Monday, January 19, 2015

Practice It, Check It, Prove It - Flipped Classroom Hack

Photo: Mars Hall Packing Papers
I have always struggled with giving students valuable feedback in a timely manner. I also want my students to focus on learning not grades and completion grades are quick and easy but do not focus on learning or provide meaningful feedback. With flipped learning the additional burden of the quantity of work students do now that I’m not lecturing for half of every class period. It is possible to walk around and get a sense of how students progressing, what they understand and where they struggle, but the reality of giving a meaningful grade was something I found very difficult. I also found that my due dates were no longer tied to the beginning or end of and class period. They were driven by the students. I needed a new system to acknowledge student effort, give meaningful feedback and handle a large quantity of work.

Inspired by conversations with other teachers using flipped learning, I decided to let students grade their daily work like practice problems, concept checks and then ask them to prove they understand. Students work on their problems alone or in small groups while I walk around and help as needed. Once done they show me the work and then have permission to check the detailed key posted on the front board. It is placed in a spot that is easy to monitor, where students do not usually go and they are not allowed to have cameras while checking. They check their work and then have the opportunity to ask any questions. At this point students have some great questions. They know what they don’t know. We can work extra examples, clear up math problems or move on to the next thing which is the proving point. Students that get to this point have a 70% for the activity and can keep their work for studying and reference. For the remaining 30%, the student is asked to prove they have learned. I give them one of four problems, or problem sets, to solve. Each student at a table will have a different problem to solve. They can still work together, but they cannot copy the work. They turn in the single problem or set and move on.

This simple system has changed my classroom. Students have more responsibility for learning. They know checking is part of the process. They ask questions before checking because they know that they will have to ask eventually. They know I expect them to be able to do the work on their own when ready, but are happy to have the support getting there. Students get feedback without consequences. Mistakes are expected, fixing them is the trick, and understanding is the result. I no longer hold important work hostage until the end of a unit and can grade “the prove” it portion quickly. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Flipcon TX - A Weekend Full of Connecting and Energizing

On of the best ways to get unstuck from any educational rut is to find some enthusiastic, innovative educators and spend a weekend with them sharing and learning. Allen ISD just hosted a regional Flipcon with Flipped Learning. It was crazy getting things ready for the two day event. Friday’s schedule was class visits, student panel and then the keynote. Saturday was made up of three sessions and a reflection.

Class visits were amazing. I am so proud of my colleagues and their hard work. We were able to show English, Physics, Chemistry, Algebra 2, AP World History, Government, ASL and Anatomy and Physiology. Each of the teachers had a different style and used flipped learning tools in unique ways. ASL uses student recordings to show learning and teacher recordings for reference and missed work. Government, World History and English used flipped tools when it makes sense. They deliver basic information that will be used in class for activities. Algebra is basic flip. Physics and Chemistry are fully flipped. Some Chemistry is moving towards mastery and Anatomy and Physiology are in their second year of flipped mastery. The touring teachers were engaged in the learning, often more so than the actual students. They asked questions, observed and more importantly made connections with what they had envisioned. The variety was a helpful reminder to our visitors that there are many ways to use flipping to help students learn. Since seeing is believing, visiting classes that are amazing should help teachers see how to get their flipped classes started. 

The student panel was incredible. It seems that flipped learning, when done correctly, is beneficial for all types of student. Students like having control of the content delivery time and place as well as frequency. They like having the help in class and the ability to really work with the information they have. They don’t like long videos and miss the ability to interact with the instructor while the content is being delivered. They did agree that the trade off to get a teacher’s help with the tougher stuff was a good idea. Flipped learning had made a difference in the ease of learning for chemistry, physics and algebra. They would encourage teachers to give it a try. Their honesty describing challenges and experiences would inspire anyone to keep trying to make the classroom a better place. 

Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams were the keynote speakers. They were inspirational and entertaining as they shared their thought on what makes learning better for students. Their journey is a good model for many and understanding how and why they started makes it easier to jump in and try the method. Even though I have had the privileged of hearing them a number of times, I always come away energized and ready for more hard work.

Sadly, I was not able to attend sessions since I presented twice on Saturday. I can say that the attendees were enthusiastic and wanted to do something to change the environment in the class. The folks were friendly. We had lots of great conversations during and between sessions. I hope they all went home brains stuffed full of new ideas. Having attended Flipcons during summer, much of the atmosphere was present at our regional conference. It was much smaller, but I can see it growing in the future. I hope it does. I could use a refueling station available during the year.