Rigor vs. Relevance…Who Wins?

Rigor vs. Relevance...Who Wins?Daggett’s Presentation

A week ago I had the privilege of attending a full-day presentation by Bill Daggett. If you ever have the opportunity to work with him, do it! Highly recommended! Prior to the presentation I had heard so much about his ability to engage an audience. So, I was as interested in watching a world-class presenter do his thing as I was in the content that he would bring to the table. In both regards, he did not disappoint.

The Turnkey

A few days after Daggett’s presentation, I had about 20 minutes during a district leadership meeting to turnkey some of what I had learned to other administrators. The Rigor Relevance Framework served as the focal point for this time. However, rather than simply showing and explaining, I took an approach that resembled how I instructed when I was a fourth grade teacher.

I simply displayed a version of the framework (pictured) for all to see, and had participants pair up to answer and discuss the following questions:

  1. What is rigor?
  2. What is relevance?
  3. What’s more important?

When we came back together as a group to share out, the dialogue that ensued amongst administrators was impressive. After a few minutes I was able to sit back, keep quiet, and watch almost everyone willingly engage in a debate that pitted the importance of rigor against the importance of relevance.

Think for a second how the chosen “instructional approach” can familiarize adults (and students) with this content (or comparable content) through collaboration, debate, and inquiry. Meanwhile, the other extreme, as previously mentioned, would be to show, explain, and then probably just jump to the next topic without any meaningful dialogue or assessment of understanding.

My Thoughts

Like any good teacher, eventually I tried to move on without offering up my own opinion, even after I was prompted to do so by our High School Assistant Principal. However, after being provoked a second time by our Coordinator of Technology, I announced something to the following effect:

As a classroom teacher the rigor drove the relevance. I knew that if my students were consistently exposed to activities that were challenging and unique, they would be engaged and therefore the content would be relevant to them. In general, I led with inquiry and tried to let the rest take care of itself.

I should also mention that I followed up with the disclaimer that this approach is what I thought worked for my students and me, and that mileage may vary based on different contexts.

In the End

Regarding this post, what is worth noting is not so much the Rigor Relevance Framework (although, definitely look into it) but rather the idea that every instance of educator professional development is another opportunity to model best practice. Even a short, 20-minute turnkey during a district leadership meeting is not the exception. Never hesitate to blur the lines between the way you facilitate educator learning and how you believe learning should be promoted in the classroom.

What unique approaches have you taken when planning/facilitating professional development? Also, what experience do you have with the Rigor Relevance Framework?

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Yes! Flip Your Classroom!

Yes! Flip Your Classroom!Dissonance.

According to dictionary.com, dissonance can be defined as “lack of agreement or consistency.”

From my research, it is one of the hallmarks of any successful organization.

In Good to Great Jim Collins declares:

Indeed, one of the crucial elements in taking a company from good to great is somewhat paradoxical. You need executives, on the one hand, who argue and debate – sometimes violently – in pursuit of the best answers, yet, on the other hand, who unify fully behind a decision, regardless of parochial interests.

As Ed Catmull states in Creativity Inc.:

It isn’t enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.

We most provoke, actively try to understand all contributions, and ultimately do what is best for “business.”

My Last Post

In my last post we took a look at the reasons why I refused to flip my fourth grade classroom. However, rather than speaking in blanket statements (which is something I have been warned not to do), I encouraged dissonance and contributions from others by asking readers to respond with opposing points of view. I then promised to include these ideas in a follow-up post.

After all…Blogging isn’t always about declaring yourself the expert, but rather leveraging your platform to provoke thinking and promote collaboration.

Here are the dissenting/somewhat dissenting responses, verbatim: (I should also mention that there were several blog comments and tweets that agreed with what I had to say…but that is not the point for this particular post.)

5 Responses

I am in my 3rd year of flipped learning and the thing I like best about it is having more meaningful relationships. When I lectured I talked to maybe 4-5 students per class, you know, the same ones that would always answer or ask questions while the others sat there passively. Now I am happy to say I have the opportunity to connect with all 24 students each and every day. The video is just the beginning, it is what goes on in class that is most important and flipped learning has given me that opportunity. – weltyteaching


4 years ago when I was under a strict pacing calendar, I found flipping to be my best bet. I was expected to cover a topic a day and assess on Fridays. I did not have time for exploration etc. Flipping afforded me the time in class to have conversations and target areas of need by placing students in ability groups to make good use of instructional time.

After two years of Common Core, my flipping looked very different and aligns nicely with Kyle’s thoughts. I would teach an exploration and make students struggle in class. Next I would send them home with a video that explains the algorithm and makes meaning of the math they struggled with in class. The next day, I would provide practice with the skills learned through the exploration and flipped video.

The in-class practice would be determined by a formative assessment where I would first see what students understood from the exploration and formative assessment then put students in ability groups. The formative assessment helped me group students based on need and target instruction accordingly. I don’t think anybody truly flipped their entire instructional practice. Just like good teaching, we assess what needs to be taught and find the best means for delivering that learning experience. – Julie Garcia


I teach math also and found that I love having a flipped classroom. Each day I am afforded the opportunity to teach my students to struggle with a concept they vaguely know about. This dynamic allows the kids to develop so many skills, mostly the 4 C’s. I spend a lot less time lecturing and a lot more time exploring. Almost every day I get to talk about gathering evidence and where can we go to collect evidence to help us with this concept. After piquing their interest, they can go home and watch the video and instructional piece that may be useful to them for solving the concept. – Chad


I have used the flipped classroom model when teaching IGCSE physics. However, I would not recommend this model as a general rule. In my case, I only flip the classroom when I feel it makes sense: when there is something that is not conceptually hard but requires extended practice. For example, when theory is extremely simple but problem solving can get complex. On the other hand, I prefer a more hands-on, inquiry-based approach when tackling more abstract concepts, for example that of the electric field. Unfortunately IGCSE coordinated science leaves very little time to cover an awful amount of content, which does not let me spend time developing things the way I would like.

I also find that the way problems are chosen is extremely important. I try to introduce two or three key ideas in the videos (which I record myself), which then get developed and extended by problem solving. It makes no sense to ask the same question over and over again with different numbers: questions have to challenge the students’ understanding and make them think. For example, if I were talking about Newton’s first law, I would make students consider situations where intuition and physics seem to give different answers, such as the fact that when you’re riding a bike at a constant speed forces are balanced, despite your feeling that you are making an effort: you’re just using all this energy to cancel air resistance, not to “move” the bike.

I also use hinge questions both at the start and at the middle of a lesson, where students use colored cups to show their answers. This helps me clarify common misconceptions before they take root.

As a corollary to your post, I would say that the model itself is less important: what’s important is being thoughtful about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. This is not an all-or-nothing affair: you can flip some lessons and not some others or you can flip part of a lesson. You can also use flipping as a redundant source of information for students who missed class or who need to constantly review.

PS This is the first time I comment here, but I find your blog a constant source of enjoyment. – Eduard Arroyo 



I commented on the Steven W. Anderson’s post that you reference here, and I will try to “sell” the idea of flipped learning in a similarly here as I did there.

In the beginning of flipping, the general idea of making videos as homework is what started, and that still is where the majority of people start. However, the term “flipped learning” has morphed into more of a focus on pedagogy. After writing a 30 page literature review for my Master’s work on flipped learning, I would say a better definition of flipped learning would be, “A teacher’s effort to critically analyze the content in their classroom and how it is taught. The teacher then makes the BEST effort to push lower level Bloom’s outside the classroom for students to self-explore/digest, in order to make MORE room inside the classroom for the upper levels of Bloom’s.” The lower levels consumed outside the classroom do NOT have to be videos (readings, discussion forum set up on an LMS, etc.). Where teachers will “fail” with flipping is by pushing lower levels out in order to make more room in class for more lower levels (skill and drill). The example you reference where a math teacher makes videos and then does word problems in class is an example of this. Students never get beyond the applying level of Bloom’s. Students need to work through Bloom’s in order to learn, period. How they work through that, and how LONG they work at each level is up to the teacher.

One key fact that became apparent in my literature review is when teachers pushed out lower levels and worked in MORE upper level activities (that is, activities where students are analyzing, evaluating, creating) INSIDE class time, students perceived the class and content to be more valuable. As a result, attendance went up as well as classroom achievement and cognitive engagement.

I have created a website based on my research. It is designed for teachers to self-lead a change from traditional teaching to flipped learning. Maybe it will also help paint a better picture than what I am doing here (http://jardo3.wix.com/flippedlearning). I co-teach a course for grad credit based on these same principles.

I run into people who failed at flipping and then absolutely reject the notion. If a teacher says videos followed by skill and drill is bad pedagogy, then I wholeheartedly agree and stand with them. But teachers must be willing to change this misconception in order to see what research has proven HIGHLY beneficial of flipped learning.

Love reading the other comments posted. Hopefully we can come to a common definition that reflects the true effectiveness of flipped learning.

Let me know if any of my resources helped. I’m considering putting down the money for a domain if teachers find it helpful and useful. – Jarod Bormann 


In the End

The end game is not trying to prove what is right and what is wrong. The end game is what is best for students. In order for our objective to be reached, often times we must provoke each other’s thinking, be candid, and embrace dissonance.

In short, according to one of the pillars of Google culture, “Consensus requires dissension.”

What are your overall thoughts on the significance of dissonance at work? How do you generally react when others do not agree with you? How do you encourage dissonance from your colleagues? Your students?

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Why I Refused to Flip My Classroom

Why I Refused to Flip My ClassroomA handful of years ago I was teaching fourth grade when the whole idea of the flipped classroom entered my radar. The Educause definition of the topic states:

The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.

In short, get the direct instruction out of the way so class time can be dedicated to problem solving.

The Problem

Front-loading direct instruction goes against everything that I believe in as an educator, and therefore, so does the way in which most classrooms are flipped.

For example, let’s take a look at adding fractions with common denominators. For homework, students can watch a clunky Khan Academy video, or something comparable, and be force-fed the proper formula (add numerators, denominators stay the same). Then, at later points in time, these students can complete numerous problems that are identical to what was shown in the video (with just the digits changed, of course).

Students may be able to get all of the problems correct, but does it really mean anything?

In what has been called parrot math, “this approach suggests that children mimic mindlessly what teachers [or videos] model with the hope that somehow the mimicry will lead to learning. Do parrots understand?”

Furthermore, will the ensuing exercises, projects, or discussion (on which the majority of class is spent) actually matter to students when they already have the “right” answers?

The Solution

According to John Van de Walle, “It is important to understand that mathematics is to be taught through problem solving.”

To clarify…There is a considerable difference between students learning as a result of problem solving vs. word problems that are thrown at students after they’ve already memorized the basics.

Let’s examine another approach to teaching fractions with common denominators. When I taught this concept my students interacted with several pairs of electronic fraction bars through a paint program, and each pair of bars was already divided up for them into equal parts (to signify common denominators). Students were able to manipulate or electronically fill in parts of the bars in order to come up with equations (e.g. 1/5 + 2/5 = 3/5, 4/10 + 3/10 = 7/10, etc.). After generating several equations, the students looked for patterns, and based on these patterns they were able to “uncover” the proper formula for adding fractions with common denominators while also being able to explain why it “worked.” After, students practiced using the formula by applying it to basic problems.

Although a decent amount of time was allocated to students uncovering the formula, it was time well spent as they developed a conceptual understanding of the content. Less time then had to be devoted to “drill and kill.”

As Van de Walle declared:

Then, by allowing students to interact with and struggle with the mathematics using their ideas and their strategies – a student-centered approach – the mathematics they learn will be integrated with their ideas; it will make sense to them, be understood, and be enjoyed.

In the End

First, I cannot recommend enough the books of John Van de Walle, as his work explains in the most concrete way possible what it means to facilitate inquiry-based mathematics. In my previous district, when we made the Common Core shift, every teacher across all seven elementary schools was provided one of his books.

Second, although there is definitely more than one way to flip a classroom, this post reflects the one method that I have most commonly seen and experienced throughout my career. Also, while I have used math as an example, I do believe that the same overall ideas apply to all subject areas.

Finally, no matter what the approach, I cannot help but think that flipping a classroom is developmentally inappropriate, especially for students at the elementary level. If we want our students to engage in productive struggle, inquiry, and the uncovering of formulas, I have a hard time believing that these objectives can be fulfilled by watching of videos in isolation (no matter what the videos contain).

Nonetheless, I realize that these beliefs reflect my teaching style and my experiences, and I would be willing to be bet that there are educators who have flipped their classrooms in ways that benefit their students. So, if you are one of these educators, please feel free to contact me/leave a comment with your approach, as I would love to include your work in a follow-up post.

What are your thoughts on the flipped classroom? How have you seen it implemented effectively? Was it just a passing fad that’s already had its day?

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The Problem with “Formative Assessment Tools” (part 2 of 2)

The Problem with %22Formative Assessment Tools%22 (part 2 of 2)In the previous post (part 1 of 2), we explored the fact that student response apps (Socrative, Kahoot!, Plickers, etc.) are often mislabeled as “formative assessment tools.” What makes them formative depends on the context in which they are used. Formative assessment is a process, and in order for a tool to play a part in this process the results/data it produces must be leveraged to differentiate instruction or learning.

The Problem

Now, let’s explore a second problem with these apps, which is the belief that they are not generally associated with higher-order thinking.

From what I have experienced, we are largely stuck in this rut when it comes to using student response tools, and there are two main reasons why:

  • For the most part, old school “student clickers” included only multiple-choice questions (and maybe a little something else), which is a format that tends to result in lower level questioning. It has been easy to copy and paste these inadequate practices (or questions) on to our newer technologies, even though these apps are capable of a whole lot more.
  • When it comes to classroom instruction, I also think it is easy to view student response tools as an all or nothing decision. Either the entire lesson is centered around their use, or they are not used at all. From what I have experienced (and have been guilty of as well), if these tools are the focal point of a class, chances are the students are simply answering one multiple-choice question after another (which aligns with the education world’s current fascination with hard, quantitative data). This means more lower level questions that travel in only one direction, from teacher to students. There is no encouragement of dialogue, collaboration, inquiry, etc. Everything is black and white, when we all know that higher-order thinking and inquiry-based learning are all about shades of grey.

The Solution

I do feel that multiple-choice and lower level questions have their place in the classroom, as higher-order thinking and inquiry are built on top of solid foundations and basic understandings. After all, you can’t think critically about nothing.

At the same time, I firmly believe that the majority of the questions asked in school, at the very least, should promote thought, curiosity and some level of exploration.

Here are two ideas as to how to encourage higher-order thinking with student response tools:

  • Flipped Clickers: Tony Wagner defines critical thinking as “the ability to ask the right question, ask really good questions.” In Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, the Distinguished level for Domain 3b (Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques) says, “Students formulate many questions, initiate topics, challenge one another’s thinking…” So, let’s flip the way student response tools our used by having students ask the questions. Overall, this shift can be accomplished by (1) the teacher promoting activities in which students have to respond with questions that they formulate (questions that can then be used creatively by the teacher to extend these activities), and/or (2) providing students with both student and teacher/administrative rights for as many tools as possible (for example, think small group literature circles in which students take turns leading the discussion). Just when you think you have all the answers, the students ask the questions.
  • Fewer Questions for a Deeper Understanding: One of the components of Danielson’s Domain 3b reads, “When teachers ask questions of high quality, they ask only a few of them and provide students with sufficient time to think about their responses, to reflect on the comments of their classmates, and to deepen their understanding.” This quote addresses head-on what needs to be done in order to promote cultures of thinking in our classrooms. Many lower level questions (such as those that accompany stories in basal readers), should be converted to only a few higher-order questions (with the help of something like Webb’s Depth of Knowledge), and around these questions thinking routines should be formed (in which student response tools do not serve as the focal point, but are used to assist in facilitating discussion and increase opportunities to respond). Additionally, teachers need explicit professional development on how to shift from lower level questions to rigorous thinking routines, rather than just focusing on converting questions from lower level to higher-order. A bunch of higher-order questions asked in the same exact way (with or without technology) as an equal number of lower level questions will do very little to deepen students’ understanding of what they are learning.

For both options, it is not an either/or decision regarding whether or not the response tools are used, but rather finding the appropriate level of technology integration to enhance or redefine student learning experiences.

In the End 

Once again, we need to emphasize pedagogy over technology by starting with the end in mind – higher-order questions and thinking routines – and then leveraging the tools that we have available to us in order for our students to arrive at the appropriate destination.

At the same time, we should keep in mind that although all educators are at different points on the learning curve when it comes to effectively integrating technology, the last thing we want is for instruction to be consistently inferior because technology just has to be included. Don’t try to cram a square peg into a round hole.

What are your thoughts on these apps? What are some unique ways in which you have seen them used to promote high-order thinking? Do you think there is a place for “flipped clickers” in the classroom?

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Two Presentations from Hershey

Last week I traveled a few hours to Hershey, Pennsylvania for three days of educational fun at the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference (PETE & C) 2015. Embedded below are the two slide decks that were used for the presentations that I conducted with Erin Murphy (@MurphysMusings5). Below each slide deck is a link to the session’s resources. Enjoy!



Common Core Math: Putting the “How” Before the “What”

This past Monday, Williamsport Area School District held a professional development day and I was asked to conduct my first presentation for the district, a one-hour kindergarten session on the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice.

At the time of the request I had already led several presentations on inquiry-based mathematics, but none of them had been geared toward kindergarten. I needed some kindergarten specific materials to accompany the materials I already had, so I leveraged the power of my PLN (personal learning network) in order to acquire quite a few outstanding resources. With a few tweets, Facebook posts, and phone calls I had what I needed to fill in the gaps. A special “Thank You” to Michele James (@echo432) and Brad Currie (@bradmcurrie) for truly going out of their way to help me out.

One hour was not a lot of time for the kindergarten team to have their first exposure to the Standards for Mathematical Practice. As a result I ended up going with a bit of a flipped classroom model, in which all of the resources were uploaded to a Google Drive folder and shared with the participants so they could access them later on at their convenience. Also, the majority of these teachers received the link to the folder a few days prior to the professional development day. In other words, I did what I could in order to “extend” the hour of face-to-face time (which is just good professional development practice in general).

A brief outline of the presentation was as follows:

    1. Illustrating why instructional shifts are necessary while (1) respecting the work that the teachers are already doing and (2) emphasizing changes because they are best for the students, not just because the Common Core says so.
    2. Discussing the relationship between the Content Standards and the Practice Standards, and why the “how” (instructional delivery) can be more important than the “what” (content).
    3. Unpacking of the Practice Standards – “For each Practice Standard, write one student friendly ‘I can’ statement that clearly and concisely ‘summarizes’ the standard.” Participants worked in small groups, and all groups recorded their statements in the same Google document. This method promoted collaboration between kindergarten teachers from different buildings, and now they can easily access each other’s work for use in their classrooms.
    4. Discussing productive struggle, problem solving, and what is means to have a deeper understanding of content. An emphasis was placed on doing problems vs. problem solving. The former approach has students apply already learned content to word problems, while the latter technique has students learning as a result of word problems and activities that often precede more direct instruction. We also looked at a few specific examples of how problem solving could be done, and also how teachers could reconfigure basic problems in order to make them more rigorous.
    5. Discussing instances in which drill and practice is appropriate.

Roughly three hours worth of content was planned, so not everything made it into the presentation. The day after the session I emailed to all participants a survey (created with Google forms), asking for feedback. The link to the survey is below, along with the link to all of the materials from the presentation. It should also be noted that I distributed only one paper handout, the Standards for Mathematical Practice, while the rest was available electronically. Whenever I present I try to include as few physical handouts as possible, which sends the message, “This is what is important!” and then educators are more likely to utilize what they have been provided.

Presentation Resources

Feedback Survey

Making Waves: Student Radio Broadcasts

Making WavesRight now, one of my classes is finishing up their current Language Arts project, Making Waves. This project, which was inspired by Colton Shone, a journalism student at Arizona State, requires students to create a radio broadcast through the use of Apple GarageBand. Everything is wrapped in the essential question, “What is an effective radio broadcast?”

Students complete the project in groups of two. The majority of their work is done in a Google document, and I created a template to provide them with a starting point. (To save a Google file as a template, access your files > right-click on your file of choice > Submit to template gallery. After, copy the template’s link and share it with your students.)

A PDF version of the template is here, and below is a shortened version of these directions:

Rubric Creation

    1. Each group listens to three radio broadcasts from Colton Shone, one at a time. For each broadcast a table is filled out in which students (1) list features that should be included in an effective radio broadcast, and (2) describe how the broadcast has included each one of these features (evidence).
    2. Students call upon all of their information (from the previous step) in order to create a definitive list of features that should be included in an effective radio broadcast. Once each group has shared their information with the class, the teacher synthesizes all of the work in order to create a project rubric.

As a class, we decided that broadcasts should include such features as:

    • broadcasters speaking in a way that fits the mood of the story
    • guest appearances from at least two different people from the event
    • questions and answers that are thick, relevant, and realistic
    • music and sound effects, which add to the broadcast’s realism and enhance the story being told

Script Creation

    1. Each group chooses a historical event and then finds two noticeably different written accounts of the event. The teacher must approve of both the event and the accounts.
    2. Students synthesize the information from the two accounts in order to create an on location radio broadcast of the event, while referring to the project rubric for requirements.
    3. Before recording their broadcasts in GarageBand, students create a script (with the help of a few mini-lessons and a sample script). The teacher must approve of the script prior to its recording.


While creating an effective radio broadcast, students apply many Language Arts related skills. These include, but are not limited to:

    • researching for two different, yet credible written accounts of the same topic
    • dissecting the important information from two written accounts, by distinguishing the significant information from the trivial (summarizing)
    • synthesizing select information from the two accounts, which is a vital research skill
    • creating a polished script through the use of details, strong word choice, varied sentences, and proper spelling and grammar

Students have chosen such topics as the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl (the first time), the release of the original iPhone, the opening of Harry Potter World, Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, and the sinking of the Titanic. At this point in time, the majority of the groups are working on polishing up their broadcasts in GarageBand, while I show them how to download free sound effects from websites and import them into their work. I look forward to wrapping everything up and providing students with the opportunity to publish and share their creations.