Flipping the Classroom? SOLD!

Credits to Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

I love my job ~ educating the children of our future! There’s nothing better than having the opportunity to develop creative lessons and activities that I believe are best for a child’s learning while listening to them discuss new ideas/thoughts and watching their eyes light up when they finally ‘get’ the concept!

I’m always trying to improve what I do in the classroom to better meet the needs of my students. And although I’ve blogged about the idea of “flipped classrooms”, and have even flipped a few lessons here and there, I’ve now gone full force with it. We’ve just finished our second full ‘flipped’ unit and I hope to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

I’ve got to admit that it was a little scary at first – letting go of the control and placing it in the students hands. And to be honest, they struggled at first too. I am an extremely organized and well planned teacher, thus had the entire unit outlined and prepared. As a teacher of blocked classes, I provided this simple outline to the students so that they would understand the new process and expectations:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Lesson Objective(s)

Finish Previous Unit

NO MATH

Apply divisibility rules in order to identify a whole number’s factors and write whole numbers as the product of prime factors

NO MATH

Students will find the greatest common factor of two or more numbers

Students will write equivalent fractions

What’s Happening in Class?

Return summative test; students correct mistakes and complete reflections

Teacher has prepared a quick 5-question check for the start of class. Students then break into groups: a focused learning group or an independent learning group (depending on their individual needs). The independent learning group is free to start working through their problem sets. The focused learning group works with the teacher to receive more review. This typically takes the form of an interactive Smart Notebook lesson. These students then also have class time to work on the problem sets.

Teacher has prepared a quick 5-question check for the start of class. Students then break into groups: a focused learning group or an independent learning group (depending on their individual needs). The independent learning group is free to start working through their problem sets. The focused learning group works with the teacher to receive more review. This typically takes the form of an interactive Smart Notebook lesson. These students then also have class time to work on the problem sets.

HW

Students finish corrections and reflections; get parent signatures

Students watch instructional videos, do online practice problems, and optional activities for our next lesson (posted on the HW page). Students complete reflection questions in google form (link available on HW page) so teacher can plan lesson appropriately.

Students finish the problem sets and correct them.  They then complete the Problem Sets Reflection Sheet (google form; linked to our HW page).

Students watch instructional videos, do online practice problems, and optional activities for our next lesson (posted on the HW page). Students complete questions in google form (link available on HW page) so teacher can plan lesson appropriately.

Students finish the problem sets and correct them.  They then complete the Problem Sets Reflection Sheet (google form; linked to our HW page).

So, in order to plan accordingly, I started by looking at all of the learning goals for the unit. From there, I began searching for online, instructional videos that were aligned with each learning goal. I tended to use videos from Khan Academy and BrainPop most often; these are perfect for grade 6 math. If I couldn’t find a video that connected, then I would make my own.

Next, I knew I wanted to collect feedback from the students regarding their understanding of the skills/concepts before they came to class so that I could plan appropriately … so for every set of videos, I created a set of reflection questions that they needed to respond to while, or after, watching the videos.

NOTE: I started by essentially asking the students the same questions on every video reflection sheet, but realized that they learned to respond with what I wanted to hear. So, I’ve altered my approach and now create different questions each time, including some that ask them to compare a previous topic to a new one and always one that asks them for questions that they might still have regarding the lesson objective. Most of the questions are posed to get the students to think, not just reverberate what they heard in a video. This has been a positive change.

When the students come into class, I have a sense of what I still need to review and can actually post their misconceptions and/or questions up on the screen while addressing them (I can hide the student’s name since the reflection is done in a google form). I’ve attached a sample reflection form, completed by the students. You can see the highlighting that I’ve done in the spreadsheet – these areas represent things that I want to bring up in class. I actually project this for all students to see so we can discuss the questions or responses together.

NOTE: I didn’t post the students’ responses initially, but found that when I did, everyone saw what the others were writing and this encouraged them to put more thought into their responses.

Following our discussion regarding their responses and questions, I project 5 basic questions that the students should be able to respond to in less than 7 minutes. We grade them together and this becomes the design of that class period. For any student who answers them all correct, they are considered independent learners. They gather with other students and begin to work through a set of assigned problems. For any student who misses 3 or more, they must work in a small learning group with me. We use an interactive Smart Notebook that I have prepared. We spend the 10 minutes discussing the concept, creating connections to real life, and finally getting the students up to the board, manipulating various things to try and understand the math better. At the end of our short lesson, they are now independent learners. And finally, for those students who missed 1 or 2 on the 5-question check, they need to do some reflection and determine the best place for them to work.

NOTE: At the start of flipping my class, I had not incorporated the 5-Question Checks, but have found that the students are held more accountable for ‘trying’ the understand the concepts before class with them in place.

Once the students are all working in their independent learning groups, I wander the room. I constantly remind the students that only mathematical conversations should be taking place, and it’s great to hear them. The environment in the classroom is one of open questioning, helping one another, conferencing with one another (including me), and lots of mathematical conversations.

With this model, the students are learning to become responsible individuals for their own learning, advocates for themselves when they don’t understand something, reflective learners, motivated to do more if needed, and resourceful.

This is what I believe powerful learning is all about!

 


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!

Student-Created MathCasts

This is the second year that I have asked my grade 6 students to create a MathCast based on one specific topic that they have learned during the year. It is my favorite project from the year because it’s amazing to watch and listen to these 11 & 12 year old students “teaching”.My plan is to create a large database of student-created math instructional videos that can be used year after year. This could potentially lead me to running an entirely ‘flipped’ classroom, with all lessons being taught by other 6th grade students. How cool would that be?!

*For more info on ‘flipped classrooms’, check out this blog post. In fact, a flipped classroom book will be coming out this year and seems to be the new way of teaching — a great way to get “increased student interaction.”

For the Math Cast projects, each student chooses a topic or skill that they have learned throughout the year in Math 6. They then teach their specific concept to a 6th grade audience via a digital presentation. During the digital presentation, students will explain the concept step-by-step, using visual examples and problems to demonstrate each step. Additionally, students are required to show how their mathematical concept is applicable in real life.

In this project, students must assume the role of “digital educator” and think about how to best engage and communicate their lesson to their audience (the other 6th grade students). They need to be well prepared before recording their Math Cast, which necessitates the creation of a “lesson plan” that incorporates an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Furthermore, they have to be discerning in their selection and explanation of proper math vocabulary and academic language within their presentation. And finally, the students are taught to choose only legal graphics/music and cite their sources, when needed.

Students need to evaluate the suitability of the technology tools they will utilize throughout the project. Being that this is the first year the students come to class with their own computers, I do provide a lot of guidance towards the programs. For the visual presentation portion of the project, students can choose from the following software programs: Smart Notebook, One Note, Power Point, Word, and DyKnow Panels. For the audio portion of the project, students can opt to use Smart Recorder or Cam Studio. Each program offers something a little different from the others, thus requiring students to examine their outline/plan to guide the selection of the most appropriate tool.

Two very positive aspects of this project are that it offers students the opportunity to work in an area of interest or in an area of mathematics they feel most comfortable with, and secondly the authentic nature of the tasks enables them to truly make meaning of their topic.

Here are some final MathCasts:

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