Monthly Archives: November 2014

Giving up control

Near the end of the first semester of 2013, I changed my flipped classroom once again. Prior to this, I didn’t have the freedom that I wanted. The freedom to walk around my class. So I made a change.

Rather than teaching students who didn’t watch the video the traditional way, I had them use my classroom iPads to watch the video on their own. I was able to obtain headphones and students would quietly watch the videos in class while taking notes. Not only did this free up time for me to walk around the class, it also helped manage student behavior.

Students would come into class and they would independently work. I started to give over control to the students. Rather than me being the focus of instruction, students started to do what they needed to do without me giving them direction. You see, I realized that I focused too much on students doing what I wanted them to do rather than what they wanted to do. Previously, I was putting too much effort and time trying to make them watch the video at home but the more I thought about the more I realized why? Why would it matter if they watched it at home or at school? As long as they watched it I should be happy. I started to give my students choice.

It was their choice to get started on the work or to watch the video. Either way, it is their class and their learning. Why should I get in the way of that? I now had the freedom to dedicate most of my class time walking around helping students. I can walk around to those students who completed the video and ask questions to check for the understanding of concepts. I can also walk around and answer questions of the students watching the videos. I then started noticing that if students were finished with their in-class work they would start watching the video assigned for the next day, ultimately using their time to customize their own learning. I was starting to become the, “guide on the side” that I so desired.

For the rest of the year, I exercised this routine which became highly effective. Rather than giving all of my energy trying to “catch” students not watching the videos at home I focused more on how students are understanding the concepts.

I started 2014 in a new school district that I was honored to be asked to join. I knew I wanted to continue the flipped model but I wanted to make my class even more engaging and give students even more control. After implementing the flipped model, I noticed that I had little to no students who didn’t watch the video. They routinely come to class prepared by watching the video and taking necessary notes. I would give students a few minutes to clarify parts of the video and I would call on students to check for understanding. I would still spend 5-10 minutes going over and grading homework and then the rest of the period students would work on whatever activity I had prepared for them. I would still exercise my time by walking around class asking students questions as they worked on higher-level problems. It is amazing to watch and I could have stopped there with the product I have achieved within my class.

But as any teacher should, I wanted to improve. I wanted to engage. I wanted to eliminate that 5-10 minute window of grading homework. I wanted to eliminate the need of me getting up in front of class. You see, I wanted to give control of my class completely to my students. While this seems like I am becoming lazy and not wanting to teach, it truthfully is much more thought-provoking and time-consuming to figure out a way where students come up with the concepts to learn and teach. In the back of my mind, a thought always is there and it runs like a ticker tape everyday, “how can I make sure my students are able to teach this material to other students?” If a student can teach the material, then they are at that mastery level I strive for them to be at.

This leads to my next discovery into my classroom. How can I go from having my students take control of my class to actually teaching my class and by doing that, teaching themselves?  Stay tuned…

The Beginning of the Flip.

In January of 2013, I flipped my class. I decided to flip my two 8th grade honors classes. I started by creating a video a day or two before the students were to watch it and I would upload it to YouTube. Why did I pick YouTube? YouTube, to me, was a site students were used to using and it required no extra training on my part to teach the kids how to use it. I used an app called Explain Everything. I was roughly a day ahead of the students and would post the videos sometimes the morning of when students were to watch the video that evening. I was uploading about 4 videos per week.

So how did my class look? Students were expected to watch the video and when students came into class I would give them a quick pop quiz. Sometimes I would check their notes and sometimes I would ask them to write down the answer to example 4 on the video. Other times when making the video I would put a cartoon character and have the students tell me what that character was. The idea, at least in my mind, was to hold the students accountable for watching the video. This took 5 minutes or less to complete. Students would then have the whole class period to work on the “homework” which they should finish in class. I learned very quickly I assigned too much homework. Students weren’t able to get it done in class and then they would have to finish it at home along with the video. The whole idea behind the flip was defeated when students had to take it home. I quickly made adjustments and after a few weeks of trial and error students, if they used their class time wisely, would be able to finish in class.

Fourth quarter I flipped all of my classes. I was worried about the lack of technology available to students being that the district was over half low-income. It became very apparent that they all had access to technology with the exception of a couple.

The biggest headache with my regular students was getting them to watch the video. Like anything just because you try something new doesn’t mean students would do it. The kids who didn’t do homework didn’t watch the video. Here is what’s worse. In a traditional classroom the students that didn’t do their homework would still get the lesson taught to them but now since the lesson was taught at home, if a student didn’t watch the video then they also didn’t get the lesson and then couldn’t do the work in class. I had to try something new. This was an ever revolving door for me to try new things.

I found that the students who did watch the video worked productively. The students who didn’t watch the videos were always trying to understand as they go by working with the students that did watch the videos. They often were distracting others. Everyday these students would get 0 out of 5 points in the gradebook for not proving to me they watched the video. (Now I think back and wonder what I was thinking!) So I had to come up with a change….

I decided to do the normal lecture. Roughly 70% of my students would watch the video. As they came into class I gave them a quick check, if they could prove to me they watched the video they sat in the back in class in groups. If they didn’t watch the video they sat in rows facing the front. While I taught the lesson to those who didn’t watch the video, those in the back worked productively. As students copied from the board I would go and check on those working in groups. A shift was about to occur. The students learning the lecture from me were quite aware that their classmates who watched the video were done with their homework in class. The ones who didn’t watch had to do the entire assignment at home with no help. It became apparent to them the benefits of watching the video were far greater than not watching it. The amount of students who didn’t watch the video dwindled to a handful in each class (5 or less).  In addition, students who did watch the video and needed extra clarification could tune in and learn the concepts a second time.

I continued this practice into the 2013-2014 school year until about November. While this definitely helped the situation of those not watching the videos, it still didn’t give me full range to walk around the class and be the guide on the side that I wanted.

I will talk about what happened next in my next blog…

And so it begins…

New job. New journey. New blog.

Welcome to my blog on my journey to create the best, most innovative classroom I can envision. After 9 weeks of teaching at my new position, I am excited and engaged into what the future holds in my classroom.

When I walked into my classroom today I read what my substitute wrote about my students yesterday and she said, “You have some of the most fabulous students I have ever taught. They were engaged and self-motivated. You were correct when you said they would run the classroom. They answered each other’s questions only asking me for help when they were all stumped. Impressed is an understatement.”

But lets take a step back. My classroom was not always like this. My classroom once consisted of me standing in front of my classroom lecturing to my students for most of the period. This, of course, is after I spent 10-15 minutes grading math homework and answering questions from the night before. If time permitted students would spend what was left in class doing the homework I assigned, sitting quietly as I watched them. This routine repeated itself every. single. day. Just writing this bores me. What was I thinking?

It was January 2013 when I was sitting at an inservice the day before school started for 2nd semester and I watched a video on homework and how it was ineffective. It hit a nerve. A big nerve. The type of nerve that sends signals to your brain where you no longer can think rationally about an issue because everything you know that how to teach is being questioned and in one 4 minute video your teaching walls come crumbling down. My honors students came to mind, often spending hours of work at night struggling with problems. Frustrated and ill-prepared they would do what they could either asking others for help (or cheating) or getting help from parents. I then would spend a good chunk of class going over these problems the day after thinking it was a worthwhile use of class time. (Seriously what was I thinking?)

That’s when I did it. I flipped my class. I had heard about this flipping nonsense before so I was familiar with how it worked so I did it. I left the inservice and made one video the day before kids came back to school. They always tell you to take things easy. Ease into flipping. Dip your toes in the water to test it out. That wasn’t me. I jumped into the deep end, head first with no lifeguard on duty. Third quarter I flipped every lesson in my two honors classes and by the end of the 2013 school year I flipped all lessons in all six of my classes.

Last year my entire school year was flipped. Every lesson. Every class. Everyday. The first time I actually got up in front of my students to teach was around February and my students looked at me with such confusion. They had no clue what I was trying to do.

Back to the present. Currently my students make the class themselves. I am only a guide on the side, only offering support when needed. My students work at their own pace, initiating their own conversation while I sit back and watch. My students will actually get up and go to the board and discuss among themselves concepts and come up with their own ideas while I only ask, “why?” or “how?” and just this week my students even took over that job of mine. While a student was at the board going over a problem two students shout out, “Prove it!” Oh the glorious joy that overtook me.

My blogs over the next few weeks will discuss the struggles and successes over this journey and what I morphed my classroom into. I am always learning and trying out new things. If anything I am no longer to jump in for failure.

However, there is one thing I still have a hard time dealing with…control. I love control and I want control of my class. It will never leave me but I have come to terms with the fact that the students now have the control in my class. It’s their class, not mine.

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