Friday, 26 April 2013

Staff Meeting

On Monday we had a whole staff meeting at school, and part of the meeting was a showcase of the use of technology across the school. Our Director of eLearning, Steve, asked me to say a few things about how we are starting to use Flipped Learning in maths across the Middle Years.

It was just a short introduction. I talked about the rationale for trying this teaching method out: we have mixed ability classes and students need to be able to work at a pace that is appropriate for them. I then discussed the initial positive results I was having with my classes: the students seem to have an increased feeling of success when they leave the classroom, they are more independent and they ask me less questions and work better in groups, and I am able to spend more time one-on-one or in small groups with students.

Steve, who has helped me both with the technology side of things and has let me bounce countless ideas off him, put together a little video of how the students are finding flipped learning so far which was also shown to the staff:

As always happens, I wish I had included other information to staff but in the moment I was quite nervous and forgot some things (We have a pretty big teaching staff, over 100 teachers, and as I'm pretty new I still don't know a lot of them!) One of the things I wish I had said to everyone was that I am by no means a highly technological person. I have had to learn new things and still my grasp of what can be done with the videos, iPads, etc in class is still pretty basic. Technology can be intimidating for teachers and a barrier when implementing any other new teaching method, and I can understand people not thinking they have the time or skills to make the videos. So I wanted to reassure teachers that in order to flip learning you don't have to be highly skilled in technology to do it.

Anyway, the presentation was really well received and countless teachers have approached me to say they really enjoyed it, and were inspired to try the same. I am meeting with teachers from English and science over the next few weeks, along with the senior years maths team to talk about my experiences and how flipped learning can be used in their subject area. The school is a really exciting place at the moment - it feels like there is about to be a big shift in teaching and learning and I am so happy to be a part of that change!

Oh, I should also say the other presentation on Monday was a history teacher showing her class doing a project with RSA animations. It looked so cool! I will definitely be thinking about how I can try that out in maths at some point!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Week 1 Reflections

I officially flipped my maths classes this week, and so far I am extremely happy with the results. I know it is VERY early days, but it's been a great start.

I teach 2 year 9 classes, one is all girls and the other is co-ed. The dynamics in each class are very different. The co-ed class is pretty quiet overall (I think part of it is this is the first year they aren't in single sex classes, so they are taking some time to get used to each other). They are well-behaved but sometimes the problem is they don't ask many questions during the lesson and some of them would prefer to sit there doing nothing than ask the teacher for help so they can get on with their work. The girls class is exactly the opposite, they are very boisterous and chatty and ask so many questions that it can take a long time to get through the "teaching" part of the lesson. They are also pretty teacher dependent and lack resilience for the most part.

All maths classes in year 9 are taught in mixed ability so there is a wide range of abilities in the classroom,  and I would say that at the beginning of the year the majority would have said they don't really enjoy mathematics (however this is just based on my feeling when I started, not any hard evidence! There are of course students who love maths and work hard every single lesson as well).  Anyway, my point is that for the first few weeks of the school year I was not feeling great about how much learning was actually going on in my lessons, hence the desire to try something different.

So this is what happened this week. Our first lesson together I went through the WSQ process in depth with students. We had already practiced watching videos, taking notes and writing summaries so the only new part was the "question" part. That night the students went home to watch the video. I knew not all would watch but was unsure about what the completion rate would be. 

In the co-ed class half of the students watched and half didn't. I was ok with that as I knew there would be hiccups to begin with. I had the students who hadn't watched the videos sit in the back of the class to watch them, and had the rest of the class sit in groups at the front to discuss their summaries and questions, and they then worked through the practice questions. Most students were able to complete all the questions I had assigned in class, which the students who watched the videos saw and this had an effect on how many watched the video in advance the next day. I signed the WSQ sheets in pink if they completed their work on time, and yellow if it was done late or in class. The next lesson only 4 students didn't watch the video and again they worked well all lesson, and I was pretty happy with their progress and the amount of time I was able to spend with students who needed help. So that was all good.

The real success was the girls class. This class overall was much more apprehensive about flipped learning. Many of them were a bit panicky about it, telling me they were not able to "teach themselves". I reassured them they were not expected to master the material in the videos and that I would reteach it if necessary in class. The first lesson all but 3 had watched the videos. They had fantastic summaries and questions and worked so hard throughout the lesson. They were really excited about coming to lesson with their notes and just getting onto the work when they were ready. I was able to explain some things in depth to students who were interested that I probably wouldn't have done with a whole class (like graphs of trig functions, when we are just doing basic right-angled triangle trigonometric ratios). And, most importantly, they asked me LESS questions while doing the work than they would have normally. They worked together in their small groups so much better than when I taught the lesson from the front of the class. I was SO impressed with how independently they worked already after 2 lessons. It was incredible! They left the class happy and thanking me, and I just felt like they had a sense of success they hadn't had previously in maths. And, in the second lesson EVERY student came in having completed their WSQ.

Some example WSQs

We also had a parent/teacher meetings on Thursday night and every parent I talked to about flipped learning was really positive about it. Lots of "I wish this is how we had been taught maths when I was at school". And the other Year 9 teachers have been very positive about how their classes are going as well.

I couldn't have been happier with how the flipped learning introduction went this week. It was the type of week you dream of having as a teacher. And also, as a result I was much less tired then I normally am on Friday afternoon. And now it's Sunday and I can't wait for the week to start again (Ok, seriously, if I could sleep in tomorrow instead of going to work I would, let's be serious... but there is no "Sunday night blues" feeling!)

Next week my year 7 and 8 classes will start flipping and I am looking forward to how things go with the younger students, especially my Year 8s who are a very challenging all boys class.

Saturday, 13 April 2013


For the past few months I have been reading a lot about flipped learning (mainly on the internet, with the exception of Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams book - which is well worth a read). There are so many educators out there who have done such amazing things with their classrooms - it is all very inspiring. The main problem for me right now though is it's maybe too inspiring. Is that possible? Like, I want to try everything everyone else is doing. I want to have a perfectly set up structure, class room, units of work for the whole year mapped out, and lots of videos already made. But, I have realized, I am only human and I have limited amounts of time. I also have a husband who I am driving a bit mad with all this at the moment!

So, I've decided I need to focus. First things first. I need a structure, and ideally I would like the first units of work for Years 7, 8, and 9 mapped out with most videos completed by the start of Term 2 (which is next week April in Australia). I am almost there.

So the structure I've decided on is borrowed heavily from Crystal Kirch, and materials she has on her blog, Flipping with Kirch. Her blog has been an invaluable resource for me, as is her idea of homework being a "WSQ"(pronounced "whisk") which stands for Watch, Summarize, Question. This is the format students follow when watching videos. They watch videos and take notes, summarize the video in their own words and then ask a question relating to the content.

In Term 1, I "practiced" watching videos and taking notes with my students in class. We watched the videos together (at first with me pausing the video at certain points, gradually moving to another student pausing the videos, to then them watching videos on their laptops individually or in pairs). I introduced them to the Cornell note taking system and we peer assessed and discussed good note taking and note taking that "needed improvement". So the students already know what is expected of them when they take notes. The new bit for them is the "Question" part at the end. I know that will be a bit of a struggle at first to get good questions from them, but I am planning on gradually introducing the notion of HOT (Higher Order Thinking) questions and Bloom's Taxonomy throughout the term. One step at a time...

The WSQ will ideally form the first 10 minutes or so of class, when students will work in small groups to discuss their summaries and questions. I will go over the main points with them briefly as a class, but I am hoping to keep the "teaching from the front" to a minimum. The majority of class will be spent with students working on problem sets.

At the moment, I have mainly relied on the textbook resources for the class work. Shameful, I know. One of the key reasons I am doing this is to have less dependence on the textbook, and more problem-solving or open ended activities. That is the overall vision for me. Since starting at this school I've noticed that in maths the students are heavily reliant on the textbook and seem confused and scared when you try to get them to do something more open ended (the exception to this are my Year 7s, who are keen to try everything - which to me shows that they are being taught well in primary and come to secondary loving maths and being very open, and then we, their secondary teachers, do somthing to kill that openness and creativity. Not good!) But, I realise that this whole flipping thing will be a huge culture change in itself. The students are used to the teacher regurgitating the textbook as a powerpoint, mindlessly copying it down and then doing some questions from the book. They are usually fine with the basic skill and drill type questions, but as soon as they come to word problems they flounder. They are not used to having to think for themselves, or take responsibility for their own learning. So, I figured if I try to change everything all at once I may be setting myself up for an epic fail. I thought, flip first, get them used to the video lectures, summarizing for themselves, and asking good questions. Then I will gradually introduce more "rich" tasks. And lets face it, part of the reason I've stuck to the good old text book is time. It's taken a lot to get to grips with recording the tutorials and screen recordings, and set everything up. And I figure that although I'm almost set for the first few weeks of term, I will spend a lot of that time reflecting and tweaking things that haven't worked, so I want to be as prepared as possible.

So the goal of the first few weeks of this term is to get the students watching the videos as homework and submitting quality WSQs. Once that is in place it will be time to spice up the lessons!

Sample resources I'm using this term are here (Year 9 Unit on Trigonometry)
Cover sheet
WSQ Sheet
Practice Quizzes
Youtube Playlist

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Why I am flipping my classroom

Ok so here it begins! A new teaching method I have been reading about over the past couple of years - Flipped Learning. There is a lot of information out there (out there being "the internet") about what Flipped Learning is an isn't, so I won't try and re-explain it all here. There are some particularly insightful (in my opinion) articles on flipped learning here, here and here

The focus of this post isn't WHAT is flipped learning, it's WHY I've decided to try flipped learning in my classroom. Here the 3 main driving forces behind my decision to FLIP:

1. Differentiation 

I teach in a mixed ability classroom. Some of the students love maths, some hate it. Some find it easy, some don't. Some understand what I teach immediately, others need more time to process the information. I am very pro mixed ability teaching (love Jo Boaler's book), and having taught in the English system for so long where students are set in almost every school from a young age, and where most maths teachers would rather die than teach mixed ability, I am happy to have this type of classroom. But giving a traditional lecture style lesson just doesn't work in a mixed ability class. When I'm explaining a concept or modelling an example, some of the students are bored because they already understand, and for some I'm moving too quickly through the explanation, which leads to frustration and giving up. There are some for who I'm probably explaining things at a perfect pace, but I'm pretty sure this is the minority! Flipping means that students can listen to video tutorials at their own pace. They can rewind, pause and even fast-forward through the videos as they need to. It's means learning can become more personalised and also that students can avoid the distractions they normally have in lessons during the lecture (the main distractions being each other!) and watch it in a more focussed way at home. 

2. Lesson Time

I want to make the time we have in lessons more efficient. In a 55 minute lesson I don't always get everything done I'd like, and I don't have enough time to spend with students one-on-one or in small groups. Mainly because I spend about half the lesson with a starter activity, introducing the concept and examples, and then the students have time to work on an activity or practice questions. Usually this leaves them with about 15-20 minutes if we're lucky, before we do a quick recap and then pack up, ready to move on to the next lesson. By removing the lecture to a video students watch at home, I am hoping to free up class time in order to accomplish the following: 

  • give students lots of practice time, where they can work with each other to solve problems 
  • spend more time with students, questioning them to really assess their understanding of concepts, and giving them extra help when they need it 
  • introduce more problem solving and open-ended tasks in lesson, rather than just sticking to the textbook  introduce more technology, such as iPads and apps like "Explain Everything" and "Ask 3", or using Twitter or Facebook to generate online discussions 

Those are just a few ideas so far... I am really excited about all the different possibilities that freeing up class time might allow me. 

3. Teacher as Facilitator

I want to change my role in the classroom from the "Sage on the Stage" to the "Guide on the Side". In the 21st century, teachers no longer need to be the person who holds all this knowledge and passes it on to their students. Students don't need us (teachers) to give them information. They can get it anywhere, on the internet! What we need to do is teach them how to find and process information, and how to take what they know and apply it to new learning situations. (We also need to tell them which information they will need in order to pass exams, but that is hopefully a by-product of their learning anyway!)

So, here we go. I will begin my pilot with my Year 7, 8 and 9 classes once the Easter holiday is over. Until then I will be busy recording video lectures for the first few weeks, and putting on the finishing touches to the structures I've come up with to use so far. I am hoping to use this blog to record my reflections on teaching in a flipped classroom so that I can improve on what I'm doing, and maybe one day be of help to someone else deciding to flip their classroom!