Sunday, 14 July 2013

Term 3 Goals

It's Sunday afternoon, the day before Term 3 starts. I can't believe we are already halfway through the school year here in Australia, and that I've been in this country for 6 months! Time has flown by.

This will be my second term flipping my year 7, 8 and 9 maths classes, and I have thought a lot about how to improve on the model this term. These are my goals for improving my classroom lessons this term:

Goal Number 1
Use more problem solving within lessons, starting with teaching students how to solve problems, with help from George Polya. More on this here.

Goal Number 2
Improve techniques for formative assessment. I thought it would be great to incorporate technology into this goal, and after looking around at various options I have decided to try using the student response system Socrative. I think I will start using it by doing Exit Tickets at the end of lessons, along with multiple choice or short answer questions to start off the lesson to see how well the students have understood the video the night before.

I have also planned some formative tasks into my Year 8 and 9 units.

Year 9 will be doing a unit on Linear Relations so I will be using these two tasks from the Mathematics Assessment Project Classroom Challenges, which is an American Resource:

Lines and Linear Equations
Modeling Solutions with Linear Equations

Year 8 are doing a unit on Probability. Before any theory is taught the students will be doing this activity from the Nuffield Foundation:
Three Dice
Which involves a game where students have to try and choose the numbers that will occur most frequently when three dice are thrown. I love the Nuffield Foundation activities because not only do they give detailed information on how to teach and assess mathematical processes, they also give examples of students work and the types of questions you might ask students to really see if they have a deep understanding of the mathematics.

I will also used some activities from Nrich, which has a fantastic section on teaching probability, including research and case studies of schools who have used the tasks. The tasks I am going to use are:
Which Team Will Win
The Dog Ate My Homework
These activities will also help me to achieve Goal Number 1!

Goal Number 3
I really want to improve the behaviour of my classes, namely my all boys Year 8 class. Before the holidays I started using Class Dojo with them, which seemed to help, so I will continue to use that. What I liked about Class Dojo is that you can keep track of both positive and negative behaviour at the same time. As a class we came up with rewards for those students who consistently display positive behaviour. The best part is that the rewards are not things like prizes or chocolate. The reward is a certificate for those who have over 95% positive behaviour for the week, and longer term is a letter home to their parents.

Which leads me to a "sub-goal" of Goal Number 3, and that is to communicate more with parents. Calling parents, for either good or bad news, is so effective, and I KNOW this! It's just that at 5:30pm when I am drained after a day at school, the last thing I want to do is get on the phone with a parent. But the pay off is worth it, and I always feel that way when I finish the call. I'm always so glad I did it once it's over. (In a way calling parents is a bit like exercise... you know you should, you know you'll feel better once it's done, and even while it's happening... but the thought of it is just so overwhelming!) Maybe I need to find a better time to call them, and not leave it until the evening when I just want to get home. I will have to think more about that one.

Anyway, 3 goals is enough for anyone, and I hope I have made them 'smart' enough that I will be able to make progress towards achieving them. I look forward to reporting the results here on this blog on a regular basis. (I feel another goal coming on...)

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Flipping doesn't replace teachers

I haven't updated the blog in a few weeks for 2 main reasons:
1) We are in the middle of a 3 week mid-winter holiday
2) I have been working on my Masters dissertation, which is due in September

The Masters is a 3-year part-time MA in Education with London South Bank University, which I started back in England in 2010. The dissertation is the final project, a 20,000 word research based paper. I won't bore you with a lot of details, and it has nothing to do with flipped learning, but a lot of the reading I have been doing concerns curriculum reform. As I've been reading, I've been struck by some research findings that can be applied to flipped learning.

Curriculum reform is a major way for governments and policymakers to try and improve education. Teachers tend to be very wary of curriculum reform and of curriculum materials in general, a feeling that researchers say have stemmed from reforms in the 50s and 60s where curriculum materials were designed to be "teacher-proof"; that is, the thought was that if the curriculum materials (and in mathematics this tends to  mean textbooks) are good enough, then the quality of teaching won't matter.

Well, obviously this idea didn't really work - all it succeed in doing was making teachers wary of using textbooks and other curriculum materials. Teaching is a human activity and no two teachers will teach the same curriculum in exactly the same way. This is the difference between the planned curriculum (what has been designed for teachers), the intended curriculum (how teachers plan to deliver their lesson) and the enacted curriculum (what actually happens in the classroom).The way teachers use curriculum materials has a lot more to do with their knowledge and beliefs surrounding mathematics and pedagogy, the way they were taught maths themselves, the culture of the school and routines and practices they  have already established, than the curriculum materials themselves. And, what can really mess things up is when a teacher uses curriculum materials without really understanding the goals or ideology behind them.

Well, what does this all have to do with flipping? Reading this stuff about teachers' uses of curriculum made me think about one of the key issues people have against flipped learning: that it replaces teachers with online videos. Along with that argument some might also think that flipping can replace a POOR teacher, so this could be a great way to improve the quality of teaching in a school. I mean, if a teacher is not standing at the front lecturing, and the material is being taught online at home, how much harm (or good) can they actually be doing, right?

WRONG! Since flipping I've had to think much harder about how I structure my lessons. First of all, if you are recording your own lessons it takes a lot more thought and planning to make a video. You have to be able to anticipate the questions students might have, or the parts they will find difficult and try to explain them in a way that they will all understand. This is much easier to address in a live classroom where the students can ask their questions right away, and you can at least see their facial expressions and ask critical questions to gauge understanding.

Also I have had to think more about the activities I set up in the classroom. Flipping can get pretty boring if all the students do is come in and work on questions from the textbook. The questions you need to ask them to see if they have understood last night's video are so important, as is ensuring you are stretching the most able students with challenging and engaging problems.

Anyway, I guess my point is - good teaching is good teaching. It doesn't matter what tool you are using to deliver the lessons (and video lessons are just that - a tool). Flipping does not replace a teacher, just the opposite, it gives the teacher more time to interact on a more personal level with their class. It, along with any other educational reforms, will never be "teacher-proof"!