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.