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.

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