Flipped Classroom – EMTH Reflection

*Please be advised: this is not a new post. It is the reflection that used to be on the “Flipped Classroom – Math 9 Polynomials Unit” Page. I just needed to reorganize a bit.

For my final project in EMTH 450 with Rick, I had free range to do anything I liked that pertained to education and math. The possibilities were endless. I changed my mind about 1,000,000 times. I finally settled on what I figured to be a manageable project of creating a set of videos to “flip” a unit in the Math 9 Curriculum. During my internship, I had the opportunity to teach Math 9 for the full 4 months, and I loved every minute of it. While for the most part, I liked what the textbook had to offer, I was not particularly impressed with how it delivered Polynomials. They came packaged in two clunky, non-consecutive chapters. I knew that I needed to avoid using the textbook, so I went hunting for some resources and made up my own work-package for the students, as independently from the textbook as possible.

Since Rick gave me free range to do whatever I fancied (within reason), I decided that I wanted to revamp the way I taught polynomials. Little did I know, that this project actually helped revamp the way that I want to teach in general. I’ll say it one thousand times over — my internship was great. Now, I think I can be more than that. I can see it, so I decided to push myself with this project.

This unit is entirely flipped. There are eleven video lessons, eleven worksheets, a “What Can You Do With This?,” and a project. The assessment is an outcome/indicator-based assessment guided by a learning contract. There is no unit exam. There are no formal quizzes. The closest thing to a quiz is a “skill check.”

I struggled with having this flipped classroom avoid direct instruction. Part of flipping for me was to avoid direct instruction. It seemed that it was inevitable, so I decided that if I can’t fix it, I might as well embrace it in a weird sort of way. Instead of making long and boring videos, I decided to keep them short and simple. I did my darnedest to ensure that my worksheets were inquiry-based. My theory behind this was to give a bit of instruction, just to send the students in the right direction, then let them work in-class on exploring each concept thoroughly. Answers will all be posted on the wall (answer keys coming soon). Students are invited to collaborate with one another.

Part of me thinks I may have had a mental back-lash during this project too. During my internship, I found that students felt bombarded with problems, and there was not nearly enough drill and practice. Both have their place, but I felt that problem solving was interfering with the students understanding the concepts concretely. I decided to not include the “token problems” at the end of each worksheet. Instead, I designed each worksheet to act as a set of notes, since the students wouldn’t be taking any anyhow. Each sheet contains what I think are the essential questions/big ideas (i.e. Explain in your own words how to divide a monomial by a monomial), as well as several examples. Because the answers are posted and students have no set “time limits” for each assignment (which was a big pull for me to the learning contract), every student will get every single question right. They have access to their peers and to me, so finding the correct answers is only a matter of effort.

To “address” word problems, I decided to have a unit project. This satisfied the old-school innate need deep down inside to have a unit assessment. “At least it’s not an exam,” is what I told myself. I’m not one to undermine or under-appreciate a good word problem, but at least a unit project ties together all the concepts and involves a “real world” situation. It’s a little bit less contrived. I decided to go with an area-based project, which lead me to think about the areas in floor plans. About ten minutes after staring at my computer hoping it would finish my project for me, it dawned on me. I should do a WCYDWT with a floor plan, and then ask the students to work in reverse by creating a floor plan and designing the dimensions on their own. All of a sudden, the “contrived” unit problem sat a lot better with me (and it squeaked in another teaching strategy beyond direct instruction).

My last word about this project, I promise: I am so glad I opted to work with a learning contract. It enabled me to build an outcome/indicator-based assessment and evaluation system that was free of rigid timelines and stress-(and/or vomit-) inducing exams. One of my initial concerns beyond the direct instruction bit was that flipped classrooms somehow guarantee only 20 minutes of homework per night. What about the student who doesn’t finish the in-class work? Does he/she have extra homework? So much for the nice guarantee. If we stick to the guarantee, then what good does it do for that student? Conversely, what about the student who finishes in fifteen minutes? They now have to “kill” 45 minutes. Yes, I could load them with extra work, but I’m going to challenge them anyway. Why not let every student work at his or her own pace? A learning contract does just that. To keep things reasonable, I will set a time-guideline and a conservative completion due date. Aside from that, every student can be working on what he or she needs to be working on.

As always, I welcome, encourage, appreciate, and pray for your comments to pour in. The more feedback I get, the better I’ll become.

Special Thanks to the following: Dan Meyer, Joe BowerSophia (They have fantastic Twitter Support), Kyle WebbRick SeamanEvolving Classroom, and Andy Schwen

This is my utopia right now. I can’t wait to put it into practice.

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