Posts By: Melissa Myers

Flipping Out: Have you tried flipping your classroom?

Melissa Myers

December 19, 2014

For the past few weeks, Mr. Burnaugh’s students have been experimenting with simulated parallel and A/C circuits, chatting with him and each other, answering poll questions, and uploading graphic organizers on their LMS (Learning Management System)—all online and before they even enter the classroom. When they meet with him IRL (In Real Life), they have an opportunity to really dive into Ohm’s law and the algebraic recipe for calculating current. In their labs, they use a resistor, a battery pack, an ammeter, and a voltmeter to explore how this equation applies to real life. They have the opportunity to ask Mr. Burnaugh questions, receive 1:1 and small group help, and connect with peers. When they go home, they can review what they learned in class by accessing teacher notes, re-watching a recorded lecture, downloading a helpful video on TeacherTube or Khan Academy, and completing practice equations. Following classroom learning sessions, they return to the LMS and review, practice, and process what they did in class. A drone delivers college acceptance letters and scholarship offers.

Okay, maybe there’s no drone, but flipped instruction is not science fiction—schools all across the country and world are making this model work for students.

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Ideas and TipsStories

Yesterday, I attended a beautiful wedding for my friend and colleague, Meagan. Meagan and her new husband have all the ingredients for a successful marriage–mutual respect for each other, shared values and beliefs, the ability to compromise, and a commitment to each other through thick and thin. Before this wedding, Meagan and I were also married in a sense. We team-taught a class of thirteen students with intellectual disabilities (ID) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). And we, too, shared all the ingredients for a successful partnership. Our class excelled, and we experienced tremendous professional and personal learnings during that year of teaching. It worked so well, that I found myself being paired with a very unlikely co-teacher the next year–my brother. Those were my two best years of teaching.

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At my school, 21st Century learning is an intrinsic piece of our philosophy and teaching methodology. We have a 1:1 iPad program, implement a flipped instructional model, use NearPod and Doceri for classroom presentations, and students often create screencasts, Prezis, and iMovie projects. We are always on the lookout for the newest innovations and methods for making our lessons more interactive, meaningful, and relevant.

But not every teacher is ready to take on the challenges associated with a true 21st Century classroom. Here are some tips for how schools can support teachers who are a little tech-shy and produce a dynamic and collaborative community of teachers.

Play With It

I remember years ago getting an interactive whiteboard in my classroom. The training representative came in and wowed me by creating a Jeopardy-like game, manipulating tiles around the board and inserting sound clips. He did this in about 10 minutes, and I was sold; however, when it came time for me to use my own interactive board, I could barely write on it. My students complained about the lack of touch response, and soon enough, my interactive board became a plain old white board. I used to tape index cards to it to play Jeopardy. Teacher training is still important, but nothing beats diving right in and playing with a new piece of technology, whether its a Learning Management System or a fun spelling app. Play around with it, and feel free to click that “Need help?” chat screen at the bottom. It’s likely that a customer service representative is on the other end and can’t wait to walk you through the program.

Ask for Help

If you can’t figure something out through trial-and-error, customer service help, or Youtube tutorials, why not go to a colleague? Chances are, if you’re having difficulty using or implementing a specific piece of technology, someone else has had the same problem in the past. And don’t forget about your students! This is an excellent opportunity to engage our gamers and coders. Ask them to demonstrate how to use an app. There are experts all around us.

Be Patient and Have a Backup Plan

One of the biggest challenges with technology isn’t learning how to use it, but dealing with bugs and roadblocks. If your schools’ internet isn’t robust enough, your laptop or tablet hasn’t been updated or upgraded recently, or an app simply crashes, make sure you have a low-tech or offline backup plan. There’s nothing worse than preparing a fantastic, tech-based lesson and finding out that the schools’ internet is down.

Set Small Learning Goals

It can be intimidating for teachers who are new to technology to dive right into learning how to set up an online course on a Learning Management System or become entrenched in the SAMR model. Instead, teachers can start with educational video resources such as TED or Khan Academy and slowly roll out a few key apps for students to use with consistency. Tools 4 Students is a basic graphic organizer resource, Toontastic helps younger kids write and animate short stories, and IXL provides students with practice in Math and Language Arts that meets Common Core Standards. ClassDojo can help teachers track and monitor student behavior and even increase positive communication with parents, and best of all, students can take the lead on all of these pieces of technology. Put the power in their hands.

Keep Learning

Technology constantly evolves and programs reinvent themselves. As soon as you have mastered a particular program or piece of software, you can bet that the newest update will look completely different (I’m looking at you iMovie!). Like teaching itself, learning new technology requires educators to constantly return to being a student. Learning new technology can breathe new life into teachers and classrooms alike. Never stop learning.

I went to a Catholic high school that had only become co-ed a few years before I attended. The boy to girl ratio was not yet balanced out, and the issue of gender bias became particularly evident in my 9th grade PE class when our teacher announced, “Boys will play football, girls can walk around the track and talk.” As a competitive gymnast, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be told not to exert myself, and there were several boys who warmed the bench for the entire quarter having been dubbed too “unathletic” to participate. But no one complained because, as 14-year-olds, it was easier to just remain in our gender enclaves where we didn’t have to deal with each other, or even worse, consider identity issues. For younger students, it’s routine that they clump themselves together on playgrounds like penguins in the arctic, but this is all the more reason for teachers to aim for a more integrated classroom, uniting students rather than dividing.

Here are some ideas for how teachers can integrate and unify classrooms no matter what the gender ratios may be:

Establishing a unified classroom

It often takes a bit of effort to encourage students to feel comfortable working with classmates of the opposite sex. Consider setting up a boy-girl icebreaker activity early in the year that requires students to interview each other. Give boys opportunities to act as leaders in reading groups; give girls the same treatment when it comes to math. Demystify the gender divide by reading chapter books that feature boy-girl friendships: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is an excellent book, as is December Secrets by Patricia Giff.

Seating assignments

Some teachers opt for a “girl-boy-girl” seating arrangement, but this again sends the message that there is something oddball about boys and girls naturally working together. Instead, consider seating students according to personality or interests. Introverted students can be supported by a nearby extrovert. Quiet students can offer appropriate reminders to a chatty neighbor. Seat sports fans near artists and gamers—everyone is sure to learn something new. Celebrating diversity can help facilitate conversation, cooperation, and friendship amongst many groups of students—not just boys and girls.

Classroom arrangement

Pay attention to those areas in your classroom with single-sex groups tend to congregate. The art table, the fish tank, science materials, Bosu ball, computer and iPad stations, and makerspaces are all areas that have the potential to divide and conquer. Consider moving stations, and encouraging students to share and rotate groups. Jigsaw activities, where student-experts present information to another group, are a great way to pique new interests and integrate groups. Finally, consider setting up stations so that they include gender-neutral materials; art stations don’t have to be all glitter and heart stickers, and building stations can easily include blocks and sets that don’t discourage girls from handling them.

Consider your own attitude

How often do we hear teachers saying, “Good morning boys and girls”? A simple change to, “Good morning class” sets the tone for unity. Consider how you treat a sensitive boy. Do you comfort him when he’s upset, or do expect that he learn how to handle his emotions on his own? When working with a take-charge girl, do you discourage her? Expect that she learn how to stop being so “bossy”? Do you give more attention to a compliant girl than to an energetic boy? Finally, remember to use gender neutral language and avoid generalizations. Always encourage students to do the same, and they will begin to follow your lead.

Years ago, I worked in a school where faculty members routinely brought laptops to meetings. Everyone would gather in desks facing the front of the room, screens up, fingers furiously typing, while the facilitator spoke. At first, I was determined to sit near the front, maintain eye-contact with the facilitator, and participate meaningfully in discussion. Eventually, though, I gave up. It became clear what my colleagues thought of our meetings: this time was better spent preparing lessons, checking email, or even comparing Fantasy Football stats.

The way faculty meetings were run at this particular school was indicative of a larger, more pervasive problem: a lack of established norms and behavioral standards for everyone. If an outsider were to walk into any classroom, they would see students demonstrating similar behaviors and mirroring this same disengagement.

So what can administrators and teachers do to establish behavioral norms in classroom and school environments?

Step away from the situation

When a teacher comes to me again and again with the same behavioral concerns — students not using tablets or smartphones appropriately, calling out of turn, arriving to class late, using disrespectful language — I will often set the teacher to the task of observing and taking notes on the students in question while I get their class started for the period. This serves a dual purpose: teachers have the opportunity to step away from the situation and observe student behaviors objectively, as an outsider. In addition, the whole class is given a chance to reflect upon and re-establish behavioral expectations. As any effective teacher knows, the first thing you do when you walk into a classroom full of students whom you have never taught, is set norms through student input and empowerment. It’s amazing what happens when they are given the opportunity to reflect upon, and even make adjustments to their classroom behavior guidelines.

Walk in their shoes

Benjy was incredibly bright, intellectually curious, intrinsically motivated, and autistic. He also got kicked out of class a lot. One of the main reasons why this happened was because he couldn’t keep from punching holes in teachers’ logic. His brain was wired in such a way that it literally “itched” (his words) when a storyline contained flaws or loose ends, a complex math problem didn’t add up correctly, or a teacher gave out inaccurate or wholly incorrect information. Once teachers gave credence, and even respect to his practical natures (and supported his social development by teaching him how to properly address “itchy situations”) Benjy was able to stay in the classroom and really add to the intellectual value of discussions. Our brightest students will always be the first to disengage if we don’t make time for empathy and afford them the respect and validation they deserve.

Model academic risk-taking

A colleague recently told me about a social experiment of sorts that his high school conducted a few years back. Everyone swapped classes for one period of the day. English teachers taught Physics, Physics taught History, Math teachers taught English. What started out as nearly a practical joke, morphed into something slightly intimidating, and eventually, became an incredible learning experience not only for teachers, but also for students. Teachers found that they had to deliver instruction much more creatively using what schema they could access. They got really excited about uncovering new ideas and making intellectual breakthroughs (I think we call this “learning”). Their enthusiasm spread like wildfire. Students felt that teachers were as much their guides as they were their intellectual peers on an unexpected adventure in learning. When we allow students to see our humanity – our capacity to make mistakes and willingness to admit to our own lack of knowledge — they’re less likely to push back.

Follow your own rules

Speaking of mistakes, I made one this year. Just one. I covered for a teacher at the last minute when a family emergency arose, and in a hurry, I carried the remainder of my lunch into his classroom and ate it while the kids worked on a quiz. About 5 minutes in, I heard a crinkle. Then a rustle. Then crunch, crunch. Before I knew it, this class of highly-distractible students (all of whom are diagnosed with ADHD by the way) began calling out:

“Can I have a chip?”

“Where’d you get that Rockstar?”

“I don’t like the Cool Ranch Doritos. The orange cheese powder is awesome….”

“You guys, you can’t eat food in there!” I said through mouthfuls of sandwich.

To their credit, they all put the food away and got back to their quiz. But it’s not always this way. It may seem almost too simple to state, but follow your own rules. Don’t pull out your phone in class, speak respectfully to students, arrive on time, and contribute meaningfully to creating a culture of positivity and support.

Changing the way students behave in classrooms, or the way faculty attend to their work, starts with brainstorming and buy-in. If we want to create this environment, we must model key expectations and be flexible and humble enough to reflect and revise when necessary.

After a year of giving up our Saturdays, we were cranky and our heads felt stuffed with information. Many of us were bogged down in job hunting, interviewing, and finishing our field-study projects as we prepared to complete our administrative credentials. Bill Tschida came in to teach our very last class, and he opened the session by handing out Hershey’s Kisses, representative of what he called “gold nugget” tips. The chocolate perked us up immediately and the advice that Bill gave us was applicable not only to administrators, but to teachers – our most important educational leaders.

The following are Bill’s “gold nugget” tips for educational leaders:

1. If it’s not in writing, it doesn’t exist

Whether it’s a complete change of job position, title, responsibilities, and salary, or important information you want to pass onto colleagues and parents, words aren’t enough. Even when we trust our employers, it’s details of your employment should be put into writing for clarification and permanence.

2. Whenever you write anything, pretend it will be on the front page of your daily newspaper

We constantly remind our students about the pitfalls of social media, warning them against “sexting”, racy photos, or inflammatory statements on Facebook and Instagram. We need to heed this same advice. Whether it’s a picture or an off-color email, our jobs and reputation can become irreparably tarnished with the push of the “send” button.

3. Treat all people with respect at all times

Students should be respected. They do not deserve to endure unnecessarily harsh criticism because we are in a rotten mood. Our school custodians, classroom aides, security guards, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers are just as intrinsic to students’ educational experience as teachers and administrators are.

4. Make sure that all confidential matters remain confidential

This is a no-brainer when it comes to IEP documentation and personnel files. However, this also applies to conversations between admin, educators, parents, and in some cases, even students. When in doubt, just ask.

5. Be proactive, not reactive

Great leaders in organizations and classrooms are visionaries. They always look ahead and anticipate small issues before they become unsurmountable problems. It’s not sustainable or professional for anyone to spend their day putting out fires.

6. Listen to what your staff and colleagues have to say, even if it’s hard to hear

Squeaky wheel staff members can be a challenge for everyone, but effective leaders know how to uncover the kernels of truth in their criticism and take away valuable information. We can’t make everyone happy all the time, but we can and should always strive to grow and improve.

7. Be genuine and honest in all of your interactions with others

Leaders assume a great deal of personal responsibility. Owning your words is a huge part of this. Your colleagues, students, and parents will always forgive you for making mistakes, but once we breach trust, that’s incredibly difficult to remedy. Tell the truth even when it hurts.

8. Sleep on important decisions

We save everyone time when we delay decisions by a few hours and think about our options, rather than giving a knee-jerk response and having to backtrack and fix mistakes. Take your time. Nothing is ever so dire that it can’t wait for full consideration.

9. Follow through

People are capable of inspiring and driving innovation. But sometimes people stall or even jump ship when faced with the details. As effective leaders we should harness this creative energy and support all staff to ensure that timelines are established and goals are met. When they make a pledge they keep it. Strong leaders display commitment, ownership, and reliability.

One goal at my school this year was to switch how we teach towards a flipped instructional model. On the surface, it may sound simple. Students learn from videos, online collaboration, and recorded lectures at home instead of at school; and voilà! — loads of valuable classroom time is freed up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that easy.

Let me rewind back to phase one of our technology plan. Our first meeting revolved around questions like, “How come the Starbucks down the street only has one of those spaceship-looking thingies on the ceiling and about 200 people on the internet, while we have 5 of those things and no one can stream videos?” Yikes! Eventually, we figured out to send our most tech savvy staff to trainings and conferences to figure out our bandwidth issues!

Enter phase two — a 1:1 iPad program and full suite of great apps. We discovered a Learning Management System that allowed teachers to post assignments and videos, create “bundles” of lesson plans and units, and give students access to chat sessions, polls, and organizational systems. All year-long teachers and students collaborated to learn from each other using these amazing tools.

By phase three teachers were ready for seamless integration! I recall, in my relentless optimism, saying, “We aren’t going to assign any homework this year! It’s just practice!” I imagined shouts of joy, fist pumps, maybe even a student throwing a pile of worksheets in the air in ironic celebration of our new, paperless workflow.

By the end of the year it was clear that there were as many triumphs as there were challenges when it came to the flipped classroom. Both students and teachers agreed that organization was streamlined with an LMS, and we truly achieved a nearly paperless workflow. The copy machine soon lost its status as an activity hub and we got a Keurig! Students benefitted from the ability to review lessons online at any time and advanced students were able to work more independently and complete extra credit activities. Differentiation became easy and authentic. Students enjoyed online collaboration, something more familiar and natural for them. Everyone agreed that flipped homework was both meaningful and engaging — the way homework was meant to be.

Interestingly enough, the challenges we identified were some of the same associated with regular, old, technology-free teaching: lack of time for lesson development and the issue of incomplete homework assignments. The same culprits turned up unprepared for class. Without “pre-learning” the flipped model comes to a grinding halt. Teachers are once more faced with the choice of holding conscientious students back or plowing onward, regardless. Development and curation of bundles and lesson plans took hours and hours of prep time. It would have been very tempting for teachers to simply give up, considering these obstacles.

All things considered, year one of flipped instruction went well for us. If we were to do it all over again I’d recommend that other schools be sure to set aside as much teacher-training and preparation time as possible. Encourage your staff to “play” with this technology, make mistakes, and fail brilliantly. Start small. Ask teachers to post one video on your LMS per night. This might be all you get from tentative tech-users for a while, until students start asking for more — and they will. Know that effective teachers are not always effective online instructional designers, but blended learning can balance this out. Finally, remember that the flipped model is only a catalyst for learning. Students are still the center of the classroom and sound teaching methodologies and strategies are still as vital as ever.


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