To Flip or Not to Flip?

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In the MS mathematics department at JIS, we believe in tiered instruction, challenge by choice, and tiered assessments .. and that is exactly what we offer to every student that walks through our classrooms. We offer one math class at each grade level, but within that class, we offer our students three differentiated levels (green, blue, black) of instruction, homework, and assessments. The idea is that we teach a grade-level concept/skill (green level) which all students need to understand and grasp by the end of the unit. For those students who tend to be more advanced with their understanding of a specific concept/skill, they may choose to work at one of the higher levels. The higher level will still focus on that skill, but ask the students to think and apply their understanding at a deeper level.

Here’s an example of some questions from our most recent test:

Tell which power has a greater value. Explain your decision by showing your work.

Green (standard) Level:  34 or 43

Blue (advanced) Level:  08 or 80

Black (highly advanced) Level: 

We teach our students to self-reflect EVERY DAY on their own learning and choose the level that is best for them based on their understanding. We tend to base our whole-class instruction towards the green level (standard; grade level expectations), but do make our way around to all groups and work with those students as well. Students who choose to work at the blue (advanced) or black (highly advanced) level are typically self-motivated to learn something on their own that they don’t already know. This approach allows every student to feel ownership of their own learning. The students spend half of our 90-minute block working through problem sets, while I walk around and work with small groups. It is truly amazing seeing these grade 6 students (11-year olds) working to their maximum capacity, and being highly motivated by the program. And not only do I see the advanced and highly advanced students extend themselves, but I have also witnessed the standard level students raise their expectations, provide amazing support/assistance to one another, and work at a higher level than I anticipated. What I observe every day in my classroom is empowering!

To enhance our math program, I have just started using Khan Academy with my students for the first time. Not only do I love it, but my students do too! Any chance they get, they ask if they can “practice” on Khan Academy. They are highly motivated to earn badges; something so minor in our adult world, but so important to a 6th grader. And then there are those intrinsically motivated students who don’t really care too much about the badges, but watch the videos to teach themselves the next level of math so that they may advance in their own mathematical knowledge, as well as the levels of Khan Academy. I believe it is Khan Academy that got educators talking about how powerful this type of learning can be, and what classrooms would look like if we used this same model.

There is so much published about ‘flipped classrooms’ now, and how they can definitely benefit each and every student. According to the material I have been reading, there are many reasons that teachers should flip their classrooms. The best list of reasons that I stumbled across while perusing the web were the following, taken from from this edublog:

  • Establishes dialogue and idea exchange between students, educators, and subject matter experts regardless of locations.
  • Lectures become homework and class time is used for collaborative student work, experiential exercises, debate, and lab work.
  • Extends access to scarce resources, such as specialized teachers and courses, to more students, allowing them to learn from the best sources and maintain access to challenging curriculum.
  • Enables students to access courses at higher-level institutions, allowing them to progress at their own pace.
  • Prepares students for a future as global citizens. Allows them to meet students and teachers from around the world to experience their culture, language, ideas, and shared experiences.
  • Allows students with multiple learning styles and abilities to learn at their own pace and through traditional models.

Although I flip my classroom at random and various times throughout the year, it’s now my turn to take that next giant step towards totally flipping my classroom. It’s exciting, but scary at the same time!


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