Monday, December 21, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: How do you Catch a Unique Lesson?

Unique up on it, of course!

Sorry...that was bad...couldn't resist.

In tonight's #flipclass chat, we're discussing unusual teaching methods or lessons.

I have to admit, I don't see many of my methods or lessons as very unusual or unique.

Yes, #flipclass is still unique and unusual to my students. Getting to do the activities I do in class is not math-class-as-usual, but they're still not all that unique, in my view. They're just a welcome respite from listening to me for 30-45 minutes and then working problems from a textbook or worksheet.

Two classroom lessons came to mind, though, that students enjoy.

When I introduce the Pythagorean Theorem, I use an explore-flip-apply method. We do a visual proof of the theorem, where students cut out squares off the legs of a right triangle and arrange them so they cover the square off the hypotenuse, seeing that "a^2 + b^2  = c^2." I love the look of understanding that comes over students' faces when we discuss what they have demonstrated. Some of them have been told the Pythagorean Theorem before but never why it's a "thing."

Students also enjoy problem relays. I've played these two different ways. In one relay, a student on a team works a problem, then that answer is inserted into a blank in the next problem for the next student to work. The second way this has been played is for each student on the team to work the next step of a problem. Both methods force students to evaluate the work of their peers. And their competitive sides come out, which is always fun to watch.

I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to teach my subject. As I've said so many times before, my flipped classroom gives me the time and flexibility to try out those new and interesting methods.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Flipped Review

I am not a fan of the review process. I believe it's necessary, I believe it can be beneficial, but I have often struggled with the best way to do it. At the end of a semester, with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, students are often distracted. Many give a little less than their best effort.

There's frustration. For students, for me. "How do you work Number 1?" "I don't remember how to do Number 7!" "I don't think we ever did anything like Number 13!" I can point kids to notes and and places in the book, but that is often followed by, "I still don't get it." And frustrated students lead to even less engaged students.

And then there's the boredom. I get bored, students get bored. Try these problems (that you don't remember how to do), ask me questions about these problems, watch me work these problems. We'll repeat the whole process tomorrow. Boredom leads to even less engagement.

I began brainstorming ways to make the review process better and more effective several weeks beforehand.

My first idea was to spend time in class doing activities I know they enjoy - task cards, scavenger hunts, bingo, etc. But students need practice with questions that look like test questions, and if class time is spent on activities, practice questions would have to be done - and checked and corrected - largely outside of class and individually. And, done this way, not every topic can be covered in the few days we have for review. I thought about quiz programs like "Kahoot!" but that, too, had issues I was trying to avoid.

I surveyed the kids to see what ideas they had for their "ideal" review. They weren't a whole lot of help ("What do you mean, 'What do I want in a review?!?'"), but I did gather a few good ideas from some of their comments.

And then I thought, "Why don't I flip the review?" I could even do it in class! I've done some in-class flipping with my Pre-Algebra students (I need to blog about it), and it's a great way to keep kids focused and on-task and allow students to work at their own pace. It also would keep students from having to do a lot at home.

So I began. I took my reviews - we're required to make official study guides - and broke them into sections of like problems (one of the suggestions from a student). I made short videos about each topic where I worked through the problems, reteaching concepts as I went. The longest video was 12 or 13 minutes. Most were around 10, and some were as short as 3.

The result was 20 videos - 10 for Pre-Algebra, 10 for Algebra 1 - and close to 2.5 hours of recording.

I also exported the PDFs of my work (another suggestion from a student).

I rearranged my room for partner work and picked the partners who would work together for the next 4 days. I wanted this to feel different and like a change of pace.

I split the reviews into 4 parts and each day posted the videos and PDFs for that day. Each day had either 2 or 3 videos that covered the topics for the day.

On the first day of the review I explained the resources available to the students. I told them they had a choice how to approach the review. I suggested they attempt each section first, then check their answers (the answers to each section was the first part of each video), then watch the video to see the explanations for the problems they missed or didn't remember. If they didn't need to hear the explanation, they could look at the PDF to see the work.

I emphasized the importance of engaging with the material, however they chose to do it. Simply copying the work provided without thinking about it would not be adequate preparation.

And then I nervously turned the students loose and watched them work. I had no idea what to expect.

I liked what I saw.

Students approached the videos in all sorts of ways. Some followed my suggestion. Some worked, checked, and watched one problem at a time. Some used the PDFs. Some watched the videos like they did for notes, copying the work and listening to the explanations.

I was impressed that my students (particularly my Algebra 1 students) went back to their notes from when the material was first covered.

I heard lots of good discussion (I don't think I've mentioned in awhile that my favorite thing in my teaching world is hearing students talk MATH). Students were explaining things to each other. I heard more than one, "Remember when..." Even Slope Dude was referenced! I was impressed with what my students remembered.

If the videos and peer help were not enough, students would come to me for extra explanation. I saw areas I need to revisit as we get into second semester.

Students were more engaged than I've ever seen during a semester review. And I believe they were engaged because they felt empowered. They were given choice, they were given flexibility. They did not have to stare at problems not remembering how to approach them. They were able to know as they worked if they were on the right track. And they responded to that.

I was told by one student, "This has been my favorite review this year." I posted on Twitter that "favorite" and "review" have never been used together in my classroom.

Was it perfect? No.

There was still a handful unengaged and disinterested students. But it was a small handful and far fewer students than ever before.

A few students were resistant to watching the videos. They wanted me to explain problems, and when I would say, "Go to the video; it's all there," they would respond with, "But I don't want to watch the video." That really surprised me.

There were still students who failed my exam. I was really hoping to not see any failures.

Semester exams are tough; they cover a lot of material at a time when students are tired and "over" school and having to deal with more than one big test at the same time. My experience has always been (since I started teaching in '93) that semester exam grades are lower than I would like, even for students who normally do very well.

I had many students do well on the exam, though. Overall, grades were representative of what I've seen students demonstrate throughout the semester.

So...I declare the "flipped review" a success but am brainstorming ways to make it better. Ways to get even more students engaged and interested. Ways to ensure all students are learning what I want them to learn.

Monday, December 14, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Teaching Study Skills

I hope I teach more than math. I hope I teach skills that allow my students to be better students.

There are lots of skills students need to be successful in school. Note-taking, time management, how to study for a test. In my class, how to watch a video is an important skill.

Why are these skills important? These skills allow students to feel in control. They give students confidence. They are skills they will adapt and use once they leave the classroom and begin "adulting."

How do I teach these skills? Mostly as opportunities present themselves. Those opportunities might come up through events happening in my classroom or conversations students are having with me or each other. When I notice specific skills needing improvement, I might take a few minutes out of class time to address them. Some skills need addressing multiple times.

Why is it important? Why take time out of class to address "soft skills" when there are standards to teach?

For one thing, some of the things I remember most about school are skills certain teachers taught me that stayed with me through my time in school and contributed to my success.

And for another, I teach more than math. I teach students.

Monday, November 23, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Thanksgiving

Being Thanksgiving Week and all, tonight's #flipclass Flash Blog is about...


There is no way I can describe everything I am thankful for in this little blog post. But I can describe a few things.

First of all, I am thankful there was a #flipclass blog prompt this week! I haven't blogged in a few weeks, and I've missed it.

I'm thankful for my #flipclass tweeps. I have learned so much from them and leave every chat encouraged and refreshed.

I'm thankful for my school system, my school, my admins, my colleagues. I have an incredible support system.

I'm thankful for my students. They make my life interesting. They challenge me. They make me laugh.

I'm thankful for discovering the flipped classroom. It has made me a better teacher and made my students' experiences so much better.

And I'm thankful for struggle. This year has been challenging. There is not the "honeymoon feeling" of last year. I am teaching a different group of students with a different group of needs. I continue to develop as a teacher, pushing myself and pushing my students. And it's not easy. But I'm growing. I know it. And as I grow, my students do, too.

Monday, October 26, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Building a Positive Classroom Culture

Since flipping my Algebra 1 classes last year (and restructuring my Pre-Algebra classes 2 years ago) I have become convinced of the difference a positive classroom culture makes.

I don't believe I had a negative classroom before, but my classroom culture has improved tremendously in 3 years.

Over the last 3 years, students have become convinced that I am on their side. They believe I have their backs. They know I care about them and want to see them succeed.

They see the time I put into making videos and preparing for class. They appreciate the opportunity to retake and redo assignments and tests.

Making my classroom more student-centered has allowed me to get to know my students better. To spend time with them and ask them about how their day is going or how other classes are going. To help them one-on-one.

And as a result, they work for me. They work hard. (OK, OK...most of them, most of the time)

I have thought many times over the last couple of years that building deeper, more positive relationships with my students has been the biggest single motivator I have ever found or used.

When students know you care and you won't allow them to fail, they'll walk through walls for you.

And that makes for a pretty positive classroom culture.

Monday, October 19, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: So Far This Year

Well...last year I did a reflection at the end of the first grading period. Tonight's #flipclass Flash Blog topic is to reflect on how it's going so far this year, and...guess what? It's the end of the first grading period! Perfect timing!

Overall, I would say the year is going pretty well.

In some ways it's been harder than last year. This year's students aren't as excited as last year's students about the flipped classroom. They like it; they don't want "normal" class. But they're not as "in love" with it as last year's group. I fed off that "flip-crush" last year. This year I have to find other motivation.

I'm remaking many more videos than I expected to. Since I changed pacing guides this year, some of the videos - and what I discussed in them - don't "fit" anymore. Many of the videos I re-watch and think, "I can do better."

I've blogged about some other difficulties; how I know that as I change and grow as a teacher, I will experience growing pains.

I've figured some of those things out. I'm more comfortable with where I am as a teacher and where my class is on all sorts of fronts: whole class discussion vs. individual conversations, self-paced vs. teacher-paced, discovery/creativity vs. skills practice. I believe my class is very balanced. Can I continue to grow and stretch? Of course. But I don't have to believe I'm doing everything wrong or that I have to throw every aspect of my teaching out the window and start over.

There are good things going on, too. I've started an in-class flip with my Pre-Algebra classes (blog post to come). They get a 5-10 minute video to take notes from, then they do some work with a partner. They like it.

I've also become very adept at making short example videos for students to watch instead of waiting for me to work an example with the whole class.

My students are making progress. They're learning how to watch videos, albeit a bit slower than I anticipated or would like. They're learning how to be responsible for their learning. They're learning how to find answers to their questions. They're learning how to study and learn. They're learning how to be mathematicians.

What more can I ask for?

Friday, October 16, 2015

FlipCon Atlanta 2015

Last Friday I was given the opportunity to attend FlipCon Atlanta, a one-day introduction to flipped learning led by none other than flipped classroom pioneers, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams.

Jon Bergmann and a "virtual photo bomb" by Aaron Sams

I was so excited! I have long looked up to Bergmann and Sams, and I followed their models when I flipped my own classroom. It was such a rush to get to meet them! I also got to meet one of my #flipclass Twitter friends (and fellow Bama fan), and that was also pretty exciting.

I'm in my second year of flipping my classroom, but I needed a good look at the basics again (still). I needed to see what other teachers are doing in their classrooms. I got some ideas about some things to try with Explain Everything, the app I use to make videos. I was given some tips about making videos that are easier/more fun for students to watch. I got to talk with other middle school math teachers, some "checking out" the flipped classroom and some who were already flipping; I identify with both.

Most of all, though, I was encouraged that maybe, just maybe, I'm doing OK with my flipped classroom and NOT doing everything the wrong way.

When it comes to the amount of practice my students do, the focus on content, how teacher-centered or student-centered my classroom is, how much discussion I have with the whole class, I was right in line with what Jon and Aaron suggest and with stories they shared from other successfully flipped math classes.

I got a glimpse of where my little flipped classroom can go - flipped mastery, SBG, PBL - and I can see me moving in those directions eventually, but I was happy to see that what I am currently doing is just fine and beneficial for my students.

I've had a few fleeting thoughts this year of, "This is too hard. Maybe I need to go back to my 'old' classroom" (YUCK!). I've felt pressure from people I don't even personally know that perhaps flipped learning is not the way to go in a classroom. But I left Atlanta refocused and re-energized and convinced that I am still on the right track, both for myself and my students.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Coming Out of the Funk While on a Slippery Slope

It was a better week.

At first, I wasn't sure it was going to be. After last week's "brain dump," Monday was once again rough. I thought, "There are going to have to be more 'brain dumps.'"

But things began to turn around on Tuesday. In my morning devotional I was given some scriptures to hold on to when the going is tough. I was encouraged as I went to school, and then I had a full day of training and planning with the math department. It was a great day. We talked, we learned. I was able to "get out of my head." I was able to map out the rest of the semester and see that my pacing is on the right track. I decided to silence a (virtual) voice that was pulling me down.

I approached Wednesday with some trepidation, wondering if Tuesday's good feelings would come crashing down. But they didn't. It was a good day.

Then Thursday was good. And Friday, too.

Maybe the fog is lifting. I will ride the wave as long as it lasts and (try to) remember what I've learned when things become difficult again (because they will).

So...I promised a blog about the fun things happening in the classroom. Today I will make good on that promise.

I've mentioned changing my pacing for both my preps this year. I found a pacing guide that was posted on our state department of education website. For both Algebra 1 and 8th grade Pre-Algebra, the year started with functions and moved into linear functions. Both classes have been working with slope this week (hence the bad reference in the title of this blog post).

I started both classes with "Slope Dude." Students groan and critique the short, not-too-fancy video, but they quote it over and over when working with slope. I win. :)

Pre-Algebra then focused on finding slope from a graph. After two days in class and then (attempting to) apply that knowledge to show that it doesn't matter which two points you choose to find slope from a graph, the other Pre-Algebra teacher and I were not convinced the students had it. So after our PD day, we spent one more day on it, using this color-by-number activity that the students were really excited about (sometimes it doesn't take much). I got to watch my students work, and by the end of that activity I felt more comfortable with my students' grasp of finding slope from a graph.

They then moved to finding slope from a table and slope between two points. My students this year are struggling with integers, so we pulled out a number line for this. I also stole Rockstar Math Teacher's Mini-Table. Oh, my goodness! They got it! They were good at it! They felt good about it!

I wish I had taken a closer picture of the mini-tables; check out Rockstar Math Teacher's blog!

We finished the week with some mixed practice. I was encouraged by the learning my students were demonstrating. I used task cards from this set (we haven't done slope from an equation, yet; that's coming up). Students were given a sheet of paper with coordinate planes, tables, and mini-tables to use to show their work (I threatened them if they wrote on my pretty, laminated task cards!). Some students would graph information in tables. One student didn't recall how to find slope on a graph, and he began using the mini-tables. While part of the reason for these actions was incomplete directions from me, I was so thrilled to see them making connections between tables and graphs and choosing the strategy they liked best. I heard several declarations of, "This is easy!" and "I like tables best" and "I like the graphs best."

You should have seen this girl showing her partner the difference between 2 points on the number line; it was exciting to watch!

Monday they begin to apply slope to average rate of change, and I look forward to their understanding deepening.

Algebra 1 has gone faster and deeper with slope. I told them up front they were benefitting from what I learned from last year's worst video. After watching "Slope Dude" and identifying the types of slope, they watched a video about slope from a graph and table. Their class practice was some of the task cards mentioned earlier. They learned the slope formula in a video. In class they chose between some activities in this bundle. I am noticing some struggle with integers in this group, too, but with some one-on-one instruction and help from peers, they're coming along nicely.

Working with the slope formula

They looked at average rate of change from graphs and situations at the end of the week, and they seem to be comfortable with it. We talked a lot this week about precision in answers and how to write "pretty" sentences.

Analyzing graphs and justifying answers

Eighth graders are also looking at slope, rate of change, and distance-time graphs in science right now. AND their history teacher discussed slope and the building of the pyramids. There is some major cross-curricular teaching going on! And hopefully some connections being made and some confirmation that what is being learned in one particular classroom is useful in other classrooms.

I feel good about this past week. I feel like all my classes and students made progress. I feel huge gains were made this week in the area that I believe affects learning more than anything else - relationships. Building relationships is why I do a lot of what I do in the classroom, and part of my frustration the last few weeks was not seeing what I experienced last year. This week some of it clicked.

I ended the week confident everything's gonna be OK.

I'll just need reminding of that the next time I feel otherwise.

Monday, September 21, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Grading

It's funny that tonight's #flipclass topic is grading when I almost considered skipping #flipclass to finish grading a set of tests that NEEDS to be finished.

The suggested topic is "your best grading hack or what you still need to figure out regarding grades/workflow."

I don't have any life-changing hacks. I did learn from a dear friend and colleague just in the last couple of years how to be a little more efficient with a set of papers. I grade everybody's "Side 1," then the next side, etc. I would love to know how much time I save not flipping pages 50-gazillion times.

I've also become better at using snippets of time here and there in class to grade things. Flipping my class helped tremendously with this. I *have* more snippets of time in class, because I'm not up front talking for 45 minutes.

Overall, I bring less home than I used to.

I'm doing more things digitally this year and trying to learn how to grade and give feedback digitally. I am finding there is a learning curve to digital grading, and I'm not super-efficient with it at this point.

I'm trying more and more to give grades that matter. I try to grade standards. I like to wait and take a grade when I'm confident my students have learned what we've been working on. This means fewer grades and sometimes longer between grades. It also means answering "Is this for a grade?" and explaining why it's not many, many times.

I also find as I teach differently and give different class activities - no longer do I assign book page after book page or worksheet after worksheet - that these types of activities are harder to assign a grade to. So much in my classroom is now done with a partner. Kids are doing lots of work and learning, but how do I give a number grade to things like that?

I wish grades would go away. I don't see it happening any time soon, but I wish the focus would be less on the number on a paper and more on what is being learned.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Transforming as an Educator

Let me apologize ahead of time. I need a "brain dump." I might ramble a bit in this post (OK, OK, I probably ramble in more than a few posts). You won't see it, but I might shed a few tears while writing this post.

The past couple of weeks have been hard.

They've been challenging. A struggle. I've felt off my game. Out of my comfort zone. I've wondered if I've been effective. I've wondered if my students are learning anything. I've wondered if I'm making any progress. I've wondered if I'm moving too slowly.

I remembered this post. I've re-read it more than once in the last week or so. I've been reminded that these feelings come - and they do eventually go (and I'm once again thankful I decided to blog my journey).

It's been hard to put my finger on the exact cause (or causes) of the struggle. There always seem to be several things that contribute to it.

But I think the biggest factor for this particular struggle is change.

I continue to change as a teacher. To grow (I hope).

And it's hard.

I was taught a certain way. I learned to teach a certain way. And I taught a certain way for at least the first 15 years of my career (I'm starting year 19). Here's the material, here are your practice problems. Tomorrow we'll do the same thing all over again. Next week we'll take a test. Hope you understand everything!

Things began changing about 3 years ago. The start of AP and Pre-AP courses and new types of lessons. The move to strategic teaching and restructuring of class time. The implementation of new standards based on Common Core. All of those things happened outside of my classroom but affected my classroom.

Inside my classroom, I started using interactive notebooks. I flipped my Algebra 1 classes. I found educators through Twitter and blogs who influenced and changed my personal philosophies and policies.

I am NOT the same teacher I was even a few years ago.

And I like who I'm becoming. But sometimes - and the last couple of weeks, a lot of the time - I wonder if I'm doing it all wrong.

I'm teaching standards in a different order this year. That has me a bit unsure about my timing and wondering if I'm going to be able to "cover everything."

I have not touched a textbook in 6 weeks of school. OK, that's not exactly true. I have consulted my textbooks - mostly for worthy problems to use in class - but students have not been told "turn to page such-and-so and do numbers 2-32 even." I have been better and better over the last few years of bringing in other resources, but I've still used the textbook as my outline and guide and have started from the beginning of the book and followed it throughout the year. This is the first time I've started with the standards and built lessons from there. I am WAY out of my box.

I am trying to focus less on skills and more on critical thinking and application. I have used some lessons I have really liked, but these lessons aren't often neat and tidy and able to be finished in a 51-minute class period.

I am attempting to use more technology in different ways. I don't want to use tech for the sake of tech; I want it to enhance what students are learning. It takes time - time for me to develop, time for students to learn. Sometimes it doesn't work.

I want my students to be less dependent on me to get them started. I am attempting to have directions posted (on Google Classroom) and activities ready so students can come into class, read the plan, and get started. This is proving to be a HUGE learning curve for the students (and me). "What do we do with this?" "What do the directions say?" "Oh...we're supposed to be doing something?" "Have you read the directions?" "Are we supposed to ____?" "Open the directions." I am learning how to give good directions - and I love that I can change a Google Doc and students can see it instantaneously - and I am learning to be consistent. I kick myself those days I don't have directions ready and a student or two starts looking for them and says, "What/where are the directions? What are we supposed to do next?"

Hands down, Twitter has been the biggest contributor to my growth as an educator over the last few years. I have made so many connections - I would even call them friends - who have added positively to my practice. I have collaborated with teachers in California and Chicago. I have learned from and been encouraged by other flipped classroom teachers. I get ideas from teachers all over the world (go follow #teach180!).

But lately I have read things that - while challenging me - have caused me to doubt myself. There seems to be a growing, vocal anti-flipped classroom movement. Some educators - smart educators, passionate educators, educators from whom I have learned so much - seem to come across with the attitude that if you are not doing one thing or are doing another, you are doing it wrong. And I begin to feel I'm not changing fast enough or I'm still failing my students in too many ways.

(As a side note, I think we educators need to have each others' backs. We don't need to be tearing each other down. Yes, we need to be challenged, and we need to learn and change and grow, but we are all on our own journeys and in different places for various reasons. Let's give each other grace and encouragement. I feel we're becoming too much like the proponents of various diets: "If you're doing THIS or aren't doing THAT, not only are you WRONG, you are EVIL!" Stop it!!!! that soapbox.)

So...what do I learn from (another) period of struggle? I'm not the butterfly, yet. Don't know that I ever will be. I never want to think I have "arrived" and have nothing else to learn or change.

I am confident there will come days when I feel more confident. I do not despair that right now I feel like I'm not seeing the ball very well.

I have talked to other math teachers in my building, and we are all having similar feelings. We're all stretching ourselves and changing our approaches and a little unsure of ourselves. I never wish my negative feelings on others, but it is nice to know I'm not alone.

I continue to learn from other teachers. I got help from an unexpected source just yesterday. But one of the things that has been causing me stress with all this out-of-the-box teaching has been my seating. Thanks to help from a colleague, I think I have the solution!

I came to a big realization this week that probably should have been obvious all along. Be myself. Learn from others, take what I can use, make small changes that over time will add up, but don't try to be someone else. Or who someone else thinks I should be.

Listen to my students. As we finished a linear equation problem set this week - a focus on application instead of rote practice of a skill - and I told my students it was time to clean up and pack up - there was at least one, "What? It's time to go already?" followed by, "That's because this was fun!" Making equations and tables and graphs from situations is fun? Whodathunkit? ;)

We moved into new material this week - slope - and we made connections to one of those not so neat lessons - Interpreting Distance-Time Graphs - completed almost 2 weeks ago. Students remembered that lesson! Details about that lesson! They are learning how to read graphs and analyze situations, skills so much more useful to them than "use this formula" or "complete this table" twenty times. They are learning to pay attention to detail. They are explaining and writing and thinking. Sometimes I wish I could give them a sheet and say, "Do these 25 problems and show me you know something." But what they're showing me they know is so much better than that.

I press on. Through the easy days and the hard days. The hard days make me appreciate the ones where everything clicks even more. But they are also the ones where I grow the most.

If you decided to tackle this post and made it the end, thank you. My friends at school will tell you I "unload" pretty frequently. They get to hear it almost every afternoon. Just know that I feel much better having gotten it all out.

And next week I hope to have a post about exciting lessons in my classroom!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

First Student Reflections

I like to get students' thoughts about the flipped classroom after they've a had a few weeks with it. Last year, I wrote a question by hand at the bottom of their first test, asking them to share any thoughts they had about the process. This year, I used a Google Form and asked them to complete it after their first test.

The Google Form had four questions:

  1. What do you consider the best part of our flipped classroom?
  2. What could be improved about our flipped classroom?
  3. What do you consider the best part of using Google Classroom?
  4. What could be improved about Google Classroom?
I was a little concerned when at least two students asked me what a flipped classroom was. Maybe that's a good sign, and they just see it as what we do and not something different or special? Who knows....

Students see many positives about flipping instruction. A few aspects that were mentioned by multiple students:
  • Being able to watch videos ahead of time (I try to give a week's worth on Friday or Monday)
  • The ability to stop and rewind and re-watch a video as needed and not hold other students back
  • Watching videos without class distractions
  • Learning more (and better) than with "normal" homework
  • Doing practice problems together in class
  • Manageable homework load
A couple of my favorite quotes:
  • "The best part of the flipped classroom is that instead of going home and having questions about homework that my dad can't answer, it is explained in-depth to me in the videos."
  • "We don't have as much homework, so we can actually go to bed at a decent time."
One student mentioned parents watching the videos to be able to help. Yea!

The most popular answer to what could be improved was "I can't think of anything." I appreciate that, but I am honestly looking for ways to make my classroom better. Most suggestions centered around the types of practice problems in the videos. A few students mentioned more practice problems and varying the types of problems. One suggested I not give answers to the problems I give them to try on their own. Another suggested they make up their own problems. One student asked for more detail in the videos, one suggested I go a little faster. A few students mentioned making sure the videos weren't too long. One student asked for a "fun" question in each video that could be discussed in class.

I will continue to look at the amount and types of practice I offer in the videos. I changed that part of the videos last year due to student suggestions, and it is apparently an aspect of videos that is particularly important to the students.

Since we are using Google Classroom for the first time, I included the two questions related to Classroom in the Google Form. It is important to me that what we are using is working for students. Students overwhelmingly said they prefer Google Classroom to Edmodo (as a school we "officially" use Edmodo, but a few teachers are "piloting" Classroom, so some students are using both platforms). They like how Classroom is organized and how they can keep up with what's due in each class. More than one said they liked being able to communicate with teachers through Classroom. From my end, I particularly enjoy being able to converse with students in this manner. I am giving more feedback than before, and I believe it is being paid attention to more than before.

The one suggestion that was made the most was the addition of a planner/calendar to Google Classroom. Google just released that an integrated calendar was coming in about a month, so my students and I are excited about that.

I like asking my students questions. I like knowing what they think (well, most of the time, LOL) and what's working for them and what's not. The reflection process is good for them, and it's good for me. While I love hearing what I want to hear or expect, I am also ready to hear constructive criticism and willing to make improvements when necessary.

The next step is to send a similar sort of reflection questionnaire home to parents. I just need to figure out how to do it digitally. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Classroom Community

Tonight's #flipclass topic is building community and collaboration in the classroom.

Classroom community is another area where I've come a long way in the last few years. It wasn't that long ago that I said, pretty regularly, "I don't like group work."

A couple of years ago I discovered partners. Students seem to work much better with partners. They're more focused and accomplish more. I can put two sets of partners together when I need to, but I almost always begin work in class as partners.

Last year my colleagues and I found partner-matching cards, and this makes the process even better. Partners are random, and nine times out of ten this works extremely well. Occasionally a partnership or two has to be adjusted.

I like students working together, because they often seem to learn more from each other than they possibly could from me. They can reword things in ways they understand. The student helping another solidifies their understanding, and the student being helped gets to turn around and help someone else.

The benefit of student collaboration became very evident to me last year, when I first flipped my classroom. Since so much practice and application was done in class, students got to talk to each other a lot. They got to refine their mathematical vocabulary. And learn how to use their notes as a reference. And how to ask good questions.

What troubles do I have with my classroom community?

I have a few students who prefer to work alone. I allow this, but I sometimes wish those students would occasionally get to know the students around them and learn from them.

Middle-schoolers will be middle-schoolers, and they can sometimes get off-task easily. I keep this under control by circulating and asking groups where they are in the activity and what they're working on.

Middle-schoolers can also blurt things out that don't need to be said and can come across as mean. I have a sign in my room that encourages students to THINK before they speak: Is it True? Necessary? Kind? Most of the time they just think they're being funny, but they need frequent direction on what is and isn't appropriate to say.

How do I scaffold collaboration?

This year (we're almost 4 weeks in!) I find myself joining groups quite a bit. I facilitate the conversation and try to model positive collaboration.

I fairly happy with my classroom community. As I continue to seek to improve my classroom community I would like to find more meaningful, deeper ways for students to collaborate.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Spending a Week with Pythagoras

Standards dealing with the Pythagorean Theorem fall in our eighth grade course of study. If I don't cover those standards with my eighth grade Algebra 1 students, they will miss learning and using the Pythagorean Theorem. And high school teachers will come after me. :)

I always cover the Pythagorean Theorem with my Algebra 1 students, but this year I decided to follow the lead of a blogger friend who also teaches Algebra 1 to eighth graders and start the year with it (after discussing square roots and real numbers). I covered the material in fewer days than I will with my Pre-Algebra students, because, after all, we still have a lot of Algebra 1 standards to get to.

We started the unit with a visual proof of the theorem. It's a proof out of a book I've used since teaching high school geometry another lifetime ago, Visualized Geometry (I just looked it up; the book was published in 1990!). A right triangle has squares drawn off each side, the squares from the legs are cut and arranged to cover the square off the hypotenuse. After some productive struggle with getting the pieces to "fit," students readily see that "a^2 + b^2 = c^2." (I didn't get any good pictures of the final product. And as we were disposing of all the pieces, a student in the last period of the day said, "We should have glued that in our INBs!" Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that? I made a note of it for next time.)

I have to cover the Pythagorean Theorem, its converse, applications of the Pythagorean Theorem, and using the Pythagorean Theorem to find the distance between points in the coordinate plane. Students had 3 videos dealing with these topics.

In class I tried several new activities this year. I was very pleased with the work students were able to do with the content.

To practice using the Pythagorean Theorem, I used this activity from Equation Freak. It was SO much better than a page of "find the missing side" problems. Students got great practice with visualization and finding lengths of sides in a diagram that will help them in future math classes. And they had one, final goal. We did not get completely finished with the activity in class, but I gave students the option to finish it at home. A good number of students brought it in completed the next day!

"Pythagorean Stack" by Equation Freak
We practiced applications of the Pythagorean Theorem using task cards I've had for a few years from Live Love Math. I added QR codes to the back so students could check their work as they went.

Pythagorean Applications
To find distance on the coordinate plane, I used Rockstar Math Teacher's "Pythagorean Zoo" activity. I have not done a lot with Socrative, but the activity went smoothly, and the kids enjoyed it. The funniest comment all day was, "Mrs. Gibbs! Are you ruining the zoo with MATH?!?"

"Pythagorean Zoo" by Rockstar Math Teacher
I was confident my students understood and could use the Pythagorean Theorem, so the day before the test I was able to do a few activities I had not had time for earlier in the week. We did a couple of problems with the converse of the theorem. In hindsight, these problems should have been done earlier in the week, after they had seen the converse in a video. Many students did not remember seeing anything like that, and I had to point them to their notes. I should have reinforced the topic right after they had watched the video.

We looked at the Pythagorean Theorem in 3D. This problem led to some great class discussions and was also good for their visualization skills. Having taught Geometry in that former life, I know how important those skills are!

We finished the unit with another lesson I snagged from Equation Freak. We watched a clip from The Wizard of Oz and "corrected the scarecrow." Like Jan, I had a few students who had never seen the movie. The activity was a great exercise in using precise mathematical vocabulary.

"Correct the Scarecrow"
I received another funny comment with this activity: "Now you're ruining The Wizard of Oz with math!" But I'm hoping students will begin to see we can find math EVERYwhere.

I have more pictures than normal because I'm participating in #teach180 on Twitter. I'm trying to tweet a picture of something going on in my classroom every day. Some are blogging every day, but I know better than to try a daily blog post. :) The highlight of my day for the last couple of weeks has been scrolling through the pictures posted with the hashtag. I've already gotten (and used!) a couple of ideas from others' posts.

I'm also trying to focus my blog this year on what we do in class. I make the videos, my students watch the videos, but the real magic happens in the 51 minutes I have with my students.

As I've said before, none of these meaningful, engaging, beneficial activities would have been possible in my traditional classroom. Or the unit would have taken twice as long as it did. I have much more fun in my flipped classroom, and I know my students do, too.

Monday, August 24, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Connecting with Parents

Connecting with parents is much different in my "2nd career" as a teacher than it was when I first started teaching. I began my teaching career in 1993 at the high school level before the age of email. I taught at the high school for six years and could probably count the number of parent conferences I had during that time on one hand.

I came back to teaching in 2004, this time at the middle school level. I was floored at the level of parent contact. Not only was email now an option, I was in LOTS of parent conferences!

I think it is important to keep parents informed.

I send all of the basic information home at the beginning of the year and share a few more details at Open House.

This year I am using Remind to send weekly texts with upcoming plans attached and other reminder texts as needed.

Parents have access to their student's online gradebook. I try to keep grades updated weekly (every 2 weeks at the most) so there are no surprises.

I try to answer emails quickly. Parents always seem very grateful for how soon I respond to them.

If there is something I think needs to be addressed regarding a student, I will email the parent or call. I am not a fan of the phone and prefer email, but I will do whatever is most likely to get me in touch with a parent.

If a parent requests more frequent communication, I try to meet that parent's (and, subsequently, student's) needs.

As far as my flipped classroom, I share it with the parents who come to Open House (admittedly, not many). After that initial introduction, I think my students do all the sharing. I am just beginning my 2nd flipped year, but I have received ZERO negative feedback from parents. At the end of last year I sent emails and asked for parents' thoughts regarding the flipped lessons. Every parent who responded had something positive to say, and several gave me some good perspectives on the process I had not thought about.

As a teacher, our dealing with parents is very similar to that with our students. The relationship is all-important. If a positive relationship built on respect is established, things go much more smoothly. If parents know I am on their side and have their child's back, we can accomplish a lot together.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Starting Strong and "Thinking Rationally"

We've finished two weeks of school!

It's been a great start. We got into a routine very quickly, and I feel like I've known my classes much longer than two weeks.

As usual for this time of year, I am very, very tired. My legs feel like I've started training for 5Ks again. My brain shuts down mid-to-late afternoon but occasionally gets rebooted by a quick nap when my schedule allows. It then shuts down for good some time after 8 PM.

It's a good tired, though. :) I'm having fun. Probably way too much fun.

Our students did not start getting iPads until the 3rd day of school (last year they got them at schedule pick-up), so I didn't get started with videos until the beginning of this week. These students had heard about my flipped classroom, so I don't think there was as much apprehension about the process as I had at the beginning of last year.

Like last year, we watched the first video together in class. I showed them how to access the videos, how to watch the videos, and how to take notes. We also experimented submitting the notes in Google Classroom.

I am piloting Classroom this year, so on top of learning how to watch instructional videos, my students are learning a new system of accessing and submitting assignments. They've been exposed to a whole new world of Google this week: we've used Docs, Sheets, and Forms for different assignments. We've had the normal start-of-year network hiccups.

All that to say...things I've had planned have taken much longer than I anticipated.

I planned to cover square roots and real numbers in two days; we're wrapping them up tomorrow, five days after we started.

But it's been an educational process. I've been able to model persistence and patience. I've tried to make it as stress- and worry-free as possible. The students have played around with things on their own time and figured out how to do some of the stuff we've been trying to do in class.

So, with everything going on, did the introduction of flipped lessons this week make an impact?

I believe so.

After we watched the square roots video on Monday, the students watched the video on the real number system Monday night.

The magic started on Tuesday.

These students made an almost instant connection between the video, the notes they took, and the work we did in class (it took last year's group a few lessons to see that it all worked together). As they talked amongst themselves (mathematical discourse, YEA!) and asked each other questions, I would hear things like, "Do you remember when she said in the video..." and "What do your notes say?" and the occasional "Did you watch the video?!?"

"Thinking Rationally" and learning lots!

My favorite activity of the week was this simple little gem from "Rise Over Run" on Teachers Pay Teachers. Students were given a list of numbers and two number lines. They had to decide which numbers were rational and which were irrational, placing each on separate number lines.

The beauty came with the numbers involving pi. Many students assumed if pi was in an expression it was automatically irrational. But one of the expressions was pi + 6 over 6 + pi. Students first started noticing something was a little off when they tried to put the expressions involving pi in their calculator. Sometimes they would get an answer that didn't fit on the given number line (cue discussions about calculators and the order of operations). Other students would notice they got a "nice" (rational) answer on the calculator (if they put the expression into the calculator correctly) but still plot it on the number line designated for irrational numbers.

As I circulated among groups and began having discussions with them, it was such a joy to see understanding of how numbers and operations work together. To see them expand what they already know about simplifying fractions. To lay foundations for mathematical content they will encounter well after Algebra 1. I tweeted that afternoon that there had been some "crazy learning" going on in my classroom.

And why was such crazy learning able to occur? Because the basic content had been presented in a video outside of class. Because I was able to have conversations with my students as they were grappling with material. Because I was able to correct misconceptions while they were happening, not after they had already been ingrained.

Score 1 (of many) for Year 2 of flipped learning.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Twas the Night Before School Started

I wanted to be all creative and write a poem, but I've decided if that was my goal I should have started a couple of weeks ago.

Students will enter my classroom tomorrow morning. And after wondering two weeks ago if my very hectic, very fast summer had been "enough," I am confident I am ready.

I have always loved the start of the school year. It is so full of promise and possibility. Oh, I know there will be frustrations and difficult days, but at the beginning of the year the hope of what CAN be shines brightly.

This year will have lots of new. I'm rearranging the order of topics in both Algebra and Pre-Algebra to hopefully be more efficient and give more time to what's most important. I working with a new colleague (a brand-new teacher who has brought back so many memories of my first year).  I am moving closer to a digital classroom. I am moving farther away from a textbook and closer to the type of classroom I want to have: one of inquiry, discovery, discussion, collaboration, and application. I plan to flip lessons for my Pre-Algebra kids (and continue to flip my Algebra classes, of course!).

I have started something "new" and "big" each year for the last several school years. Last year I told my friend that I would like one year where I didn't feel like I was starting over, where I could take what I did the year before and just repeat it.

As I've reflected on that statement this summer - while reading and planning for this year's "new" - I'm not sure I meant it.

I thrive on new. I want to be a better teacher. I want to improve what I do in the classroom and what and how my students learn. I want my students to have a positive, beneficial experience with math. I want each school year to be better than the previous one.

So, as I stand at the threshold of a new school year with ideas in my head and plans on paper and drive in my heart, I am ready to get started!

I can't wait to meet my new students in the morning and begin our journey through 8th grade math in Room 12 of Arab Junior High School!

Monday, July 27, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Emotional Labor

Wow...this is a toughie.

We had a #flipclass reading assignment about emotional labor - and its worth - tonight. Then we began exploring what emotional labor might be involved in teaching.

As was tweeted by a participant, I believe emotional labor is part of the job description of a teacher.

Or maybe it's a part of the job that takes one by surprise. I don't think one knows going in how much emotional labor is involved.

There is all SORTS of emotional labor in teaching.

I worry about lessons, wondering if I've taught the right thing the right way.

I worry about students. Their academic success. Their emotional well-being. Their lives at home.

I stress over extra paperwork and deadlines.

I get excited. When a lesson works. When a student's light bulb comes on. When students "talk math" to each other.

I experience joy. When a student or parent says thank you. When a student's effort pays off.

It's exhausting.

How do I deal with it?

I find it's important to let my brain decompress.

I try to take one day a week - usually Saturday - and make it a school-free day. No grading, no planning.

I try to leave school on time one day a week (that is one of the most difficult things I try to do).

The spa tub helps. Getting an appropriate amount of sleep help. Music helps. Laughing helps.

There will always be emotional labor in teaching. And it will always be hard to deal with it effectively and efficiently.

But it's most often worth it, and I guess that's why I keep laboring.

Monday, July 20, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Building Community Outside of School

Tonight's #flipclass blog prompt: How do you find/build community outside your school site?

The short answer: Twitter.

When I first joined Twitter I was very lost; it has a learning curve. Now, if I could only have one social media site, Twitter would be it.

When I decided to flip my classroom a year ago, I found #flipclass chat on Twitter and made so many helpful, like-minded connections. Those connections often lead to other connections. I could not have flipped my classroom without the help and encouragement of the Twitter #flipclass community.

I made a connection with @RoxyGirlTeacher on Twitter. She teaches 8th grade math, too, and has been an invaluable source of help and information and resources.

Through my blog I've made a connection with another 8th grade math teacher in Illinois. We comment on each other's blogs, ask each other questions, and get ideas from each other.

One of my newer connections is a teacher in a nearby district. We met at a tech conference in June. We stay connected via - you guessed it - Twitter.

I am thankful for the community I continue to build. I love being able to throw a question "out there" and get so many ideas and answers. If one of my connections doesn't know the answer, I'll be directed to someone (new!) who does. I love being able to share new ideas and resources I learn from my online connections with those in my building.

My growing community has made me a better teacher.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

North Alabama Technology Conference 2015

This past week I attended the North Alabama Technology Conference (NATC) at Hazel Green High School in Hazel Green, Alabama.

I was encouraged to apply to present my flipped classroom by our system's technology coordinator. I was accepted, and I used the presentation I gave to my school's faculty in April.

My session, "Flipping - It's Not Just for Cheerleaders Anymore," was in the first time-slot of the first day. After getting a couple of technical kinks worked out, I attended the morning's keynote presentation (more on that later), and went back to my room to present.

Two people attended my session. One was the mother of a student I taught this past year; she is working on her education degree and subs in our system. The other was a Hazel Green High School chemistry teacher. She had done some flipping by providing videos for her students who needed extra instruction.

The session was very laid back. The current education student was able to ask some questions, and the two veteran teachers were able to share things we had done in our classrooms for our students.

And I got to talk about what I love. :)

Sure, I would have liked to have had a room full of people, but just getting to practice sharing my flipped classroom was good, and reflecting on the year got me excited about it all over again.

The rest of my time during the two days of the conference was spent learning.

The opening keynote was presented by Travis Allen, CEO and founder of iSchool Initiative. Oh, and he's a college senior. He was amazing. He was just the person we veteran teachers need to tell us how to reach "that kid" in our classrooms: the bright but bored and disengaged student. It was great to hear about the progression of technology and how to best use it in our classrooms from the perspective of one who has grown up with it.

All three of my Tuesday sessions were spent with Barry Wiginton, a representative from Alabama Technology in Motion, a wonderful resource for Alabama educators I was unfamiliar with.

His first presentation was on SMART Boards. I am in constant need of learning and being reminded of the capabilities of my board. My biggest takeaway from that session was a shortcut for how to get to the orientation screen. I'm not sure how I've had my board for so long and didn't know that trick.

After lunch I went to the presentation about Google forms and Flubaroo. I played around with Google forms just a bit this past year. He showed how to use them for formative assessment and how to grade those assessments with the add-on Flubaroo. I plan to use Google forms for students to enter summaries of videos this coming year.

I finished the day with a presentation about Google extensions. There are a lot of possibilities out there that have applications for classrooms. Of course, now I need to go back through everything he showed us and remember what I wanted to try, but thankfully Mr. Wiginton has all of his PD sessions on his website.

The second day started with a presentation from Internet safety expert, Katie Greer. I learned so much from Ms. Greer. I wish every educator, parent, and student could hear her speak. Our students have no idea the situations they're putting themselves into with what they share and who they connect with on social media and through various apps (some of which are frightening!). I highly recommend everyone follow her on Facebook.

I attended a session on Plickers. I'm not sure I will use Plickers, as I have other options since we are 1:1, but they were fun to learn about. And they might be good to use from time-to-time in my classroom just to swap things up. I have found my middle school students (maybe all students?) get tired of the same "cool" tech thing being used all the time.

I heard a fourth grade teacher's journey of flipping her classroom (math first, then social studies). While her situation is obviously different from mine, our journeys were much the same.

After lunch I went to a workshop led by the chemistry teacher who came to my session. Hazel Green High School is a BYOD school, and she was sharing tips for managing the BYOD classroom. Our 1:1 classrooms don't have all the challenges of a BYOD classroom (I only need a basic understanding of how to troubleshoot a single device), but it was good to get more classroom management tips for a classroom where everyone is holding a technological device in their hands.

While I had an hour's drive each way and was very tired at the end of the two days (I was also finishing up the last week of teaching summer school this week), I am glad I went and I learned so much I can't wait to try this coming year. I am wanting to garner the power of Google for my classroom. I go to an informative session at my high school Monday to learn more about Google Classroom, and am excited to learn how I can do so much for my students with things that work so well together and can enhance what I'm already doing in my classroom, including flipped lessons.

I have to give a short personal story about the conference. I was the only teacher from my district there, and I was probably one of only a few who had traveled so far to be there. Most everyone there was from the same district (Madison County); their conversations were very district-related, and I felt very out of place.

I was relieved to find a lady from my church there the first morning to sit with for the opening keynote address, but most of the time I was by myself. A lot of time I felt pretty lonely.

Everyone was very friendly, and I realize my feelings came from my own perceptions, but I observed how we as teachers - human beings - interact and respond to others. We stay with our group of friends and don't often reach out to those around us. It happens in faculty meetings (I know how terrified we get in my school if they make us sit with those not in our normal circles), it happens at PD events. I decided I don't like going to things like this by myself.

At lunch the second day, I felt like I was back in junior high. There were all these groups of friends/teachers, and I was sitting by myself (I was one of the first ones to sit down for lunch). I was so happy to see the Hazel Green chemistry teacher come toward me with one of her friends and ask, "May we sit with you?"

I did make new connections and new friends, and I'm very thankful for those. But I hope my experience will make me more aware of others who need reaching out to the next time I'm at an event like this.

We teachers can learn from each other. And we need each other.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Most Tiring, Most Rewarding Year of my Career

Whew...I made it!

No...WE made it! I've been rereading blog posts from the beginning of the school year (I'm SO glad I made the decision to blog my journey), and this was definitely a trip I took WITH my students.

We began the year a little excited, a little nervous, a little uncertain.

We end the year satisfied, glad we took the journey, knowing it was the right thing to do.

And tired. While some would say I just forget or block it out, I don't remember ending a school year so tired. I began the process of flipping my Algebra 1 classes before the end of June last year and have worked on it since then with relatively little off time.

But it's been so worth it. Yes, I would do it again.

The benefits?

I think I've discussed most of the benefits in posts throughout the year. But they're worth summarizing again. :)

  •  Time. A detailed blog post is here, but the flipped classroom has been the best use of my and my students' time.
  •  Classroom management. SO much easier when I'm not the "sage on the stage." I've said several times this year that if I had a traditional classroom, my 7th period class and I would not have liked each other very much.
  •  Priming the pump. I love students coming to class truly ready to learn. They know what the day is about and are able to get down to business in a short amount of time.
  •  The location of the struggle. Students and their parents appreciate that the "hard stuff" is done in class. Students love that I am available for questions when they need me the most.
  •  Manageable homework load. 'Nuff said.
  •  Deeper learning with (what felt to students like) less effort.
  •  Student responsibility. Students learned how to be in control of their own learning.
  • Mathematical discourse. Lots and lots of mathematical discourse. Music to my ears.
  •  Fun class time. Well..."almost bearable," "halfway fun," and "not so bad" in the words of students as written in my yearbook. I'll take it.
  •  Relationships. I've always prided myself in my relationships with my students. But this year was different. As everything I read last summer predicted, being able to spend so much more one-on-one time with my students allowed me to know and understand them even better. I said it many times, but I had a much better feel for the mathematical pulse of my students and how to help them. On the flip side (no pun intended originally), my students understood better than ever that I'm on their side and have their backs.
A Year's Collection of Flipped Lesson Videos

Where do I go from here? What do I change next year?

  •  Some videos will need to be revised; a few need a complete overhaul.
  •  A written summary of each video by students. It's something I wanted to do since early on in the process but never kicked off.
  •  Continue to work on timing of class activities. I don't worry too much about the days where there's not enough time to finish what I have planned (although unfinished activities bother me a little), but the days where the planned activities didn't take as long as I thought they would and more meaningful learning could have taken place need to be improved.
  •  Continue to find meaningful activities. This was harder during the "tough" times the year - close to Christmas, as the school year came to an end - and I depended on worksheets (self-checking) too much. Many of the activities I did with my Algebra 1 kids this year were new to me, as I'd never had time to do anything like them before. Since I built my repertoire this year, I'll have time next year to better develop the units that were left wanting.
  •  Implement flipped lessons for my Pre-Algebra classes. They are different kids with different motivations and a flipped classroom will look a bit different for them. But I believe it can be done successfully. Yes, that will mean more time and more video-making next year, but a teacher's gotta do what a teacher's gotta do.
I also look forward to continuing to share the flipped classroom with fellow teachers. I've participated in an EdCamp, and I led a short PD session for my colleagues. This summer I'm leading a session at the North Alabama Technology Conference. A few teachers in my system have told me they're interested in flipping their own classrooms and have asked questions about how to make it work for them. I've offered to help in any way I can.

I honestly don't remember what triggered the decision last June to "go for it" and begin the process of flipping my classroom. Thomas Jefferson said, "With great risk comes great reward." For whatever reason, I decided to take a risk, I brought my students and their parents along with me, and I feel we were all greatly rewarded.

I can't wait until next year!

Monday, May 4, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: The Role of Struggle

Math students struggle. I tell my students that every single one of them will eventually encounter that math class that makes them take a step back and learn how to study and persevere. For me, it was high school Geometry.

For a large percentage of my 8th graders, it's Algebra 1. My flipped class.

Struggle is important. It's how you learn and grow as a student, as a mathematician. It's character-building.

But students don't care for it.

In my traditional Algebra 1 class, most of the struggle happened at home. After the lesson was taught in class. I heard from numerous students and parents about tears at the dinner table over algebra homework. I heard laments of how long an assignment took. I heard students say how confused they were and how much they didn't understand about the previous night's assignment when they came to class. But there was no time to process that struggle. Maybe 15 minutes to answer questions, and then it was time to move on to the next topic.

Flipping my classroom didn't take the struggle away. It just moved it to my classroom.

Where I am.

I get to be there as students struggle with the material. Answer questions. Ask more questions. Lead. Guide. Encourage. Quote growth mindset sayings. Assure students they are capable of learning difficult material.

And I get to be there when the breakthroughs happen. I get to listen as students notice patterns and learn how to explain their thinking. I get to hear them help and explain to each other. I get to cheer when they make connections and see what they can do.

All of this without tears.

I would like to get even better at teaching students to embrace the struggle. I have a couple of students who have resisted the struggle; they get angry when I don't just give answers. And sometimes I give answers too quickly. I need to get better at guiding then leaving students to struggle and figure even more out on their own.

Struggle is inevitable. But one of my favorite aspects of my flipped classroom is I now get to play a much larger role in helping students navigate the struggle and come out stronger math students on the other side.

What I want my students to realize

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Unit with Room for Improvement

Polynomials and Factoring.

I'm not sure why these topics always seem to come at crunch time. They have been in two different places in the two textbooks I've used, and they still come at times when I feel crunched. When I'm in a hurry. When I need to cover a lot of material in a little bit of time.

It used to be right before Christmas.

This year, it is right before testing. And nearing the end of the school year. When - after lots of winter weather - I'm behind. Thankful that we're not giving the End of Course test this year, but still wondering how I'm going to get everything covered by the end of the year. Because whether there's an official test or not, my students still need to be prepared for their high school math courses.

My current book puts operations with polynomials and factoring in one chapter. One long chapter. The first mistake I made was to not test on the two parts of the chapter separately but to wait and give a test after we had covered it all. I thought it would save me a couple of days.

As we entered the third week of the material, and I saw the test wasn't going to be until the end of the fourth week, I knew I had made a mistake. I could tell things were getting muddled in my students' brains. I was confident they had understood polynomial operations, but they were not given time to solidify that understanding. By the time we were deep into factoring, I could tell it was all running together.

I did try to rectify my mistake by taking two review days for the "big test;" we reviewed polynomial operations one day and factoring the next. That helped. One student, just a couple of days before the test, said something to the effect of, "So factoring is sort of the opposite of multiplying?" While I had told students that - we developed rules for factoring by looking at patterns in multiplying - they obviously hadn't been given the time or opportunity to make that connection. I was thankful for the eventual "a-ha" and connection, but I wish it had happened a little sooner.

The other thing I didn't do well with this material was plan classroom activities. I see these topics as being skills that students need adequate practice with to become proficient. I have a good set of self-checking worksheets (Punchline Algebra) that provide this practice, but they weren't good after a few days in a row of use. Students became less focused and engaged as the unit went on. I had flashbacks to my teach-then-assign-book-problems days and memories of my first thoughts about the flipped classroom when the thought of practicing crowd control while students completed boring assignments was not appealing.

I still could have used the Punchline pages, but I needed to structure each class period differently, with several different types of activities. I brought in a couple of different activities throughout the unit, but not enough. The two review days involved different activities, and that helped tremendously, but the whole unit (or what should have been two units) needed more.

The flipped classroom needs lots of varied activities. This has been one of my favorite aspects of the flipped classroom. Students need to be active and engaged and almost unaware that they are learning (my students often share how surprised they are that they've learned so much when it hasn't felt like "work").

I don't know why I reverted to old ways.

Well, I do know why. I'm feeling the time pressure, so I tried - again; you think I would know better after "The Too Long Video" - to save some time, and I let the stress and time of year get in the way of my best planning.

So...I've made lots of mental notes - and have recorded this blog post - so I can improve this unit next year. One idea I just had was to make more explore-flip-apply type videos/lessons.

My students are resilient, and after some focused reteaching and making connections and lots of review the few days before the test, I feel like they had a good grasp of the material (I haven't graded the tests, yet, so we'll see).

But hopefully next year's students will have it a little easier and an even better grasp.

EDIT: I've graded the test, and I'm pleased with my students' grasp of polynomials and factoring, overall. There are a few who did not master the material, but most of those will choose to go through the retake process and improve their understanding.

I am thankful all the time I teach resilient young minds who can recover from my missteps.

Monday, April 6, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: The Planning Process

What a great #flipclass topic!

I think I blogged about my planning process for my flipped classroom early on, but I was still so fresh, and I've come a long way since then. I don't know that my planning takes any less time than it did early on, but I am more efficient.

When planning a flipped lesson, I first look at the topic/standard I want to cover on a particular day.

I have made guided notes in SMART for several years, now, so I go to previous notes I have made on the standard.

I modify these already-made notes to make them video-friendly. I add the "I can" stem (that students write in while they watch the video) and the "Questions?" at the end of the notes.

I try to do a week's worth of videos at a time, so I prepare and export several sets of notes at once.

The next part of the planning process is recording videos. That's usually my Thursday afternoon activity. I record 2-4 videos, depending on what the plan is for the next week.

Now the hard part. With direct instruction moved to videos, how do I fill class time?

I begin searching. I know there are those who are not huge fans, but I find the majority of my class activities on Teachers Pay Teachers. Some are free, some I pay for. I am thankful there are teachers who have or make time to create activities I do not have time for. And that there are individuals out there much more creative than I.

I go for scavenger hunts, discoveries, games (review days are almost some sort of game, now), coloring pages.

Sometimes class activity is an in-depth, written response lesson, using a Laying the Foundation lesson or something similar.

For skill-based topics, I like using pages from my "Punchline Algebra" binders, as they provide straightforward practice and are self-checking.

I *love* that I can do so many self-checking activities in my flipped classroom; my students always know if they are on the right track.

And, yes, some days are out of the book. Not often, but if I am ready to take a grade on a topic, I will sometimes use a problem set out of the book.

I try to find 3 things for each lesson, a la Strategic Teaching - Before, During, and After activities. I am not always successful at completing 3 activities, but that's always the goal.

My biggest challenge with planning is timing of activities. From my reading before jumping into a flipped classroom, I knew to expect this. And it is something, even nearing the end of the school year, I struggle with occasionally.

I don't often worry if a planned activity takes too long or doesn't get finished. If students got a good 30-40 minutes practice/application on a topic, I am happy.

I struggle most when the planned activities are too short and I have more extra time than I want/need. I need to get better at having meaningful fill-in-the-extra-time activities.

I probably enjoy planning now more than I ever have, because I am getting to pick out more interesting, fun, engaging activities than I ever did when each day was me standing at the board talking for 30-40 minutes.