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