HEY! Parents…Leave Them Teachers Alone!

If you read the title of this blog as a Pink Floyd song, you did it right. Well done! If you’re wondering who Pink Floyd is, thank you for reading, youngster. To be honest, I’ve never seen the video until I went to YouTube today (below).

Image from Pink Floyd's music video "Another Brick in the Wall" showing students sitting at moving desks on an assembly line.

Courtesy: YouTube

I’ll admit I was only 3-4 years old when “Another Brick in the Wall” was released, but that also means “I wasn’t born yesterday.” I have noticed too many humans on this planet who are not only not supporting educators, but they’re actively bashing them on social media. That’s completely crazy to me (but also slightly entertaining.) Here’s why…THEY HAVE NO CLUE WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT!!! Was that loud enough? Are there educators taking it easy during remote learning? Yes. I am sure they are out there. Hello, McFly?!?! They have always have been out there! Remember that kid in 5th grade who failed to do their half of your group project and it ruined your life? Slackers are everywhere and some of them are adults now, if you can believe that, and some are even teaching. Here’s the thing, though: most teachers are fighting so hard to keep this train rolling along smoothly and it is not easy under normal conditions, let alone during a pandemic.

The backstory

A couple of months prior to this post, our new pet bird flew out of our house, after my daughter opened the front door with him nearby. I was in the middle of meeting with a student about her test results. I had to (begrudgingly) ask her to allow me to finish up with her at another time, which I did. I also had to ask my students the rest of the afternoon to complete their work asynchronously until further notice, which they did. Basically, I was AFK for one class that, earlier that day, expected to be synchronously learning. Why? My 6th grade daughter would have been absolutely broken if she was the one responsible for losing the bird, not to mention it was just weeks before Christmas. There are other things that exacerbate the reasons why I had to play hero dad that day, but those will remain my family’s personal business.

I missed the rest of the afternoon, but we found the bird and I took a “retro” sick day to make up for the lost time during damage control. Are there some teachers that might not take a retro sick day and try to get away with pulling a sudden async? Yeah, but not me. I came to find out that the announcement to my students about the async time that day went on FB (I refuse to use the whole word) and people started their word vomit. I was pleased to hear how many teachers/parents would have done the same thing I did that day, but many people were bothered . Would this have never happened if “teachers would just go back to school and do their jobs,” yes, but it would also have never happened if we weren’t teaching during a pandemic either. What would you have done? Leave a comment if you’d like.

Fast forward to a few days prior to this post. I spent time during my day OUTSIDE OF CLASS TIME to bowl with my son for his async PE time for 12-13 minutes in our hallway (below). I posted that as part of my experience that day on Twitter and, again, that post found its way to FB for people to bash teachers, even though they had NO EARTHLY CLUE of the context of the post (time period, length of time, etc.)…nothing.

So began a movement

I got on Twitter and created the hashtag #FaMATs (Facebook Moms Against Teachers) to show that I was not going to let a few bad apples (that probably didn’t fall far from the tree) be the louder voices. I have lots of friends who are educators. I consider many of my coworkers as friends. I have made friends on Twitter with educators across the country. Many of whom will not get involved in social media attacks. I will not let people attack me, (certainly not) my family, or my friends. It quickly became #FaPATs as to be more inclusive (P for parents), after getting a funny reply from a supportive parent. I even started mocking the suggestions of teachers being glorified lazy baby sitters. After the FB post about me bowling with my son, I went off and created THIS Google Slides presentation because they chose the wrong educator to bring into their drama. The presentation provides numerous examples of how much extra work I am doing to make remote learning the best for my students and many more because I share my work with other teachers. However, I maintain my rock star dad status (avoiding doing too much extra work while my offspring might need me) by waiting to continue my school work after they go to sleep.

I know, from my own experiences, that I am putting in more time beyond the extra time I normally put in to make the best experience for my students. My wife is doing the same for her 4th grade students. Teachers everywhere are doing more than the “normal more” to make sure their students are getting the best education possible every single day. Teacher life is a stressful one at times, but certainly more so during a pandemic. I’ve publicly challenged people to spend a week in my shoes at any time. I don’t expect anyone to take me up on it, but I am 100% serious. I don’t think many people could do it. Some of them wouldn’t last one day.

Healthcare workers have been among those who took their own lives during the COVID pandemic. Many of them were young, with children and a bright future. I’m not suggesting that healthcare workers and teachers are in the same boat, but our teaching is certainly more stressful during a pandemic and the public bashing of educators must stop, whether we are in a pandemic or not, if we are to avoid the same fate for educators. Unfortunately, I will not be surprised when I see a teacher taking their own life because of similar reasons. Educators are trying to build a brighter future and doing it during a pretty ugly time, in my opinion. We are trying to do everything we can to make an underfunded educational system work best for our students, your children. More stress on top of that is very much not appreciated.

The #FaPATs and #FaMATs hashtags will be discontinued. Instead, the spirit will live on in a more positive light: thanking those who support teachers and reminding everyone of the reasons they support us. Welcome, #PaSuTs (Parents Supporting Teachers), where I will be posting my love of teacher support and reminders/evidence for why so many parents support us. I, too, am a supporter. I am all about supporting my friends and building a brighter future, no matter how small my impact may be.

Thank you, to all those who are educator supporters, whether you are a student, a fellow educator, or you are a #PaSuTs. Please feel free to leave your support by commenting to this post for other educators to see.

Let’s Be Better, Teachers

Every year students are assessed in order for teachers to measure their growth and determine what more can be done to help them. Like most teachers, I assess my students on a regular basis and provide feedback as often as I can, the more immediate the better. I assess my students through formative quizzes that are worth minimal points. I assess my students through conversation and 1:1 review sessions. I also assess my students every couple weeks (on average) through a summative test and/or project. Through all of these, I can tell a student is making progress (more so in conversation) as they work through the material at their own pace, getting digital instruction from me whenever they need it and face to face assistance pretty much any time during the school day. It’s a system that works and I’ve got the evidence to back it up.

Now for the system that does NOT work. Every year, teachers put on a show in front of an administrator to show off their skills or pretend as if they’ve been on point all year. Teachers are given weeks or even months to prepare for their one shining moment with little to no feedback along the way. It’s the total opposite of what we expect from our students. It can be the downfall of passionate teachers that need some assistance to reach a level they are capable of. It also allows less than average teachers to appear adequate or even great (shudder). What’s worse is I’ve asked and students notice the difference when their teacher is being observed. It’s not much different than the kid who has the Chromebook open, but when you go over, the screen is black or they’re working on absolutely nothing until you’re watching them. Let’s be better, teachers.

What I Learned from My Students

About ten years ago, I taught Anatomy & Physiology for the first time at Huntley HS. About 6 years ago I taught a Bio 110 class that included an introduction to Anatomy & Physiology at Elgin Community College. The hardest unit for both students to learn has always been Histology, the study of tissues (muscle, bone, blood, etc.). It involves microscopic identification of tissues, understanding the functions of all tissues in the body, and lots of obscure information that most students aren’t ready for coming into an anatomy class expecting a skeleton and other macroscopic gross anatomy.

In 2012, I stopped lecturing in my high school class and placed all my lectures online as notes videos. Students had access to the information whenever they wanted it as many times as they needed it. For three years, our class continued this way. However, the Histology unit was always “that unit” that discouraged students because of the difficulty.

In summer 2015, I went to #flipcon15 and met Cara Johnson (@Flip4Students) and @TheAlgebros who introduced me to mastery-based learning where students move at their own pace with some guidance. It sounded crazy at first, but made total sense. After all, not everybody learns at the same pace (teachers are certainly no exception). Being sold on the concept, I immediately began making plans and implemented the model in the Fall of 2015. It was then when my students taught me that they simply needed more time to master the dreaded Histology unit. Almost every student took the test at the expiration date and they were successful! I built in the extra days into our calendar and the Histology unit has never been the same. Without lecturing, I’ve been able to add some great learning tools to make Histology even easier. I invite/challenge YOU and Chris Baker (@bakerhhhs) to join me.

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Avoiding Extinction

If you’re not a science person, I apologize in advance for the science references.

Roughly 300 million years ago, life on Earth almost completely disappeared. Many scientists believe the number is between 90-95% of all life went extinct during this event. As a science teacher, that’s a really interesting concept to think about – how close humans were to never existing in the first place. As a living thing, that’s scary as hell. About 65 million years ago, the most “popular” extinction took place when the dinosaurs (and lots of other creatures) went extinct during the Cretaceous time period (not the Jurassic). Why does any of that matter? Because that’s what a science teacher like me thinks about when I think of how easy, fun, and beneficial it is to me (and more importantly to my students) to collaborate with other teachers no matter the grade or subject – and those teachers that don’t. Those that will go extinct. Yes, I can learn about classroom management and edtech tools from a kindergarten teacher that I can apply in my science classes even though I teach primarily upperclassmen in high school. However, that’s not what this is about. I am talking about the extinction of teachers who don’t see the benefit in collaborating and learning together. They are going to be extinct soon and hopefully you are not one of them.

How is it possible and how can I make such a claim? Competition and resources. It’s what has been driving extinction of life on Earth for 3.5 billion years. Living things have always competed for existence (you could just ask the Woolly Mammoth, but sadly, they’re gone). Life on Earth will always be about adapt or fall into extinction since life began and it will continue to be the theme forever…including for us humans. How does this apply to teachers who never come out of their classroom, never get on Twitter, never talk to anyone, etc.? Competition and resources.

You would literally have to be the most intelligent, most creative, most in-tuned human on the planet to be able to educate students in a more engaging and (dare I say it) enjoyable fashion than the teachers who are collaborating. Obviously, there are various levels of collaboration, from talking to only one other teacher in your hallway to collaborating with teachers from all walks of life anywhere on the planet…and eventually because of technology, you can learn from teachers who are no longer living as long as their blog, YouTube channel, etc. live on. One part sad and one part mind blown?

So what competition are we talking about? Clearly, if you are a 3rd grade teacher and I teach high school, we are not competing in much of anything. However, if there are 2 or 3 (or 13) third grade teachers, or 7 high school science teachers, or 29 middle school teachers on a team or 108 teachers in a whole building…the students TALK! Heck, other teachers talk. The students share with each other (and sometimes with parents and other teachers) how boring or exciting and fun our classes are. If your class is boring and/or not meaningful, they will call you out or cowardly post things about your class online. If you teach the same thing every year, the same way, and never innovate and you’re happy, your students likely are not. And we all know how miserable life as a teacher can be when your students (and especially their parents) are not happy. Therefore, can the “same-old same-old” teacher, really even be happy?

The competition thing might be a tough concept to see at first, but hopefully you get it now. I doubt anyone (unless you live in a cave and therefore are not reading this) doesn’t know what resources I am referring to. Most scientists can’t even provide an accurate number for the amount of species that have come into existence and gone extinct on our planet that we have never and likely will never discover. I would argue a similar concept holds true for teachers and the amount of resources that are available to us, many of which we will never discover. The scariest thing is that we don’t know what we don’t know, right? However…….you will know way more once you start collaborating. And I will speak from years of collaboration experience, if you try, you will find WAY more resources than you’ll ever need or could ever use, saving you from a terrible extinction event. Cool, right?

I’ve had these thoughts for a while, but they really “meant something” as we finished our second day of #patioPD at my house. There were 25+ teachers that walked into my house today (in two waves) to learn about engaging students with edtech. They are completing a 3 credit grad course through the Midwest Teacher Institute to learn, share, and collaborate IN THE SUMMER at my house. Thank you, Jason Bretzmann and Kenny Bosch for starting the #patioPD craze. It is the epitome of #personalizedPD. I’ve always said the measure for whether or not my students appreciate something I’ve shared with them is if they share it with others (students or teachers) or make a comment like, “That’s legit.” Shameless plug time…HERE is an example that elicited a “that was legit, Marchand” response in the past in case you are a see-it-to-believe-it person. It’s a trailer to a video I made to hook students into learning about the digestive system if you just want to take my word for it.

My measure of how “legit” professional development is for teachers is their excitement. When teachers say, “that three hours at your house was better than any (complete) masters class I’ve ever taken,” you know there is awesomeness happening. I was concerned at first to run a large #patioPD group, similar to how concerned I was to go to a mastery-based learning system in my Honors Anatomy & Physiology class. However, after the first year of completion, I would never go back to “the old way” of teaching. Yes, you can get great personalized learning for free at an edcamp, especially EdCamp Voice, or pretty cheap at a great conference like #ILfabCon, but there is no comparison of “personalized awesomeness” that has taken place the last two meetings at our #patioPD sessions. Teachers are learning, sharing, and collaborating because they want to like it’s their job…and let’s be clear…it’s actually not. We are choosing to get an awesome experience by sharing with others, being open to feedback and suggestions, being vulnerable when trying something new, and excited when we learn new stuff. We are choosing to avoid extinction and it feels pretty dang good.


It’s that time of year again – for some educators to begin their countdowns. How many calendar days left before summer? How many actual school days left? Please stop. Let me explain my perspective…

Countdowns are great for things like the vertical takeoff of a 115,000 lb. rocket traveling into outer space, taking the last second shot before the game clock expires and hearing the scream of the crowd (or imagining it in your head while playing in a driveway) when the shot goes in at the buzzer, the number of days until the next big birthday, wedding, graduation, vacation, birth of a child…some sort of positive event. When most of my students leave, it’s the last time I ever see most of them again because they graduate and, to be honest, the teacher part of me gets pretty sad about that.

Since the first day I started teaching years ago, my number one priority has always been (and always will be) my students and their future. It has never been and never will be about the curriculum, standardized tests, parents, administration, teacher evaluations, etc. I spend an entire school year (roughly 180 days for those of us that prefer to count up instead of down) building relationships and providing an education that I can only hope extends beyond 180 days. If I never see them again, I hope the relationships that we built offer some guidance or assistance at some random point later in their lives. Although many of them come back to visit and I cherish those days, it’s not the same when they’re all grown up and not “my kids” any more.

Of course there are days when my students drive me nuts (like the end of the quarter), but like my own children (as in biological offspring), those are expected bumps in the road. My students driving me nuts for a couple days is never enough for me to start a countdown to never seeing them again. I get it…you’re excited to escape the paperwork, emails, testing, the institutionalization of bells, schedules, and holding your pee, perhaps even to go on vacation. I am too. However, if you are an educator who publicizes a countdown, you are essentially professing  your excitement to not be an educator – even if it’s just for a few months. Regardless, at that point, maybe it’s time you question your motivation for working in education…honestly. Is it for getting summers off or for your students? Think about it. If you’re like me, the most important part of your job is the students. We’re building relationships and guiding and educating young people, none one of which should ever end and especially not with a countdown.

Think about it from a student perspective too. They certainly get it. They’re counting down the days until summer, too. However, if any focus or the slightest tidbit of value from coming to your class everyday is to see a countdown, you’ve reduced the value of the relationship and education you are employed to provide for them. Plus, their positive event is a graduation or advancement to the next year in the educational career.

Educators, I’m not suggesting you don’t talk with your students about your excitement for summer break. Please do. That’s called “being human.” Maybe you’re taking a fun vacation or getting some awesome professional development so next year can be even better. I’m not even saying you can’t have a countdown. I’m just asking, politely, that you keep it to yourself because to me, a countdown is simply how many days I have left with my students and that’s certainly not something for which I want a constant reminder.

Love of Learning

Learning. It’s part of what makes us human. Our brains crave information, novelty, and experiences. We are born to learn. Recently, I was fortunate to spend 30 minutes in my daughter’s 2nd grade classroom (she’s the one in the white shirt) point-blur_sep082016_232323sharing the qualities of citizenship I use/see at my job. It’s sort of unfair, though, because being a high school teacher in a building full of awesome students and excellent staff makes it easy. We experience and portray everything from patriotism to courage.  When I arrived in the classroom, the kids were sitting quietly on the floor in front of the room, patiently waiting for me. We discussed the citizenship they had been talking about in social studies and I shared how I observe all of those things at the high school where they will be going in just 7 short years. They were so eager to share what they knew by raising their hands so fast it was as if the fastest, most energetic hand-raising was the winner of being called on.

Afterwards, we did some science (it was unavoidable as a science teacher) for some gentle brainwashing of how awesome science is. I showed them apoint-blur_sep142016_093340 vortex generator I had created after seeing it on YouTube of course. I asked them some questions and then explained what it was and how it worked. They all listened carefully and quietly. Then the fun began. I showed them how it worked. We set up a styrofoam cup to move with the blast of air. Then I walked around and blasted each one of them with a puff of air. As I expected, they were all very interested in the contraption. They were all so respectful and waited so patiently for their turn to be puffed – something I wasn’t expecting. I was ready for chaos.

The problem, they anticipated, was how do we all get to play with it? The solution: I created mini vortex point-blur_sep082016_232449generators out of orange solo cups the night before and covered the drinking part with Glad Press ‘n Seal. Once again, they waited patiently for me to hand one to each student. Then they were able to blast themselves in the face with a mini puff of air. That was fun to watch.

Next, I put on a glove and I pulled some dry ice out of my big blue cooler and explained to them what it was and how it was different from the ice they are used to.  img_8741I also explained how science is fun, but needs to be done responsibly so everyone is safe, practicing good citizenship. Then something else I wasn’t expecting happened…they all started raising their hands to ask questions and share their thoughts about it. I got some warm water and poured it in a little white cooler with some dry ice and fog began spewing from the cooler. point-blur_sep082016_232550All their little faces lit up and excited little hands started flying up in the air. At first I thought they had questions, but it was because they just wanted to play with it, so I went around to each little desk and let them touch the fog and blow it out of the cooler. Every single student, again, waited patiently for me to get to them and they were all very responsible not putting their hands into the cooler to touch the ice.

I explained how the large vortex generator could be used with a fog machine to blast fog rings, but instead of showing them, we let them, using their orange cups. This was where it all got even better. I broke up pieces of dry ice and with Mrs. DeBlieck’s help, each row had a little fog ring maker that they shared with other students in their row.

That pretty much finished up the day for them, I waited for my daughter, and we left to pick up my son. Of course, my daughter wanted to bring in her cup with some dry ice and share it with my son’s preschool class so we did. She was the teacher this time and my son and his classmates experienced the same fun she just had. She was excited to be the teacher. A week later, one of the boys in my son’s class, was asking me questions and recalling the experience.

I had even more fun than the kids did that day. I saw excited little faces and shared a couple of experiences I will never forget. I realized how the love learning and experiencing new things was so innate that it is literally unavoidable. I reflected how that although the love of learning may fizzle out as we get older, it never dies. It just needs a little awakening at times.

Thank you to Mrs. DeBlieck and Mr. Iddings at Leggee.


Best First Day Ever

My first ten years teaching had decent “First Days” I’m sure. However, I will remember this particular one forever. It’s fine for teachers to do most of the talking on the first day. It’s expected. I saw plenty of it today. I did that for probably all of my first ten years and I’ve always had good relationships with students since I began teaching. My 11th first day raised the bar.

My students were given clues to solve, roaming around the room, that eventually led them to the Samsung virtual reality headset to play a neat game that made for a good team building activity. Details of the activity are outlined later for those interested. I can’t accurately describe my excitement while observing my students the first day, but the smiles, laughs, and thank you’s said it all. They asked if I was laughing at them and I responded with a resounding “No.” It was so interesting to see dynamics that would usually take me weeks to observe. I saw a deep level of engagement today that I rarely get to observe in my classroom. I saw students that were actively “doing,” rather than being told what to do. I saw students having fun…legitimate fun. Were there some students lacking some motivation? Of course. That seems unavoidable until next year, when I convince Samsung to send me 4-5 more headsets, creating competition within the class instead of just between them. I digress.

My students basically ran the activity today. Leaders emerged. Communication developed naturally, organically, out of necessity. Listening was so important and happened because they wanted to and needed to and they were listening to each other. They were actually doing science on the first day and most of them probably didn’t even realize it. Their engagement hopefully sets the table for the rest of the semester. It certainly raised the students’ expectations, I’m sure. I usually try to learn their names the first day during the ice breaker, but this activity was all about them and I know they appreciated it. I would recommend this type of ice breaker to every teacher.

Do you have an awesome first day/ice breaker activity? I would love to improve. Please leave a comment.

With a refurbished Gear VR headset for $50, my wallet damage for this activity was quite abnormal for me (about $80), but I would do it all over again in a second. It’s all reusable…an investment of sorts. Plus, some of my favorite teachers came by after school and played around with it and more are stopping by later this week. I can’t wait to discuss this activity with my students tomorrow. Teaching is as much fun as you want to make it. VR has earned its place in education for me.


Here’s a detailed explanation of the activity for fellow nerdonians. My comments are italicized:

Students were told that they were diffusing a bomb and competing against my other classes for the fastest time (only one group diffused it and it was my class of sophs and juniors, not the seniors).

Their first instruction was that their first instruction was taped to their table (I put it underneath their tables to get them up and going right away). Since teenagers scoff at the idea of having a QR scanner on their phone. I gave them my old phone to use. The student WiFi wasn’t happy today, so they could not download one as originally planned.  After that, I sat back and watched for a while.

Here was the QR code text verbatum (slightly edited after the first two classes):
“The ABCs to the lock by the sink can only be found at the hands of the three Yinks.”

I was surprised at the amount of students in 2016 who would rather ask out loud “what is a Yink?” than ask the Google (they had Chromebooks in their bags). There are 6-7 sinks in my room and a good hiding spot by a back one.

I put three small black and white pictures of a Dr. Seuss Yink scattered around the room. Near each Yink was a stack of about 10 random numbers (1-39 for lock combo possibilities) clipped together. Each number was a different color (including one pink number that was the only useful number…Yink…pink…get it?) One stack with the first number to the combination was inside one of four books that all started with A. One stack was on a bookshelf (B). One stack including the last number to the combination was taped onto the back of the classroom clock (C). I ended up coloring in the pink ink later on in the day to help them a bit.

It took students a little while to find all the Yinks and most of them figured out the combination by trying random combinations of pink numbers. I only heard a couple of students reference the ABC location of the numbers.

The combination to the lock was located on a box I built HHS Breakout Boxthe day before with wood and spray paint I had laying around, so the total cost was less than $8 (hardware). The box contained a UV/blacklight LED flashlight (much safer than a black light bulb) that cost me $10 at Walmart and another QR code that read: The light from this flashlight. The surfaces that hide the next clue. The best lighting of the room.

I was hoping they would infer the relationship between the black light and the black lab benches where the next code was located. It didn’t work out that way, but I let them go anyway. Most of the classes turned the lights off immediately. They struggled a bit here. I reminded them that clues would be very obviously clues as they saw with the Yinks and that everything had a purpose and nothing was random. 

After wandering around with one flashlight, they found the words I wrote in highlighter on the 4 inch black “backsplash” against the wall. Some of the groups were successful after finding only 1 or 2 of the four words: “Under the teacher laptop.” Once they arrived at my laptop and lifted it or move it aside, another highlighter message awaited them, “Getting warmer” with a down arrow. They opened the top drawer and found the Samsung Gear VR box with the headset inside. There was another QR code on the VR box that read: “Finding this required only one to think outside the box. Diffusing the bomb requires collaboration of many with what remains inside the box.”P1

This tripped them up a bit because after looking inside the VR box and not finding anything, they got a little confused. The remaining item inside the box referred to the lock box where a very small QR code still remained. Students were so excited about the VR headset that they got it going before realizing they had not finished the clue (finding the last QR code which told them: “Get everyone on www.bombmanual.com ASAP”). I had to remind them about the clue and ask them if there was another box in the room. Surprisingly, they had forgotten about the huge lock box and even after I asked them, many still searched around my desk. Diffusing the bomb without instructions is impossible, although one group started trying before I told them to look at the clue again.

Once students found the last QR code, there were a few instruction manuals being viewed on devices and with more time, I am confident every class would have diffused the bomb from the software Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes ($10 from the Oculus Store).P7

Although one class asked to pull it up on the projector, I was a little surprised on how many students did not pull up the instruction manual until I realized they had no idea how useful it would have been and how zoned in they were. It was also hilarious to watch one class pass the headset around to each other while each student stopped to voice their admiration for the Samsung Gear VR experience while the bomb clock was ticking away.  I could add italicized comments forever.


Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

How many times did we, as kids, hear our teachers tell us to “be quiet, no talking.” When students walk into my classroom on their first day this year, I’m introducing them to Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. It’s a PC game that has become popular on Samsung Gear VR. I recently purchased a refurbished Samsung Gear VR because I like geeking out with affordable technology and because VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) both have an exciting future in education (insert PokemonGo reference here). If I had a teacher that told everybody to get into groups because we needed to diffuse a bomb on the first day of school, I think I’d be OK with that.

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is going to make for an exciting first day. It will be used as a team building exercise that has the potential to build communication skills and get all students involved.
Obviously, only one student can wear the headset (Samsung, feel free to send more to Gerry Marchand at Huntley High School, 13719 Harmony Road), so the other students will be in groups, helping the “diffuser” by using the bomb manual, which the headset user can’t see. I would like to allow the students to compete in small bomb-diffusing groups, but allowing one group go first gives a huge advantage to the others. If you have any suggestions for the procedure, please leave them in the comments. Huge shout out to Laura Jenkins and the other EduCoaches at my school for organizing First Day Ideas for all to share. Do you have a great first day idea? Leave it in the comments!

It’s Alive!!!!

I guess the best way to describe how I feel as the year winds down is like how Dr. Frankenstein felt when his creature came alive for the first time, proving that all his hard work paid off. I am confident that Blended Honors Human Anatomy & Physiology using a bastardized version of mastery learning has created the perfect learning environment for my students.

For a run-down of how the class operates, CLICK HERE.

I just looked back at the last three years of grades for this class and found that this year’s class tied a three-year high score for semester one grades (82%). Of course there are many variables in place here, but no matter how much I compare GPAs, attendance, etc. I am confident that my students received the best education that I could provide them. Even if they happen to be a “higher class” of students, they got an experience that, I feel, has helped prepare them for the increased accountability and freedom that comes with the next step of their academic career. As I think about my seniors leaving in 3 weeks, I feel happiness and pride when I reflect on what my students accomplished, but also a little guilt. I’m glad my students were successful while rarely having to come to class. However, I know that over 90% of them are entering college next year, where most professors won’t care as much about their learning and the best methods to get students to be successful.

In years past, I ended the year lecturing for the last two units only to begin prepping my students for the nasty world of college lectures. However, I recently had some interactions with another educator on Twitter who made some really good points about preparing students for a lesser quality of education (lecture). This year, my students will not be getting any lectures to end the year in preparation for college. I feel I am doing the right thing, but it’s still hard.

As for next year, I have already been making plans for how this whole system of blended mastery learning is going to get tweaked to improve it for future students. For example, I am considering embedding shorter chunks of my instructional videos in a Google Form to include a multiple choice practice quiz on the video material. Why Google for this and not something else? Because I know Google will be free forever. Embedding videos and including a practice quiz for each gives me another chance to increase the amount of retrieval practice my students will receive to boost their learning (the link is to an article regarding this method of learning).

Although I was scared to start this new model of learning, my students absolutely stepped up and rocked it. Their efforts and willingness to try something new are what made it all work. We all learned a lot over the course of the school year. Now that the year is almost complete, I can honestly say that blended mastery learning in my Honors Human Anatomy & Physiology class is alive…and here to stay.

Blended Mastery Learning

No system is perfect, right? There are those that are great, those that are terrible, and of course everything in between. We’ve all experienced the entire spectrum, I’m sure. Blended Mastery Learning is a model that allows students to progress through the semester at a pace that suits their individual needs and does a better job at ensuring success than traditional learning. I know because I saw it happen. My students made it happen.

Now that first semester is complete and my room is full of students who are mostly testing today, I finally have time to reflect on the success that was…that IS mastery learning in my Blended Anatomy & Physiology classes. I have 3 sections this year and hope for 5 next year. I would teach 13 if I could. It is the best experience I’ve had in 10 years of teaching. I am also confident that most of my students would agree.

Blended teachers in my school are required to report the number of hours and minutes our students are in class or not. We are also required to report the number of minutes students should be spending outside of class on work assigned to them. The two numbers should add up to the amount of time a student would be in school if they were taking a traditional class. My students were required to be in class 27 out of the 70 school days that made up 1st semester. That is less than 40% of traditional “seat time.” Naturally the students did terribly, right? WRONG. Statistically speaking, they did the same. For me, the same is a huge “edu-win” because my students received a unique experience and owned their learning like I have never seen before.

So I did more grading, more prepping, more emailing, more everything, right? Wrong…mostly. How? Technology. Have the technology work for you – smarter, not harder, right? Yes, I did more emailing this year to both students and parents, but I did it during class time when no students needed my help. I did have to prep a little more than usual, but that time was made up by MUCH less grading and much more time in class to do some of that prepping. Our Learning Management System, Haiku Learning, provides practice assessments, affectionately called “Mastery Checks” in my class (Thanks, @Algebros), that allows students to be tested, online, in super low stakes scenarios (that’s SLSS for you educators). Google Drive works wonders too.

So I only saw kids roughly 40% of “normal” time, which means I never learned all their names or knew much about any of them, right? Wrong again. Completely wrong, and this one surprised me tremendously. See, when students are in class 27/70 days, they are never…I mean NEVER all coming on the same day. Most teachers’ dream classroom would probably include much fewer students to provide more intimate learning and personal interactions. Blended Mastery Learning provides that. Class sizes ranged from 0-20 on any given day, but usually fell in the 4-10 category. FOUR to TEN students per class per day!!!! I got to know my students better this year than ever before. I was able to have more meaningful conversations with them and their parents regarding their progress so much earlier in the school year than ever before. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I know their personalities, likes, and dislikes. I am better connected with my students this year than ever before because that 40% of interaction time was 3-4 times more intimate and more personal and more meaningful and more productive both scholarly/professionally and personally than traditional interactions.

So class is chaotic then, right? Absolutely…sometimes. There are days when some students are taking a test while others are completing a lab. There are days when some students are reviewing, while some are completing a quiz. There are students that come to class during 2nd hour, but they have my class 4th. There are labs and presentations done by students collaborating from multiple different class periods in the same room. Chaos in a traditional classroom is limited. Chaos in life is unavoidable. Chaos in my Blended Anatomy is normal and accepted and it works. To reduce the chaos, we have a Google Sheet that allows students to record their intent for coming to class. I can prepare copies and students can see if they have someone to work with. The chaos is seldom and when it occurs, it is managed and handled well. Don’t get me wrong, most days are quiet and full of only a handful of students. Some days are completely empty almost every period of the day (mostly Mondays and Fridays…go figure).

Blended Mastery Learning in my Human Anatomy & Physiology classes is not a perfect system. In my opinion it falls on the “great” end of the spectrum and it certainly beats the system I was using the first 9 years of my career and I would have a hard time going back if I had to…a really hard time.