This is the first in a short series of guest posts. Each guest will be sharing their story of transformation. Each illustrates how one teacher transformed their classroom and their teaching practice. These illustrate how I see the flipped class as a way TO the "answers" facing educators. First up: John Fritzky
Teachers feel as thought they are constantly given two different messages:
1) Make sure the students learn concepts deeply and thoroughly, don’t just cover the material.
2) Make sure you are able to cover as much material as possible before state testing.
Teachers around the country receive these messages every day from supervisors, principals, and superintendents. As teachers we can look at these two divergent messages and complain about how unfair that expectation is. How can I possibly spend time teaching students one skill until they master it while moving at a pace which allows them to be ready for testing by the end of April? Or we can see it as a challenge, an obstacle to overcome. It’s like packing for a vacation, I need to bring all these important things with me but I only have a certain amount of space in my car. How am I going to fit it all? When I finally chose to see these divergent messages as a challenge, then changing the way in which I delivered material for the students had to change, and I began to flip my classroom. This is how my class has changed since I have begun flipping.
Checking in and going over homework
Before the flip, we would spend 5 minutes checking in homework. Students walked to class slowly talking to their friends, because their friends are much more interesting than math in 5th grade. We also spent about 10-15 minutes going over any difficult problems needing explanation.
After the flip, students answer about 5-8 questions for homework using Google Forms and I use Flubaroo to automatically grade every student’s homework. This takes me 5 minutes to do every night outside of the classroom. Their parents are emailed the results and I know how each student did before they walk in the door. This allows me the ability to differentiate my students immediately. Time spent in class going over homework 0 minutes.
Instead I use this time in the classroom to play a math scavenger hunt. The room has 5-10 cards (with answers on the outside and questions on the inside) scattered around the room. The students move to a card of their choosing, solve a problem, and then look for the answer on the outside of another card. The students must write down all their work and work a partner. The first team to finish all problems correctly together, and show their work properly, wins. I now have students standing outside of my classroom yelling down the hall for their partner to get to math class because they want to win!
Explaining a new concepts
Before the flip, I would stand in front of the classroom for about 15-20 minutes and teach the new concept. Some students would stop to ask questions along the way, other would ask to use the bathroom, others would go to band, while the rest at least sat politely. I was unable to tell if they understood what I was asking.
After the flip, students watch a 5-10 minute video at home, which they can replay if they are confused. They don’t have to stop and feel embarrassed about asking me questions. The biggest surprise to me was how much parents loved the videos. If I have 25 sets of parents I bet they have been taught 5 different ways to add fractions, and the way they learned doesn’t match up with the way we are teaching the students. Before the flip, frustration would set in if the parents tried to help their children. Typcially, both parents and students would wind up saying, ‘You’re not doing it right!’ to each other. The videos allow the parents to understand how we are teaching these concepts and can offer support to their son or daughter. The lessons also serve as a great study guide for the students. Time spent in explaining a new concept 0 minutes.
Students practicing problems in class
Before the flip, students would work with a partner to solve problems for about 25 minutes. I believed, and still do, that conversation in math is important, so we have coaching partners. One student stands and checks another student’s work as he or she solves the problem. If the ‘player’ is not talking their way through the problem the ‘coach’ takes their pencil away. Once they both agree on an answer they switch roles and try another problem. Trouble arose when I partnered up two students who didn’t understand the concept; they could not help each other. Or when I grouped two proficient students together and they flew way ahead of the rest of the class.
After the flip, I still use the coaching model, but the groups are put together in a more thoughtful way. We still spend about 25 minutes coaching. Sometimes I put a student who mastered a concept with a student who struggled so they can help each other. Other times, I put two students who know the material very well together and I have a bonus problem that requires an even higher level thinking skill after they win. Knowing how capable the students are before they walk in the room has changed the way my class functions.
Before the flip, we usually had about 5 minutes to explain the homework assignment.
After the flip, we now have about 35 minutes . When I first started flipping I thought this would mean I could cram more lessons in and my class would move faster. I have found this does not happen. Instead what does happen is my students are able to engage in application of their learning. Sometimes they create videos about what they have learned. Other times we work on 3-Act problems created by Dan Meyer. I highly recommend Super-Bear if you are learning about ratios. Next week we plan on testing our knowledge of ratios and have a Barbie Bungee jumping contest. The group that can get Barbie to fall the closest to the floor after falling from 10 feet wins. This kind of exploratory math I was not able to be done before I started flipping my classroom. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do this, I just didn’t have the time. Now that I do have the time…Barbie better look out!
Before the flip, my math class did reasonably well. Students’ average improvement was about 5 points on state testing by the end of the year. If felt proud knowing that most students in my math class did better than they had the year before. I felt the students who worked hard and had help at home showed the most improvement, and the students who didn't hand in homework, and who had little help at home did worse.
After the flip, last years math class did an outstanding job, both on in class assessments as well as state assessments. Students improved by an average of 12.67 points on their state tests after in a year in our flipped math class, which my superintendent classified as ‘record breaking’.
The flipped classroom has also enabled those students with less help at home to close the gap. In many families parents are so busy working they have little time to help their son or daughter. I do not believe there is a single parent out there who does not care about their child's education, we just have to find a way to connect with them. Emailing parents results of how their son or daughter did on a homework assignment keeps them in the loop and involved in the education process. Posting the videos online gives students the extra help they need.
In my flipped classroom the students are happier, more involved in their own learning, and more successful because they are spending more time solving real-world math problems. I believe this is what education is all about.
John Fritzky is a Husband, father, and 5th grade teacher at Chester Stephens Elementary in Mount Olive, New Jersey. I am a 5th grade teacher who believes in motivating students to move, discuss, grapple, and create to reach new heights.