Category Archives: Upside Down Academy

Wrapping up the year.

The end of the school year has come and gone and in the calm after the storm I find myself reflecting upon how our projects have faired. I also realized that in the frenzy of the last weeks of school I failed to post my final thoughts about Upside Down Exhibition at Impact Academy. As the student were rapidly prototyping on their lessons and the teachers were prepping for final reflections, I was working on finding funding for next year. The Gates Foundation has kindly extended its interest in Blended Learning and is continuing to support brick and mortar schools, like Envision, find innovative ways to bring Blended Learning into more traditional models. The process of preparing and revising a grant is something that is new to me and I am so grateful to our superintendent and our head of development for the collaboration and persistence that they both displayed. This was by no means an isolated or individual effort. And it is certainly a testament to the power of bringing the different expertise of an organization together in pursuit of one goal.

Thank you Gates for the opportunity to continue what we believe to be transformative work; both for us organizationally and for the students we serve.

And speaking of those student… I went to Impact academy in the last week of school. I was actually there on the day of graduation and saw many of my previous students walk. That is always a tear jerker.

The 9th grade students were busily finishing up their video reflections so they could make it to the hall on time. In conversations with a few of the students and the teacher I could clearly see that the impact of providing and receiving structured peer feedback was turning out to be very positive. The teacher had led the whole class through the process of determining feedback, and then emphasized the difference and importance of warm and cool feedback. These distinctions are ones that the adults at Envision Schools use frequently in our protocols for working on a variety of projects. It is amazing to see how this skill has now been introduced at all levels and connects staff and students as humans and agents of teaching and learning.

After engaging in this process in groups, and filling out rubrics on each others work, the students logged on to Upside Down Academy and publicly reviewed their peers lessons, the evidence of this is something I encourage the readers to check out for themselves.

The project iterations has convinced me that this process is one that provides multiple layers of learning. Students clearly explore their own strengths and challenges as teachers and learners, this process provides new ways to practice and prepare material, and its an authentic avenue for students to practice their multi-media talents. My hope is that next years Algebra I teachers will draw on this years tutorials as part of their instructional tool kits, and that students will continue to share their learnings with each other and the world.

In closing, please stay tuned for our final posts about using ipads. The two week end of year project was exciting and gave us a glimpse of how this tool can change the learning space. And lastly, have a wonderful summer.

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A student reflects on upside down academy

Last week I had the opportunity to spend some time at Impact Academy. The students were deeply engrossed in their second round of video productions and their final lessons. The students had the opportunity to do their first video on an Algebra I concept of their choice. This was their chance to play around with the filming and editing techniques. Their teacher, Ms. Sudow reflected that in many cases the final products were well made videos that were lacking in math rigor. In some cases the math was even incorrect. This first round of reflection allowed the students to think about how to balance the draw of making an engaging video with the importance of focusing on actual teaching and learning, and not being seduced by an over emphasis on fun.

The students took this learning into their second round of video production, in which they focused on Functions. Here is an exemplary video:

 

This video demonstrates the students ability to create engaging material, supports a unique way of remembering the definition of a function, and provides examples.

In my visit to Impact Academy I had the opportunity to speak with the student about the process.

student interview

Tomorrow is the last day of the project. I will going to Impact to participate in the round of scoring and reviewing student work. The teachers have invited community members and stakeholders, and along with fellow classmates we will be providing students with feedback on their lessons. Visit UpsideDownAcademy to share your thoughts with the students.

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Project update

A few days ago I had the pleasure of going to Impact Academy and spending the day with the 9th grade team, students and teachers alike. The project is well under way. The students had spent time reviewing and critiquing other online instructional tutorials, whether on Khan Academy, on UpsideDownAcademy or other web-based lessons. They used cleverly designed graphic organizers to detail their thoughts and keep track of this learning. On the day of my visit they were in the middle of finishing up their scripts and filming their first lessons. These lessons were created in pairs, they also got to choose which Algebra concept they wanted to focus on. Naturally, the outcomes were varied. Students chose very different concepts and different approaches.

In my discussions with students they all seemed interested in the project but not entirely enthusiastic. They were apprehensive about what was being perceived as a lot of work. They did express excitement about uploading their video tutorials and the idea that people all over the world could see them and comment on them.

I captured a small bit of footage that demonstrates a taste of the productive flavor. Students are collaborating, discussing strategies, being creative, and iterating as they go.

In the next few days the fruits of their labor will be uploaded to upsidedownacademy.org, and I hope that you will view them and provide the students with feedback. This will help them immensely as they delve in to their final project of the year, video tutorials about functions.

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Upside Down Academy takes a trip to Hayward

I am in Hayward today sitting in the 9th grade academic numeracy class. Today is the roll-out for their end of the year project, which is going to take place in both this class and Algebra I. Both teachers have worked together to figure out how to balance the conceptual and the applied parts of the project, so that the students remain engaged and focused, and are able to reach a high level of rigor. To kick it off today the teacher had the students think about a memorable moment in learning that had occurred.

One student remembered “this thing called Project X. My teacher had some students sit in the corner and do pointless work, and other students got to do some meaningful work, and then others got to chill. It was like this for a whole week. Students got so upset, and rebelled, that it even became a problem outside of class. This really made me think” Yet another student reflected on how “our science teacher always sings and makes songs about what we are learning. She has so much energy”

Then some 10th graders came were invited in to talk about some science lessons that they had just taught. This group of students talked about what strategies worked well, which lessons were memorable, and what they would do differently next time. The 9th graders listened attentively and asked questions.

So what is in store for this lucky group of 9th graders? For the next week they will learn about teaching strategies, take learning styles inventories and discover their learning styles, they will watch and analyze video tutorials on Khan Academy, BrainGenie, and UpsideDown Academy. Yes, stay tuned for cross school commenting as the students at Impact Academy will be watching and providing feedback to the lessons created at Envision Academy.

Then the students will delve into flipping the teaching and learning cycle as they become teachers. This is Upside Down Exhibition II – Spartan Style (the Spartan is Impact Academy’s mascot)

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Envision Academy gets recognized

Last week I was approached by a journalist who was writing a short piece about blended learning and upside down academy. He was curious how the project had gone and wanted to hear about our take aways.

As part of this process I worked with 3 students to answer all of his questions, convey the essence of what we do at Envision Schools and what Upside Down Exhibition was all about. I was so blown away by the articulate nature of these students. They were so clear about what they had learned, why it was important, what they would do differently now as a result of this process, and what other students and teachers should know about making math videos. These students saw this project not only as an exercise in math, but as a forum for exploring creative video production and filming techniques, and a platform for showing the world their thoughts and capabilities. One student even reflected on the process of getting public feedback. She had re-filmed her video and in the end found that this critique made her work stronger.

I can’t say enough about how powerful this process was, and in general how amazing it is to see youth empowered by learning. Please take a moment to read about this mindshift and hear of the ripples this project made across the country.

Exhibition Post Script

On Thursday evening last week, Envision Academy was a whirl of excitement and nerves as the community gathered to participate in a demonstration of learning. For the last 5 weeks, the 9th grade students have embarked on an exploration of themselves as teachers and learners. The essential questions: What teaching strategies and methods best support my understanding of algebraic concepts? driving their inquiry

As parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends filled the seats, our students prepared their lessons, and assessments. The students began by sharing what self-knowledge about their learning style and their educational biography informed their instructional choices and as a result their teaching artifact. They then shared their video tutorials with the audience. Lastly, they gave short assessments and provided face-to-face support and scaffolding as the audience completed the quizzes.

It was interesting to see the students truly embody their inner educator as they assisted the audience members. Many parents struggled to remember, or had never learned, the algebra and geometry concepts that the students were teaching. It was exciting to see how students provided assistance to the important people in their lives who were there to support them, and to strangers alike. This made me feel that they took the job seriously and felt responsible for ensuring that their lesson was successful.

Some students even went off script and provided extra instruction while classmates translated the presentation into Spanish. This video captures a couple of these magic moments.

In the post exhibition reflection overwhelmingly students reported that they were thoughtful about their learning style while creating their videos. In response to the question “When you were making your video did you think about ways to make your video for someone who learns like you?” 68% of the students responded positively.

We also asked the students consider the “strategies that you saw your classmates use that you think worked really well?” This elicited some very interesting responses including the below:

“Because I am also a kinesthetic learner, which means hands on learning, and I felt that it worked because different people are different things (meaning different types of learners). For example, my mom is a kinesthetic learner because she mostly understood my friend who had a different teaching method and another lady was a visual learner because she learned best with my method of teaching (visual).

To examine the students lessons in more detail check out: upsidedownacademy.org

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Voice of the masses

Last week I had the pleasure of spending time with some student from EA. I stopped by the campus to check in on the project and found that they were in the middle of taking on of our network wide benchmark assessments, serious business. I was able to talk to a couple of students who had already finished their tests and who were interested in giving me the update on how Upside Down Exhibition was going.

I began the conversation by reminding them of who I am:

me: My name is Kiera, I have been working with your teachers to design your upcoming Exhibition.

girl: Cool

me: So what can you tell me about you upcoming Exhibition?

boy: Its going to be all about Math. I think I am teaching graphing. Anyways I think it is going to be easier than the last Exhibition because we wont have to stand up on stage. I get nervous presenting on stage.

girl: Yeah. I picked something that, I can’t remember what it is right now, but I kinda know it. I think I will be able to teach it.

me: So your going to be teaching lessons in Math…

girl: Well we also learned about our learning styles, like I am a visual learner. We took some surveys in John’s class and I learned that.

boy: Yeah. I am a Kinesthetic learner.

me: So are you going to teach your lesson using Kinesthetic strategies.

boy: I don’t know. That would be hard, but I could do something outside on the playground.

girl: I want to use visual strategies. Like when my teachers use their hands a lot to describe things that is really helpful for me.

me: So have you started making your videos yet?

girl: No

boy: We are supposed to write our story-boards over break and then we will film when we get back.

me: I am looking forward to seeing your work.

It seems that the project has been rolled out and the students are beginning to make progress with some of the concepts. They are excited to make their videos as it gives them a sense of agency and engages them in their own learning. I am hoping that this process of building instruction will help students reflect on the cycle of teaching and learning and teaching in a way that deepens their understanding of content.

Envision Participates in Digital Learning

As part of a national project in Digital Learning, Envision is rolling out the Spring Exhibition project that focuses on inquiry in teaching and learning within a digital environment. In efforts to innovate within the current educational structure, teachers around the nation are committing to thinking critically about teaching and learning, with a dedication to finding deliberate and relevant ways to integrate new media tools.

Our path towards understanding how to design meaningful and useful changes to classroom practices began with the introduction of the Chromebook. Some specifics about implementation are discussed in this article, which addresses many of the issues and successes found working with the Chromebooks in the classroom. Just to highlight some of the expereinces that are common between the authors experience and ours are:

  •  Students quickly adjust to working in the cloud, they appreciate being able to have constant and almost immediate access to their work.
  • The ease of set-up, security, monitoring, ‘back end’ type stuff is by and large appreciated by all.
  • Lack of Java is problematic.

The Chromebook has allowed us to envision a new way of engaging our students. We have been prototyping different ways to structure our Algebra I class. The foundation for our design is a model for blended learning. We have developed classroom practices in which students are working individually on modules in Khan Academy. We have reduced direct instruction and emphasized small group instruction to allow students to move more independently through the curriculum thus enabling the teacher to provide more targeted instruction.

The students have adjusted to these methods and I spent some time with them in class today. While sitting at one of the small tables, trying to muster all the knowledge I once had about Algebra in order to offer assistance, some salient points came out in conversation.

  1. Students get frustrated when Khan Academy takes away their streak because they got one wrong answer.

I had a chance to talk to three students about this issue. Two of the students spoke about it as though it happened to others in the class more than it happened to them. They both expressed that in the beginning, when working on concepts that were more familiar, they had used this feature as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. However, now that they were progressing to more complicated math, they found that they were frustrated that they were not getting feedback. The third student I spoke with simply indicated that it annoyed him and the when he did his work on paper, he could go back and fix his answers.

I asked all three students why they thought Khan Academy was designed in this way? If they were creating this platform what would be a reason to make it so that you had to go back to the beginning? Only one student was able to articulate a hypothesis that extended beyond their own experience. This student proposed that it could be a way to make sure students really know the math.

I was struck by how deeply this frustration impacts the students, even the high performers. It seems to me that there are many ways to address this: some of the student suggestions include,

  • Only take away part of the streak
  • Have the student show their process and identify inaccuracy
  • Give one wrong answer free
  • Have them do 10, identify wrong answers, reassign problems
  1. Students struggle to learn or feel confident getting answers to their questions from the video tutorials.

The students are more likely to ask a peer or stand in line to ask the teacher. In an effort to avoid ruining their streak, they will get the next 10 problems, solve them on paper, ask for answers to be corrected, then input them into Khan Academy. This creates a backlog of students who need work checked, so much so that the teacher struggles to deliver small group instruction. It seems there are two ways to address this.

  • Build confidence in learning independently, asking peers for help first, checking ones work
  • Creating our own video sources

The first of these is a longer process that will take years and a village. The second of these is the focus of our Exhibition project.

The Upside Down Exhibition Roll-out

In today’s classes students got the first glimpse of the project overview. They learned about the Essential Questions, the process, the major benchmarks, and the final product. I sat in class and was able to capture their responses:

Two students talked to each other about how cool it is going to be to test their audience members after teaching, especially if it is their parents. One student asked if it is going to be hard. One student asked if she was going to be able to choose the concept she will be teaching. Another student asked if they would be working in a group or working independently.

In general there is a sense of excitement and anticipation.

Stay tuned for more details on how students progress through the learning trajectory.

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