Thursday, August 30, 2012

Brain-Friendly Learning

Emotions, feedback, and past experiences play a vital role in learning and memory. When memories evoke strong emotions within us, we tend to remember them in vivid detail. Our brains are designed to recall emotional memories much more than neutral ones. Emotions are stored in our more primitive limbic systems, which are activated more quickly than our prefrontal cortex, which is where higher reasoning and rational thought occurs. This is why an emotional memory can be recalled more quickly than bland information. This has probably evolved to help us survive. For instance, when our ancestors were chased by saber-toothed tigers in the more primitive, caveman days, remembering that tigers are dangerous was critical for future survival, provided that the caveman escaped the first tiger chase. Thus, the emotion of fear that the caveman felt upon being chased by the tiger was particularly helpful because the fear would help the caveman remember not to go near tigers again in the future. In addition, the more intense the emotion experienced, the more likely the person will never forget that experience ever again. Teachers can use emotions to their advantages to help students remember certain topics by linking them to students’ emotional responses. 

Providing a lot of detailed feedback for the students helps motivate them because their mistakes are corrected relatively quickly. For this strategy to be effective, it is best to give feedback as quickly as possible. All humans have an intrinsic motivation for doing tasks to the best of their ability. Teachers can tap into that intrinsic motivation by providing constructive feedback for the students. Teachers must be sure to use both positive feedback and specific, corrective feedback. If only corrections are suggested, the student tends to feel like he did a bad job and may not want to try for fear of failure in the future. Positive and specific reinforcement is critical.

Tapping into students’ backgrounds and past experiences is key in helping them learn new material and integrate into their brains in a meaningful and long-term manner. Our brains like to categorize new information. When we can relate new information to something we’ve learned in the past, it helps our brains organize that information, making it easier to remember it in the future. In addition, students may be more interested if the content relates to previous experiences since it’s likely to relate to their personal interests and hobbies.

TPE 8: Learning About Your Students

Sousa, D. A. (2009). Brain-friendly learn­­­ing for teachers. Educational Leadership, 66, Retrieved from 4 Identify Role for Learning & Motivation

Mastery Learning

Mastery teaching allows all students to achieve higher levels of academic learning, regardless of their learning style or ability. Students are allowed to take multiple assessments in order to master the material, giving each student a sense of achievement, whether it took them one time, or three, to master the material. Assessments are used very frequently, about once a week, in order to verify what the students have learned and determine what areas need improvement. Because of this, teachers are able to give more feedback to students, allowing them to correct their mistakes and progress more quickly. Students who master the material more quickly than other are engaged in enrichment activities, where they have exciting opportunities to expand their learning. 

A diagnostic pre-assessment is often administered to determine where the students are coming from and how much they know, or don’t know at the beginning of the unit. The teacher can determine what deficiencies need to be targeted before presenting content (or what can be glossed over, if the students come in with more knowledge than anticipated). Thus, the content can be tailored specifically to fit the students’ needs. 

A formative assessment (or progress monitoring) helps the teacher monitor how well the students are learning the material being presented. They are usually given 1-2 weeks after the material was presented. 

Corrective instruction follows the formative assessment. The teacher analyzes the results of the formative assessments to determine what areas students still need help in. Then, the teacher uses different approaches to accommodate different student learning styles to reinforce the learning. It is not “reteaching”, which usually just repeats the original material more slowly. Instead, the material is presented differently, perhaps through cooperative learning groups.

The parallel formative assessment is the assessment given after the corrective instruction. This provides the teacher with useful feedback to ensure the students now understand the material that they were having difficulties with before. It allows students who didn’t get it the first or second time around to have another shot at achieving the learning. This also boosts self-esteem and motivation because all students feel successful, even if takes some longer to reach the same level of understanding as other students.

Enrichment activities are designed for more advanced students who understand the material more quickly than other students. Instead of allowing these students to move ahead and then be out of sync with the rest of the class, the advanced students engage in additional projects, or activities, to enhance or broaden their understanding of the concepts. This strategy also prevents these students from becoming bored. For instance, advanced students might be involved in peer tutoring, or researching a topic of interest to them and preparing a creative movie about that topic.

TPE 3: Interpretation and Use of Assessments

Gusky, T. R. (2010). Lessons of mastery learning. Educational Leadership, 68(2), 52-57. Retrieved from

Differentiation Strategies

Differentiation strategies allows all students in an inclusive classroom to learn more effectively because they are presented with different avenues to understanding the content, regardless of their unique learning differences. For instance, three differentiation strategies for presenting the content material might include: an oral presentation to appeal to auditory learners, a supplemental handout, which appeals to visual learners, and a hands-on activity to appeal to the kinesthetic learners. In addition, all students benefit from having content presented in different modalities since the brain is activated in different ways, making it more likely that the brain will retain the information. Differentiating the content requires administering a pre-assessment to determine what students know and don’t know. The teacher than adjusts the content presented accordingly, depending on whether students need more background information, or can skip ahead.

Differentiation strategies for the process allow students to use different techniques to learn the content being presented. These strategies might include: individual vs. whole class or small group work, taking notes, or using a graphic organizer or Venn diagram to visually represent the information. Again, the strategy selected depends on the student’s unique learning styles. A kinesthetic learner might benefit from taking notes; an auditory learner might benefit from text on audio; a visual learner might learn the content best by creating a mindmap.

Differentiation strategies for the product allow students to choose how to demonstrate their mastery of the content. Different assignment options are presented, and the student picks one, depending on their particular interests, background, and learning styles. These strategies might include: creating a poster, making a board game, presenting an oral report, or writing an essay.

Differentiation Strategy Chart
Connor, who has a learning disability. He has been diagnosed with ADHD.

Connor is fidgety and likes to move around a lot. He has a hard time focusing for long periods of time and tends to forget new information easily. He needs to sit in the front of the class and needs material presented in small bits (chunking) to help remember.

He learns best by listening to the teacher explain concepts, examples, taking notes and doing hands-on projects (auditory and kinesthetic).

Connor loves to play soccer. His favorite food is watermelon.
Learn what the scientific  method  is and why it’s useful in helping scientists design experiments.

Listen to a presentation prepared by the teacher while taking Cornell notes.
Connor will sit in the front to make it easier to pay attention.
Use chunking to learn vocab (limit to 5 words a time). Prepare flashcards.

PRODUCT: Students can choose to:
  1. Do a lab
  2. Make a poster
  3. Write an essay
  4. Present an oral speech
CONTENT differentiation is based on Connor’s readiness because of his ADHD.

PROCESS differentiation is based on Connor’s readiness because of his ADHD.

LEARNING ENVIRONMENT is based on Connor’s readiness because of his ADHD (he sits in the front).

PRODUCT differentiation is based on Connor’s readiness because of his ADHD and learning profile since Connor can choose his assessment task. 

TPE 4: Making Content Accessible.

Della Vedova, T. (2009). Teacher pd: Using differentiated instruction to teach differentiated instruction. Retrieved from

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Flipped Classrooms (Part II)


This article relates to TPE 5: student engagement.
Flipped classrooms, in brief, is when the student watches the prepared lectures at home, and then works on assignments, group projects, discussions, and other hands-on activities in class. The teacher prepares her lectures, usually in a video format. The students’ assignments are to watch the lecture and take notes before class. Class time is saved for more engaging activities where the students are learning by doing. Research has found that lecturing is the least effective way to learn (only 10% of what you hear is retained). The idea behind a flipped classroom is that learning in class is more effective since students are learning by getting their hands dirty. The teacher’s role in a flipped classroom is to guide the students in their in-class assignments. Because students are often working in pairs or small groups when in class, the teacher has more of an opportunity to assist students one-on-one and tailor her teaching style to each student’s individual. This is particularly advantageous in today’s inclusive classroom, full of students with diverse backgrounds and needs. 
What are the advantages of a flipped classroom?
Now that I’m student teaching, I can see first-hand the pitfalls of in class lectures. The trouble with lectures is that the students are learning passively. Students are often bored and fail to participate, or worse, misbehave. There is such little time in class to cover material that lectures are often rushed. I am often left wondering how much of the lecture actually got into the students’ heads. My guess is very little. I love the idea of preparing my lectures ahead of time, pairing my recorded audio with a visual presentation, and sending students home with a video lecture to watch. The idea is that students are made responsible for trying to learn the content beforehand, on their own, returning to class with specific questions so that the teacher can focus on confusing material as well as reinforce the learning through hands-on activities. In addition, using a flipped classroom approach to teaching appeals to today’s, modern tech-savvy students, who are already intimately familiar with digital devices. In addition, students who miss class due to illness, sports, or other activity can catch up more easily.

What are the disadvantages to a flipped classroom?
Although flipped classrooms are a great idea, teachers must foreshadow potential pitfalls. For instance, most students have not yet become responsible for their own learning. Ask students to watch a lecture at home, and most will fail to follow instructions without additional reinforcements. To ensure that students actively watch the videos, teachers must assign a worksheet or require students to take notes. Teachers can then grade the worksheets or notes for credit to ensure the students are actively listening and come to class prepared to learn. Also, one great tool that goes along with on-line lectures is that teachers can leave an area e-mails and comments. This can help teachers identify confusing areas to focus on in class. In addition, it’s another tool to ensure students are actively engaged in the lectures. For instance, I can require that each student ask 1-3 questions about the lecture after viewing. The flipped classroom approach may be better suited to honors students who are already responsible learners and faithfully complete their assignments. In addition, not all students have access to a computer at home. I have to ensure that each student is equipped with the necessary tools to watch the lectures and complete the assignments at home. Students without a computer or internet access can be provided with a DVD. 

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012, June 12). Why flipped classrooms are here to stay. Education Week. Retrieved from   

See the other article I wrote on flipped classrooms. 



I met Mr. Michael Butler, a biology teacher at Mission Hills High School, the week before school started, August 15th, for in-service days. We discussed how to co-teach at different stages during the semester, and hashed out the first week of school, which began August 20th. We clicked right away, discovering that we both had similar educational philosophies and approaches to teaching. He’s been very respectful of my previous teaching experience, my doctorate in cell biology, and background in the scientific field. Mr. Butler has also encouraged me to share my resources with him and is excited about some of my ideas. He’s been wonderful at giving me feedback after each class in a very gentle and constructive way. I’ve already had the opportunity to co-teach with Mr. Butler for the first week of school, and it’s been fantastic.

1.      How many times per week will you want to meet for planning?

Let’s meet during my prep hour, 2nd period, daily: Tuesday through Friday. Also, since we don’t teach together until 5th and 6th period, we can discuss briefly during lunch how the lesson will unfold for that day and whether or not any changes need to be made. This will be perfect since I teach a bio class right before, during 4th period. Then, we can meet after 6th period to finalize the details for the next days’ plans.

2.      What are your requirements for written lesson plans?
         I don’t have any requirements but I’m happy to help with the lesson plan requirements of CSUSM. I have a file cabinet full of materials for each unit, which you are free to use.

3.      What are your most important goals for this semester?

         My biggest goal is for these students to learn that biology is exciting and fun. Most of the students in bio class are incoming freshman that have opted not to take an honors bio, or higher level science course. They are required to take 2 years of science to graduate so a lot of them are doing it because they have to.

4.      What grading procedures do you use?

         A general rule of thumb I use is to grade them based on how long it takes them to finish the work. I don’t give homework so the students use a lot of class time to do assignments. If it takes 1 class, or an hour, then the assignment is worth 10 points. Half a class is 5 points. 2 classes is 20 points, and so on. They are also graded, based on quizzes, which are given weekly, and unit tests, given every 3 weeks or so.

5.      Do you group students during any assignments?

         Students are broken up into groups almost every day. I like to involve them in as many activities as I can. They seem to be more interested and learn more this way. I don’t let them choose their groups. Otherwise, they will just pick their friends and be less productive. In the beginning, I assign them to their lab groups alphabetically using a seating chart. Once I get to know they’re names, I reassign their seats about every 6 weeks. This way, I can plan the groups based on ability levels. Each lab group will ideally have students with a variety of ability levels.

6.      Are there any English Learners in the classes? Are there any students who have special needs I should be aware of? Where can I get students’ IEP’s or 504’s to read?

         No. The English Learners take a separate biology class called “SDIAE”. We may have a few students with IEPs or 504s. They will be sent to us and accessible to you in the seating chart binder.

7.      Will you please explain your philosophy concerning classroom discipline?

         I need to be better about discipline. I try to prevent problems before they occur and make the class fun and activities-based. When the students are into it and busy, they don’t have time to act up. Students are expected to work bell-to-bell. If they don’t, I time how many seconds are wasted, and they have to stay after class to make it up. I absolutely do not allow eating, drinking, texting, or headphones. Also, I never allow students to choose their own seats. They tend to sit next to their friends and are more tempted to talk and not pay attention.

8.      What kinds of bulletin boards or other displays do you prefer to have in your classroom?

Never have a bare classroom. Ideally, you want your walls covered in your students’ work but that’s not possible in the beginning of the year. In the beginning, I use instructional posters. Then, I hang up student-made posters and art whenever possible.
Yes! Please bring in your posters. I think it’s good you hang something that came from you. It gives you more credibility to the students that you are a co-teacher.

(I have since hung some educational posters on “Photosynthesis”, “Cell Respiration”, “The Plant Cell”, “The Animal Cell”, “The Bacterial Cell”, and an inspirational poster from Ironman Utah, which I completed in May, 2010.

9.      How did you arrive at this particular room arrangement?

         Each grouping of 4 desks is designed to be one lab station. I’ve set up 8 of these “L” arrangements, which is perfect, unless you have more than 32 students. We are going to have classes up to 45 this semester. We are going to be forced to seat students around the lab as well.

10.    What is your field trip policy?

         My AP classes get to go on fieldtrips. We go to the Wild Animal Park and the Long Beach Aquarium. The freshman biology classes don’t usually get to go on field trips. Those classes tend to be rowdier and more difficult to control on field trips. The AP classes are structured like college classes so students are expected to behave accordingly.

11.    How do you maintain active communications with parents?

         It is an effective disciplinary tool when a student is misbehaving frequently. But I also like to call the parents occasionally to tell them when their child is doing well also.

12.    What techniques do you use to motivate students?

         They don’t have homework but they are expected to get the work done during class. Otherwise, they may have to stay after, turn in incomplete work, or finish it for homework. If students aren’t working hard, I use a timer to add up wasted time, which they owe back to me at the end of class. I try to make them laugh a lot and make my classes fun and exciting. Students seem to enjoy my classes but they have to work hard.

13.    What are the special challenges of teaching this subject or grade level?

         Freshman are challenging because they are still at that “in-between” stage and going through puberty. They are transitioning from middle school to high school, and it can be difficult for them. A lot of them aren’t mature yet and some can be very rowdy. Also, there’s a wide variety in the skills and levels incoming freshmen bring with them. Some may be quite advanced, whereas others may not know simple math skills. In addition, some may not know how to read the Biology textbook, especially for English Language Learners.

14.    How would you describe your school’s community relations?

         There’s a few student-run clubs that focus on community services (AVID). We also have some school-wide events, such as food drives, and a relay for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society.

15.    How important are standardized test scores to your school?

         They are critical. If you spend time teaching content that won’t be on the test, and other teachers are using that time to review test questions, they’re students will score higher. You are evaluated based on your students’ test scores. If they test lower than other biology teachers’ students, you get in “trouble” and have to go down to the D.O. (district office) to have a talk.

17. What’s your favorite subject to teach?

         A.P. Bio. Even though it’s way more work to prepare, I love the maturity level of the students and the advanced content material. The students keep me on my toes, and I often find myself learning alongside with them.

18. Where did you get your education?

I received my Bachelor’s from UCSD and my credential from the same program as you, Cal State San Marcos.

19. Did you ever work in any other field besides education?

I worked for the government briefly, preparing documents. It was not exciting. I knew I needed to do something that was a better fit for me. Teaching is very rewarding.

20. What do you love most about teaching?

Students from previous classes come by and visit all the time. I’ve saved every letter or card they ever gave me. I love hearing about where the students end up. It’s such a rewarding career. It’s great to feel like you’re making a difference.

Cooperating Teacher Interview Rubric
15 Questions
Provide answers to 10 of the questions.
Provide answers to all 15 questions.
Provide rich detail for the 15 answers.
5 Added Questions
Provide a list of the 5 additional questions.
Provide the questions and answers to the additional 5 questions.
Organize the 5 additional questions and answers with the themes of the 15 set questions.
Induction Plan - Clinical Practice Timeline of Activities
Make reference to the induction plan.
Provide evidence of how you and your teacher will provide a variety of supports for the different stages of the induction process.
Articulate how you and your teacher will access the needs of you as a team in the different stages of the induction process.
Evidence of Developing a Collaboration
Articulate the foundation you are creating as a team.
Articulate any strategies that will be used for a successful collaboration (communication, planning, management…).
Cite each of the three areas on how your approaches are grounded in your philosophy.
Each question is recognized with a different font (italic, bold, colored…).
Interview is organized so the questions are easy to identify not only by font, but also in the context of the writing.
Visual representations are provided to communicate the foundation of the collaboration of your team.
(1 point will be deducted
if not included)
Provides a copy of the rubric …
& highlights the criteria for each component…
& provides evidence for each criteria marked.