have actuality
BI:  n pl. –S bisexual
BO:  n pl. –S a pal
BY:  n pl. –S a pass in certain card games
DE:  prep of; from – used in names
DO:  n pl. –S the first tone of the diatonic scale
ED:  n pl. –S education
EF:  n pl. –S the letter F
EH:  interj – used to express doubt
EL:  n pl. –S an elevated railroad or train
EM:  n pl. –S the letter M
EN:  n pl. –S the letter M
ER:  interj – used to express hesitation
ES:  n pl. ESES the letter S (also spelled ESS)
ET:  a past tense of EAT
EX:  n pl. EXES the letter X
FA:  n pl. –S the fourth tone of the diatonic musical scale
FE:  n –FES a Hebrew letter
GO:  v WENT, GONE, GOING, GOES to move along
HA:  n pl. –S a sound of surprise
HE:  n pl. –S a male person
HI:  interj – used as a greeting
HM:  interj – used to express thoughtful consideration
HO:  interj – used to express surprise
ID:  n pl. –S a part of the psyche
IF:  n pl. –S a possibility
IN:  v INNED, INNING, INS to harvest
IS:  v present 3d person sing. of BE
IT:  pron the 3rd person sing. of BE
JO:  n pl.  -ES a sweetheart
KA:  n pl. –S the spiritual self of a human being in Egyptian religion
KI:  n pl. -S the vital force in Chinese thought
LA:  n pl. –S the sixth tone of the diatonic musical scale
LI:  n pl. a Chinese unit of distance
LO:  interj – used to attract attention or to express surprise
MA:  n pl. –S mother
ME:  pron the objective case of the pronoun I
MM:  interj – Used to express assent or satisfaction
MO:  n pl. –S a moment
MU:  n pl. –S a Greek letter
MI:  n pl. –MIS the third tone of the diatonic musical scale
MY:  pron the possessive form of the pronoun I
NA:  adv no; not
NE:  adj born with the name of (also NEE)
NO:  n  pl. NOS or NOES a negative reply
NU:  n pl. –S a Greek letter
OD:  n pl. –S a hypothetical force of natural power
OE:  n pl. –S a whirlwind off the Faeroe Islands
OF:  prep coming from
OH:  v –ED, -ING, -S to exclaim in surprise, pain, or desire
OI:  v – oy--used to express dismay or pain
OM:  n pl. –S a mantra used in contemplation of ultimate reality
ON:  n pl. –S the side of the wicket where a batsman stands in cricket
OP:  n pl. –S a style of abstract art
OR:  n pl. –S the heraldic color gold
OS:  n pl. –S ORA, OSSA, or OSAR either an orifice, a bone, or an esker
OW:  interj – used to express sudden pain
OX:  n pl. OXEN or OXES a hoofed mammal or clumsy person
OY:  interj – used to express dismay or pain
PA:  n pl. –S a father
PE:  n pl. –S a Hebrew letter
PI:  v PIED, PIEING, PIING, or PIES to jumble or disorder
QI:  n pl. -S the vital force that in Chinese thought is inherent in all things
RE:  n pl. –S the second tone of diatonic musical scale
SH:  interj – used to urge silence
SI:  n pl. –S ti
SO:  n pl. –S the fifth tone of the diatonic musical scale
TA:  n pl. –S an expression of gratitude
TO:  prep in the direction of
TI:  n TIS the seventh tone of the diatonic musical scale
UH:  interj – used to express hesitation
UM:  interj – used to express hesitation
UN:  pron pl. –S one
UP:  v UPPED, UPPING, UPS to raise
US:  pron the objective case of the pronoun we
UT:  n pl. –S the musical tone C in the French solmization system, now replaced by do
WE:  pron the 1st person pl. pronoun in the nominative case
WO:  n pl. –S woe
XI:  n pl. –S a Greek letter
XU:  n pl. XU a monetary unit of Vietnam
YA:  pron you
YE:  pron you
YO:  interj – used to call attention or express affirmation
ZA:  n pl. -S a pizza

It still irritates me that they don't accept "ew" as a word. C'mon. Everyone knows that ew means.
This is a good example of what "stacking" words looks like.
"BOOTY," worth 11 points at face value,  is now worth 41 points.
A couple other notes on two-letter words.

  • C and V have no two-letter counterparts, so they can block a section of the board pretty easily. 
  • Q on has QI,  Z only has ZA, and J only has JO. These are high-pointers though, so look to use them on a double- or triple-letter in both directions.
  • X is my favorite letter because it works with every vowel- AX, EX, XI, OX, XU.
  • The two-letter words that don't require a vowel are SH, HM, MM, BY, MY. 

Unless my rack looks like there's a 7-letter word in there somewhere, I look for a good spot first. I'm going to use the same game and show you what I mean.

When I look at this board, the first thing I see is the double word in the lower right-hand corner by "ORE." Add a B, C, F, G, L, M, P, S, W, Y.... I think that's all the possible combinations. You get the point. Now I don't have much left in my rack, but I was watching the spot for awhile. A and T have plenty of two-letter combinations that I could stack a word right next to "GOAT" and have a high value play. For instance, "PLAY" would work and I would also get "PORE," "LA," and "AT." Whereas "PLAY" is just worth 9 points, or 18 with the double word score. But put it all together, and it's worth 34 points.

The only time I try to find a good word is if I'm loaded with the magic combination of letters that looks like it'll net me a 7-letter word (worth 50 bonus points!), which brings me to my next tip.


These are magic letter combos:

If you have any of these combos, put those letters together and see what you have left. You might find a word that would have eluded you otherwise.


"ZAX" is one of my favorite words. I have no idea what it means.
These are some of the words that veteran Scrabble players will use to their advantage (not including the two-letter list above). 

The Q is one of my favorite letters, but you have to know how to use it wisely. Don't obsess about having a U. I bet "QI" is the most common Q word I play!

J is another good letter to abuse:

And Z...

This is by no means a definitive list, but they are some of my favorite tricky words that can net a lot of points.


An S is a treasure to be held until just the right moment. If you found a hundred dollar bill on the ground, you wouldn't just hand it to the next person you see, would you? No, you save it until an opportune time. 

In this game, I have an S in my rack. There are no words on the board right now that can end in S, so it'll sit there unless it gives me some advantage. What would be a good reason to use an S that isn't adding it to the end of another word? I'm glad you asked.

Look at the first word played, "AWAITS." This looks like a wasted S, right? Wrong. I'm not sure who played the first word here, but the S was used to move the W from a plain square to a double letter, meaning instead of four points doubled, now it's eight points doubled. From four to 16 points, just like that. Boo-yah.

Unless you have a good excuse, use that S to tack onto another word and rack up those points.


Consider yourself warned.


Yes, I am aware that there are a million Scrabble and WWF cheats out there. I know which of my friends use them and which don't. But I play for fun, not to win. It's not fun if you're cheating. And you'll feel much better about yourself when you beat me for real.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Happy Heart

"A happy heart is like good medicine, but a broken spirit drains your strength."
Proverbs 17:22 (NCV)

I know many people have asked me about the trip and when I'm going to share stories, but honestly I'm not ready yet. Anyone who has been on a mission trip knows it takes a while to decompress and process everything you've seen. I'm still in the processing stage, but I thought I'd share some of the lighter moments that kept us going.

Couldn't help but snap this photo at the car rental counter. Glad to know we have options.

After we got our trucks and were loading up, Stephanie and I were looking for an English radio station. We found one, kind of. A cover of "Discovery Channel" by the Bloodhound Gang. Yeah, 'cause that song needed a remake.

It was because of that song though that we realized we graduated the same year, and we were both at the Purdue vs. Michigan State game in East Lansing in 2000! We both remember it as a cooooooold game. It's nice to find friends down here who understand what "wind chill" and "lake effect snow" mean. :)

This is what I wrote about our hotel the first day. "We're leaving the Villa Nuria hotel for Copan today. It's pretty much indistinguishable from a condo in Florida. Except the electric fence and guards with guns."

I have plenty more happy memories to share. Later. :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Meaning of Worship

I know I haven't posted any Honduras stories yet, but it's tough to get those thoughts on paper and convey exactly what I want to say. I have half a dozen posts started, but none finished. This one, though, is easy enough and I have been excited to share it.

Confession- I was not looking forward to attending Dr. Cruz's church in San Pedro. I figured it'd be long, hot, and in Spanish. Well it was long, but it wasn't hot thanks to multiple AC units, and even though the music was in Spanish, it didn't matter because it was SO MUCH FUN. More on that later.

There was a guest preacher from North Carolina, so while much of the service was in Spanish, the sermon was actually in English. We kind of got the feel on how the translating works. There's a balance for keeping the train of thought going, but also pausing often enough for the translator to keep up. The parts of the service that were in Spanish with no translation were still really emotional, so even though I really had no idea what was begin said, I still understood what was going on, if that makes sense. Plus I thought it was good for me to be more sympathetic to guests in our country who don't speak English. I've never been one to think "if you want to be an American, learn the language," but it's still very different being on the receiving end. 

So I'm not going waste my time trying to explain how JOYFUL the service was, because I took some video. Keep in mind the service was three hours long, but they kept up this energy and enthusiasm THE WHOLE TIME. Definitely different from the way we worship most of the time. 

This video is just of the offering. Now we were there on a special Sunday (it was a birthday of the church), so I don't know if it's like this every week, but I thought it was so much more in the spirit of giving than just passing a plate around! (I apologize for the poor quality of the video. I was using my old point and shoot camera, which doesn't auto focus. Boo.)

So in the end, I was wrong. The service was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Just goes to show you always need to have an open mind, AND an open heart. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Honduras Day -6

Thanks to Joe Stokes for my beautiful journal! I'm not much of a journaler, but I hope to dedicate some time each day to recording my thoughts. I know I'll be glad I did! I'm going to share an edited version of my entries here with you. I hope you enjoy. :)

T-minus six days.

We've been planning for this trip for so long, it's hard to believe the day is almost here.

Christians don't own the market on good works, or even just good people, but I do wonder how people can make it through hard times without looking toward God. I know I need His strength right now. I've been through rough patches in my life, but it does seem like it's all coming at me from every angle these days.

I know I was given the gifts of leadership and teaching. It's just that sometimes, I wish they hadn't been bestowed upon me. That's A LOT of responsibility, and I'm weary. I want someone else to carry those burdens for awhile. Give me the gift of patience! Or compassion! I could stand to sit in the back of the room with my mouth shut for once.

That box I've kept locked up- the Amelia box? Well it burst wide open today. I can barely stand to write about leaving her. What will I do next week? The thought makes me physically ill. I look at our schedule and the words "free time" induce panic. Lord, keep me busy. Don't let me think about my little girl at home, asking for me.

That she's sick right now doesn't help. That I can't stop her from getting hurt; that it's my fault, is unbearable. I want to take her hurt away and make it mine. Let me hurt for my child.

EC's surgery is tomorrow. I know she'll be a trooper and make it through with flying colors. Her poor mom though. I can see the anguish in her eyes. I pray for peace for her. She will not rest, I know, until this ordeal is over.

God giving his son for us is the symbol we need to understand his love. Anyone would give their own life, their own suffering, for someone they love. But to give your child- your ONLY child- is a much greater gesture. Only a parent understands that. How we would do anything so our children never feel pain or hunger or grief.

This is what gives me anxiety about this trip. The mothers and their babies. We are the same, us mothers. We all want the same. To love our children to the fullest.

It is arrogant of me to think my life is better than theirs. This realization, which came to me recently, is what I hope will get me through. We may have cars, lavish houses, a college education; does that mean our lives are better? No. To grow up loved by your parents, community. To know God and live a simple, godly life free of distraction, that may be as God intended it. We should be so lucky!

This is my mission. To learn what love and family truly mean. This is my burden, my cross to bear.