Thursday’s (Constructivism) Tip: Flip it!

Teacher and students in classroom, circa 1990s
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When I started working with eMINTS, I struggled to convey to my teachers what a constructivist lesson might look like. It’s one thing to plan one or use a tried and true method, but it’s another thing to give a simple and concise example to demonstrate something as complex as constructivism. Luckily, I have coworkers who figure out these sort of quandaries.

Fellow eIS Angie Esser was working on getting the teachers in her training cohort to plan and implement constructivist lessons. One teacher was excited to show Angie what she had created. The teacher was teaching her students about figures of speech, like metaphors or similes. She gave the class the definition of the figure of speech and had the students highlight all the figures of speech in pre-selected poems.

How was this constructivist? (Hint: It wasn’t.)

Angie made a suggestion to flip the lesson. In other words, the teacher could give the students a poem or passage that utilized a particular figure of speech. The students would be guided to look for techniques the author or poet used to describe the subject. After the students find the figures of speech and even define what they found, the teacher would help name what they discovered.

The basic idea in this example is to show the students examples of what they will be studying or defining. Allow the identify the desired characteristics. Defining these characteristics is how they construct their own knowledge on the topic. Students will grasp onto their own explanations of phenomena more so than whatever definitions we provide for them.

The teacher guides this lesson in a few important ways. First, she provides examples that clearly demonstrate the concept. This could be in excerpts, experiments, or various media that exhibit the point the teacher is trying to get across to her students. This process of constructing knowledge falls apart if the example or examples are not of high quality.

Second, the teacher asks questions about the example that guide the students to making the desired discoveries without leading them. Open-ended questions work best such as “What do you notice about this poem?”, “What did you observe when you added the vinegar to the baking soda?”, or ” What do you predict will happen to the slope of the line when we increase the first number in the equation?”

Third, after students make their observations and define what they’ve discovered, the teacher can name it for them or provide the “official” definition. This is the moment when students will connect what they have learned to the content. Knowledge has been constructed in order to give them a way to anchor the content with their own experiences.

This strategy works best when working with the vocabulary necessary to understand a subject area’s content. There are ways in which one could set up experiences for students to discover processes, but this might require a different amount of teacher guidance. Either way, the idea of flipping one’s lessons from content first to student constructed meaning first is the overall goal.

What other ways could you see this strategy working in your classroom? How could you flip a lesson in another subject area or topic? What would be the challenge of using this strategy for other subjects or topics?

Zac Early trains teachers to utilize technology in an inquiry-based environment for an organization that provides enhanced instructional techniques and networking among a community of teachers primarily in the state of Missouri. How would you define his title?

HD_Links: Teaching Students How

Click for source.
Much of what we teach students at the beginning of the school year consists of simply teaching them how to do things. This week’s list of links will help you access some resources for such activities.

Larry Ferlazzo does a guest post at Education Week Teacher on how to teach your students to listen, probably the most important skill they’ll learn in school. As is typical a Larry Ferlazzo post, there are lots of links to additional resources to help you with this important endeavor.

When using online tools, it’s important to explain what the tools are and how they work. The Common Craft YouTube channel contains a large number of pertinent and timely videos that explain everything from right-clicking to blogs to Google Docs. Also, all of it is done in “plain English.” Check out the fun video they did on surviving Zombies below…

Need to create effective tutorials? Tildee is an online tool that can help you create online tutorials with screenshots for various projects. This might be an excellent resource for that WebQuest you’ve been working on that needs tutorials for the more technical aspects of your project. Click over to EdTech Toolbox‘s site for a more detailed explanation as to how Tildee can help you guide your students through technical tasks.

Whether you use Facebook or not with your students, it’s important to teach them about privacy and safety issues, especially for those students 13 years or older. All Facebook shares an up-to-date list of privacy features every student (and maybe a few teachers) should have in his or her back pocket. (H/T Teach Paperless)

Whatever you plan to do with your students this year, the important thing to remember is that you’ll have to teach them how to do it. A recent study by Robert Marzano suggests that “unassisted discovery learning” is an ineffective instructional approach. However, the same study suggests that “enhanced discovery learning” is very beneficial. Unassisted discovery learning would be an approach where students are given a scenario to study while given very little or no content and no guiding process. An enhanced learning discovery lesson involves preparation and providing guidance along the way. In other words, students perform better with guidance or being taught how a process or tool works. (H/T Larry Ferlazzo)

What are the important “how to’s” you plan to teach students in the early days of the school year? How do you teach your students to follow procedures? What are the best ways to guide students to reach their goals?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Tuesday’s Tool: Tubric

One of the most difficult parts of designing an inquiry-based or problem-based lesson is creating a good, driving essential question. The essential question is the question that drives inquiry. It creates that overarching idea that connects content and process.

A good essential question is universal and open-ended. The same essential question can be applied to many different subject areas and topics. These characteristics make essential questions incredibly difficult to design.

Now, all you need to do is to use a “tubric” in writing your own essential questions:

To access a PDF of a tubric pattern, click here.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center and he’d like to give a hat tip to our own Cathie Loesing for digging up the “tubric.”

Monday Message: August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene (NASA, International Space Station, 08/22/11)
Hurricane Irene (NASA, International Space Station, 08/22/11)

Here are a few items to get you started this week…

Senate Bill 54
There have been developments in the SB54 issue. Check the following links to get the latest:

e-Learning for Educators
e-Learning for Educators Online Professional Development Fall Registration Now Open: See the great online PD courses available through e-Learning for Educators for the 2011 Fall semester. Courses are short (7-8 weeks long), facilitated by practicing educators, and carry optional graduate credit. Courses are affordable at $150 per course per participant.

Check out the courses and register at: Call e-Learning at 573-884-4233 with questions or for more information. Registration closes September 21 and courses begin October 5.

Missouri Future of Learning Forum
MOREnet Offers NEW Opportunity for Missouri High School Students: Prototype @ the Missouri Future of Learning Forum is an intensive hands-on design camp immersing passionate and creative students in a collaborative environment to re-imagine the future of learning. Students will learn how design and design-thinking can unlock real world challenges. Students will work with acclaimed designers and educators crafting new models of the classroom and of learning.

The forum will bring together high school students from across Missouri; large and small, rural and urban. As design participants, students will be fully-immersed in a creative setting, presented with a challenge, spend two days collaborating as a team and talking with innovative designers and educationalists from around the country as they design their prototype solution If you know a creative, innovative, student looking to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime event that will enable him/her to meet other students, establi  sh relationships with business leaders, open doors for the future of innovation in Missouri education, then encourage him/her to apply for the Missouri Future of Learning Forum.

The Prototype Design Camp staff and Event Committee (which includes MOREnet staff and member representatives) will select up to 40 sophomore, junior and senior high school students to participate. The online application, design challenge and faculty recommendation(s) will be used to  determine candidate selection. Applications will be accepted until Sept. 12, 2011 so don’t delay, have your students begin working on their applications soon! MOREnet will notify accepted applicants by Sept. 16, 2011. Student out-of-pocket cost to attend is $25 plus travel to Tan-Tar-A, meals outside the forum and incidental expenses. One school chaperone will be required for every two student participants. The chaperone’s cost will only be travel to Tan-Tar-A, meals outside the forum and incidental expenses.

For more in  formation see: Online application available at:

eMINTS Community
Share the Good News: Do you have something special to report about your school or classroom? An honor or award that has been presented? Share the good news with your eMINTS colleagues across the US and world by sending details about the good news to or join us on Facebook.

Friday 4ALL: Build Your Community Now

Teaching is a hard, hard job. After a teacher has completed paperwork, planned lessons, taken attendance, greeted parents dropping off their children, made phone calls, sent book orders, put up bulletin boards, updated websites, organized manipulatives… she still has many other responsibilities not specifically cited in her contract. This is why spending the extra time to build community is so important.

Building classroom community is as important as passing out text books and assigning seats, maybe even more important than those processes. A strong classroom community allows a teacher to be able to try cooperative learning structures, creates an atmosphere of success, and often helps in lowering the instances of misbehavior. More can be accomplished when the students have a good relationship with their teachers and each other.

Community building can be accomplished in several ways. First, there needs to be a concerted effort for students and teachers to get to know each other. We tend to work better with those we know as compared to strangers. Ways in which this can be accomplished is through get-to-know-you games and displays that introduce students to their community.

Collaboratively creating classroom norms and procedures is a second way to build your classroom community. Not only will students have a clear understanding of classroom expectations, they will also feel ownership in how the class operates. This can be done at the beginning of the year with the understanding that revisions can be made to fit every situation.

Team building is a close cousin to community building. Whenever we place learners in small groups, it’s best to do something to help them build rapport and teamwork. There are hundreds of team building games all over the internet. Use one every time you divide into teams as an ice-breaker.

Whatever you do this school year, remember that building a strong community will make your job easier in the long-run. It’s never too late to build community, but it gets harder as the year goes by. So, do something today to build your classroom community!

What do you do to insure a strong classroom community? What have you done today to build classroom community?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Student Surveys

FDR HS Classroom 1976
Click for source.

Getting to know your students (and their families) is one of the most important functions of the opening days of a school year. To most effectively facilitate learning, you have to know what will appeal to student sensibilities. Planning cooperative groups will require an intimate knowledge of personalities and learning style preferences. There are even online tools that can help you get to know your students.

As a part of Google Docs, Google Forms allow you to create your own online survey to determine student preferences. The form is easy to set-up and provides options such as drop-down lists, check-boxes, multiple choice, short and long answers, and even a scale tool. The student answers are recorded conveniently on a Google Spreadsheet. Statistics from surveys can be easily summarized in charts and graphs or simply used to determine individual student profiles.

Survey Monkey is another free, online survey tool with many of the same options.

For ideas as to setting up student learning preference surveys, check out the following examples or use these surveys instead of creating your own:

Besides learning student preferences and personality traits, online survey tools can be used in acquiring feedback from parents. Set up a survey to see how parents would like to be informed of classroom announcements. When conference time arrives, use a survey to determine schedules. Garner feedback on recent projects or homework assignments. The opportunities for parent feedback are endless.

How have you used surveys at the beginning of the year? Have you ever tried online surveys? What have you learned from assessing learning styles at the beginning of a school year?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

HD_Links: Missouri Senate Bill 54

The big news right now in Missouri is over Senate Bill 54. The bill intends to limit student-teacher contact through social media. However, in this day and age, many teachers use social media to keep in touch and build relationships with their students. The ambiguity of the bill has worried many educators over losing effective communication channels.

Education technologists all over the country are watching the developments in Missouri closely to see what the overflow effect will be in their states.

I find the best way to ease anxiety over such issues is to learn as much as possible about them as possible. To help you decipher the new law, here a few links that you may find hel


How does SB54 affect your teaching practices this fall? What is your district doing in preparation for writing policy that aligns with SB54? What are some ways in which you plan to work around SB54 that still keep you in compliance? Are you using Facebook Groups?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Tuesday’s Tool: Facebook Groups

With Missouri Senate Bill 54 causing a lot of worry all across our state, it’s important for teachers to know the been under the gun as the communication this allows seems to be at odds with the new law. Luckily, there is a way around this conundrum that still utilizes Facebook: Facebook Groups. A public group on Facebook provides an open forum where students and teachers can easily interact using their current Facebook profiles. There is the wall where discussions and posts can occur. Links, videos, and pictures can also be posted. There is even a poll function where a teacher can check for understanding or gather student preferences. Along the right-hand side of the group page, one can find several other tools that can make a group rather interactive. There is a chat function that makes it possible for the entire group to chat synchronously with other group members. Documents for group collaboration can be created. Events can be created for deadlines or special occasions. The events also contain their own wall for posts and sharing resources. The advantage of the groups is the transparency it allows. A group can be made public, providing access to parents and administrators, making it compliant with SB54. If privacy is a concern, the group can be made private, but a teacher would need to invite parents and administrators in order to remain compliant. Another option could be to require students to use pseudonyms, which many tech-savvy teens do anyway. An important thing to remember about Facebook use in general is that users must be 13 to have a Facebook profile. So, if you teach any students under 13, they can’t participate on Facebook. An alternative way to use Facebook with younger students is to create a parent group for the purpose of improving parent-teacher contact. How have you used Facebook Groups with your students and/or parents? What are your concerns with using Facebook Groups in regards to SB54? What are other ways you can see Facebook Groups would be useful in your classroom? Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Monday Message:First Day

For many of you, the first day of school is today or later this week. (For some, it happened last week.) We here at Networked Teaching & Learning wish you a successful year and want to remind you that we’ll have your educational technology needs covered all year!

first day school bus ritual
Image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks. Licensed under CC Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic.

Friday 4ALL: What I Learned on my Summer “Vacation”

This has been the craziest summer I have ever had.  I did a couple of presentations, went to SpaceCamp, visited the White House, saw the final shuttle launch, traveled with my family, and through it all have been continuing my doctoral coursework. I think I literally blinked and it’s over.  I’m ready though.  A new year is here.  I’m thinking of ways to make this the best school year ever.  I don’t want to take any of my summer experiences for granted, nor have them be a waste of time.  Each one of them taught me something.  As I start the year, I’m thinking about how to make it a great one.   So, what did I learn on my summer vacation?


1.) Final Shuttle Launch:  “Teach this year like it’s going to be your last.” Watching the final launch and the final landing of the space shuttle taught me to teach this year like this is it.  Don’t wait to take that risk and try something new.  Just go for it.  Don’t wait for opportunities to come your way, find them.

2.) White House: “Accept that there are things you cannot change, and stop complaining about them.” As I listened to President Obama answers questions from all over the world, I realized how many problems and issues there really are in our country.  There are things everyday in our world, and schools, that we cannot change.  But, we have full control over ourselves.  This year I’m going to seek to learn and improve myself.  It’s really the only thing you have full control over, right?

3.) Space Camp: Set your alarm everyday to get up an inspire kids.” It doesn’t matter WHAT is on your lesson plan if you you’re not there to inspire kids.  Find out what they love to learn about, support them, mentor them, help them.  Provide experiences where they can struggle and help them find their way.

4.) Doctoral Studies: “Be open, be honest, be authentic.” After ten years in education, and lots and lots of classes, I’m having authentic discussions about ‘change’ with some amazing people in my cohort and realizing that change IS possible.  But, it’s not going to happen without difficult discussions. It’s not going to be some magic-wand experience where everything gets better.  It’s going to take some open, real dialogue.  So, don’t be afraid of it, embrace it, listen to others, share your thoughts, and make a difference.

5.) Twitter: “Never underestimate the power of collaboration.” People you’ve never met are willing to help you.  Learn to rely on others when you need to, and more importantly, learn to be there for others when they need you.  Share. Collaborate.  Truly collaborate.  Open your door to the teachers you work with and open your door to the global community on Twitter.

6.) Blogging: ”Keep learning…forever.” Stop. Think. Reflect. Repeat. Learn something.

7.) Reading. “Education is about Passion.”  I read the book “Passion Driven Classroom” in June.  I’m still thinking about it and what it means.  I ‘m going to have discussions with my students in the fall about their passions.  It’s also about embracing your own passions and sharing them with students.  Telling kids about your hobbies just might inspire them to share theirs.  Don’t overlook the value of learning what kids truly love to learn about.  The passion driven classroom is one in which kids LEARN.

8.) Traveling with Family:  ”I love my family.”  They support me.  They make me laugh. They are the reason I keep going.

I also learned that my dog loves pickles and was once again reminded that I truly love my job.  I’m pretty sure those things have no relation to each other, but I also know that I am excited to make this the best school year ever.

What did you learn this summer?

Post by guest contributor Krissy Venosdale of Veteran eMINTS teacher, gifted education teacher, Tweeter, photographer….. and that’s just her day job. Original post August 2, 2011 on