Why I make YouTube videos

This week is a celebratory blog post as this week is the 2 year anniversary of my first ever ChemJungle video! 73 videos, 60,000 views and 700 subscribers so far (300 to go until I can celebrate true YouTube stardom according to my G12s!)

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The channel was born from frustration (as so many creative endeavours are!) as a result of other YouTube videos either having too little information for my IGCSE Chemistry kids or information that was way beyond the scope of the course. I was continually annoyed by watching tons of YouTube videos to try to find the “perfect” amount of information for what I wanted. Eventually I got to a point where I decided that I’d create my own YouTube channel with a video for each syllabus point to allow maximum flexibility in teaching.

Sure, it’s been a massive time commitment and it’s really hard to stick to a one-a-week  schedule when reports are due or my marking pile is taller than I am. But even though I’m still a long way from completing the syllabus, I keep powering forward knowing that it’ll pay off eventually. These videos give me and my students more freedom than I ever expected; I finally achieved my life-long teacher dream of actually being able to be in two places at once!

What I wanted to do in this post is to share a few moments that caused me to realise how powerful using YouTube videos can be (especially if they’re your own):

Freeing up time in lesson for 1-on-1 support and meaningful extension activities

I teach the entirety of our Bonding topic through ChemJungle. Students watch the videos at home and then in class they have options of activities that they think will benefit their understanding most. My main concern was that students would feel like they didn’t understand the material as well as other topics that were taught in a more traditional way. But actually, at the end of the unit : 90% of students felt their understanding was better than or equal to previous units – a massive success!Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 12.37.01

Comments included:

“I was able to take better notes and go slower to understand the unit more”

“We had much more time in class for learning further in depth about the topics, and doing experiments.”

In fact, the only downside that was mentioned was that sometimes students couldn’t ask questions immediately if they were watching at home – definitely something we could solve with a better system of posting questions.

The power of having a resource which is completely aligned with the syllabus requirements means that there is a significant amount of time that I can use to work with students who are struggling as well as providing more exciting opportunities for extension.

Sometimes kids want you on 5x speed

During a lesson on tests for cations I asked my students to write ionic equations; a skill that was rusty for most of them. I gave them the option of coming up to the front to listen to me go through it, or to watch my video on the topic. I was incredibly surprised (and borderline offended…) when every single one of my kids decided to watch the video. Every single one of them chose to speed up the video so they could use it as a quick reminder of how to construct the equations. Using this as an option in class means that no momentum is lost and that kids are in control of how quickly they move to the questions.

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Bringing consistency to revision

Kids absolutely love these videos for revision. If they understood something the first time, but have forgotten the details then they find it super helpful to hear me explain it in the same way. As they’re labelled with syllabus statement numbers it means that students can independently find the videos that they’re looking for with ease.

“Thank you for the ChemJungle videos, they’ve been an absolute lifesaver”

Incredible if kids miss classes (or if I’m off sick…!)

The videos provide a really simple way to help kids to catch up if they’ve missed classes. Even though the videos are organised by syllabus point, I still have to link videos specifically for the students that need them – I’m hoping to get to a point where they know the syllabus statements that were covered and they can proactively catch up on the work missed.

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But why should I create my own and not just use other people’s videos?

Most of these things can be achieved using normal videos on YouTube (and there are certainly some great YouTuber’s out there!) so maybe you’re questioning the logic in putting so much time into creating content when it already exist out there. My opinion is that if there is someone on YouTube that is already producing great quality content and the material is super aligned with the course that you’re teaching – awesome! If you’re like me and you find yourself using a million different YouTube channels for different things then you should definitely consider creating a resource that helps your kids to find what they’re looking for more quickly. I promise you that you’ll reap the benefits sooner than you think!

 

 

 

How can we make the last days of school memorable?

My wonderful G12 students leave this week and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this massive transition and what we can do to really make those last few days super memorable and enjoyable for them.

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The plants are a nod to my ChemJungle youtube channel 🙂

I always felt like I was one of those people who “embraced change” – after all I’ve changed country, continent, job, house and friends more times than most… The more I think about it, the more I realise that I love planning for change, but the execution I definitely don’t like so much. For example, my graduation from university was supposed to be a super exciting day to celebrate 4 years of hard work and the start of the next phase of my life. To say I hated it would be a massive understatement; I felt angry, I wouldn’t let my mum take any pictures of me (the poor woman!) and I didn’t enjoy the day at all. Instead of reflecting on the incredible experiences, being grateful for the people I’d met and the person that I’d become I was completely consumed by the fear of what was next.

Recently I’ve read the “Power of Moments” by Chip and Dan Heath (if you haven’t read this book then I 100% recommend it!) and the cogs have been turning in my brain ever since. They summarise the 4 key features of making a moment memorable as:

  • Elevation: breaking the script – doing something unexpected
  • Insight: changing the way that we see the world/ourselves in the world
  • Pride: giving recognition and finding milestones to celebrate
  • Connection: sharing our moment with others

But the key take away for me is not the features but the fact that we can synthesise these moments, and create memorable experiences for others (and for ourselves!).

“We can be the designers of moments that deliver elevation and insight and pride and connection. These exceptional minutes and hours and days—they are what make life meaningful. And they are ours to create.”

The Grade 12s are leaving high school tomorrow and it’s a big deal for them. Many of our students will be changing schools, country, continent, home and friends in the next few months and the school does a great job of making their last day a celebration; pranks day, assemblies (with and without parents), visiting early years classes and the final grand walk – the entire cohort led by a samba band through the entire 3000+ strong school community. There are so many examples of elevation, insight, pride and connection within those events that I wouldn’t even know where to start!

Whilst the memorable moments for the school community were fairly easy to spot, creating that moment for my own G12 Chemistry students is something I’ve always struggled with. Bringing cupcakes, doing quizzes and even roasting marshmallows on bunsen burners doesn’t really feel special enough. I don’t feel like those are the things my students are going to remember in a few years time…

This year this is what I did to try to make it more of a “moment” for my students

  1. Trying to “break the script” – I created a kahoot quiz which was all about them and scenarios from the lab over the last 2 years eg. who is most likely to ruin a titration? who is most likely to turn a pH curve into a cat? THEY LOVED IT (even if they disagreed with some of the answers!). I’m considering how I could make this into something they could keep for the future – ideas welcome!
  2. They created their university destinations posters to go around my classroom – my kids are utterly mesmorised by these and I love the way it shows that you don’t need to study science at university to study chemistry at IB. It really gives the “I want to be on the wall one day…” feelings 🙂

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    Here’s an example if I had one!

  3. We also created a legacy wall of advice – this was new for me and every student wrote pearls of wisdom for future generations of chemistry students. I was hoping this helped them to really think about what they’d learned over the past 2 years and how they’d grown to become incredible chemists.img_0025.jpg
  4. Not strictly something I did, but my marvellous students brought an ice cream cake for my gluten free needs and also made me a quiz to show me how much random knowledge they had gained about what gluten was. They made this moment so much more memorable for me by ‘breaking the script’ by going completely above and beyond what I expected. Still gives me warm and fuzzy feelings now!IMG_4861

I’ve found thinking about the 4 features of memorable moments really helpful when trying to plan stuff that will hopefully be more meaningful for my students than simply stuffing their faces with cake.

How do you create a memorable “end of the year” experience for your classes?

Divergent thinking – It’s all about classroom culture

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BLOG CHALLENGE – Week one

“In the future, students will need to be nimble. They will need to know how to experiment, iterate, and pivot. ” (Spencer)

@FriedEnglish shared “7 ways to inspire divergent thinking” with me last week and the article resonated with me immensely. After all, as a scientist this is our bread and butter. Scientists are naturally curious, risk-taking experimenters so surely these things were abundant in my classroom just by the nature of the subject?

The more I read the article, the more concerned I became about the amount of options I give my students to play and to take creative risks (I got to number 5 before I could make any connections with what happens in my classroom….eeeek!). “Oh, this article must be intended for primary/middle school where they have more time to complete projects” I told myself momentarily. The focus on large long-term projects to inspire divergent thinking caused me to spiral into a little bit of panic. I want my students to be creative thinkers but the syllabus and time restraints of IGCSE and IB mean that completing long-term projects is pretty challenging.

As a result, I spent all week playing “spot the divergent thinking” in my classroom to identify day-to-day activities that inspire thinking. There were several activities that encourage creativity and flexibility that I was already doing (phew!):

  • Experimental work with minimal equipment “Can you work out the formula mass of the gas inside the lighter with just this equipment” (sometimes I let them request one extra item!)
  • Experimental work with no method eg. “Create an experiment to work out which one of these is the best antacid.”
  • Synthesising numerous hypotheses: Come up with 3 hypotheses why the colour changes? How could you test your hypotheses?
  • Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of models: lots of good answers possible.
  • Linking key concepts together. eg identify places where hierarchy is important in science.

Whilst I was reassured that these activities were already a part of my teaching I had a much bigger realisation: no matter how jazzy my thinking activities are, the kids must feel happy with being mildly confused for a while (check out my previous post on the gift of mild confusion). It isn’t easy to create a culture where getting things wrong is okay and creative risk taking is celebrated, but there’s some key factors that I’ve found definitely help:

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  1. Be goofy. Let the kids see that you say stupid stuff sometimes and that you make mistakes too. A relaxed attitude is far more likely to encourage them to think outside the box rather than trying to give you the answer they think you want. (The power of humour in creativity).
  2. Tell the kids when you’re trying something new. Let them see that you’re taking risks and that it’s something to be excited about. Model the behaviour that you want to see in them.
  3. When you fail, be explicit about the learning. When something didn’t go as planned, talk about it. Discuss why you think it didn’t go to plan and how you might adjust it next time (maybe even redo the activity with them the following lesson if appropriate).
  4. Celebrate the students who take risks. Spotlight the thinking to the rest of the class, tell them individually how impressed you were with their thinking, send an email home, maybe get a marching band… But definitely make sure the kid knows that their kind of thinking is awesome.

Creating divergent thinkers is all about being intentional;  intentionally being a good role model and intentionally planning small activities that have a multitude of pathways for students to take.

Are there any other ways that you help kids feel comfortable?

Are you a high school teacher that manages to incorporate projects and really inspire that curiosity? I would love to hear from you!

Why did no one tell me blogging was hard?

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About 6 months ago I decided that I was going to write a teaching blog.

I read many articles about the benefits of blogging just like this  “Why every teacher should blog” and the idea sounded awesome. I like to write, I like to think about my teaching principles and I like to read about current progressions in education. It seemed perfect for me. I was also working on reflection strategies, had delivered a couple of workshops and my general feelings were “people seem interested in this, I should make it available to more teachers.” My goal was to write a blog post a month about what was going around in my teacher-brain. At the time, I had no idea how hard that would be for me.

The first few posts were easy. I was pretty sure the content was good quality (from the workshop feedback) and so I was able to write effortlessly and with a degree of confidence. The posts were well received and the monthly goal didn’t seem crazy difficult to do. All I had to do was continue to write about whatever I was thinking about that month. But, soon I ran out of the stuff that I’d been working on for months (sometimes years…!) and had to start writing about my current goals, my current ideas, my current thoughts.

What am I thinking about?

I’m continually thinking about how to empower students; to allow them to take ownership for their learning, to challenge themselves to become better learners and better leaders. I’m continually thinking about the wellbeing of my students and how I can encourage greater balance and emotional awareness.

But I’m also continually thinking about how I haven’t read enough to write a blog. I’m questioning what happens if I’ve got it wrong? What happens if I don’t cite the right person and give them credit for their work? What happens if everyone disagrees with my ideas? What happens if it makes me look stupid?

I classify myself as an ambitious, driven and confident woman. But the thought of typing something that “might be wrong” terrifies me. I’ve been living in this limbo for about 3 months now; buzzing with ideas but paralysed with fear as soon as I think about writing anything down.

blog2I had zero idea how to solve this problem until a wonderful person showed me Document vs. create, a slightly bizarre youtube video with a super powerful message. I realised that I felt like every blog post needed to be perfect; well balanced, fully researched and with a conclusion of some sort. I also felt that the blog had to be explicitly useful to the reader. But why? Why can’t I make a blog that is a documentation of my stream of thought, that shows the evolution of my ideas over time and that might only be useful to me? As soon as I started to think about blogging as documenting my process rather than just showing my creations, everything felt far less overwhelming.

So, what next?

I’m going to challenge myself to write one blog post a week for the next 8 weeks to document my progress towards my goals of empowering students and improving wellbeing. They will be raw. They will be based on gut instincts. They will contain stories and events. They will track my thinking progress. They will be useful to me.

Want to join me on this blogging challenge? Just 8 weeks – tweet me @kirstie__parker – We can make blog squads, comment on each others posts and it’ll be super awesome.

Selfishly, I would also love to have people to encourage me along the way.

 

 

 

Top 10 creative reflection activities

I’ve chatted a lot about the challenges with reflections but nobody likes those people who just point out problems without offering any solutions. So in the festive spirit of giving, these are my top 10 ways for getting students engaged in reflection!

Pick one, try it and let me know how it goes…. either comment here or tweet me @kirstie__parker.

1) Make a graph

How to use it:  This is my #1 reflection activity (it’s super jazzy!) Students individually plot a graph of their feelings on anything (sleep, confidence, stress, happiness…) and how it’s changed over a period of time. Then they discuss their feelings with a partner, what caused the shape of the graph and any changes that they’d like to make. 

If you’re interested in trying this then check out my template presentation here with sentence starters etc.

Pros: Super versatile and collaborative. Encompasses all 3 stages of reflection (awareness, analysis and application)

Cons: Takes 15minutes to do properly – but I promise you won’t regret it!!!

2) Three Words

How to use it: Best used at the start of a unit. Students to write down 3 words that represent how they are currently feeling about starting the unit, then 3 words to describe how they’d like to feel at the end. Chat in pairs about why they chose their words and what things they need to be aware of in themselves for this unit.

Pros: Super short – easily finished in 5-10mins. Really good to bring any concerns students have to the surface and tackle them head on!

Cons: Missing the analysis phase of “why” students feel that way….

 

3) Write a recipe

How to use it: Groups of students get massive poster paper and have to write a recipe following the prompts below. Encourage them to put “amounts” for the ingredients to encourage them to think about which things are most important! Then get students to share their recipes with others.

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Pros: I learned this from the wonderful Doreen Merola, this activity is beautifully creative and great for an end of term reflection (aka when the kids are a little wild but you want them to reflect 🙂 Or you just want to raise the energy!
Cons: Will take at least 20mins to do and share ideas with other students – but great as a one-off reflection!

4) Make a meme

How to use it: Students to create a meme (memegenerator.net) that describes how they’re currently feeling about the subject (with a short sentence to explain why they chose it!)

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Pros: Mega short and you’re kids are guaranteed to love it. You can also 100% set this one for a homework as they don’t need any support.
Cons: Not going to illicit any super deep and meaningful outcomes immediately (but if you do the same activity 6 months later seeing the changes can be interesting!)

5) Write a headline

How to use it: Students create a headline to describe the recent test/unit and write a short summary of why they picked it.

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Pros: Nice short activity that brings awareness to how they are feeling without the pressure to be super formal in their language.
Cons: Just focused on awareness and less so on what caused the feelings and how they could change that in the future.

6) Compare to something abstract

How to use it: Students compare the recently completed unit to an animal/cartoon character/song/ tv show…… and watch the magic happen!

If B1 was an animal what would it be?

“An owl because it was quite laid back and wise because it went over what we have previously done and wasn’t too much of a challenge till it started to do maths…”

 

Pros: Making it abstract causes the thinking to be deeper and true feelings to be shared.
Cons: Missing any chance for students to apply the analysis of the unit to a future situation.

7) Give choice

How to use it: (This isn’t really an activity…..sorry!) but if you want to do a written reflection then consider giving your students a choice of questions rather than dictating what they have to reflect on.

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Pros: Gives students more ownership of their reflections and you can mix up the questions that you make mandatory!
Cons: Because it’s a “written” reflection you’re quite likely to get responses about “studying harder” or “getting better grades.” Setting good expectations is hard!

8) Sketch a thermometer

How to use it: Students sketch out a set of thermometers with skills or qualities underneath them. For each skill they have to colour in where they currently rate themselves on the scale. They then have a conversation with their partner about why they selected the levels and which skill they want to work on most.

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Pros: Great for just before group work – gives students a skills-based focus (you can also get students to give feedback to each other after the project on how they did on their “focus skills” too!)
Cons: Does work at the end of collaboration pieces, but try to make sure they have another collaboration piece coming up soon so that they can put the reflection into practice.

9) Create a target

How to use it: Students fill in the sections of the target in small groups. Give them one prompt at a time and making sure they know which part of the target to fill in 🙂

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Pros: Good for when you think students are feeling demotivated. Focuses on the desired goals before thinking about the barriers and possible solutions (students often jump straight to solutions…) Super collaborative too!
Cons: Will take a good 10-15mins to do properly.

10) Ask “How was this conversation helpful to you?”

How to use it: Again not really an activity (but 10 was a wonderfully round number…) this completely changed my approach to reflections – thank you Cognitive Coaching! If you are doing some of the more collaborative reflection pieces then it can be difficult to record the conversation. After any of these activities ask students to write a quick summary of “how was this conversation helpful to you?” and you’ll be amazed by how well they articulate their responses!

“It was helpful to discuss how I’m feeling about this unit because it made me realise that I’m not the only one who feels this way, and that all of us do which can help us work together to feel confident after the unit.”

Pros: Students are forced to condense the conversation and focus on the learning that they want to take away.
Cons: Nothing! It’s an absolute winner 🙂


I hope you’ve found something here that might be helpful in your classroom.

If you have other super cool awesome reflection activities then I would love for you to leave a comment (maybe I’ll make an 11-20 one day!!!)

 

References:

Costa, A. L.  and Garmston, R., 2013. Cognitive Coaching Seminars®. Foundation Training  Learning Guide. 9th ed., © 2013 by Cognitive Coaching Seminars®

Anderson, J. and Costa, A. L., 2008. Is Your Instruction Habit Forming? In A. L. Costa and B. Kallick (Eds.). Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind: 16 Essential Characteristics for Success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, pp.69-96

The gift of mild confusion

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Imagine arriving at a train station in a completely new city and navigating your way to your hotel. If it’s a short distance most of us would just use google maps to navigate the journey and walk the quickest route. If the following day you lost your phone, there would almost certainly be some panic around how to get to the hotel even though you walked the exact same route the day before.

If you never owned a phone in the first place how would your behaviour be different? You would probably have written down directions from the hotel. You might look for landmarks or street names to help you to remember where to turn. You would also probably be more confused and disorientated than if you could just whip out your phone. It’d take you longer but you’d get there eventually. If you had to do the same journey on the second day (still phone-less) then you’d be feeling far more confident about where to go having worked it out the previous day.

2894984086_48a2f5a0e9_zTechnology has become our default. Having information at the touch of a button means that the “thinking” phase has vanished from many of our daily tasks. Learning anything new is the same as the journey – if we get told how something works then you have far less chance of remembering it the next time you have to do something similar.

My students love to memorise and just google anything that they don’t immediately know the answer to. They also love to panic whenever they’re given anything that is unfamiliar. My very British response to the situation went something like this…

‘They’re scared of new problems. Let’s give them loads of new problems .’

I learned the art of making my students confused, frustrated and generally annoyed (I definitely shouldn’t lead with that statement in an interview!). Of course, I’m still aiming for them to feel confident by the end of the topic, but the “mild confusion” stage has become an intrinsic part of my teaching style. 

For me, being a good scientist is all about thinking “hey I wonder how that works” or “that’s weird, I wonder what causes that”. The only way to get to that point is to purposefully create scenarios that you can’t immediately answer with your current understanding.

4067285877_b9b454a746_oAs students get more familiar with these scenarios I can genuinely see them becoming better scientists. I can feel the progress from unjustified guesses towards a state where students look for more than one factor that may be influencing the outcome and arguing about which factor will be the major one. In the same way, the more train stations you arrive into, the easier it becomes to navigate where to go. 

At the moment I’m thinking a lot about self-directed learning and allowing students to pace their own learning. When I’ve tried this I’ve found students just use Google to answer questions they don’t immediately understand and then they just end up back in ‘accept the answer and memorise it’ land.

How can you get students to embrace confusion when they’re in control of their own learning?