Confessions of a Classroom Flipper…Part 1: The Good…


OTA/Encyclomedia Presentation for Kristina and I. We had a blast sharing our confessions!

So…If you have read this blog before, you know that I am a flipclass teacher.  What you may not know is that I have some confessions to make – enough confessions that my colleague Kristina Stevenson and I created a professional development session.  And  we had the good fortune to present these ideas at the OTA/Encyclomedia conference in Oklahoma City.  How did it go??  Great!!  So if you missed it or are curious read on…You can read Part 2 here.

Confessions:  These are the trials and tribulations, successes and struggles for two high school math teachers:  Scott Haselwood (Twitter: @haselwoodmath) and Kristina Stevenson (Twitter: @kstev320).

The Good!

We now have way more time to answer questions from the kids during classtime.  For years I usually taught class with some form of lecture.  It was socratic in nature, I would ask a question or series of questions, kids would answer, write down notes, get clarification where they were stuck…I had very few precious minutes to devote to answering questions from the previous night’s homework.  Since I teacher higher level math classes, answering those homework questions was not a quick and easy process.  Some of those questions were really long and tough and had massive explanation, its not unusual for some of those problems to take ten minutes each.  This was the problem: giving the kids the content they needed for the homework and answering all of the questions that they needed to have answered during class.  Kristina experienced many of these same things, there just wasn’t enough time in our class period to answer questions, give content, allow for the fire drill, oh by the way there is an assembly….Now the kids can get the content that they need, when they need it, they can ask me a question when they need to, they can work in class with peers and help each other (two brains are always better than one).  The one student who asks three thousand questions in five minutes is no longer holding the entire class hostage.  That student, who has those questions now has a group to help with 90% of those quick questions.  Then when they are super stumped and their group cannot help, students can now ask a very specific question about exactly where they are stuck instead of a general “how to” question.

I teach because of the relationships that I develop with the kids.  They are the reason that teaching is so incredibly rewarding and fun for me.  I have always enjoyed the opportunity to get to know my new students every year, and I love it when they come back from college and visit with me about everything exciting that they are doing.  You can’t be as effective of a teacher if you do not develop a relationship with your students!  With the flip model, I was able to get to know my kids so much better, so much quicker than ever before.  I have always felt invested in my kids, but last year was totally different.  I really got to know them:  Diego loves Skyrim, Emma had a really difficult time choosing a college, Abby loves dance and baking…I could go on and on.  I didn’t always know some of these more personal things about my kids, but it made the year that much better.  We were able to have some intense disagreements over things, but because of the relationship that I had with the kids, we were able to grow as a community.

Everyone has had the odd fire drill, tornado drill, intruder drill, wacky assembly schedule, PSAT, ACT Plan, College Visit, sports team early release, office pass, school announcements, whatever…These are all class time leachers and I don’t know a single teacher who doesn’t get fed up with all of the interruptions (the beast known as Classicus Interupticus).  As a high school teacher, Classicus Interupticus, is always lurking in the background seeking ways to take time out of your class period.  This bloated beast was slain by the sword of the flip model, the students already (hopefully, more on this later) have the content, they are just working on processing through the topics and applying what they have learned to the problems that they have been assigned.  On those days when Classicus Interupticus is having a full on feeding frenzy, the kids will miss some “homework” time and thats it!

What about that one student who has 3.2 million questions and most of them are good?  They can pause and rewind a particular section/part as many times as they need to.  Online content will give them a chance for their brain to process what they are thinking, so that maybe when class starts the next day only a couple of those questions are really needed.  What about those kids who have great questions during lecture?  They will still have those questions – but now instead of getting that immediate feedback they can also rewind that one part where the understanding gets fuzzy.  If there are still questions – it is possible I was not clear enough in my explanation – then students should write their question down and highlight it for discussion the next day.  Even better: Tweet it with the class hashtag and its ready to go right off the bat for all of the different classes.  If I have learned anything over the past 15 years of teaching its that there is always more than one person with a similar question.

A really big perk from flipping our classroom’s has been the natural flow from a rigid, everyone gets the same thing, one size fits all setting, to a really natural flow into differentiated instruction.  It is no problem to help those kids that really need help, class allows for that now.  Its also no problem for those kids who have mastered the material to dive deeper or move onto something they are interested in, or move into the next section of discussion for class.  This model also works really well for groups – of any type.  I have struggled for years to get groups to work in a way that fits my teaching style, that gets the kids engaged.  Now the students are working in groups and have a common goal to work toward or a topic (math problem) for discussion.  Not only that, the groups can have all kinds of different learning styles, different levels understanding, different grades, different whatever!  In our classes ALL of the students have to work for the good of the group, some examples:

  1. Roan, Maerin, Madigan, and Ripley are all in one group together working on their assignment.  If Roan has a question, his first option is to talk with the other people in his group.  If the group cannot determine an answer that works, then Maerin would have to ask me Roan’s question.

  2. The students are taking a quiz today, they work in the same groups that they are in during class, closed notes, closed book during the quiz.  However the students are allowed to talk to each other during the quiz and make sure that they understand exactly what is going on.  Why?  Because I grade one question per student at a time per group.  When the quiz is over, the entire group staples their quizzes together.  When I grade them, I grade Roan’s #1, Maerin’s #2, Madigan’s #3, Ripley’s #4 and so on.  The entire group will get the same grade.

  3. I use the groups to determine what one question the kids in that group have, then have one person tweet that question with the class hashtag.

  4. After each test the groups are reformed and we take one day to do some sort of team building activity.

  5. Each group is routinely given a problem that they must work out together and post into Google Docs.

  6. Periodically each group is given some sort of project that they will work on together inside and outside of class.

Once the kids start getting used to the flip model they will love the fact that time spent on homework will decrease from almost an hour every night, to 20 minutes a couple of times per week.  Sometimes this can be a really hard thing for the students to understand, they are so used to the lecture model.  But we have discovered, after all of the anxiety about class being organized completely different from anything that they are used to, they love the small amount homework that they have each week.

Also published on Medium.

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