Sunday, July 30, 2017

End of Term Reflections: College Edition

Look who's being all productive! Two blog posts this weekend, plus several other school tasks.

The summer term of MTH 113 is almost over. We had our last regular class meeting this past Thursday; the final exam is next week.

I had my Pre-Cal Trig students write a reflection/evaluation for me this week. There's not a lot of technology use (I've missed it!), so I asked them to get out a piece of paper and write.

I asked them to address some or all of the following prompts:
What worked? What didn't? (particularly in the areas of videos, how class time was structured, and practice)
Suggestions for changes/improvements
What did you learn?
What do you wish you understood better?
What advice would you give a student taking MTH 113 with me this fall?

My students had good insight and gave good suggestions. They were very thorough and wrote more than I expected. (I would say something about this being a surprise to me since the class is made up entirely of young men, but someone near and dear to my heart told me an observation I made about my all-male class in a previous blog post was a bit sexist, so I'll leave that out, LOL)

Students liked the videos. They liked the length, the format, and my explanations. While I'm glad all of this worked for the students, I know elements of all three of these can be improved. There are several videos I am going to rework for the fall.

The biggest complaint about the class was the one-day-a-week schedule. That is completely out of my hands, but it was my biggest complaint, too. Students felt they would have gotten more out of the class if it had met two days a week.

One thing I was unsure about the entire summer was the way I structured class time. I pretty much put all the videos and suggested practice out there and told students to do what they needed as they needed. Several students indicated they would have liked a little more teacher-directed time in class working problems. If I teach this class again next summer, I will definitely try to incorporate a different structure into class time. A couple of students didn't need the extra structure, but a few would have benefitted from it.

Students felt weakest with the trigonometric identities. They wished they had had more time and practice with those. I agree.

One student - the most independent of the group - had an interesting observation about the flipped class. He said he treated it like online classes he has taken, except he actually showed up to class once a week. He said students who didn't like online classes might not like the flipped format. And he might have a point. None of the other students (in my very small sample size) indicated that, but I can see where a student who signed up to have a "3-D" teacher might be a little caught off guard that a portion of the class was going to be conducted via video.

I think the difference was made in having access to me in class. Several students have taken online/blended classes and said they liked the flipped format much better. I prepare for the fall semester of MTH 113, I have a lot to think about. Class time will be shorter, and I have more weeks of instruction to work with, but I am thinking about what I am going to do differently. I have a few ideas about class time, and I think I want to restructure a couple of the tests.

I told these guys they were my guinea pigs, and I appreciate their willingness to try some things out for me and give me useful feedback.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Let's Start at the Very Beginning #flipblogs

Life happened, and I missed the first #flipblogs Twitter chat. I start school next Tuesday, so who knows what will be going on Wednesday evening? I hope to get to participate in the next #flipblogs Twitter chat, but even if I don't I can write a blog.

This week's #flipblogs prompts:

1) What inspired you to start flipping?


2) What was your first step to make the change?

I've shared this story before, but it's always good to reflect on "where it all began."

I first heard about flipped classrooms from our district tech guy as we were launching our 1:1 iPad initiative. The description of the methodology was basically, "Students watch the lecture via video at home and do homework in class."

I quickly dismissed the idea.

How on earth would I have time to make all those videos (because I wouldn't want to use videos others made)?

And the thought of trying to keep a classroom controlled while working "p. 222: 2 - 222 even" was a nightmare.

But the idea stayed in the back of my mind, for whatever reason.

Then one summer, while teaching summer school, I began to seriously consider it. I don't even remember the exact trigger. But sometime in the month of June, I thought, "I can do this."

I read Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams' Flip Your Classroom. I figured out how to take aspects of a flipped classroom and make them work for me.

And I took the plunge. I decided to start with my Algebra 1 classes.

The first thing I did was begin to create guided notes. I stayed after Summer School sessions and worked on notes for the rest of June.

Then, in July, I began to record videos. I think I had a couple of weeks' worth recorded by the time school started.

So...that's where it all began. But I feel I need to address my two initial concerns.

Yes, it took TIME. Loads and loads of time. I still like to use my own videos (and my students and their parents appreciate that I do so). But I've always said every bit of time I've spent has been worth it. And I've gotten pretty quick at churning out videos when I need them.

And pages of book work with loads of problems? Fuhgetaboutit! I've learned (and continue to learn) how to choose activities for class time that keep students engaged, collaborating, and communicating. We can go weeks or months without referring to a textbook.

My flipped classroom today looks different than my flipped classroom that first year. It has evolved more than I ever thought possible (a topic for a different post). But every journey has to start somewhere, and I'm thankful decided to take the risk and start.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Already?!? #flipblogs

Thanks to the brainstorming of Andrew Swan (@flipping_A_tchr), Crystal Kirch (@crystalkirch), and Matthew Moore (@matthew_t_moore), a new way to share ideas about flipped learning has launched: #flipblogs!

The idea is we will blog about a common topic then participate in a live Twitter chat.

Here is Andrew's blog post with information about the new venture.

The first assignment for #flipblogs is:

"Write about a fun, rewarding, gratifying, or otherwise super-positive class experience that you can be pretty sure only happened because of flipped-learning practices."

I've blogged about all sorts of experiences that only happened because I flip my instruction. I thought about summarizing - again - these experiences but that felt like a cop-out. I tried hard to think of something specific.

And I did.

Her name is Taylor. She was in my Algebra 1 class my second flipped year.

Many times during the year, when I said, "Time to pack up!" at the end of class, Taylor would say, "What? Class is over already?!? That was fast!"

Taylor is not the only student who has said this since I flipped my classroom, but she probably said it the most frequently and enthusiastically.

And that statement would NOT have been said before I flipped my instruction.

Sighs? Yes.

Loud yawns? Frequently.

"How much longer until the bell rings?" Most definitely.

Listening to me talk for 30-40 minutes and then being told to "Start on these problems" - and work quietly, please - for the last 10 or 15 minutes makes for a L-O-N-G 51-minute class period.

But when you come to class having watched a 10-15 minute instructional video (or watch it as part of class activities), pick a partner, and work on an activity that requires communication and collaboration and might be even a little bit enjoyable, time moves much quicker. Having access to the teacher to answer questions as they come up helps, too.

Flipping my classroom has made my math class fun (yes, students have used that word). Those 51 minutes will be over before you know it.

And I find that extremely gratifying.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hope - It's a Beautiful Thing

So, I'm teaching this Pre-Calculus Trigonometry class for a local community college. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is scheduled for one night a week, 4.5 hours. There are 9 class meetings and the exam.

I have a lot of material to cover in 9 class meetings.

After the first test, we have a test scheduled for every other week until the final. That means a whole unit of material in about a class and a half.

It's overwhelming (for students AND me).

Even with the flipped format - which, I'm sure, makes the situation more bearable - it is hard to make sure material is covered AND students understand it in a class and a half. I still feel I am throwing material at my students and hoping some of it sticks.

Our second test covered trigonometric expressions, identities, and equations.

Yikes. Learn all these trig concepts AND use every algebra skill you might have ever been shown.

Students were nervous and unsure as they came to class. Watching them take the test was hard for me. I made the test as straightforward as I could, and I gave them a reference sheet to use, but it covered. so. much. stuff.

I graded the test as a few students took a retest of Test 1. They were not pretty. A few knew parts of the material well, no one really showed mastery of all of it, and a few were completely lost.

After I returned Test 1 a couple of weeks ago, I told my students I was a big believer in hope.

I've been giving retakes in my 8th-grade classroom for several years, and I wanted to do something similar in the college class. I told students if they'd correct their original test, they could retake it the following week after they finished the scheduled test.

I plan to do the same thing for Test 2.

I was able to talk to a few of the students about the retake for Test 2 before they left.

As I gave one student his test, telling him to begin working through it this week and making corrections, another student asked, "We're going to get to retake that test?" When I said, "Yes," the look on his face was one of complete relief. Of hope.

I reminded them I was a big believer in hope.

The first student said, "I'm so glad you have hope in us." I think he meant "faith," but the thought is the same. These students can keep trying because they have hope.

I talked to another student who was extremely frustrated after the test. But he looked at me and said, "I'm not going to quit. I will not drop this class."

And I was able to tell him he didn't have to. He can work on the material he found difficult, work with me in class, and learn the material.

I'm still trying to figure out how to "do" this summer class format. Flipping instruction was the way to go, allowing retakes is the way to go, but there are a lot of things I'm still not sure I've approached correctly. Or how to approach things so I am better assured of students' grasp of the material. I'm hoping to get some feedback from the students by the end of the summer to see what worked and what I could have done better.

But I'm pretty sure of this: these students know I care, they know I want them to learn, and they know I'm going to give them time and opportunity to do so.

At this point, no one has dropped the class, and everyone is still working and trying.

All because of a little thing called hope.