Siemens and the Flipped Classroom

2014-06-24 11.39.17During my trip to Germany with The Center for International Understanding (@GlobalCIU) and 32 other educators, we had the opportunity to visit the Siemens (@Siemens) Professional Education Center in Berlin, Germany.

Before I really sell home my idea…here is a rundown of what you could expect as a teacher or student in the Siemens Professional Education Center.

  • The average age of the first year student seemed to be around 20, but I met some 18 years old and some 25 year olds who were just getting started.
  • The Siemens Professional Education Center is a cross-over between a trade school, a community college, and a 4-year college.  Students have completed high school (and some even college) and they are learning a unique skill set (electrical engineering, mechanics, etc.).
  • These students are being trained to join the Siemens workforce, but theoretically, their training would allow them to work for any company offering the same job they are being trained for.  Their education is highly specified for Siemens, but the core principals can be applied in any similar setting.  As a Siemens’ teacher pointed out, his students should be able to walk into any factory and identify and fix any problem with a production assembly line.
  • Lecture/lessons is always accompanied by intensive, collaborative, problem-based learning projects.
  • Team work is a STRONG focus at Siemens.
  • They have just started an international program, but you are expected to learn German within two months.
  • Teachers are very highly respected and the environment appeared more relaxed than traditional American schools.
  • Many of the teachers (if not all) were products of the same school.
  • Siemens spends millions of dollars on their professional training center in Berlin.  When asked, “what is their monetary return for their company on this huge financial investment?,” the director of the Siemens Educational Department replied, “our future.”
  • Knowledge is important at Siemens, but the vast majority of the knowledge is obtained through practice and real-life application, which leads me to my overall point…

I noticed more and more that what Siemens prides itself on about its Professional Education Center are the same principals that are rooted in the flipped classroom.  The flipped classroom – if done correctly – works so well because of the focus on real-life application.  Students are provided with a small amount of basic content via videos, VoiceThread, or any other multimedia.  Then the students are asked to investigate a topic even further and deeper and apply what they learn through that investigation to a larger, more applicable problem.  A flipped classroom allows for a problem-based learning environment that many teachers say they do not have time for, and Siemens also recognizes the value in a similar approach.

Siemens incorporates the flipped classroom ideals (minus the videos) in an effort to help their students become highly successful and knowledgeable employees.  Flipped classroom teachers incorporate the videos, the investigation, and the application in an effort to help their students become highly successful and knowledgeable citizens (assuming we never mention standardized testing).  Slightly different outcomes with very similar processes.

***The picture above features a once gas-powered car that was converted to an electrical-powered car by students at Siemens.


Germany Blogposts

2014-06-23 08.31.21I was fortunate enough to spend roughly 9 days traveling throughout Germany with 34 other amazing North Carolina educators as we studied the German education system.  The trip was sponsored by The Center for International Understanding (@GlobalCIU), and they did a great job of putting together an exhausting but incredibly informative trip.  I learned so much about what the German education system has to offer its students, teachers, and communities.  The next few blogposts are dedicated to what I learned in Germany – both red flags and achievements.

Just a few highlights…

~We heard many times that Germany could not depend on itself to produce much due to its lack of renewable resources.  The energy sources are just not available in their country to produce at a high volume unless they depended on an alternate source.  This meant that the German education system prided itself on helping students think creatively and independently to solve this issue.  Their renewable resources are the minds of their people.

~Some students have the opportunity to work directly with companies like Siemens and participate in a company internship along with their regular class studies.  In a nutshell, they went to school at work and went to work at school.  Companies like Siemens spends billions of dollars on their education department to allow for students to apply what they know.  When asked, “what is their monetary return on this huge financial investment?,” the director of the Siemens Educational Department replied, “our future.”

~In Baden-Württemberg, Germany, which is a federal state similar in population size to North Carolina, the spending budget for education is $40 billion.  Do I even need to mention how much North Carolina spends? (this year’s proposal is around $8 billion)

~Germany has an entire branch of their educational system dedicated to helping students develop a tradecraft.  What a novel idea?  However, their system isn’t perfect, and I will explain in later posts.

~Germany values conservative teaching methods and pedagogy.

~”Handlungskompetenz” is a common buzz word throughout many German schools that means having a well-rounded competence of a variety of skills.  This concept applies to students and teachers.

~Personal responsibility is huge in Germany. You are expected to rise to the occassion, and if you don’t, then you suffer the consequences.  This idea is noticeable throughout all of Germany, but I want to visit what this looked like in schools.

Needless to say, I have a lot to write…stay tuned!

Common Curriculum Lesson Planner

Are you tired of plan books? Sick of word documents? Tired of 3 inch binders?  Common Curriculum takes all the frustration of lesson planning away.

If you aren’t amazed by the potential of after watching the video, then watch it again!

Here is just an abbreviated list of what is possible in Common Curriculum:

More Homework Meme

So I’ve been given homework to complete on my own blog.  Who does that?  This guy does that!  But it’s okay…I’ve been meaning to get back to this blog, but life happens.  The goal of this homework is to share a little bit about myself. In order to finish my homework, I have to complete three different tasks, but I changed task #3.

The first task?  Share 11 random facts about me that you don’t know:

  1. I went to Grimsley High School in Greensboro, NC.  Their mascot was the Whirlie, which was originally the Whirlie Bird. Lamest mascot in athletics…period.
  2. I’m a smelly guy.  Not that I physically smell, but I have a hyper-sensitive nose.  My family would tell you that it’s obsessive, but if it stinks, I will febreeze the mess out of it.  If my clothes smell funny, I will wash them immediately.  My wife has embraced it.
  3. I’ve been to Europe twice (lucky guy…I know).  I’ve visited London, Paris (twice), Munich, Rome, Berlin, and Vienna (that’s in Austria).  I would move to Rome tomorrow.
  4. Growing up, I thought I was going to be a minister, and then I discovered education.  Every now and then I think about going to seminary, and then something awesome happens in a classroom.
  5. Halloween is my favorite holiday.  What other day of the year is it okay to scare anyone and binge eat candy?
  6. My wife’s grandparents lived just around the corner from me growing up.  I used to cut through their yard without them knowing to reach a neighborhood playground.  My wife’s high school and my high school were in the same conference and we both played sports and had friends who played sports.  My wife’s parents went to the same high school as me.  My wife and I never met until we both attended NC State.
  7. My grandfather taught at T.C. Williams High School, the school from Remember the Titans. #strongside #leftside
  8. I have a huge sweet tooth.  Right now I’m diggin’ Sour Patch Berries candy.
  9. I hated all roller coasters as a kid.  Just got the courage to ride them when I was in college.  My parents took us to Six Flags over Atlanta and I rode the Superman roller coaster.  So the courage is there, but now I get unbearable motion sickness.  I passed out before the ride was over.  Now I take dramamine before I get on rides so I have a tendency to fall asleep standing up in the long lines.  It’s tough to be Luke Miles at theme parks.
  10. I have always wanted to act, and I also have a secret affinity for musicals (seen a lot and like most of them).
  11. My family says I make this one particular sound (like a grumbling laugh, which is a cross between Bane and Santa).  Apparently, I make it all the time, but I have no idea what they are talking about.

The second task? Answer the questions given to me by that guy I mentioned above.

  1. If you could teach anywhere in the world (other than your current location), where would it be? As I stated in #3 above, I would move to Rome tomorrow.  I’m sure I could get a job teaching over there…if not…that’s okay.  I wouldn’t stress too much about because…come on…it’s Rome.
  2. Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Green Lantern?  Why? Is this even a fair question? Absolutely..all the time…every day…BATMAN! All the others have super powers.  Batman gives all other regular joes (like you and me) a little bit of hope that we may be able to do what no other human can do.
  3. What is your favorite comedy movie of all time? Life of Brian…absolutely hilarious, and I watched it with my minister.
  4. Would you rather have the super power of invisibility or flying? Invisibility would be cool especially if you are able to walk through walls when you are invisible.  I get pretty bad motion sickness (see #9 above) so I doubt flying would be the best thing for me.
  5. If you could drink milkshakes with any person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would it be? Real – President Abraham Lincoln, Fictional – President Abraham Lincoln, the Vampire Slayer
  6. Favorite dipping sauce? Chick-fil-A Barbecue Sauce
  7. What one quality is your greatest asset? My sense of humor gets me around pretty well.  I like to think that having an adaptable sense of humor allows me to socialize with just about anyone.
  8. Put in order of most awesome to least: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, The Lone Ranger, Walker Texas Ranger, Galaxy Rangers, Army Rangers. Walker Texas Ranger (I put him first because I know we all know what would happen to me if I didn’t #chucknorris), Might Morphin Power Rangers (really I think they should be first, but don’t tell Chuck Norris), Army Rangers, The Lone Ranger (movie was lame), Galaxy Rangers (who?)
  9. What is the best way to reduce the number of school shootings in the United States? I think a combination between gun laws, more efficient school security, raising awareness for mental health, and prayer would take us a long way to helping us with this problem.  It’s one of the saddest stories I read in the news way too often.
  10. What mobile app do you use the most often? Twitter, Chrome, and Calendar are all tied at the top
  11. On a scale of 1 to 10, how dope do you dance The Robot? Been dancing the ‘bot since 1995 so an 8…pretty dope.

Since I started this homework, I was tagged by another colleague (this gal!) therefore I am changing the third task.  So I’m going to do a little something unorthodox with this homework.  Instead of passing the blogpost to other bloggers, I am going to answer her 11 questions as well since the majority of bloggers I follow have been tagged for this homework and many of them have completed it.  I’m sorry for breaking the chain, but I hope you enjoy the extra answers.

  1. What is the one biggest challenge you face in the classroom that has a solution? I am actually no longer in the classroom, but one of the biggest challenges I face as an Instructional Technology Facilitator is convincing teachers to work with me.  They are really pressed for time to get through the curriculum so fitting me in is a little tough, but I have a few leads 🙂
  2. What character from a book, movie, or television are you most like and how so? I’ve been told that I remind people of Luke Wilson…it could just be the name.
  3. What’s something other people really seem to like that you think is either totally pointless or a waste of time? My teammate for life, Sarah Baker, will kill me for this, but I just can’t get into Yoga despite being surrounded by yogies for much of my life.  I’m going to try again in 2014 (it’s my New Year’s Resolution) because I know it’s good for centering, de-stressing, and many other things.
  4. Are you a “dog person” or a “cat person”? Dog person all the way.
  5. If you could time travel to any time period in history for one week, when would you choose and why? As I stated above, I would love to spend a week with Abraham Lincoln.
  6. Favorite type of candy? See random fact #8
  7. If you could live forever, would you? Why/why not? Absolutely not.  Knowing that my time on Earth is limited and out of my hands, motivates me to positively contribute to the all the circles I run in.
  8. In which House would The Sorting Hat have placed you at Hogwarts? Feel free to use this Sorting Hat QuizHufflepuff – 12, Ravenclaw – 12, Gryffindor – 11, Slytherin – 7
  9. On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about sushi? If 1 is the worst, then I’m a 1.  If 10 is the worst, then I’m a 10.
  10. What’s your favorite tech tool for the classroom? The new I’m going to try out is Touchcast.
  11. You’ve just received an unexpected $5,000. What would you do with it? Buy something cool for my wife and myself, and then I would save the rest.

Podcast #4 – Online Learning vs. The Traditional Classroom

Listen to Podcast #4


As a traditional 8th grade SS teacher by day and an online graduate student by night, I have first hand experience in the ongoing debate of online classes vs. traditional classes.  I have been convinced that online education is the way to go, and then I live, see, and experience the benefits of traditional classes and I’m back on the fence again.  For the sake of discussion, I see a lot of value in both, and I think more than anything it depends on the student and how they lean.  With a great teacher, a traditional classroom for most students is irreplaceable.

Obviously, there is a lot of value in online education.  Online classes provide a unique opportunity that traditional classes do not.  For example, students can access the material at any time.  In online environments, students can work more at their own pace and have much more time to accomplish various tasks.  Various learning styles can be incorporated into the online curriculum so that many students can be successful at the same activity because they are allowed to demonstrate what they learned in a variety of different ways.  The activities have to be student-centered in online learning.  Also, since students are accessing materials using their own computer more often than not resources are not an issue when teaching and learning.  Students can collaborate in unique ways that are more closely related to 21st century workforce skills.  Students can communicate in ways that are more similar to the communication skills needed to succeed in an ever-connected world.

However, even with all of the pedagogical benefits of online learning, as a current classroom teacher I see and experience so many non-educational benefits of the traditional classroom that I have yet to experience as a student in online environments.  Traditional classrooms – with good teachers – instill students with passion, interests, relationship skills, and a host of other attributes that students need in order to be contributors to our society.  I consider these skills and emotions to be a part of the hidden curriculum of traditional education.  For example, teachers teach students to be organized, confident, passionate, compassionate, etc. or at least we try to.  You would be hard pressed to find those skills taught in just about online environment.

Not too mention, students learn to communicate face to face.  They learn how to read one another and know how to respond and act.  They learn how to troubleshoot social situations.  In traditional classrooms, students learn to cope, prioritize, organize, and succeed.  Sure they can experience some of these things in online environments, but it’s not the same.  Seeing a teacher show how proud they are of a student is not as meaningful as reading comments in an online grade book.  Working with other students face to face and physically getting your hands dirty in a chemistry lab is not the same as simulating a lab in a Google Hangout. 

You see online learning does have a long lasting and much needed place in education.  Students benefit greatly in online learning environments and they need to learn those skills, but nothing will be able to replace the intangibles learned in the classroom. 

WordPress – Why It’s More than Just Web 2.0

Ever since my college days, I have been an avid user of WordPress.  Some might say I am a WordPress fanboy.  I currently host my personal blog on WordPress (the one you are reading).  Trust me…any avid reader of my blog knows that I have experimented with multiple hosting solutions for this blog, but I always come back to WordPress.  It’s the best solution out there in my opinion.

In addition to my own personal use, I have been using WordPress at my school for the past 3 years.  About 3 years ago, a colleague – who I have seemed to mention a lot lately – came to me about the idea of using WordPress Mu to host our school website and provide websites to teachers and students.  Prior to that conversation, my colleague and I recently attended NCTIES and listened to @samandjt give a talk about how he had launched WordPress Mu at his school and his teachers, students, and parents were reaping the benefits.  Needless to say, when @mrscienceteach approached me about piloting WordPress Mu at our school, I was hooked.

Since WordPress Mu was incredibly successful, WordPress Mu is no longer a separate WordPress project and they dropped the Mu.  The same process is now referred to as Multisite or MS.  I believe that WordPress is one of the many tools (like most other blogging platforms) that students should have a basic of understanding of by the time they leave school.  In the past, Microsoft Word, Excel, and Powerpoint were the three main tools we taught students, but now teachers should be showing their students multiple creative tools such as WordPress to help students showcase what they have learned and how they have applied it.

At my school, we currently use WordPress as a our homepage as well as for teacher websites.  Of course, there are a few teachers who are resistant to WordPress and continue to use other website tools like SchoolNotes, but those that have bought in love it.  The Multisite or Network Admin feature allows me the ability to troubleshoot any problems that may arise for any teacher as well as post any upcoming news, major events, or announcements that our community needs to know.  The troubleshooting feature takes the fear away from teachers trying new things within WordPress without the fear of breaking it since I am there to help.

However, the part that I love the most is the collaboration component of WordPress.  With the ability to embed videos, pictures, polls, etc. into WordPress posts and pages, students can access tons of information without ever leaving my website.  For most of my posts and pages, I allow students to comment on the items I have posted creating a threaded discussion about whatever we are learning in class.  Commenting on my website has allowed me, as a teacher, to see the different stages of learning for my students and catch their “ah-ha” moments when they are discussing whatever I have posted related to class.  We have a geometry teacher who is using WordPress as a discussion board to work through theorems.  We have other teachers holding discussions on civic and government issues.  Other teachers use the commenting features as a way for students to ask questions.

Off and on for the past 2 years, we have dabbled with the idea of WordPress portfolios for student work.  While the portfolio aspect of WordPress has died down due to teacher turnover recently, the portfolio concept is not something I’m giving up on just yet.  The key to the portfolios is to have the students create a WordPress blog during their 6th grade year as a place to share, comment, and archive their work throughout the year.  Then when they move onto 7th and 8th grade, they continue to use the blog creating a portfolio of their work over the course of their middle school experience.  The portfolio component of WordPress is a great way for students, parents, and teachers to see the evolution of learning as the students moved from 6th grade to 8th grade.  At the end of the 8th grade year, if students want to keep their portfolio going, we can export the file and put it on a flash drive for them.  Then they can create their own WordPress blog and upload the file to keep their portfolio going into high school.

All in all, I think WordPress is one of the best tools out there that a school can utilize to enhance communication, improve website layout, create teacher websites, and create students portfolios.  It’s time for schools to begin looking past the flashy web 2.0 tools like Glogster and Prezi and begin to use tools like WordPress and Edmodo that improve the community and greater good of school.  Sure Glogster and Prezi are cool and useful, but in reality, they are showy presentation tools that do not do much more than that.  If schools begin using innovative tools that incorporate collaboration, scaffolding, communication, presentation, etc., students will be much more equipped to succeed outside of our classrooms both digitally and personally.

Podcast #3 – Digital Citizenship Defined by #edchat

Listen to Podcast #3


For my third podcast, I thought I would incorporate my latest blogpost regarding #edchat and discuss one of the recent #edchats I participated in called “Digital Citizenship.”  The question posed for the October 2nd, 7:00 pm #edchat was “How do we define good Digital Citizenship, and what are specific things teachers can do to support that outcome for students?”  Obviously, this is a topic that prominently emerged within the last 5 years.  The concept of digital citizenship has been around for a while, but in the past, teachers and schools combatted the issue by simply not letting students online.  However, as we have slowly seen the advantages of using online tools in the classroom, we have started to scale back the filters.  With that scale back comes the responsibility of teaching and protecting our students about online use and their own digital footprint.

With the push in Internet Safety among our students in part due to the 21st Century Act that was passed recently, our teachers are tasked with teaching students what good “Digital Citizenship” looks like.  One of the problems raised over and over again in this week’s #edchat was that teachers are not sure what Digital Citizenship really is or how they teach good digital citizenship.  As I mentioned earlier, it’s a fairly new concept for most teachers because it just came down the pipe a few years ago. 

Many of the participants were concerned that “digital citizenship” was going to become one of those words like “meaningful learning” and “connected educator” that is poorly defined even though we now consider both of those to be essential staples in today’s classroom.  Even though digital citizenship remains poorly defined, teachers also have to combat the fact that their idea of digital citizenship can be different from someone else’s idea of digital citizenship.  Just like everything else that emerges within education, teachers have to figure out the best way to fit “digital citizenship” into their classroom curriculum.  The law says it has to be taught, but how it is taught and the best way to teach it is up to the teacher.

After tweeting out the concerns surrounding the definition of digital citizenship and the concerns about teaching the concept to students, the conversation shifted to setting parameters for the term.  Most people agreed that digital citizenship meant leaving a strong, positive, contributing digital footprint.  Teachers need to help students see that what they do online never disappears, and that is completely okay if students are positively contributing to whatever online environment they are participating in.  However, even with the groundwork laid, teachers continued to offer up extended definitions of digital citizenship related to cyber bullying, filtering, facebook, twitter, etc.

Finally, mixed throughout the entire #edchat conversation were suggestions of specific things that teachers can do to help our students meet the outcome of what we defined as digital citizenship.  Almost every contributor offered up some sort of variation of modeling.  Modeling is long lasting and time-tested strategy that works well for most students.  Teachers model a certain behavior and students mimic or follow that model thus meeting the teacher’s expectations.  One teacher noted that teachers who participate in #edchat and contribute in a positive manner on twitter instead of gossiping are modeling good digital citizenship.  One of the foremost experts on all things tech, @web20classrom Steven Anderson, tweeted that “Digital Citizenship/Ethics are normally stand alone lessons and activities when they should be woven into the curriculum. “ 

With that being said, I would agree with my colleague, Steven Anderson, that students should be taught this concept by working it into our everyday lesson plans.  Digital citizenship is a huge component of the 21st century curriculum and one that all teachers need to begin to embrace.  No matter how you define it, digital citizenship is here to stay.