A math teacher takes an un-calculated risk to yield an exponential value.
GUEST COLUMN | by John Choins
I’ve been a teacher for 16 years, and for the last 9 years I’ve taught middle school math. Before the start of every year I would think to myself, “There has got to be a better way,” but then I would find myself in the same struggle of trying to fit in all the material in a limited amount of time without giving students time to absorb, or even play with the math to a level where they actually internalized it. Two years ago, my district launched a 1-to-1 iPad initiative. Teachers got their iPads at the beginning of the school year so we could have time to play with the new tool and experiment with ways to use it in our classrooms, while receiving training on best practices. The students received their iPads in January of that school year. We spent the semester experimenting with ways to engage students with the iPads in a very new environment. Our district selected Edmodo as our LMS, so I started experimenting with communicating and collaborating with my students through this platform, as well as leveraging other edtech tools.
I’m not afraid to experiment with new ideas or new technology, but to completely change the way I teach seemed like a bit of a stretch, even for me.
During this semester of implementation, I started hearing about a new concept in teaching called “flipped learning.” It sounded intriguing, but I was a bit skeptical. What works in one teacher’s classroom, hasn’t always worked in mine. I’m not afraid to experiment with new ideas or new technology, but to completely change the way I teach seemed like a bit of a stretch, even for me.
After spending the summer reading about all of the positive results from teachers who implemented flipped learning, I decided to give it a try. I came up with a way I thought would work for me: a four-step process. Step one was to create my own videos. I thought this would take less time than searching through the myriad of videos already available online. Since I had an iPad, I just recorded myself with the iPad camera. I recorded short segments in case I made a mistake so it would be easier to fix. The last segment of the video was always a series of practice problems for the students to do, which was designed purposefully so I’d know how much of the concept they had mastered. I then combined all of the clips using iMovie. Once the video was complete, I uploaded it to my YouTube channel, as well as to my channel on SchoolTube.
The next step in the process was to share the video link with my students. I gave instructions to the students, attached the link to the video, and a notes page, all in Edmodo. The students were then required to watch the video at home and take notes. Students were able watch the video as many times as they needed. Upon completion, students worked the practice problems, took a picture of their work, and uploaded it back onto the platform.
The third step in my flipped learning process was for me to check all of the students’ practice problems and give them quick feedback. I was quickly able to review their work, checking in on the students who had mastered the material, and identifying problem areas. I quickly gave students feedback by letting them know how many problems they got correct. This was the most important step in planning for class time the next day, which is the fourth step in my process.
My plan for the class the next day was dictated by the students’ practice problems. If the majority of the students missed one or more of the practice problems, then we started class with a mini-lesson over the misconceptions that I noticed. If the majority of the class got all of the problems correct, then I worked with a small group while the other students jumped right into the activity for the day. Either way, the majority of the class time was spent on using what the students learned through some type of game, activity or project that required them to use their skills instead of just spending time in class learning about the skills.
The results were so overwhelmingly positive that I decided to flip my classroom for the entire year. Student engagement skyrocketed. Learning increased as evidenced by scores on standardized tests. More time was spent in class using the math, than during any other year I’ve taught. This was definitely an experiment I’m glad I tried. I am now a firm believer in flipped learning, and will never go back to a traditional way of teaching again.
John Choins is an Algebra teacher at Midway Middle School in Texas. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org