From the horse’s mouth to your ear, #flipclass student speaks!

Kaitlin Graf is a Grade 10 student (now Grade 11) at Okanagan Mission Secondary. This is her second semester in a Flipped Math class with my colleague and fellow flipper, @Math_Johnson.

My name is Kaitlin Graf and I have experienced two semesters of Math (Math 10 and now Math 11) in a Flipped Class.  At first I disliked the Flipped Class but later I realized that it was actually very helpful.

I remember the first flipped class lesson I had. We all filed into the classroom and were handed a notes package along with a checklist of things we should complete before a test deadline. For example, there were journal entries we had to complete, several practice Moodle quizzes and of course math problems, we were assigned to do.  Instead of my teacher proceeding to teach us our 1.2 notes on surface area through the typical method of lecturing, we were given time to work through the material at our own pace. The concept of the flipped class and that we would be watching videos at home, and doing our homework in class. As a student, one of my favorite subjects is math, because of the structure and because for some reason I loved the boring, obvious, lesson plan. Since the flipped class took away the standard and traditional ways I didn’t like the flipped classroom at first. I felt that because our teacher was no longer teaching us and that there was no point on coming to class.

However, after a while in the flip class, I began to see the benefits of the flipped class and use them to my advantage. As a motivated student, I was no longer sitting around, waiting for the other kids to finish, I was no longer annoyed with the questions certain students asked and was not forced to re-learn things I was already confident I knew.

As well, I could move through the course as quickly as I liked, do as much or as little homework as I felt I need. After a couple of weeks into the flipped class, I actually started to like the overall idea of it. I also realized that during class there was now more time for the teacher to help you one to one, which in Math is extremely helpful.

The videos provided are additionally helpful because you can re-watch them as many times as you want. When you don’t understand something, you can just go online and find the section that explains your problem and move on.

At the end of the day, I cannot imagine returning to a regular Math class.

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Flipped classroom renovates mindset.

Creating a culture that is student centric & student regulated.

The Flip Class “renovates” the classroom mindset by removing pre-conceived notions (old baggage) of what students “should” be doing at school (sitting in rows, taking notes, filling in worksheets). This change is not a static, one time application; rather it is a dynamic and evolving process for both the learner and teacher. This process allows for a shift from the pre-conceived notion many students have that traditional school activities ARE learning ones (because they have done them in school) to  selecting and using strategies that meet the needs of the learner (giving everyone in the learning environment a “new set of glasses” to differentiate “school activities” from learning ones). These pre-conceived ideas about learning are especially pervasive and prevalent amongst high school students and in high functioning students (they know how school works but this does mean they know how learning works and this makes them very uncomfortable as they have the most to lose).

Classroom culture matters.

Classroom culture is no longer “flavoured” by the specific content or by the teacher persona but by the learners (with teacher as a learner as well). Authentic learning “tastes” new and may be a flavour that not everyone will like or enjoy after the first taste. For example, the first time you eat Indian food, you might not like it! Becoming comfortable with deep learning is a process that happens slowly over a period of time and is not a one-time application. It is not: “Today we will learn how to learn, and OK all done!” Students, over a period of time become accustomed to the new “flavour” and feel of learning (like when you get used to a new food or a new exercise routine). Students in a supported, safe and interactive environment, become familiar and comfortable with what learning looks like, feels like, sounds like, rather than: “Biology class is where I take notes all day and fill out worksheets”,  or “Biology class is when I zone out and imagine my weekend plans.”

Learning about learning, is similar to learning a language, it happens best when you are fully immersed in a new and stimulating environment (like travelling to France to learn French) but at the same time requires you to feel safe and comfortable (like a home stay while in France).

Flip class is a dynamic transition that is simultaneously deeply immersive but at the same time allows for gradual development of learning skills for the student (they become a self- regulating learners rather than teacher or externally regulated).

2wedges (2)
We can imagine the Flip Class as a continuum where teachers and students can safely transition from a highly externally regulated environment to one where students become more comfortable and competent at deep learning.

This fully immersive nature of the flipped classroom provides impetus for change (i.e. when you go to foreign country you must at least try to learn the new language). The change appears less like “work” and prevents slipping back into old habits and patterns of how we “do school.” People (teens and teachers alike) very seldom choose to change when an easier, more comfortable and tried and true pattern is readily available.

Creates a growth medium in which other learning strategies can grow and thrive.

If you plant seeds in the wrong type of soil or in the wrong climatic conditions they do not grow. Planting UBD, PBL or Inquiry into a traditional classroom dynamic is a top down approach; “we will do this to student and they will learn.” Rather the Flip Class develops a student mindset that is open, whereby learning strategies can grow and emerge from the learner when appropriate and sustainable. Over time learners can become inquiry driven, over time learners can identify and work to solve problems, over time students can appreciate and understand why seeing the big picture will help guide their learning.

Creates an environment that focuses on the learning rather than on the content.

The Flipped Classroom provides daily opportunities for students to find entry points into the content for themselves, as it is about their learning and the learning is emergent, authentic and owned by learner.

For flipped classroom to succeed it necessitates the creation a community of learners (for teachers and students) rather than a chain of command.

“If we want real change, lasting change, if we want back the power, the pride, the soaring achievement that is an exceptional public education, then the revolution begins with us.”

Rebecca Mieliwock

2012 National Teacher of the Year

Why I fall in love with #flipclass everyday anew.

Last year I did some renovations to my teaching practise. The process was exhilarating, demanding, and left me with taste for change. I did some exploring over the summer and charted out a plan for the coming school year. I came back in September with some great new ideas: portfolios, full on standard based grading, 20% time.

I was ready to bring it.

Thing is….my students were NOT.
They had not spent the summer immersed in books, online courses and a trip to MIT.

All this change I was craving was not embedded in anything meaningful or reasonable for my students. I might as well shown up talking Japanese for the amount of sense it made to them.

Maybe you are saying: “Well if you just kept plugging away, if you just kept at it, eventually they would come around.”

Maybe your right, maybe they would have, maybe slowly, they would have had some magic transformative moment and inspiration would have been lit in their learning souls.

But by then…. I might have become a drooling zombie.

I could not push any harder, I could not…

In this space where students have very specific and prescriptive expectations about how things will and should work, and will say right to my face “Don’t you dare mess with it Ms Durley cause I need to get 90% for the nursing program.”

I hate to admit defeat, it is the hardest thing for me, a perfectionist people pleaser, to do. I hate to be so emotional about it, but I am. I have been carrying this silently inside for many weeks and it has been bogging me down, draining my drive and making me feel generally like a failure.

I have regrouped and gone back to the drawing board, I will give portfolios another shot, just scaled down. I still am working on standards based grading, with others in my department this time, to make it fit within the points driven paradigm of this system. I will offer some exploration time but in smaller chunks and with slightly different parameters.

Many of you out there in my circle of influence, write in dramatic landscapes of absolutes: no homework, no worksheets, no videos, no direct instruction, no marks, etc.

Do you know how it feels in a room of 30 Grade 12’s who want you to be something very specific, in a school of 60 staff members, and in a community with their eyes resolutely on the prize?

It eats at you slowly, bit by bit, erodes your confidence, your energy, your dreams, your ideals…..you.

I am fairly energetic and spend time on my practice. I am ready to take risks and change. I love reading the big sweeping ideas about how education needs to change and I need to read them, as they serve an important function in my evolution as a teacher.

But what I need, what I crave, what saves my sanity, is a sturdy and safe bridge to get me there. A bridge, a walkway, a map, a blueprint…. pick whatever metaphor you want.

I need to know HOW… how to get there… and get there safely with these kids, the ones right in front of me with their mindsets, their parents’ pre-conceptions, the report card parameters, the school final exam policy, the AP exam in May, with ALL these realities on my plate.

So I fall in love with flip class everyday anew because I can do it within these four walls and my one mortal life. I can get out of school by 5, get to the gym, and be present in body and soul at the dinner table.

I can see and feel tangible changes in my practice, in how students are interacting in the room with each other, with me and with the content.

I can show up each day, have the wherewithal, the time, and the energy to look each child in the whites of their eyes and say: “Do you get it, what don’t you get, and how can I help?”

I have to remember how huge that is.

Flip class is my bad ass bridge, I will continue travelling with it to get me safely and sanely…there…with these kids….in this time and place.

Recipe for a #flipclass: Homework + worksheets + random videos.

Simple. Send students home to watch videos (Videos don’t even have to be yours! Just find some random You Tube video!) Better yet, assign these videos for HOMEWORK, as in they MUST be done for next day. Then when students come back to class have them fill out gobs of WORKSHEETS.

Done. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. You have yourself a full-fledged flip class.

Except: THIS. IS. NOT. ACCURATE.

This is not the flip class I know, see, hear, or read about.

This is a reductive picture that some critics are painting. These critics seem hell-bent on reducing flip class to “It’s ALL about homework and therefore is WRONG. It’s all about random video, so it is WRONG. It is all about WORKSHEETS so that makes it wrong.

Sorry fellows but I am not, nor is my practice a cheap balsamic vinegar that reduction will improve and thicken.

My practice is full-bodied, reflective, eclectic, intense, always changing and does not lend well to reduction. When you show up NOW and reduce my practice to one thing such as homework and then proceed demonize it, I feel confused.

You don’t even know me, you have never stepped foot into my work space, nor have you even asked me two simple questions that easily fit into 140 characters: “Do you use homework in your flip class?” and “Do you use worksheets?”

Have you ever renovated a major room in your house? Say your kitchen or bathroom?

Do you remember the chaos and disarray, the feeling of being off-balance as your daily routines vanished. If you did the renovation yourself you know the time, energy and passion that went in and the months it took to decide on all the key components of this new space, let alone decide on the finishes. Have you every renovated to beat the band and then a friend shows up and says “Huh, I thought you renovated? Isn’t that the OLD faucet from the OLD kitchen?” And you as the chief renovator feel all the work and effort is reduced to this: the OLD faucet.

 

Last year I renovated the inner workings of my practice. I pulled everything out; I got rid of 20 years of multiple choice tests; I emptied a 20 year treasure trove filing cabinet into the recycling; I pulled out every activity, every lab, every lesson and examined each to decide if they should stay or they should go; I moved away from a points driven system to a mastery standard based model; I read teacher blogs to track down and discover new activities that I could put in to my renovated practice; I re-invented my role in the classroom; I lobbied to attend more ProD; I began blogging on a regular basis; I could go on!

But what I need you to know, need you to know right now, is that the flip class teachers I know and who I collaborate with in the Flip Class community are educators who are 110% committed to renovating their practices out in the open, transparently; regardless of the disruption and stress that comes with such a major and public renovation. These are teachers who are reflecting on, sharing and revising their practices EVERYDAY.

I am not trying to equate effort to excellence. What I do want to make clear is that this change is not static, nor is it a one time application; it is a constant and evolving renovation.

These are not teachers who are stuck and are blindly, reflexively assigning homework and gobs of worksheets just to keep students busy, quiet and maintain control.

Could we perhaps talk about homework and worksheets in general and not attach them to flip class like we invented them or something? And can we stop assuming that we teachers using the flip class model are all worksheet and homework addicts and pushers alike?

Do I have vestiges and remains from my OLD practice. YES.
Is there more I want to change? YES.

Do I assign and mandate homework and worksheets? NO.

And if you would like to know what I do within this still under renovation flip class, just ask.

Establishing classroom routines: flex time, learning journals, hot seat and more!

Whether you run a flipped classroom or not, establishing classroom norms are a big part of start-up. Although I like norms (and I do!) a lot, I also like to keep things fresh and surprising for students. So while I feel routines are crucial, I do not want the classroom to feel regimented and controlled. Moreover I want students to have real-time opportunities to notice the connection between their choices and the corresponding outcomes. While I strive to make students feel comfortable and safe, I also strive to push them out of their comfort zones. These nudges, might be specific to one student or a general trend that applies to many students. With the time and mental availability that the flipped classroom allows, I find I have a strong awareness of where students are at.

Below are a sampling of some of my flipped classroom routines:

I. Learning Journals: I purchase inexpensive copy books (25 cents each) for students to use. The journals stay in class ( we are not 1:1 ) as I want students to have the opportunity to reflect on a regular basis. Like brushing your teeth, reflection and metacognition are habits that have to be developed with support and guidance. At first students do not take many risks with their reflections and stick pretty close to the provided prompts. Over time though they open up (just like a flower blooms!) and are able to reflect with amazing insight into their own learning journeys. Besides the prompts, we use journals to debrief activities and set weekly goals.

Simple, inexpensive and portable. Personalized with a $ Store nameplate sticker!

II. Index Cards: Index cards have so many uses, they are one of my favourite go to tools. Students seem to love them as well as they are so contained, unlike the rest of their sometimes very overwhelming lives. This year I am using them for students to set daily goals and then place the card on their desks beside them to be a visual reminder of their short-term goals. I got this idea from Net Smart by Harold Rhiengold and have tried it myself over the last couple of weeks and found it very helpful in aligning my attention with my goals.

Other uses of index cards: summary of key ideas from an activity, making outlines for essays, and review of a challenging topic, etc. I buy rings at the dollar store for students to hold all their index cards together and they LOVE these (almost as much as I love the dollar store!).

Index Card Rings

III. Learning Packets: Each unit has a packet and a list of possible activities (ex: watching screencasts, lab activities, group activities). Some will be completed as a class (ex a lab that requires set up or white boarding) but some are optional and allow for student choice. The cover page lists all the activities and begins with the optimal completion date. This cover page also lists journal prompts for the unit. During flex time students can select from the activity list. As the year starts I encourage students to figure out what combination works best for them. This is a fluid process and takes time for students to adjust to and requires lots of discussion. Example of a cover sheet for a learning packet below.

Cellular Packet

IV. Flex time: This is time in class for students to complete what they need to get their learning done. At the start of the semester I begin with a small amount of time and depending on the dynamics of the class, this may only be 10 mins. As students become more comfortable with this open time I increase it.  What amazed me the most is that students can (in most cases and after acclimatizing to the structure) self pace, for example students will go back to units where they struggled and ask for help from me or from other students. Students seem to want to work through their weaknesses first, before they enter new content territory.

V. Hot Seat: Hot Seat is one of many of the Flipped Class terms that comes from Phil McIntosh (@mistermcintosh ). Hot Seat occurs as we are moving towards the end of a unit and students and I meet for a formal appointment (I do get time each day to check in and talk to students as well). This is when students have the opportunity to present, question and reflect on the evidence they have archived to demonstrate their learning. This might look different for each student, and it is definitely not a pile of completed worksheets (this year I am trying e-portfolios for the first time). Students are very proud to share and seem to really value this time.

After a question or two I get a true sense of what is really going on with the student. It becomes very apparent if a student is not ready to challenge an assessment, we might make a plan for the student to write the assessment the following week (but outside of class time). In making this decision I use my both my teacher judgement and intuition. There are the “little monkeys” who are trying to game the system who I work to hold firmly accountable, students who will claim they are not ready but always do well (“stress monkeys”) and then those that are sincerely struggling and need extra support or more time. (“little muffins”). An example of the first Hot Seat of the year, which is more prescriptive.

Hot Seat #1

VI. Outside of Class Assessments: Students must complete an application form and submit to me by the end of day on Tuesdays. Outside of class assessments occur on Thursdays only, either before school or after school (if they cannot make one Thursday, I say “OK next Thursday”). Students have to present their evidence for their learning in advance of the assessment and as I say a time or two, these assessments are a privilege and not a right. This is the classroom practice that I have to repeat and explain the most and for some students it takes literally months for them to appreciate this opportunity. I do limit it to 2 times per student ( but would extend in certain situations) and have a blackout period in the last two weeks of the semester (for my sanity). I have turned students away (they did not complete the form, they had no evidence etc). Application form below.

Outside of Class Assessment Application

What are your favourite tried and true classroom norms? 

Flipping the department meeting.

Department meetings are…well…they are meetings!

They are useful in the sense that there is pertinent information that needs to be shared, especially at the start of the year. Unfortunately a lot of the items to share are just information; this how to order, this is how much money in our budget, etc.

Most of our meeting time gets eaten up by information relay and this leaves little time for any collaboration or sharing. Yes you could send people an email…but I think most would agree, they might not get around to reading all of it (if at all).

These meetings happen at lunchtime (our lunch break is 40 minutes) when everyone is short on time to fit in eating, taking a break and getting organized for the afternoon.

With that in mind, I thought I would do a trial “flip” meeting, get feedback and see if this is a more efficient use of people’s time.

Check out the video if of interest to you:

OKM Sc. Dept. Meeting.

What do you think?

Would you like your department meeting to be flipped?

Are your department meeting spent going over information or is their enough time for collaboration and sharing?

Learning: Buried treasure?

This year as I journeyed as a Flip Class teacher, a surprise consequence was that I reconnected to my own learning. This post is written from my learner self to my teacher self. 

When you tell me the objectives of learning right of the bat, it feels like we are going to do paint by numbers. If you already know EXACTLY what we are going to learn, is it really learning?  When you tell me what you want me to know, how to say it, when to say it, do you expect me to be inspired? I want my learning to be magical, complicated and mysterious. A journey that is unique and intricate. I want to be an explorer who is brave, fierce and fully engaged in discovering answers that only I can find.

When you spell everything out so obviously, so blatantly, lacking in nuance, there is no room for me to imagine, to connect or to interpret. I want to puzzle about things, I want to get trapped in a sticky web of interwoven, subtle ideas, that I have to struggle to get out of.

I want to wrestle with ideas and thoughts, like I AM Crocodile Hunter. When you tell me exactly how to do everything little thing, down to the most boring, obvious, and tiniest detail, it crushes me, like the strong man CRUSHING a tin can.  My sense of adventure and purpose are sucked out of me, liposuction style.

When I can’t create, dream or imagine, it feels like running into a concrete wall. You come along, just when I am getting started, swooping in like a super-hero, your solution to the problem, freezing me up, like the Ice-Man. Your way is so perfect, so clean, so easy for you, but those are your solutions, not mine. I have a lot of ideas, questions and solutions of my own.

Let me do it, give me the space, the time, and the opportunity.

I will. Cause it’s my buried treasure.

My learning is intensely personal, emotional and valuable; gleaming, but hidden. I did not really want you to do that anyways; to help save the day. I wanted to figure it out for myself.

And you know what?

When you do that, it snaps me shut; treasure chest closed and double locked this time.

Don’t tell me to do something that you find boring yourself. Like fill out a worksheet for 125 points, whose answers are on Goggle. Like really who cares what the Latin root for Rubidium is? If I did care, I would look it up! Are you surprised when everyone copies the answers from one student? We would “copy” the answers from the textbook, so what is the difference?

When everything is so obvious, it offends me; it insults my intelligence. In case you didn’t know I am intelligent; I have just locked it up in a chest for safe keeping. No one around here seems that interested in it anyways. They seem more interested in me being quiet, polite, well-behaved, and compliant.

When you don’t trust me to do something my way, when you lay out the criteria so tight and prescriptive, I am suffocatedYou have decided what you want and I am not inspired by what you have decided for my learning.

I want big, meaty complicated, crazy hard problems. Problems that I discover for myself. I want to immerse myself in the discovery process. I don’t want or need, a guided path that is 1 person wide, straight as an arrow to follow along. I want to build my own path.

Let me go, let me be wild, let me discover and hear my own thoughts. Let me feel my way through my learning. Let me stumble, fall and pick myself up.

I will.

Let me waste time, to value my time. Let me talk with passion about topics that inspire me. Find inspiration yourself. Show me what it looks and how it sounds. Be ridiculously excited about your own learning. Embarrass and impress us with your passion.

We want to see that. Bust out of being a “teacher”,  show us that you are a passionate full-on, risk taking learner.

Show us your buried treasure.