Flip This: Film Yourself Teaching to Deconstruct Your Instruction

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user JonathanCohen

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user JonathanCohen

I Googled the following for fun.

01 flipped 04 literacy 03 math 02 inquiry

The flipped classroom can be interesting, cool, and useful. But transformative? A high yield instructional tool, tactic, or strategy? Come on.

What if we turned that video camera on ourselves for a different reason? How about, on occasion, we video ourselves teaching and our students learning so we can focus not on the content of what is being explained, but to deconstruct our own teaching?

One of the most important moments I ever experienced as a classroom teacher was the first time I really saw myself teaching a full lesson in front of a class. It was around five years ago. I was fortunate enough to be asked to participate in a series of workshops Barrie Bennett was running for school administrators on how best to give feedback during/after walkthroughs.

I still have the video, but cannot post it here because: a) there are students in the video whose parental and personal consent I do not have to do so; and b) it horrifies me to the core. The voice, the hair, the constant pacing, that weird thing I do with my hands! Ghastly would be the word.

A few days after the filmographer completed her afternoon in my class, Barrie Bennett did something to me which blew my mind. In front of an audience of a couple of dozen principals, we collectively watched the video as he gave me amazingly helpful feedback on everything I was doing during the lesson. It was like a colour commentator breaking down the 3rd down play on ESPN. Really, it blew my mind. If there was a photo or video of me during that moment, it probably would have looked like this. You know how all of us who are kinda OK at this teaching thing can cite a few seminal moments or people that influenced us or transformed our thinking and practice? That day is in my top 5.

Since that day, I have always found it almost too easy to step out of my own shoes and watch myself teach as though I were a fly on the wall. It taught me that one of the most important things about being a transparent, growth-oriented educator is to be not only figuratively, but literally reflective to one person in particular.


Have you ever filmed yourself teaching, or contemplating doing so? If yes, tell me about your experience. If no, what’s stopping you?

What’s so special about extra-curricular activities?


remixed from the original CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user US Mission Canada

If you’re a reader who is unfamiliar with the current labour strife between public school teachers and the Ontario provincial government, click here for a great breakdown from People for Education.

I appeared alongside Zoe Branigan-Pipe, Stephen Hurley, Earl Manners, Misha Abarbanel, and George Thomas on TVO’s The Agenda last night to talk about “The Role of the Teacher” (aka Are Teachers Gonna Start Extra Curriculars in Ontario Again Or What?). It was an honour to be a part of and I enjoyed myself. But there’s one thing I wish we had discussed in greater depth.

Why has the loss of extra-curricular activities left this supposed chasm in our schools? Why do so many students, educators, parents, and other stakeholders see the loss of ECs as a reason to cry foul with deep, passionate tones?

Correct me if I am wrong, but ECs seem to be beloved for the following reasons:

  • Students and teachers can pursue personal passions.
  • They tend to be growth-oriented.
  • They are often project-based.
  • Collaboration is valued highly.
  • Losses and failure are celebrated as learning opportunities.
  • There are often concrete goals to pursue.
  • They tend to include mixed age/grade groups.
  • There is much more movement, less sedentary work.
  • Paper-pen tasks are rarely seen.
  • There is very little rote memorization.
  • The process is seen as more important than the destination.
  • There are no standardized, high stakes evaluations.
  • No one gets graded.
  • Assessment is feedback and improvement based.
  • The development of mastery is understood to be a long process.
  • Students and teachers have autonomy for the direction of the activity.

So is this a conversation about our beloved ECs or a discussion about what’s missing from learning in curriculum proper?

3 Things Parents are Missing About Cell Phones #parenting

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user mtsofan

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user mtsofan

A sound you’ve been hearing for months, perhaps years now? One of them is the noise of hand wringing that all of us moms and dads are engaged in about what seems like the parenting question of the day:

When should I get my child a cell phone?

I dare you to find a parenting magazine or blog that doesn’t have a writer or editor assigned to this topic on an almost indefinite basis (see here and there for some recent ones). Morever, it’s hard to argue with the heat the issue generates, since cell phones are incredibly expensive and afford a child with the capability to do things you may have been put into a straight jacket for even suggesting just twenty years ago.

I start to have a problem, however, with all of the articles, blogposts, and pronouncements parenting ‘experts’ and your next door neighbour are offering when the message is laced with arrogance: I believe this, and I do that, so it means I’m a better parent than you. It really reminds me of the lead up to our family’s first-born.

As idealistic, alternative-minded, young parents, my wife and I succumbed easily to the philosophy of a ‘natural’ birth. This would have been fine were it not for the fact that we consumed pamphlets, books, and advice from our mid-wife more as proverbial kool-aid than objective information. We were actually duped into believing that having a natural birth made us, well, better people.

Alas, this is what parenting entails, especially when you are privileged enough to have a whole host of #FirstWorldProblems as my family does. So, since I can’t beat ’em, I may as well join ’em.

This post is partly out of hoping to fulfill a demand. As a parent and teacher whose family and professional lives are more intertwined than most (I teach in a school community in which I live; my own kids attend my school), and being a person (like it or not) whose image is inextricable from that of shiny gadgets (“Mr. Lee, did you invent the iPhone?”), I get asked the cell phone question a lot. It follows me like an echo through a corridor. I usually greet this question with a small dose of irritation, and a large dose of squirminess, and most of my responses begin with, “It depends…” I’m not here to tell you my answer; I don’t have one. I have, however, noticed that there are three things most parents consistently fail to consider.

1. It’s not a phone; it’s an internet-enabled mini-computer.

This past year, I tried purchasing a non-smart phone for my mother who was tired of the iPhone she was carrying around because it could simply do too much. Finding one was a herculean task. We call these mini supercomputers ‘cell phones’ much in the same way we call Count Chocula ‘breakfast’. It is a misnomer. But language is a powerful thing (see point 3 in particular).

2. The cost doesn’t end after the purchase of the hardware.

Most parents are still living in a time when getting your kid that desired item on the Christmas list is something you buy, wrap up, and present to the child: my work here is done. I’m not trying to say parents don’t understand that voice and data plans cost money, but many fail to even remind their children: “I didn’t just buy you a $500 toy for your birthday. I bought you, like, a $5000 toy.” I feel like many are missing out on a fantastic financial literacy moment here.

What’s more, especially as a teacher who invites students to bring their own devices to class, the number of times I see kids with shiny gadgets but no funds to purchase apps, music, etc. is a sight I’ve grown accustomed to. In this situation, why wouldn’t you jailbreak or find illegal means of accessing content? Don’t blame children for being the supposed generation that doesn’t want to pay for stuff. This is almost 100% an adult issue.

3. Most of what can be done on a smart phone can be done on an iPod Touch.

I feel like this is one of the perfect examples of how fast technology is moving in our time. I meet many parents who demonize the capabilities of cell phones for children, while failing to notice that they bought their kid an iPod Touch or similar device years ago. I couldn’t believe my eyes recently when I listened to a parent haughtily declare how she would “never let my child have a cell phone like so-and-so” while simultaneously seeing her boy thumb away on a 4th generation iPod Touch. For crying out loud, many adults don’t even have a smartphone that powerful! You can forgive anyone for missing this exponential development in mobile technology, but you can’t give them a pass if they’re simultaneously pompous about it.

What are your thoughts on the cell phone question?

Why Mish-Mash is Better Than 1:1


in our class, we write short and long form pieces on many different devices

Note: My thoughts below come mostly from an elementary homeroom teaching perspective. I would likely think differently if my vista came from teaching either a technical or specialty course.

I asked one of my students the other day, “Hey, I’ve got a laptop here you can use to write your script. Would you like to use it instead of your iPod?”

With a humble shrug of the shoulders he responded, “No thanks, Mr. Lee, I write better this way.”

“Really?!?! With your thumbs?”

“Oh ya, I’m way faster, and I concentrate better.”

So I started asking everyone in the room what their preferred tool to write with was, and, believe it or not, it was pretty much 25% smart phone/ipod, 25% tablet, 25% laptop, and 25% paper and pencil. The common threads? Most students preferred writing with the tool they had most frequent access to, and boys in particular preferred writing with small devices.

Even though I’ve been doing this technology thing for quite a while with students, they never cease to surprise me.

This has me thinking about the semi-frequent Device Wars we engage in online. Netbooks vs. iPads, Ubuntu vs. OSX, etc. With the recent release of the ‘revolutionary’ and ‘game-changing’ Amplify tablet (spoiler: no game will be changed), these conversations are hot once again. I’ve yet to be a part of a 1:1 laptop, iPad, or similar initiative, and I’ve never been compelled to either pursue one or engage in the conversations surrounding them. It’s never really interested me. In my whole teaching career, I’ve only had a mish mash of tech. Currently, we don’t have a class set of anything, but we do have small sets of different tools. Nevertheless, at any given time, it’s possible to be 1:1 on the internet in our room. I prefer teaching with the limitations of no class sets, because it means we’re constantly reflecting on the merits of each tool for the given purpose. Students in my class frequently start sentences with:

Here, you can use the <blank>, I don’t need it right now…


Can you let me use the <blank>? I need it to…

Would any of my students turn down a 1:1 MacBook Pro? Of course not. Still, I believe there is great value in the limitations of resources. When we engage in Device Wars on twitter and the blogosphere, we all seem to exercise significant bias in equating the best classroom tool with the one that we find most productive in our personal or professional lives (I touched upon that in disagreeing with folks who contend that the iPad is not a creation tool). Do I have a vision of what technology I’d like in my class in the perfect scenario? Sure I do. Do my students and I really need that state of shiny utopia, especially when it is (in my view) impossible to achieve in an equitable fashion? I don’t think so.

Which have you experienced is better: a lot of one device or small sets of multiple ones?

Farewell to Failure February (Embrace the Failure)

a tree that spoke to me

In the northern hemisphere, where the winters are long, and our children attend school from September to June, February can be a cruel month. Students are lethargic, parents are weary, teachers visit the liquor store.

I’ve been wondering why this is the case. What makes this time of year so debilitating? No doubt, the weather, vitamin D deficiencies, and general burnout that the September to January track meet can elicit has something to do with it. Still, does that really explain why?

I think it’s because February is the month of Failure. It’s the time in the year when we really discover if something is working or not. If you tried something new, however minor or major, you’ll know if it is turning out as you had hoped, or if it’s a wounded animal who needs to be put out of its misery. February is the test of an educator’s mettle. That relationship you were trying to build? It’s getting there, or it’s worse than ever. The initiative you were trying to spearhead? People gently hopped on the train or never even came to the station. The Twitter trend that all the eduspeakers are raving about that you really wanted to bring to fruition? The reality is staring you in the face.

On Wednesday, while walking to school with my daughter, I had the kind of personal epiphany that can only come about because of the wonders of our natural environment. I couldn’t remember the last time wet, heavy snow had fallen in such a way that every tree branch, all evergreen needles, and each whisker on your grandpa’s beard were coated in thick, wet, glistening snow. It resembled something only the White Witch from Narnia could have summoned. My daughter and I kept saying to one another, isn’t it funny how beautiful ‘bad weather’ can be?

The unusual beauty that I saw as February was fading out like one of those Neil Young guitar solos that goes a bit too long reminded me to embrace the failure. Look at it as a positive, not a degradation of your worth and purpose. You tried some things and discovered they are very, very difficult. Maybe it’s time you abandoned this idea. Perhaps you need to change track with that project. Your recognition of this is a strength, not a weakness.

Embrace, accept, and use February’s reminders of failure. March on with your head held high (I apologize profusely for that last pun; I tried with all my might to prevent it, but it overcame me).

Ninja Training Tip #49

Stormshadow from GI Joe, Lego Ninjago, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; it’s all about ninjas in my house of four – uh, I mean – three children. I have absolutely no idea how this happened. Every now and again, I get a bit Sensei on the kids and impart some Familylee Ninja Wisdom. Do you do anything similar and fun in your house/school/organization?

original CC licensed photo via Haiku Deck app

original CC licensed photo via Haiku Deck app