Saturday, August 30, 2014

Encountering (minor) Challenges and Making Adjustments

I knew it would happen.  It was impossible for every day in the flipped classroom to be picture-perfect. Technology would have hiccups.  Students wouldn't watch a video.  The day wouldn't go as planned.

It was NOT a bad week.  But as the newness of the idea wears off and the honeymoon phase comes to an end, my students and I begin the process of figuring out how to make flipped lessons work day-in and day-out.

Students took their first test Tuesday.  Grades were good.  It was mostly review material, but I am satisfied my students are where they need to be as we move on through the curriculum.

On the test I asked students to reflect on our flipped classroom.  To tell me what was good, what could be better, and to give any ideas or suggestions they had.

Responses were overwhelmingly positive.  Many students "love" the flipped lessons or think they're "awesome."  They like that they can watch the videos at their convenience (my athletes and their parents are in flipped lesson heaven) and pause or rewind their teacher.  One mentioned being able to watch lessons without the normal distractions of a classroom lecture.

There were a couple of suggestions.  One mentioned my squeaky stylus (I had pointed it out to them in the video we watched together).  One said they were great for the material he was already familiar with but told of his concern about encountering new material via video (I share that concern, but we got a glimpse of it this week, and I think the flipped lessons will still be effective with unfamiliar concepts).  A couple requested they be given more problems to try individually during the lesson/video (future videos will do a better job of this).

One student simply stated, "I don't like them."  This student has a "tough girl" exterior and is often vocal about her dislike of whatever we might be doing.  I did ask, "Reasons?" on her response, but I am not going to worry too much about her statement.  I have a feeling she might like them more than she wants me to know.

And my goal is not for my students to like everything we do all the time.  It's OK if you don't like the flipped classroom.  I don't take it personally, and my feelings aren't hurt.  I would like to know, though, how we can work together to make it work better for you.

I got positive feedback from more than one parent this week.  My principal is hearing positive feedback.  The state department was in our system this week doing an audit of the special ed program, and my autistic student was randomly picked to have his files audited.  All of his teachers were interviewed.  During my interview we spent the majority of time discussing flipped lessons (the special ed teacher had already told them I was flipping lessons and how the student is responding to them); they were impressed by and interested in the process.

Wednesday was the first day of challenges.  Fourth Period (my first Algebra 1 class) came in, and I had a planned activity all ready to go.  As students began to work through the activity, I realized there was a part of the lesson that presented some difficulty.  It slowed the activity down and made it a bit awkward.  We worked through it, and I'm confident students understood the material before they left, but I could sense a bit of panic in the students and myself at one point.  I adjusted the activity a bit for 5th Period, and by 7th Period I knew how to do the whole thing differently.

I need to tell 4th Period they're my "guinea pig" class, and they will help me know what works and what doesn't.  Sort of like being the oldest child (my parents always called me their "experiment child").

That was also the day of the interview with the state people, and I got called out of 4th Period early.  So we didn't get to finish all of the planned activities.  No problem...I just split the lesson into two days and we completed everything the next day.

Wednesday was the first day I had students come in who hadn't watched the video.  I had thought I might be able to let such students participate in class activities, but I quickly realized it is near impossible to do anything with the material if you have no idea what it is about.  Some of the students had headphones and some didn't, so watching the video while the class was doing learning activities worked for some but not others.  Our choir teacher had some extra headphones she let me have.  From here on out, if a student hasn't watched the video, he/she will have to go to the back of the room (considering the hall?), watch the video and complete the notes, and take whatever activity is missed in class home to complete (on top of the next video, if one is due the next day).

A couple of students messaged me on Edmodo through the week, saying they were having issues with iTunesU downloading videos.  I've told students to set iTunesU to "auto-download" - hoping that will prevent panics the night a video is to be watched - and reminded them that the videos are accessible in two places for a reason.

We've had widespread sickness and many multi-day absences right here at the beginning of the school year.  I'm reminding students to check Edmodo for which videos are due which days AND to see what we did in class that needs to be made up.  Students seem to be surprised that they have more than the video to make up.

I've also decided to post folders to Edmodo with copies of the blank notes.  If students lose a copy of notes or are absent the day they are handed out, they will still have access to them.  I might also let students who prefer to take notes digitally do so (although in a poll I posted to Edmodo this week the vast majority of students said they would prefer hard copies of notes).

In this week's lessons, the instructions at the end of the video about asking questions shifted.  It went from, "Do you have any questions?" to "Ask a question: either something you don't understand or something to ask another student to check his/her understanding."  Students don't like this!  Some skipped it altogether (which meant their notes were incomplete, and they didn't get the full 5 points on that day's check) and some asked "Do you understand?"  I got a "Who invented Tuesday?" and a "When am I going to use this in life?" (that question came from "tough girl").  This week I gave them credit for at least following instructions and asking something; I told them questions needed to be relevant to the lesson and specific from here on out.  Lots of students, though, came up with great questions, and many even made up their own problems.  I like what the questioning is doing to their brains.

I think some concentrated time to discuss how to ask higher-order thinking questions is in order.

I see all of the (minor) challenges of the week as part of the process.  Students are learning what a flipped classroom looks like and what their job is.  I'm learning how to make it work for every student. One of the main objectives of the flipped classroom - students taking responsibility for their own learning - is beginning to take shape.  It will be almost impossible to be a passive learner in the flipped setting, and students are beginning to realize that.  They are learning what THEY have to DO to be successful, but I hope they are also realizing I will provide the necessary support to help them succeed.

This weekend I begin recording the next set of videos.

I get so busy during class I keep forgetting to take pictures of what we are doing to add to the blog. These long posts need to be enhanced with classroom pictures!

In September I plan to participate in TeachThought's Reflective Teaching blogging challenge.  So, in theory, I will blog daily for the month of September.  And not every blog post will be about the flipped classroom.  There are good things happening in my collaborative Pre-Algebra classes and with my new retake/redo policy that I look forward to sharing.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I'm Liking What I See

Wow...where to begin? How do I organize my thoughts and observations?

There are lots of good things happening in Room 12 at Arab Junior High School!

I'll start with the easy stuff. All the technicalities of watching videos at home are working. No one is having problems accessing the lessons.

I think there were three instances of students coming to class without their completed notes.  Each instance was addressed, and I don't see it becoming a big issue.  Several students watched all the videos for the week last weekend.

Things with the autistic student went beautifully this week.  As he would finish with the day's assignment or activity, I would give him the notes for the night's assigned video.  He is in my lunch period, which has 10-12 extra minutes, so he was able to watch (without listening, still) every video in class.  Once he begins something he feels compelled to finish it, and he dislikes having to take things home to finish, so this has worked out well for him.  The resource teacher and I have told him that new material (such as he will encounter this coming week) will really need to be listened to, and we have encouraged him to get some headphones to bring to class.

I'm loving the dynamic of the flipped classroom.  Students come in to some sort of warm-up/starter/before activity.  One day they prepared a foldable.  One day we played Kahoot!.  They get their notes out, and at some point I go around the room and check them.  This is when I've been answering questions they've recorded.  After the starter we do something to practice the lesson topic.  This week included a couple of days of practice problems and three days of different group activities:  an "Order of Operations Challenge," a writing expressions "Walk-About," and word problems.  I wrap up class with different kinds of exit slips/formative assessments.

I'm having time to do things I never had time to do in my traditional, go-over-homework-take-notes-start-your-homework classes.  One day our starter was creating quadrant cards/Frayer models for vocabulary introduced in the video.  I've never been able to give vocabulary the kind of emphasis I think it needs.

I mentioned last week on Twitter (and maybe my blog post) one of my favorite sounds is hearing students having mathematical discussions with each other and me.  In my traditional classroom I got to hear it every once in a while.  With all of the interaction between students in the flipped classroom, I'm hearing it almost daily!  It's music to my ears!

It's very freeing to be able to come to class and start DOING.  I love the kids knowing what's going on when they come in the door.  The pump is already primed, and the learning and demonstration of knowledge begin to flow.

Friday was a problem-solving day.  Last spring I asked my Algebra 1 students to reflect on the End of Course Test.  Several students said they wished they had had more practice with multi-step, complicated word problems.  So I resolved to do a better job this year preparing students for those types of problems.  The video students watched Thursday night was the longest one they had seen (15 minutes).  In it, I discussed and demonstrated the use of formulas and worked through a multi-step problem.  In class, students were put in groups and given a set of problems to work through together.  There were a few moans and groans ("a, b, AND c parts?!?!?"), but I told them they would thank me in April.  Most accepted that.  They worked together so well and everyone finished with the assignment and turned it in before the end of class.

When I thought about how that lesson would look if it had not been flipped, I knew the examples - while only 15 minutes on a video - would have taken most of a class period to get through.  Students *might* have had a few minutes to get started on a problem or two but definitely wouldn't have had time to get in a group and get any meaningful amount completed.  The assignment would have been taken home for students to work on by themselves.  Some of them would have finished, but many would have gotten frustrated and given up.  I probably would have seen many of them in my room the next morning with cries of "I don't get it!"

So, instead of students struggling alone at home, they were able to experience success in class.  And they will be more willing to try the next set of problems I give them.  Win!

Concerns at this point?

I detect a small number of students not listening to the videos.  While one of the benefits of video lessons is students being able to watch the videos at their pace and in their own way, I'm concerned students will miss things and not understand new material if they don't listen to what I'm saying as I work examples on the notes.  I guess I'll wait and see what happens as we get into unfamiliar topics.  I worry students won't really "get" the importance of listening to the instruction until after they are behind and confused.

I'm a little concerned about beginning the aforementioned new material (students will be introduced to functions this week for the first time).  I have fears of hearing a chorus of "I didn't understand any of that!" as students enter class.  So far, though, none of my fears have materialized; maybe this one will prove to be unfounded, too.

I'm beginning to worry a bit about my time.  I will need to start making new videos within the next two weeks, and maybe even this week if I decide to add a video I'm thinking about for the intro to functions unit.  I'm spending all my planning and after-school time in day-to-day preparation; I have no idea when I'm going to record videos.  I'm thinking about designating Sunday afternoons as video time and going to the school each week to record lessons as needed.

This week I'm going to ask students for their first feedback since actually watching videos and experiencing a flipped class.  I'm really interested to see what they think.  And I want to know their suggestions and ideas.  I have a few of my own, but I know they will think of things that I haven't.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jumping In With Both Feet

Wow!  The first 5 days of school felt like 5 weeks.  It was a great week, but we covered a lot of ground and seemed to get in a good routine very quickly.  It was an exhausting week, as the first week of school always is.  Thursday included Open House that evening, so that day felt like a double shift.

But I'm a "good" tired and am very pleased with our first 5 days.

I did begin to develop a sinus infection by late Friday afternoon, so this weekend I'm medicating myself and resting.  And will probably visit the clinic for a shot.

In my Algebra 1 classes, I began building up our flipped classroom from Day 1, until we finally watched a video together on Day 4.

While going over policies and procedures on Monday, I introduced the "big 3" of how our class is going to work - communication via Edmodo (not new to my students; our district has been using Edmodo for about a year and a half), a new retake and redo policy (after reading Rick Wormelli this summer), and flipped lessons.

Tuesday and Wednesday the students worked in pairs on a Problem Trail I got from "Activities by Jill" on Teachers Pay Teachers.  It was a great activity.  I got to hear lots of mathematical discussions, observe students teaching each other, pre-teach concepts we will explore later, and review concepts students have seen in previous math courses.  I experienced what I hope will be commonplace once flipped lessons are the norm in my classroom - individual time with lots of students.  While we weren't focused on flipped lessons these two days, students would ask the occasional question about them.  They were very curious about what was coming.

Thursday was "the big day."  I walked them through how to find the links to the lessons on Edmodo.  We discussed how to be "FIT" when watching a video (via Crystal Kirch). Then we watched the first lesson together.  I modeled pausing the videos, talked about the importance of rewinding when necessary, and discussed how to ask questions about the lessons and get them answered.  I previewed how questions would evolve from "Do you have any questions about this lesson?" to "Ask a question about this lesson - either something you don't understand or a higher-order question to ask your classmates."

Thursday night I got to talk to the parents who attended Open House.  They, too, got a preview of the "big 3."  They seemed very interested in and open to the flipped lessons.  The only question asked was, "Are YOU making these lessons?"  It was obviously important to this parent (and I assume others) that the kids get instruction from me.  I'm glad I decided to approach my flipped class in this manner.  I know the parent who asked that question and taught his older son, and when other parents had left the room he asked, "How are you going to have time for all of this?"  I told him honestly I wasn't exactly sure but was working on a good routine.

I've had several parents tell me they think the flipped classroom is a good idea, and I've heard more than one say they will watch the videos with their children.  Yea!

Friday we talked about iTunes U (we are a 1:1 iPad school).  Most students were able to join my course and download at least the video they are to watch this weekend.  I have a small handful of students without access at home.  They were relieved to hear I had an option to make flipped learning work for them.  One student doesn't have access at home AND couldn't get enrolled in my iTunes U course.  I used Air-Drop to send the video to his camera roll.  Another student was worried about things not working for him and asked that I also Air-Drop the video to him.  We have lots of options!

[After some poking around this weekend, I discovered the limit for enrollment in an iTunes U course is 50; I have 53 Algebra 1 students, so that is why 3 were unable to join.  I have created a second, identical course and will get those 3 enrolled tomorrow.]

We spent the rest of our time in class practicing concepts from Thursday's video lesson, and I gave them all the guided notes for next week.  They can watch videos on their own schedule, as long as a video is watched by the day I've told them it is due.

I only saw two issues, one minor and one which might take some work.

The minor issue deals with the fact that middle school students "wake up in a new world every morning."  As students encountered problems on Friday they were a little less familiar with (most of the lesson was review), I would remind them I did an example like it on the video the day before and to get those notes out.  They would look at me a little strangely.  I hope they begin to more readily make the connection between the video one day and the work the next.  I think they will.

The other, larger issue involves a particular student.  He is autistic and receives special education services but is very bright and wanted to take the advanced, Pre-AP Algebra 1 class instead of the inclusion, regular Pre-Algebra class.  He deems the videos "a waste of his time" (his words to the resource teacher).  After talking with his seventh grade math teacher, I found he has a history of working ahead but then missing important information because he is not paying attention.  I could see this right away as we watched the first video together.  I talked to the resource teacher (she is my partner teacher in Pre-Algebra), and she talked with him that afternoon.  We decided to give him one lesson of guided notes at a time (instead the whole week's worth) and remind him he will have to redo notes that are not done correctly the first time.

I had a private discussion with him about our plan.  I told him I knew he wasn't crazy about the videos; he replied, "No.  I'm not."  I told him I knew he could do it, though.  I mentioned the first assigned video was only seven minutes long and said I knew he could give me seven minutes.  He said, "No.  I can't."  We had a little more discussion, and as he walked off he said, "I'm going to skip parts.  To make a statement."  Whoa!  We had a short discussion about defiance.  At lunch, I once again touched base with the resource teacher.

After lunch, the resource teacher came in to observe and let the young man know she was aware and involved.  After she left, I saw him writing on the notes and thought he was trying to do them without the video.  As I approached him, however, I saw the video playing (he had finished our work for the day).  He was not listening to the video, but he was writing what was showing on the screen.  I'll take it!

I look forward to learning how I can adapt the flipped classroom to individual student needs.

My exit slip Friday was a "3-2-1":  tell me 3 things you think you're going to like about this class, 2 things you are concerned/worried/unsure about, and 1 question you have for Mrs. Gibbs.  I learned a lot about my students from this activity!  They are excited about the flipped lessons (a major subject of their responses), but they are concerned, too.  What if the videos don't work at home?  What is class going to look like?  I think most of their concerns will be answered over the next couple of weeks.  Two students' question for me was, "Do you really think a flipped classroom is going to work?"  I hope they eventually realize I wouldn't invest what I've already invested and will continue to invest into the process if I didn't think it was going to work.  And I continue to share my enthusiasm as we become immersed in the process.

I went to Edmodo and wrote a "how to access video lessons" post in case some of them forgot on Sunday the procedures we discussed Thursday and Friday.  My partner teacher has suggested a "cheat sheet" to send home for students and parents; I think it's a good idea and will probably do it soon.

I also asked them to post "Watched!" after they've viewed the video and completed the notes.  I want students to see that others have not had problems with the videos and that this is going to work! And I was excited to see that three of them had watched the video before noon on Saturday.  The list of "Watched!" replies continues to grow throughout the weekend.

Wow!  This is a long post.  But the purpose of this blog is to be a place to record my observations and thoughts, so I can refer back to them later.  If you have stuck with me to the very end, you are to be commended. :)  Maybe subsequent weeks won't require as much brain-dump.

I can't wait to see what happens next week!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

It's here! And it's almost time!

Students have returned, and I'm getting my math-geek on.  Yesterday we went over policies and procedures and began to get to know each other, but today we got to do some math.  I got to see what my students remember and - one of my favorite things - hear them talk mathematically with me and each other.

It's been a great start!

I'm two days from beginning flipped lessons in my Algebra 1 classes.  It's getting close!

Yesterday I gave a brief description of what our flipped classroom was going to look like.  I told the students my reasons for wanting to flip our classroom.  I shared my excitement for what this experience holds in store for us.  I tried real hard to sell the students on the idea!

My first two algebra classes seemed very interested.  Seventh Period looked at me like I had two heads. But I'm going to say those students were tired at the end of their first day and are really looking as forward to the process as Fourth and Fifth Periods!

At the end of one class today, a girl asked when we were watching the first video.  Others began to enter the conversation.  "I think the videos are a great idea!"  "Yeah, I think it'll be real good."  "My mom thought it was a good idea!"

I was excited they had talked about flipping with their parents, and their parents are already buying in.

Tomorrow I will make a "FIT" handout (a la Crystal Kirch) for our "how to watch a video" lesson.

Tonight or tomorrow I need to figure out how to use iTunes U and see if it's going to do what I need/want it to do.

Thursday we watch the first lesson in class.

Thursday night is Open House, and I get to give parents the same sales pitch I gave the kids:  what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, what I expect the benefits to be.

I can almost guarantee I won't blog Thursday night - the day of Open House always feels like two work days - but I can't wait to come back and report how Thursday goes!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Motivational Monday Linky Party

I'm joining The Compelled Educator (Jennifer Hogan) for a Motivational Linky Party!

Today is the first day back to school for teachers in my district.

I feel like I've been working all summer.  I taught summer school in June, I spent half of July prepping and recording videos to flip my Algebra 1 classes, and I spent 4 days near the end of July at Year 3 training for NMSI/LTF (National Math and Science Initiative/Laying the Foundation). The school section of my brain just hasn't wanted to shut down.

But it's all good!  I'm excited about the coming year and ready to give it all I've got!

How do I stay motivated?  Well, we all know motivation comes and goes as the school year moves along.

Where do I find motivation when it is lacking?  I found this cute card on my Pinterest board that describes one of my sources of motivation.

I find motivation in thank-yous from former students and parents.  Former students express their appreciation through hugs and exclamations of  "I miss you!" when they see me. Parents most often send emails.  I'm not sure how it works, but I usually receive such emails when I need a pick-me-up the most.  And they will never know how much it means for them to take the time to say, "Thanks."

I would advise every new teacher to make a designated folder to keep encouraging notes.  And if you're a veteran teacher without such a folder, start one. Reading those notes from time to time give a measurable motivational boost.

And take the time to thank the people who have made a difference in your life.  They need to know.  And it will be a motivating factor in their journeys, too.