Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flipclass, Differentiation and Moving the Boulder

I've had the chance to work with three different groups in the past week and a half on the flipclass concept. I've enjoyed the conversations and idea sharing that has taken place. In person the idea makes a lot more sense than in the 140 character tweets many of us are limited to. I'm far from an expert and only offer my perspective of what has seemed to work for me in my own classroom. I'm cursed/blessed with being a teacher that is reflective. The blessing being that is what helps us strive to continually improve our practice; the curse in that we never rest or are satisfied with what we've attained.
My own classroom has been traditional in nature from the beginning of my teaching career 9 years ago. It always seemed that every year was a starting over process and little time was left for making the class better (adding application activities, projects, investigations). Essentially I felt like Sisyphus having to start pushing the boulder back up the hill each fall.
Through Twitter, Blogs, and recently reading a lot about the Common Core Standards I know that I need to move students beyond the traditional algorithms, lecture/drill/kill methods and into a deeper understanding of the mathematics (my content area). I've always wanted to offer differentiated instruction but being one teacher with a limited class period I've never known how to really put it into practice. As I move more into the flipclass I feel those things can become more of a reality and here are my reasons:
1. Students come with a common knowledge base. Having watched the videos prior to class the next day, more students are able to participate in discussions in class and less dependent on me, the curriculum "expert".
2. Activities focused on depth. For a course like geometry, much of the terminology and concepts are new ideas. Rather than spend time on going over the lower level vocabulary and basic knowledge skills in class we can get right to application. Time is spent on things like a real-world photo scavenger hunt, Geometer Sketchpad labs and games with small groups to acquire deeper understanding of the concepts.
3. Small groups and focused interventions. Yesterday I had the chance to work with a small group on a topic they were still having difficulty with from the previous unit--the PLC question of "What do we do when they don't understand it?" This question was always a struggle because some of the class does understand it and if a teacher needs to move to the next material or stay on the old material one group is being left out. As I was working with the remedial group, I still had a chance to move about the room and talk with other students. I found that some of the class was not only moving on to the next area of learning, they were 3 lessons ahead of others. They stated that they really liked having the freedom to do so.
4. Formative data assists in gathering baseline data of student understanding. Note: this is not the only demonstration of understanding students have to complete. To get at least some kind of data on student learning while students are working in different places, I have used my google forms template to give feedback to students on some of the concepts they are learning and gather data on overall class understanding. This is used to help guide our large group discussions and focus on areas where it is clear the whole the class is still struggling. Students are able to rework mistakes immediately toward the correct answer and then get help if they are still confused. This has helped students self-identify in the learning process if they truly are understanding it.
Final thoughts:
I'm still learning and growing. What I'm most excited about is moving toward a role as a teacher of connecting more with individual students, having small group conversations to gather an understanding of their learning process and building on the course each year to make it better. My version of the flip uses video to deliver a large portion of the direct instruction. Now that those are done I can focus on bringing in rich activities for students to apply and create material in the content.
For those critical of the flipclass idea I would just ask what are your solutions for when students don't understand the material, are absent from class, need to see/hear things more often than others or already understand the material you are covering? Flipclass is a work in progress for me at attempting to address these issues as a classroom teacher.

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