Wednesday, April 3, 2013

March Madness

(my apologies for attempting to steal this title from the NCAA, but it is a fitting name for this post and I doubt anyone who knows me really cares about basketball or my plagiarism of it)

My March was nuts. Frantic.

It was also a reminder to me of what I am doing well both personally and professionally.

It begins with Jan 1 (I am indifferent to chronology) when my wife woke up with a migraine. No big deal, not even when it hung around for a couple days. Just black out the window, pick up the slack with the kids and get ready for school to start, right? Except the migraine didn't go away. Not in January; not in February either.

In a miracle of miracles, if you understand the Canadian medical system ("got a serious problem? we will get you in in 4-8 weeks") my wife got a recommendation to a neurologist and an appointment the same day, the day before I was to present at teacher's convention at the end of February. That evening she was admitted to hospital and for a week the accepted medications which should have solved her problems failed to have any significant impact. She checked herself out a week later, with some improvement, but still suffering the same continuous migraine pain.

(tangent: it is wonderful to be a person with a serious medical complaint simply for the variety of people who come up with good advice and 'non-traditional' therapies to try out, which worked well for them or their second cousin's dog-walker's aunt. I feel for all pregnant women and chronically ill people everywhere being buried in the deluge of this well-meaning, but valueless drivel)

In the meantime, as my wife was going through this, I was running back and forth between students/work, my kids and a Google conference. I was feeling a bit pulled, but I was confident in what I was doing in my classroom, so felt I had at least met my professional obligations to do well by my students.  In fact, I had started my students on a project which would keep them busy and challenged for the remainder of March, putting them in charge of what they learned and how deep they could go. The results are going up on display once we finish our spring break next week.

Unfortunately, all the running around, getting up early to make lunches for my kids, taking them to school, picking up two of them from school and their brother from the sitter's, while ensuring everything was getting taken care of at home so my wife didn't have to cause herself additional pain trying to do it, meant I was getting run down. I actually had a week right before our spring break where it was an effort to get out of my chair during class time. Despite that, I pushed ahead, getting all 75 of my kids working on a story-writing project to prepare them for the provincial test coming up in May. And getting all my documents and items ready for the spring break missions trip I was accompanying 70 students and 6 other staff on to the Dominican Republic.

Needless to say, by the time I arrived at the airport for our midnight overnight flight(!) to the DR, I was pretty much done. Except as a chaperone, I can't be done. I need to be on top of details, encouraging to the kids and ready for anything. I managed to wear that hat for all the hours until we arrived at our site, then collapsed a little bit.  I was blessed to be on the trip with amazing kids, fantastic staff and a pretty good base to work out of (walled compound, convenience store on the grounds and a pool). I slept lots when I wasn't needed and by the time we headed out to build our houses, I was ready.

The trip we do is an annual one our grade 9s take to put their faith into practise, building homes for families who own their property, but have no reasonable hope of every getting funds together to build their own home. The students learn a lot about poverty, serving others and how much bigger the world is than what they have experienced. It is always a privilege to go and assist the kids in this voyage of discovery. Plus I have gotten to go to three countries now which I would not have been able to go to on my own paycheque.

The trip ended well, I really need to post on just the trip itself, and when I returned I met my wife in Vancouver for her nephew's wedding. As her migraine has subsided, giving her pain free days for the first time in months, we were able to spend some great alone time together in a beautiful city with some great weather.

I don't wish to have many times like I endured this past month, but it is encouraging to me to note the successes I had as a parent and teacher. I was able to keep things running at home, providing quantity time for my boys as they needed it. Plus, I was able to provide not just a running-in-place atmosphere in my classroom, but one that was challenging, student-centered and met the required curriculum needs set out for me. I am glad to have met the challenge of the past month and be able to walk through it head held high.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Flipclass Presentation

If you want a really great conference, near to Alberta, check out - hosted in Kelowna by three on fire teachers who are passionate about learning.

Here is my class website/wiki where I do my Flip work from

Here is where you can see my presentation

Here is the link to another good video summarising the history of Flip in 22 mins (by Aaron Sams)

Aaron Sam's blog on why Flipclass is not any one method

Here's my Symbaloo mix of good websites.

And here is my symbaloo of good search engines/research tools

Here is a good list of some ipad apps

And this is my twitter handle. (@Bar_Qu)

Drop me a line if you have any questions or comments!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent of Hope


Its a great season. Not so much for the harried shopping, the wound up kids in class or the incessant pull to attend one more party.

No, I like advent because of the word. Advent.

The coming of something momentous. The arrival. The reaching of an objective.

It feels like hope. As though a sunrise was about to come up on a dark night.

I have recently spoken to my students about what makes the world go 'round. Money or Love. And I pointed out the many, many times in our past and current history how when children are not loved it bends and breaks them, but if they don't have money they still survive and even thrive (please don't misunderstand me, poverty is a real and pernicious issue, and I don't mean to minimise it - but I have seen very happy communities which have no money at all). Hope springs from Love, because Love fuels Hope.

Love is what drives us as educators. Love is what makes us refuse to rest on our laurels (or pre-made lessons/old plans) and pushes us to continually improve. Love is what keeps us up at night working on lesson ideas, worrying about 'that kid' or wondering how the next day will go.

Love lets us go up against entrenched bureaucracies, corporations or ideologies. It makes us tired, driven, joyful, hopeful in the face of despair. Love always, protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13: 7-8)

I feel so privileged to be connected to such an amazing body of people who Love their students and their practise deeply. Who challenge me daily to be better than who I was and give me Hope to reach it.

I remember this during this Advent season and I gratefully bless all of my PLN for how they have blessed me and wish them a warm, enjoyable and restful break.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Elementary Flip

Ok, so I finally got in touch with the inestimable Rick Mccleary, who wanted to talk about some ideas around flipping middle school LA. An hour and forty minutes later, well, we had touched on the LA thing (but we're both kinda stumped, especially when it comes to vocab and grammar) but we had talked about many more issues we have found in our classrooms, including education innovation, flip and the daily grind.  

It was truly illuminating, and further proof that connected teachers who are passionate about changing their practises need the time to interact with each other.

And truth be told, I am a little in awe of this guy. A great teacher, just check out what he's done on his site if you don't believe me.

Anyways, back to the 'Aha' moment of our conversation. Rick asked about the Canflip conference, and while I told him it was awesome (it was - seriously, sign up for Canflip 13, June 20, 21 in Kelowna) but I was inhibited by the lack of other lower middle school and elementary teachers there. Then he said something which he later tweeted

 In my exp this is the 1st grassroots change in Ed 2come down from HS. Weneed 2 share how it applies 2 yongr grs

Which kind of blew me away. I had never thought about it that way, but everywhere I look there seems to be an abundance of High School Flippers, but relatively few Elementary Flippers. And the problem seems  to be a perceptual one.

See, I've never felt that as a Flip Teacher I need to rely on video lectures for my students. I've always believed the technology was a way to leverage my class time to ensure students met the goals of mastering curricular outcomes, developing independent work habits and developing their strengths (which I guess is actually a blending of Inquiry with Flip goals).

But most teachers out there, rightly or wrongly, believe that Flip begins with video lecture. This is anathema to most elementary teachers, who rightly recognise lecture as an ineffective way to get information across to their students. Which means most elementary teachers would have little interest in pursuing Flip.

As I say, this is a perceptual problem, since the majority of Flip teachers would argue that it is not about video. But the problem remains, especially in regards to Flipping Elementary.

I don't have the solution at hand, but I think it begins with an intensive discussion among elementary teachers about how to meet the goals of elementary teaching (basic skills and the development of such), while still developing critical thinkers who are able to work independently.

And I think those Flip leaders who have spent so much time developing such excellent thinking around Flip in the HS setting need to seriously examine how to implement Flip in the elementary classroom. 

Just imagine if the students you had arriving at your high school were not already pre-trained in playing school (read a piece of paper, regurgitate info on another piece and grub for marks) but were independent learners who complain to those teachers who are not willing to let them go further and deeper into curricular material than a 45 minute lecture would allow! 

I can envision a legion of students turning learning on its head, not becuase we lead them but because they demanded it.  And I think the solution lies somewhere south of grade 6.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Flipping Without Video

I see one of the most common questions about Flip being "can it be done without video" a la Dean Shareski's tweet today:
So, as a non-video-creating flipper, I figured I should write about what I do to make my classroom flipped.

First, why don't I make videos? Vanity and practicality. I don't like my voice on video (let alone my ugly mug! kidding, I'm actually devilish handsome!) and I don't see my students having success trying to take notes from a video. Grade 6 is simply too young to take notes as a learning method, at least without some serious training, which defeats the purpose of flipping, imo.

So, what do I do? Well, I set up the structure of my class like a college class, with each unit being given in advance, syllabus style. I post my "I can" statements for the class, explain each of them and then let the kids know they will be able to explain all of these to me by the end of the term. And, then I let them know they get to approach whichever outcomes they want, in whatever order they want, in any way they want. This means my students who are physically oriented could make dances or models, kids who are musically oriented can make songs, boys (often) can make Minecraft representations to support what they are doing. 

And for each of these outcomes, I am available to help with as much or as little as they need. I provide all the resources, all the classtime (and lunchtimes if desired/needed) and all the encouragement they need. Then I can ask them to adapt or change what they have done if they do not head in the right direction (part of this is that the kids have certain outcomes they must meet for provincial testing). Plus, the goal is that for each outcome they meet, I can provide a assessment so they know how they are doing against the provincial requirements.

I feel it is the right balance of freedom and structure which my students need as pre-teens and for the parents who send their children to my school for high achievement.

You can check out my (pre-refurbished) flipclass for the unit I did for Air & Aerodynamics here


There has been a sea change where I work. I am now in a position where I can reasonably hope some of the dreams that died last year will be re-imagined.

I am excited.