Tag Archive | Inquiry-based learning

What the “Flip” Do I Do Now?

No. I am not using flip as a curse substitute. I am starting to wonder if flipping my classroom is really worth it.

Pedagogy says, “Yes!” My own reasoning says, “Heck, Yes!” But everywhere else I turn seems to say “Why are you deviating from the norm?”

I decided to flip my ninth grade math class. It’s a year-long course, so there is plenty of time for different instructional methods to be used and experimented with. What’s been getting me down lately is all the negativity I’ve received in response. It hasn’t been an entire class, but it has been just enough students and just enough parents to bother me and make me question my teaching ability.

As a first year teacher, I am well aware that I have made (and will continue to make) mistakes. It’s part of my learning. Mistakes are where the real learning happens. Unfortunately, my students hate making mistakes.

I’ve set up my Math 9 class so that the videos are like an appetizer to the lesson. They do a few easy examples or maybe explain a few processes. Nothing earth-shattering, but certainly less information than I would give during a “regular lesson.” Each assignment that follows is carefully crafted to progress from easy questions to difficult questions, in an inquiry-style format. Students are more than encouraged to work together in teams to figure out the processes.

Some students hate this. They don’t like change, and they don’t like making mistakes. Perhaps it’s that I’m getting tired and need a break, but I am having a hard time tolerating all the student-criticism. When I was in school, I would never have dreamed of criticizing the teacher’s teaching style. I may have complained to my mom, but it certainly never left my home. My mom would always tell me that the teacher knows what he/she is doing, and there is are reason for how they teach. I always left it at that.

I have also had a few parents recently who have asked if I would mind “teaching normally.” They weren’t rude about it or anything, but it is frustrating. I am trying to teach their students how to learn independently rather than regurgitating math examples. They don’t seem to see the broader picture.

Perhaps who I am frustrated with is me. One of those mistakes that I was talking about earlier is not communicating with the parents about this change in teaching styles. Next semester, I will send home an email highlighting the exciting changes to my classroom.

I guess the bottom line of this is that I want students to be able to make mistakes, then learn from them. Just as I am learning from my mistakes, I want to afford my students that opportunity too.

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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.

I Don’t Want to “Teach” Anymore

I’ve had a very interesting last few weeks. I had the opportunity to go to WestCAST (see the mini-blog series on all the wonderful things I took from it coming soon) last week, and it was reading week. Reading week meant a few things: firstly, I got to sleep in, and secondly, I had time alone with my thoughts.

I’ve decided to make quite a few life changes and start taking my self more seriously. On the whole, I am a very serious person, but I found as of late that I’ve got a huge need to impress. That has all changed. I’m in it for me now.

Now that I’ve kept you all in suspense, I will clarify, I wholeheartedly want to be a teacher in the professional sense. I do not, however, want to bethat teacher who stands up at the chalkboard and lectures on end while her class may or may not be listening. Who is to say that I have all the knowledge in the classroom? Heck, the majority of my students, if not all of them at some point, have or will have access to a mobile device that will enable them to access the internet. This for me means a few things: (1) I want wifi in my classroom, (2) I’m no longer the smartest person in the room, (3) I need to get out of the textbook habits, (4) I can let my students direct their own learning.

With this huge mind shift, I’ve decided to really investigate a few things–inquiry-base learning, flipped classrooms, and assessment.

Inquiry for me was always pretty scary. It is the assignment where you need to account for every single “what if” possible. I understood inquiry as a way for me to secretly lead my students to the answer by predicting their every move. Writing that actually seems pretty creepy, if you ask me. So my question to myself is, “What harm would it be if the students stumbled in a different direction than I was headed?” The obvious answer is that it might not be in the curriculum or that it could “waste” valuable teaching time. This is where I’m at loggerheads with myself: if the students are productively learning and engaged, what harm am I really doing? I don’t have the answer for this, but I suspect I’ll keep soul-searching on this one for a while and see where I end up.

With regard to flipped classrooms, I am hugely intrigued by this. I’ve completely revamped a personal project for one of my classes because I want to do this. If you aren’t sure what a flipped classroom is, check out Kyle Webb’s blog post about it. He sums it up REALLY nicely. I think this is a necessary step for me. I know that during my internship, I had a few students who seemed to follow along just fine in class, then absolutely floundered during homework. It seemed like there was never enough time to “reteach” a few students, so they had a pretty tough time in my class. So what would my classroom look like if I flipped it? My students would watch a short video teaching the topic we are on and answer a couple of questions on it (similar to bell work, but homework). They would come to class, have a chance to ask questions similar to a group discussion, then go to work on their assignment. There would be an ENTIRE HOUR where I would be available to help my students–both the strong and the weak–on their assignments. This, I feel, would make me a better “teacher.”

Now the part that I get caught up about with this is that I’m still teaching. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to see what I can find to flip the flipped classroom into an inquiry-based learning experience. I agree that teacher-centred learning has it’s place, and I’m not going to abolish it, but I do want to get a variety of teaching methods within the flipped classroom.

Lastly, I’ve been pondering assessment. Most definitely with a flipped classroom, my anecdotal assessment abilities have the potential to be through the roof. I could make time to check in with each student every single day. Again, having this knowledge would make me a better “teacher” so that I can specifically develop each lesson to the student needs. Isn’t that the goal of teaching? Education for everyone?

So this is where I’m standing right now: I don’t want to be the star of my classroom, I don’t have to be the star of my classroom, and I shouldn’t be the star of my classroom. I have to get over the “no cellphones”/”no iPods“/”no twitter”/”no texting”/”no internet”/”no youtube”/whatever other arbitrary rules that are inhibiting student success. This sounds like a brilliant fairytale for my future classroom. I know it will be hard and it won’t happen all at once, but I know where I want to end up. That end point may change as my students change, society changes, and I change, but I know the general direction I am headed, and, man, it feels good.