Every kid has a computer. Now what?

As the year starts, I have so many ideas of activities that I would like to do. The major project is to implement a modeling approach to teaching Chemistry. However, what happens when you are not able to be in the classroom?  Does this change the approach? How do you adapt?

Unfortunately, I was out of town and the activities that I had designed were discussion based. It brought me to a crossroads. Do I post assignments to keep them busy while I’m gone, or do I put in the extra time to build activities to help them develop a better picture of the content? (We all know the answer, but it doesn’t make it any easier.)  So where did I start?

Strategy #1: Open the lines of Communication

During my absence I knew that there would be times where confusion would arise. With new students, in a new class, with a new platform, it was inevitable. So, the first thing I did was create a short screencast video letting them know how to contact me. Will every student use it? No, but it provides an avenue for them, and their parents to voice concerns and ask questions.  The second idea was to provide explicit directions (Parental Advisory Warning. Sorry I couldn’t help myself). “What if they don’t read them?” I also added a video of me explaining my expectations and desires for the assignment. If it is a group assignment and the rubric assesses group dynamics, go through the rubric to know what is expected. Most importantly, tell them about the due dates. If you will or will not accept the assignment late, tell them. Make it super clear. This helps with parental calls and conferences with the admin team.

Tip #2: Foster discussion within the group

As previously stated, I was out of town. So, how can you have a discussion? If the platform that you are using has a discussion option, separate the classes into groups. You can do this based on classes, or cross between classes to get a different perspective. We are using Canvas and one of the options I have is to “Require the students to post before viewing replies.”  This helps with ensuring that students provide original thoughts before tainting their own ideas with other people’s ideas. Once they have submitted their response, have them respond to another student’s response. Most students want to just say things like “I agree or “That sounds Good.” I like to have them use the RISE method for meaningful feedback. This methods asks them to do one of the following:

  • Reflect on what they read
  • Inquire about something a person said
  • Suggest changes or edits
  • Elevate the ideas to expand on the ideas.

While this can be a difficult process to start, these skills will be used in years to come at any level beyond high school.  Now you may be asking, “What is the role of the teacher here? ”  My job is to grade the posts as they come in, using the rubric, and give direct and useful feedback so that the student can grow from it.  So this is not a situation where saying “Good job!” will be sufficient. This is where you ask questions or suggest resources. After a few, you will notice patterns in the student responses or needs. Shortcut tip: Create a word or Google doc with common feedback and copy and paste it into the feedback section. (That one was for free, you’re welcome)

Tip #3: Provide online tutorials

When you teach a subject like Chemistry, students look for opportunities to say that they don’t understand.  For the average teacher this can be hard to overcome, but one solution is to create short tutorial videos using a screencasting app. They are as simple as talking over the power point you would have done in class or a shortened version just going over the usual sticking points. This becomes an optional resource for the students to receive support when they are struggling or to review concepts that have already passed. 

Starting a Journey

This summer I spent a good amount of time reflecting on my teaching practices and the results that I have seen and I was not happy. I asked myself the following questions and tried to make sense of it all.

  1. Do students seem to enjoy my class? Yes. The evidence gathered are the relationships formed with students, the “Thank you’s” and ” I want to take AP Chemistry so I can have your class another year even if I don’t like Chemistry.” (Those who have been teaching for a while, you know that student.)
  2. Am I seeing improvement in student performance? Yes, since implementing county Common Final Exams I have noted that my students’ performance is on par with many from around the district.
  3. Do I feel that as a teacher I am trying new things to benefit the struggling students in my class? And I noticed that over the past few years, the answer has been, “No.”

This is what bothered me. I found myself slipping into a mindset that sound cynical and detached while stating that I was trying “so hard” to help every student succeed at Chemistry. My evidence, I reviewed the scores of my struggling students that worked hard until the end. Now some may ask, “Was it a high number of students of something?” The answer to that is no but, over the years I have noticed that changing some of my habits may have provided a better chance for these students to reach higher level of performance. I wanted to share some of these habits as a way to remind myself to keep working to improve and encourage anyone else who may be like this. Read More

How do you start an arguement?

Storm Front 4

The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” Joseph Joubert

In my first six years of teaching I have learned so much about Science education.  I started my career using the textbook as a guide and started to notice that this presented content in a way that seemed a bit unnatural to understand.  Over the years I have worked and tried to refine my presentation skills to move toward a scenario where the students can learn to explore and develop a deeper understanding of the content. So when we received the news that we would be a digital school this year I was excited and just waiting for the opportunity to have the students dive in and start experiencing Chemistry.

As the school year began, I was quickly reminded that all though many students are tech savvy when it comes to their cell phones, but basic computer literacy is a major challenge.  Due to this reality, my dreams of starting this line of thinking were delayed.  Although this was a reality I noticed a pattern with my students, they all loved to argue with one another.  From the standard level to the advanced, daily arguments were common. But they were arguing the wrong way. They spent time conferring with their classmates for support with no evidence or reasoning beyond their opinion or limited world -view. This made me think, “Why not begin the coming year teaching them how to argue using logic reasoning and Science to aid them?”

So this summer, I am going to spend some time building my courses and starting with this task. I wonder how it will go, but here goes. Stay tuned for the adventures, lessons, and hilarious stories along the way.

Image by mrpbps, “Storm Front 4” Some rights reserved.

One year Digital, My Thoughts So Far

I began this year very excited to have devices in every student’s hands. Expecting that once we got underway, the students would love the new found freedom to explore and learn at a deeper level than before. I was surprised to hear a large portion say, ” Can’t we go back to pencil and paper?” I thought it was a bad dream and maybe I missed something, and then I realized something and many of you may already know what is coming, If the change isn’t immediate and easy, teenagers do not like it. This is indeed a brave new world, that requires a lot of adjustments on both sides of the classroom.

One of the major adjustments that I have had to make is to explain how programs and websites work. I have seen what seem like tech savvy students struggle to send basic emails or remember how to edit files. Now while I believe that some are looking for an excuse to not complete their assignments on time, many are really having difficulty with these everyday tasks. What is the solution to this? What can we do to help students that transfer in midway through the year? What can be done ahead of time to ease the burden? I have found that procrastination does not work. I am including a few tips and tricks that you could use to help you in preparation for the coming year. (Side note: Using multiple strategies enhances possibilities for success.)

Strategies for Digital training and implementation

  1. Create tutorials- Use a screen casting tool to create short tutorial videos for basic tasks. (i.e. Accessing course materials, submitting assignments, opening downloaded files, editing files in specific programs, etc…) Do not look at a task as too simple, there will be at least one student who will thank you.  If you do not have a 1:1 classroom, but you have a Learning Management System (Edmodo, Google Classroom, Blackboard) for students to access assignments, short visual handouts will also be helpful. Suggested toolsScreencastify Lite, screencast-o-matic, Open Broadcasting Service, and VLC Media.
  2. Peer training- One method that I have found successful when applicable, is to have students train each other. Over my few years in education, I have learned that I do not always communicate at the student level.  I have then entrusted parts of the training to students who can translate my teacher language into more student friendly terms.  I have found that this method relieves some of the stress and anxiety that comes with a new learning environment and even a new school environment.  Disclaimer: Make sure to choose the right trainer for the trainee.  There are some personalities that do not mix as well as some that mix too well.  Be careful.
  3. Use the same programs– When all else fails, repetition works.  While this seems like the best way to approach this and I agree with you.  This is not always possible.  When at all possible, stick to the same programs.  I believe that this policy should be held by all teachers within a school.  If and when this is done with fidelity, the students gain more exposure to the available software and tools.  This makes it easier for all teachers and students. But again the key is this must be done with fidelity.  If three teachers are using three tools for the same task, the students become confused with what features are available in which program. Personal Picks: Word processing- Google Docs, Math-based/On-screen writing- SMART notebook(where available), Presentation- Google Slides. (Another post coming with reasons)

This is just a starting point to this issue, but this is only one year in and have many lessons to learn.  As time goes on, I will share my triumphs and challenges as I grow. I will end with one of my favorite quotes.

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Tips for Grading in a Digital Classroom

It has been a few weeks since my last post and I have been fighting the battle at the start of the school year. This year my school started the first year of implementing a digital curriculum. I found myself going from excited to nervous as the work began to pile up and the grading lagged behind. After a few weeks, I have found some tips that might be helpful.  My hope is that the information is helpful and easy to understand.



Leaving ADDIE for SAM


Developing learning products is a difficult task.  Most would think that anyone can watch someone else do it and imitate it, or use the logic, “I was once a student, I know what I liked and didn’t like.  I could design courses.”  This mindset leaves us in the sad place of one-sided, boring, one-size fits all products that we have seen in use for years that do not adequately service the learner.  One of the major issues that I have run into is, “What is the best model to use for design and development of said learning products?”  For this reason I began reading “Leaving ADDIE for SAM” by Michael Allen.  I know, I know it sounds like a strange romance between a couple from the 1950’s but it is comparing and contrasting the two Instructional Systems Design (ISD) models.

First some background, ADDIE stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.  The ADDIE Model was designed at Florida State University to explain  “…the processes involved in the formulation of an instructional systems development (ISD) program for military interservice training that will adequately train individuals to do a particular job and which can also be applied to any interservice curriculum development activity.” (Branson, 1975)  So how can we design materials for rapid development and implementation.  Over the years many have modified their approach to ADDIE because they found there to be challenges.    Because this model is linear in nature, each piece must be completed before moving on.  This also means that if there are any issues with the design, they may not be seen until the Evaluation phase toward the end of the project.  Allen rightly points out that this leads to strained timelines, low resources, and ultimately a poorer product than attempted. (Allen and Stiles, 2012)  Others have recognized the need of an iterative process to combat this issue but noted that the need for planning and the multiple approvals make it difficult to come up with a testable product in the early stages.

This brings us to SAM or the Successive Approximation Model.  This model brings the iterative process in the early stages to guide the design and development processes. The input is collected from the shareholders, project managers, and potential learners to improve the final outcome.  My original thought is that by gathering input from so many people this early in the project  there would be  so many ideas and/or critiques that the project will never be complete, but this model takes a change in mindset.  Being a Science teacher, I am relatively comfortable with experimenting, the SAM model asks the designer to experiment and ask the questions  “Why isn’t this a good design?” instead of “What are all of the possible ideas?”  The approvals are still necessary, but there is flexibility to make changes as you go instead of waiting until the end to realize there is a problem. (Allen & Stiles, 2012)    

As you can see from the title of the post, This is only the beginning of my exploration with this model, but I can’t help but think of how this relates to not only e-learning development but also face-to-face blended instruction.  As I read through this book I am re-evaluating many of the units that I have set up in the past.  I see areas for improvement and areas for removal in order to provide quality learning experiences for my students. I am  looking to my PLC members, colleagues, and students to assist in the design process.


Allen, M. W., & Sites, R. H. (2012). Leaving ADDIE for SAM: An agile model for developing the best learning experiences. Alexandria, VA: American Society for Training and Development.

Branson, R. K., Rayner, G. T., Cox, J. L., Furman, J. P., King, F. J., Hannum, W. H. (1975). Interservice procedures for instructional systems development. (5 vols.) (TRADOC Pam 350-30 NAVEDTRA 106A). Ft. Monroe, VA: U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, August 1975. (NTIS No. ADA 019 486 through ADA 019 490).

We have begun to begin…

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Lao Tzu

Hello, My name is Andrew Baldwin and I am a classroom teacher and an Instructional designer.  I have been teaching Chemistry for the past five years.  I believe that students should work toward Mastery of information instead of just trying to get a grade.  This involves a focus on learning over simple memorization of facts and dates.  This is reflected in the activities that I use and design as well as the learning module that I build.  The emphasis is placed on critical thinking, hard work, and creativity as these traits have been fostered throughout my academic career.

One task that has been on my mind for a while is “When should I start working on my own personal projects or take on clients to expand my business aspirations?” Notice that the question did not begin with whether or not I should pursue it.  I believe that each person has the ability to add something to the world around them and instead of questioning whether or not, they should start moving and learn as they go.  With this thought in mind,  this day that I will begin my journey.  Along the way, I will share my review of web tools, assessment techniques, and activities that I am working on in an effort to encourage others out there to just get started.  As I share feel free to comment and share your experiences.

I hope that you will join me and that we can grow together.