Monday, July 20, 2015

Getting Started with a Flipped Classroom

Last week, I shared a bit about why I flipped my classroom, and I got some great questions! Today I want to share a bit more about my process and the logistics for flipping. There are lots of ways to do it, and I'm sure there are many other great ideas out there, but this is what has worked for me so far.

1. Plan your lessons 

a) Does it make sense to flip?
You don't want to flip for the sake of flipping. I always ask myself, "Would this lesson make sense as a flipped lesson?" There are times when some introductory lessons require lots of hands-on scaffolding, and my answer might be "no." But other times, when the lesson is mostly information and practice, the flipped model absolutely makes sense.

b) What content must be covered?
I go through my math lesson plan, and determine the content that has to be covered in the video. I'm really selective about this because I want my video to be less than 10 minutes long. It's still a mini-lesson, after all, and if I go any longer than that, my students will tune out. Plus, even though the video may be 10 minutes, the viewing time could be much longer than that if students are pausing the video to write things down or take notes. I try to keep in mind the idea that less is more.

c) Am I the best person to deliver the content?
Usually my answer is "yes," but not always. I've tried to share videos from Khan Academy or LearnZillion in the flipped model, and the kids just didn't respond as well to those. They're more likely to tune in when the video is made by their teacher because they have a personal connection. There were a few times when I've used someone else's videos because the production was significantly better in some regard (e.g., it included songs or humor that I couldn't pull off). But usually, I make the videos myself.

2. Choose your tools

Once I know the content of my lesson, I decide what method I'll use to produce the video. I choose from a few different options.

a) Screencasts
Sometimes I have a presentation already created in a flipchart for my ActivBoard, and I can just film my voice interacting with my computer screen on that. My favorite tool for screencasting is Screencast-o-matic. It's very user-friendly and it uses a yellow circle to highlight your mouse so students know where to focus their attention. The free version works well, but for $15/year, you can get lots more editing and uploading options. If you're interested in screencasting, I would recommend trying out the free version for a while to see if it's something you'd like.

b) Whiteboard apps
Usually I use whiteboard apps such as Explain Everything or Educreations to make my flipped lessons. I always create the slides in advance so that I don't waste precious recording time writing out problems or building models that could simply be explained. Then once all of the slides are in place, I'll record the audio over them. This approach also allows me to work in pieces, too, because I never know when I'm going to get interrupted.

c) Paper slide shows
I've blogged about paper slide shows before here. Sometimes the lessons are a bit more hands-on (e.g., using a protractor), and I want to show students some examples. In those instances, I use my DEWEY Document Camera Stand ($120, that turns my iPad into a document camera, and I work and film underneath it. I mostly use this approach with Geometry and Measurement standards, but when I need to do a lot of physical manipulations, the paper slide show works well.

3. Choose your platform

Once I've made the video, I need to upload it to a platform for students to view. YouTube is blocked for students at my school, so I use Vimeo instead. I ended up buying a Vimeo Plus subscription last year ($59.95/year or $9.95/month). That gave me much more space for uploads each week (5 GB vs. 500 MB with the free version), and it sped up my upload times, so it was worth it to me when I was crunched to get the videos uploaded after school. I created a channel for some of my videos, and now I'm going back to re-make some or better tag/organize the videos for each unit.

4. Share your content

Once the videos are uploaded on Vimeo, I needed a way to share the links to the videos. When I started, I was posting the links after school each day, but I eventually cut out that step. Now I make one Google Document each term with all of the dates and lesson topics, and then I just copy and paste the links into that document as they're done. That helps my students because they find the video links in one spot, and I can post the links as they're available. Here's an example of what that document looked like one term.

Bonus Tips

1. Make your videos in batches. 
I found it much easier to make all of my videos for the week at once. I could usually tackle this in a couple of hours each week, and it was much less stressful than trying to film every day. I was able to find my rhythm with the process when I batch-produced videos, so that's how I try to work now. 

2. Start small.
Even if you only make one video each week, you're still starting to build a library of flipped lessons for future use. I didn't make as many videos as I'd wanted to last year, but I'm grateful for the ones I already have done because that's less work I'll have to do this year.

3. Divide and conquer.
See if someone else on your grade level team would be interested in flipping with you, and then divide up the lessons. Even if you're not the one teaching the lesson in every video, the students will appreciate it being someone they know. 

4. Get some cheap .mp3 players for student check-out.
Most of my students had Internet access at home to watch the videos, but a couple didn't. I wrote a grant to buy 10 inexpensive .mp3 players that students could check out to watch the videos. They didn't require an Internet connection because I saved the videos straight to the hard drives, and since they were cheap .mp3 players (<$20 each), they didn't have any bells and whistles to make them targets for theft. It was a workable solution for those students who lacked technology access at home. 

Next week, I'll share more about what my math block looks like under the flipped model. Until then, I'd love to hear from you. What are some tools you use for video production in your class? What challenges do you foresee with a flipped model? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Monday, July 13, 2015

5 Reasons to Flip Your Math Class

Of all the subjects, math is probably my favorite to teach. But it is definitely not easy. By the time students are in fourth grade, there's often a wide range of abilities. Last year, I had students who could barely add and subtract and others who were working well beyond grade level. Trying to design lessons that worked for them was a real challenge. If I moved too quickly through the lesson, several students would get lost. If I moved too slowly, others would get bored and start causing different problems.

Then I attended the Georgia Educational Technology Conference and heard some sessions about flipped teaching, and a lightbulb went off.

If you're not already familiar with flipped teaching, the idea is that we need to "flip" the traditional way we teach -- lesson at school, practice problems at home as homework. Instead, students should watch a short video lesson as homework to prepare for class, and then the majority of class time is spent working on practice and application while I'm there to guide them.

I did this pretty consistently for the second half of the year, and I couldn't be happier with the results. There were so many advantages.

1. Students became more confident.

For some kids, math can be intimidating. Everyone works at different speeds. What may be an obvious concept for one kid may take multiple explanations for another. There's lots of vocabulary and room for mistakes, and when you feel like other kids are getting it faster than you, your confidence suffers.

All of this went away when I flipped.

Students were watching the videos at home on their own. No one knew whether they needed to replay something a couple of times until they got it. No one knew that they had to pause the video for 5 minutes to try a problem that others would have solved in 30 seconds. They could all work at their own pace, and they came to class more confident and prepared for practice the following day. The attitude shift in my students this year was reason enough for me to continue flipping.

2. Parents were less stressed.

There have been so many times when I've heard parents complain about math or express their discomfort in helping their child because they weren't taught math the way we teach it now. And I get that. I remember thinking in my math methods courses that I could have been great at math if someone had explained it to me better as a child rather than having me memorize algorithms.

Having the flipped model created allies from a lot of math-hating parents. Some would watch the videos along with their children and have those lightbulb moments where concepts and strategies would suddenly make sense. Others expressed a sense of relief that they didn't have to worry about "undoing" the things we were doing in the classroom by just jumping to the standard algorithms. We were all more comfortable with the math.

3. I had more time to see what students could actually do.

While I always tried to keep my in-class mini-lessons short, there were days when they would drag on because some kids just weren't getting it. By the time I felt confident they could try some problems on their own, we hardly had any time left. And by the time they got home to do it as homework, they'd forgotten what we'd spent the morning talking about, so they were back to square one.

Now that I've flipped, I only need 5-10 minutes maximum at the beginning of my math block to do anything whole group. I spend that time answering questions, clarifying any misconceptions, and checking the 1-2 practice problems that I typically include at the end of the video. The rest of my math block was then spent working with small groups, conferring with kids, and getting into richer practice and problem solving than I could ever fit in before.

I also didn't have to worry about students getting the right answers only when their parents "helped" them. When it came time for assessments, I had a much better sense of where my students were at and what to expect from them because I was more deeply involved in their learning.

4. I didn't have to worry when we had a sub. 

In the past, I would write off sub days as lost instructional time when it came to math. Now that I've flipped, that is no longer the case. I include a link to the video I've created in my sub plans, and I have the sub watch the video with the class again to start the lesson. Usually that gives the sub enough background knowledge to help with the learning task, and my students have enough scaffolding from my instruction that they can work through the practice. It made those lost days so much more productive.

This year, I will be on maternity leave for 12 weeks, so I'm nervous about what will happen with my kids while I'm gone. But I'm less nervous about the math because I already have videos made for most of those lessons from last year. My students will have continuity in math instruction because of it.

5. Students were more successful and could tackle bigger challenges.

Last year was my best year ever as far as student performance on end-of-year assessments and benchmarks. I think a big part of that can be attributed to the move toward a flipped model for math. My students had more time and confidence to master the fourth grade standards, and as a result, I was easily able to push them into bigger challenges. When I surveyed the students mid-year about the flipped model, their responses were overwhelmingly positive in support of it, and I knew it was something I need to continue in the years ahead.

Next Steps

This will be the first year that I use the flipped model for the whole year, so I will need to prepare more video lessons and give some thought to how I'll transition my students (and their parents) toward this model. In the weeks ahead, I plan to share more about the tools I use to create flipped lessons and some troubleshooting tips for problems that might come up.

Now that I have some experience flipping, I'm going to go back and reread Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. Jon was one of the speakers I saw at GaETC, and he's one of the founders of the flipped classroom movement. I read the book quickly as I started to flip, but I think there are more ideas to be pulled from it.

I'm also starting to think about other areas where I could flip instruction. One possibility might be some of the grammar, vocabulary, and word study components of my ELA block. I consistently struggle to fit everything in to that time, and flipping might be the answer. I've downloaded the book Flipping Your English Class to Reach All Learners: Strategies and Lesson Plans by Troy Cockrum, and I'm hoping that will give me some more inspiration.

Have you tried flipping any parts of your instruction? I'd love to hear more about your ideas and experiences in the comments!

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