Monday, February 23, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Deep Learning

"What does deep learning look like in your classroom? How has it changed your/students' roles?"

In my classroom, deep learning looks like several things:

 - Students asking questions. Not "What did you just say?" and "How do we do this?" questions, but "What happens if...?" and "What about...?" and "What would this look like for...?"types of questions. Questions that indicate they are making connections and thinking beyond what we are currently discussing.

 - Students teaching each other. When students are able to explain what they know to a peer, I am confident they REALLY know it.

 - Students making application. When students can take a skill and use it in a "real-world" situation, they are able to make even more connections, see the usefulness of what they're learning, and gain a new perspective of the world around them.

This is how my and my students' roles have changed:

 - I am more "alongside" students instead of in front of them. I get to answer questions as they come up. I get to use student questions as conversation starters.

 - Students are more engaged and involved. They are discussing, justifying, and explaining with each other.

 - Students become risk-takers. They feel safe enough to try out a theory or give an explanation, and if it's not exactly correct, they try again.

Flipping my classroom has made all of this easier. One of my favorite aspects - and I seem to say that a lot, LOL - is that I am with students as they think of questions to ask. Students think of things to ask as they struggle with the material. When that struggle used to take place outside of class with traditional homework, I wasn't around for questions, and there wasn't time in class the next day to ask everything that had been thought of. Now students are working with material in the classroom and get to ask right then.

My flipped class has also given me more TIME for deeper learning. And I've found time is the greatest gift of all.

A Shout-Out to my (non-flipped) Pre-Algebra Kids

This blog is titled "Mrs. Gibbs Flips Algebra 1." But I don't teach just 8th grade Algebra 1. I also teach collaborative Pre-Algebra, also an 8th grade class.

And I DON'T flip those classes.

The decision was originally made to help preserve my sanity. I was pretty sure I did not have time to record brand-new videos and learn how to effectively run a flipped classroom for two different preps.

Algebra 1 was where I needed more rearranging of my class time. It was a group of kids I thought would adapt nicely to flipped lessons. It was a good place for me to attempt a flipped classroom, and if I decided that was the way to go, I would eventually flip Pre-Algebra.

Well, I have no doubt flipping my Algebra 1 classes was the way to go, but I've decided to not flip my Pre-Algebra classes (for now, of course).

I have wanted, however, to give those kids and classes a shout-out (since early in the school year). So here it is.

I overhauled my Pre-Algebra classes last year. I began using Interactive Notebooks. I'm not an INB purist, but I have made them work for me. We take notes using foldables and other resources I have found (mostly through Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers). We glue those notes in a spiral notebooks. Those INBs become a huge resource for my students. They learn organization, of course, but they also learn how to use an example they are given to solve a problem they may find challenging. I let them use their INBs on tests. Several have said they are going to keep their INBs and use them as an aid when they get to the high school next year (YEA!).

I "chunk" my Pre-Algebra classes. We talk about/take notes on a concept and do some practice with it. Take notes on another concept and do some practice with it. Most practice is done in class. I test frequently on small amounts of concepts.

Very seldom do these students have homework. The students in these classes either have IEPs or have been identified through scores on standardized assessments as being "at risk" or "below average" or "not meeting standards." They are often not the most motivated students. Whatever they complete in class is usually all that gets done. So, to ensure I see what these kids know - and not just what they are willing to do after the bell rings - we finish and turn work in during class. Sometimes that means it takes more than one day to finish a concept and practice it, but it is worth it to me.

Here are the benefits of my chunked, INB-centered Pre-Algebra classes
 - Student confidence
 - Student morale
 - Relationships

The students in my collaborative classes aren't overwhelmed with out-of-class work (that many of them would be unwilling to do) and aren't getting in trouble (and receiving low grades) for "not completing homework."

They see what they CAN do. Math has become not-so-scary for many of them. They are experiencing success and are more willing to try whatever I ask them to do. We repeat as a class, particularly before more challenging material, "I can do this! Mrs. Gibbs would not ask me to do anything I could not do."

Relationships are positive. Class is fun (we get to do lots of great activities like scavenger hunts, QR code task cards, Kahoot!, plus students get to frequently cut and glue!). I get to know my students better because they are doing most of their work with me.

I have the same retake/redo policy with my Pre-Algebra classes as my Algebra classes.

Now that I think about it, I see many of the same benefits of my flipped Algebra classes in my non-flipped Pre-Algebra classes.

So, at this point, I don't plan on flipping my Pre-Algebra classes. I am not sure I would see as much compliance in watching videos outside of class as I do with my Algebra 1 students. I have thought about an in-class flip and more self-pacing, but I'm not ready to go there, yet.

But these classes work hard, show great gains, and are becoming confident young mathematicians. And we have a lot of fun in the process.

Monday, February 9, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: Deciding What to Teach

There is so. much. to. cover.

Of course, I start with the state standards. In Alabama, Algebra 1 has all of the Algebra 1 standards and half of the 8th Grade standards (Advanced 7th Grade gets the other half of the 8th Grade standards).

That's a lot of standards.

And then there are the ACT standards for the End-of-Course test. They're similar to the state standards for Algebra 1, of course, but not exactly the same.

Standards need to be covered, and depth needs to happen.

How do I decide what to focus on?

I started my teaching career at the high school level, and we have great vertical relationships with the current high school math teachers, so I have a good idea about what standards I need to ensure my students are comfortable with and which standards are most needed to provide a proper foundation for my students when they reach their high school math courses. Those standards get more time.

The EOC standards are a little more focused than the state standards. Since the EOC standards are tested (currently; I heard that test might not be given after this year), I make sure I cover those.

I also focus on standards that build students' number sense and understanding of the most important mathematical foundations (the 8th grade standards I am responsible for often fall in this category).

Flipping my classroom has allowed me to go more in depth with the standards I teach. For one, it has slowed me down. If it can't be covered in a 15 minute video, it is too much for one lesson (and was probably too much for a 50 minute class period in my traditional classroom). I am able to answer students' questions about material as they are working with it; questions I might not have been around to hear if they were doing "normal" homework.

Since I have a much better feel for who is (or isn't) understanding what in the flipped classroom, I can no longer plow through with large numbers of lost students. I know when I need to reteach or even just clarify, and I now have time - and make time - to do that.

This year I am the happiest I have ever been with the depth I have been able to achieve with my students. I am more confident than ever in their understanding of the first of our "big three" concepts - linear equations. I have taken longer than usual to get it all covered, but I am not regretting the time I've spent.

I just hope I'm not in a panic when it comes time for the End-of-Course test, and I haven't covered everything....