An Experiment with the Flipped Classroom

It’s been a busy couple of years, but I am very pleased to say that I have made it to the end of the final CoETaIL project!

The video embedded below represents a sequence of learning that took place over the course of three months. While there were a number of interruptions to the schedule, this Geometry unit took quite a large chuck of time during our most intensive part of the school year.

I am lucky to be working with a very resilient and flexible group of students that were up for the challenge of trying something new with me. While there were a few students who had heard the term “flipped classroom“, most had absolutely no idea about what it involved. I enjoyed sharing with them that this was part of my own learning and that I needed their help along the way to provide feedback and ideas about how to improve the process.

So, this brings me to the end of the five CoETaIL courses, which causes me to pause and reflect on the different learning experiences that I have had. There have been a lot of different ideas presented and honestly, I have not taken enough time to thoroughly review and digest them. You could spent hours and days reading articles and watching videos and going down various online rabbit holes that take you deeper and deeper into the minds of what other people think are the best ways to enhance learning and engage your students.

For me, the greatest challenge is sifting through the vast amount of new resources, new ideas, new perspectives and new pedagogies that are flying around the realm of education. Ultimately, I find that if I take one single idea, take time to truly digest it and then twist it to make it work for me and my students, then I feel that I have accomplished something positive. My experiment with the flipped classroom has been a good example of this. It’s been something that I have been thinking about for a couple of years and I am thankful for the push that the final CoETaIL project gave me to finally break the ice and give it a try.

Building My PLN

Ok, I admit it. I’m still a “lurker” when it comes to building an online Professional Learning Network (PLN). I’ve dabbled with Google+, set up a YouTube Channel and dropped a few comments on CoETaIL blogs here and there, but I haven’t taken the time to truly invest myself in any sort of online community. I’m still wrestling with the balance between the flood on information that is available and actually deciphering what is truly usable in the learning environment that I have created with my students in our classroom.

Screen Shot from my Google+ Homepage
Screen Shot from my Google+ Homepage

Honestly, I’ve done the majority of my online PLN building through the SUNY courses that I have been doing over the past year. Now, to be clear, these have been discussion forums for various courses where the interactions have been somewhat forced by the fact that we are made to post our initial thoughts, however, many of the conversations have flourished beyond the basic expectations. There has been one course in particular, Creative Teaching and Learning (CRS530), that is full of CoETaIL alumni, so we have been very active with sharing and analysing various creative resources for both teachers and our students.

Screen shot of SUNY course discussion forum
Screen Shot of my SUNY course discussion forum

This has been a full semester course (Feb – April) and for me, this has probably been the most active that I have been in an online learning situation. I’ve enjoyed making connections with other students and I know that when we meet face to face sometime in the future we will have the comfort of relating to our shared online learning experience.

This has not been the only course where I have been contributing to a forum for the purpose of discussing ideas, but it is definitely the most active that I have been. Does this mean that I am growing more comfortable with my place in the online learning community? Maybe. But I still believe that my comfort in this particular course came from the fact that everyone had the shared experience of CoETaIL to relate back to. To be honest, I think our group has overwhelmed the professor a bit with our back and forth banter and the sheer volume of posts that have been written. I think there are about 15 people in the course, but we have written close to 200 posts in each of our four forums!

I have three additional SUNY courses to complete during the next school year and I am hoping to ride my enthusiasm for contributing to the forums in a “thoughtfully critical” manner will continue. Additionally, l realised that the content of the course will play a huge role in how much I have to say. Since this course was about creativity, I have been excited to contribute, but if I look back at my EdPsych course I find that there is substantially less energy put into the posts.. and not just by me!

While my online PLN is still in the development stage, I have been busy interacting facet to face with a cohort of Math teachers from multiple schools in the Arabian Gulf region. We have enlisted the guidance of Erma Anderson to help us reshape and restructure our approach to how Math is taught and learnt in the middle and high school contexts. The program has been entitled “Math Specialist in International School” or MSIS for short. The plan is to meet five times in person over the course of two school years in different locations around the region. Our first meeting was in Oman at the American International School of Muscat in October 2016 and our second was in Bahrain at a hotel conference centre in mid March 2017. The additional three meetings will occur this fall and next spring at locations to be determined.

Screen Shots of the MSIS Live Binder and our shared Google Drive

Each meeting is set up as a three day workshop format and focuses on a specific theme of Mathematics. Our time is split between discussing the ideal approach to what math education should look like and then debating and analysing what the reality of our classroom looks like. Of course we are sitting next to teachers from different schools and talking, but the bonus of this is being able to share our online resources and gain valuable feedback and critique on how to improve our techniques.

Erma Anderson has created a LiveBinder that contains all of the relevant materials and resources for our program, however I find that I am using the shared resource Google Drive folder that the participants created in order to more effectively share our work both during the workshop and afterwards when we are back at work in our own classrooms.

As someone who prefers to learn and interact offline, I have found these sessions to be extremely valuable to the construction of my PLN. Our conversations have been engaging and collaborative without feeling forced, hurried or misinterpreted. The part that I appreciate the most is the opportunity to get to know the character of each teacher and therefore, be able to relate to how they are able to approach teaching math in their own style. We have recognised that we are all very different people trying to do the same job. While this may seem a bit daunting, it has actually fuelled our conversations with multiple perspectives of personality that we may not have thought about. Ultimately, the goal is to provide the best learning environment for our students and getting to see first hand how my colleagues organise their pedagogy has been one of the best learning experiences that I have had in recent years.

Outside my classroom door Image: cpolzen
Outside my classroom door Image: cpolzen

So, my PLN is still under construction… though I suppose it always will be? That’s the nature of the network, it is always growing and changing. I know that when I move to a new school there will be a ton of new people and ideas and philosophies to sift through and attempt to either jump on board with or adapt to become my own version.

Before writing this blog post I had a few discussions with my colleagues in our AISR CoETaIL cohort. While many of them are more engaged with Twitter or more active on Google+, the overwhelming response to how we build our Professional Learning Network is through our daily face to face interactions with our teaching partners or grade level teams. I truly feel that the most authentic pedagogic discussions that I have happen everyday in the hallway outside of my classroom door.



flipped classroom survey

Image Source: cpolzen
Image Source:

We’ve been working with a flipped classroom for over a month now and I have been generally pleased with what I am seeing. My students have enjoyed the variety of activities and the choices that they have in which ones to pursue. I have enjoyed the extra time to focus on specific groups that need support and the time to challenge those who need the push.

However, I wanted to confirm the positive results with a student survey that tried to capture the pros and cons of this new learning environment. I decided to put together a simple Google Form survey to gather some of their responses. Each of the questions had some basic selection option buttons, but there was also a section of mandatory written justification for their choice.The results provided a good amount of feedback about how the flipped classroom pedagogy was working from their perspective. Interestingly, none of my students have experienced this type of learning environment, so the results of the survey were very helpful for my evaluation of the effectiveness of flipping.

My first inquiry was directed at discovering how many students were actually following the protocol of watching the videos before arriving to class. Ideally, this should be 100% of them, but in reality, this number is significantly different. The pie chart below shows the results of my first question about the frequency of being prepared for their flipped classroom experience. Only 70% of my students indicated that they had watched all the required videos before class… and this is likely inflated somewhat as some probably don’t want to admit that they were unprepared.

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 11.05.49
Screenshot from my Flipped Classroom Survey #1

The second question asked students about their impressions of the videos themselves. Admittedly, I was very curious about how effective the videos are for learning the basic content outside of class. While I was pleased that there were virtually zero “no” responses, I am not shocked to see that only 70% of the students find the videos helpful. Creating the videos has probably been one of the most challenging aspects of this project. I fully admit that there are some that I would consider revising based on student feedback. Overall though, I am happy that I took the time to create the videos myself, rather than just post Khan Academy videos. I think that the students “buy-in” on watching me in action, rather than someone unknown makes it a much more comfortable learning experience for them.

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 11.06.05
Screenshot from my Flipped Classroom Survey #1

Finally, I asked my students their opinion on using the flipped classroom model for every unit of study and the response was quite mixed. About half the students replied “yes” and backed up their choice with reasons focused around the ability to rewatch a lesson to review the concept. However, about 35% of the students replied “not sure” in response to this question. The general consensus based on the written responses was that they enjoyed the flipped experience during our geometry unit, but had greater difficulty seeing it applied to our algebraic equations or proportional thinking units.

Screen Shot 2017-03-25 at 11.06.34
Screenshot from my Flipped Classroom Survey #1

It’s been an interesting learning experience for both my students and myself. This type of survey is not necessarily the most reliable, however, it does provide me with some basic feedback about moving forward to finish our geometry unit in a flipped classroom environment. By the end of the unit, I am planning on having an additional online survey that is supported by some interviews with selected students in order to get a better, more honest, picture of the overall effectiveness of the flipped classroom experience from the student perspective. Ideally, I will be enlisting the help of one of our learning coaches to help me conduct the interviews as I sense that my students might provide her with more honest responses.

I’ve shared with the class that out flipped classroom experiment is being done as part of a course that I am taking. They have been very curious about how I am going to report the results and are excited to see me in the role of a student. Once I put together the final project video, I plan to share it with them and ask for their feedback of how well I captured our learning environment on film.

Game On

My final project is an interpretation of the Flipped Classroom model. While I have every intention of running a flipped format for the duration of my Geometry unit, my students and I have had great discussions about possible pitfalls and what we will do if things just aren’t working for us. By involving my students in the learning process with me, I am hoping to provide them with a glimpse behind the curtain of how we teachers think. Don’t worry, I won’t give away too many secrets… but by having their feedback along the way, I am staying open to evolving the process as we go to suit the needs of the learners in my classes.

During our first discussion, we watched the Flipping the Classroom: Explained video from MediaCore. I then shared the video to all my students and their families with the assignment of having them go home and talk about our learning experiment and how math class was going to look a bit different for this unit. The video is quite engaging as the animation is very well done. The nuance of the characters was spot on and many of my students immediately recognised themselves in the room!

Screenshot of Flipped Geometry

Following our discussion of the Flipped Classroom model, I introduced my Flipped Geometry website that I set up to distribute the videos that I have created. To date, I have shot 20 videos! This has been the greatest learning curve of the project so far. It took me two subsequent Saturdays to find time to rehearse, shoot and upload all of them.

As of today, my students and I have made it through our first week of running a Flipped Classroom. They have been responsible for watching the first two sets of videos on 2D areas and Circle properties, but I know that some have gone ahead and watched the 3D surface area content as well. While the classes themselves have been very active and engaging and I have had more time to interact on a one on one basis, I feel strangely negligent… as though I am not actually “doing” my job. I’m not sure if this is a bit of the old school teacher in me or if it is simply part of letting the process continue… kind of like growing pains. I suppose I’ll feel better once I have an opportunity to assess their progress beyond the usual daily check-ins that I have been doing.

The bottom line is that I can see great value in this method. Students are highly engaged and learning and I’ve had good feedback about being able to stop and rewind my videos to review the content. My next steps are to continue developing the necessary videos, to continue developing engaging activities for our classes (a challenge in itself) and to set up an anonymous survey for students to give me some truthful feedback about if the project is working for their learning style or if they see any potential areas for change or improvement. So far, so good.

Flipping Geometry

Upside-down house
Flipping Geometric Design (Source:Flickr)

Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

I’ve been trying to come up with an idea for my Course 5 project for a while now. Originally, I had thoughts about something that actually involved a study of students (and me) removing digital tech from their learning and from their lives for a period of time. While I am still interested in pursuing some sort of no-tech day, I realised that the structure didn’t quite fit with the goals of the CoETaIL program… considering that we are meant to be discovering how to effectively include tech, rather than remove it altogether.

Anyway, I was kicking around some ideas and I think that I will dive into re-vamping my unit on 3D Geometry. The standards for this unit focus on authentic application of geometry and geometric reasoning, so they lend well to a project that highlights the creative nature of my students. Giving them an opportunity to express themselves creatively in mathematics generally provides a very engaging learning opportunity and can be appealing to a variety of learning styles.

While there are some great digital technologies for working with 3D Geometry, I actually think that the tactile nature of actual objects provides a better mathematical understanding. So, while the end product will have a physical 3D construction component, there will be tech involved in the documentation, collaboration and sharing of their learning.

What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

My plan is to flip the classroom for the content delivery portion of this unit using a combination of self-produced and existing online video content. While I’ve been somewhat apprehensive to try this, I think now is the time to see if it works for my students… or not. For me, the pedagogical shift will hopefully provide me with the opportunity to differentiate further to reach both those who are struggling with the mathematics foundations and challenge those who are ready to apply their understanding to the project from the start of the unit.

By flipping the procedural instruction from the start, I am planning to provide the class time as a mix of project development time, one-to-one feedback and small group instruction. As we work through the content of area and volume, students can begin applying the mathematics to their construction design. The goal is to reach our standards of problem solving, modelling and communicating mathematics by having them take ownership over using the math in a creative and expressive way.

What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

While project based learning is not new in my classroom, the idea of flipping the instruction is something that will require an adjustment on the part of my students (and myself). My general class flow during a project is to have a short “mini-lesson” for the group and then provide time for them to collaborate on applying the ideas. I think the shift that my students will have to make will be the responsibility to arrive at class having a base understanding from the video lessons. The ability for them to determine if they are ready to apply that understanding immediately or if they need further guidance from me will be another change. Given that this unit will be in the second half of the year, I will know my students quite well and have a good idea of who will require more direct support and who will be ready to dive in as soon as they walk through the door.

As far as attitude, I feel like the learning environment that I have already created is a very positive one. I am lucky to have a active and engaged group of students that are very self-aware and self-motivated. My guess is that they will adapt quite quickly to this shift in pedagogy and hopefully take advantage of the opportunity of taking responsibility for applying their understanding to their projects in a meaningful way. If anyone will require a shift in skill or attitude, I think it might be me.

What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

So, that brings me to a couple of concerns that I have about making this work. First, I have some indecision about using existing instructional videos versus creating my own. I’ve never been one to advocate re-inventing the wheel, but I kind of feel like I’m not doing my job if I simply use the existing online resources. Especially given the fact that I work at a private school where families pay a lot of money to have their child work with specific teachers. Does this mean that I will have to produce a series of videos myself? What if someone out there has already done a better job that I could ever do? Shouldn’t I then promote that to my students as the best resource? Does that mean that my teaching is inadequate? Hmm… not quite sure how this will pan out. I’ll need to take some time to ponder.

Finally, the last concern that I have will be that families (and students) might have some apprehension about the idea of the content being delivered by watching instructional videos at home. I’m planning to use Jon Bergmann’s article on Flipping to give parents some background. I will also likely use his video explanation of Flipping as a resource for both parents and students to get an idea of what to expect. Of course, if there is a point at which I determine that things are not going smoothly, then I will stop, re-examine the approach and adjust as necessary. The idea of trying something new is exciting to me, but I need to maintain the flexibility to adapt to any teaching situation (sometimes on the fly) and make the necessary changes to meet the needs of the students in my classroom.

Grade 7 Mathematics – 3D Geometry Unit Plan:

device (r)evolution

device (r)evolution (Source: Flickr)

Looking back at the many classrooms that I have worked in, I can trace the evolution from no devices to too many devices. In my first year of teaching I was lucky enough to stumble into a pilot program for the use of SmartBoards. I think there were only two in the school and the projector sat on a wheeled cart about two metres from the board. This was in a grade 4 classroom, so you can imagine how many times the cart was bumped causing the screen to need to be recalibrated. I seem to remember using it mainly to look at Google Earth or simple math websites… certainly nothing overly creative or collaborative.

Jump ahead a few years and I remember having a scheduled time in the computer lab where students either did word processing or played math games. At the time this was quite a step. My students were able to create “published” pieces of writing by nicely formatting the text and adding bolded, underlined titles in overly-elaborate fonts. I remember the pride and excitement they had waiting at the printer for their work to emerge.

Then came the “laptop cart” where we had a set of shared devices among a group of four classrooms. These were helpful for class management as I would create stations to give me an opportunity to work on a mini-lesson to support those who needed help, while others were simply “occupied” by a device that, once again, was used for word processing or math games. It was the shared laptop cart that became the staple of my classrooms for the next few years. But the usage of these devices was always somewhat cursory, somewhat rote, somewhat uninspired.

That brings us to today. I am now at a school that has a 1:1 device program, computer labs and even the ubiquitous shared computer carts. But how do we use them? Is it effective? Are all these devices enhancing the learning environment? Are they a detriment? I suppose if could answer these questions clearly, then I wouldn’t have signed up for CoETaIL in the first place.

How is all this tech being used in my class? Well, to be honest, I let the students guide the usage. They are generally ahead of me when it comes to new apps or sites that enable them to create interesting to demonstrate their learning. Generally, I leverage tech to monitor what is going on through the use of digital commenting on shared documents or through guiding an activity that involves collecting data through video or images and then annotating that with appropriate graphics and text to convey meaning. Of course, we use tech daily with email, basic internet research and course management software, but I have still yet to encourage my students to take advantage of their devices in an advanced way.

It was interesting to read about the concept of a tech break this week. Admittedly, when I saw the title I was excited to read an article that advocated putting down the devices and going outside for a breath of fresh air, but was surprised by Larry Rosen’s suggestion in his article that the break is actually a time for them to text, tweet or talk to their friends and family. I suppose that this makes sense given that it seems that the state of the world is people glued to a device, but I have a feeling that my class full of 12-year-olds might opt for going outside for a stretch instead.

This brings me to an idea that I have been curious about… how would my students react to a day away from digital devices? Would they have a similar experience as shown the Quest University student documentary “A Day Without Technology” by Jorid Pellicer and Zeeshan Rasool? I’m curious to know. Perhaps this is something that I will consider as a challenge for students… maybe we host a “Tech Free Tuesday” campaign? The idea would be for them to take a hard look at their reliance on their devices and to experience the world without… and then to reflect on the positive and negative aspects. I know that I would have the support of many of the parents at school as far as taking their children away from gaming or snapchat or the perception of “idle” online behaviour, but I have a feeling that the parents’ ability to have the safety of immediate contact to their children might over-ride their desire to actually agree to taking part in the project. Hmmm… I’ll have to give this some thought. Maybe I’ll casually ask a few families what they think of the idea… Tech Free Tuesday… it has a nice ring to it.

back to the future

Futuristic Learning (The Jetsons, 1963) Source:

Will education as we know it change because of technology?

This is the question that I have been wrestling with during the entire CoETaIL program. Technology is pervasive in schools, but does it actually fundamentally change the way we learn? Is it just another tool? Are we using it correctly? Can we use it to improve our learning environments?

I suppose that the answer to these questions is yes… or no… or maybe. It really comes down to thinking very carefully about how we apply technology in the education setting. The challenge is that there is no single correct “answer” on the correct way to do this in every situation.

If you consider the 1960’s vision of education as seen through the Jetson’s cartoons, the tech is there. Students have individual computers, the teacher is a robot… the fountain of knowledge and true fact… but the environment is unchanged from the traditional. Students are still seated in orderly rows. The teacher is directing the lesson from the front “stage” and the students’ attention is very focused and passive. Ultimately, the vision of technology in the education is correct, however it is the fundamental shift from passive to active learning (with our without tech) that leads us into the future of education. At the foundation of this is the learning environment itself. By challenging the traditional design of schools, we start on a path of engaging students with creative, flexible and engaging learning spaces that allow them to explore learning using a variety of technologies.

Where and how will you be teaching in 5, 10, 15 years time?

Prakash Nair’s article “The Classroom is Obsolete…” provides a very broad picture of what an educational environment should be, however he also alludes to the reality that we have a legacy of traditional design in which the majority of learners interact. If I could decide where I will be in the coming years, I would hope to land in a learning environment that provides the flexibility that Nair’s architectural group, Fielding Nair International is developing.

[The] research clearly demonstrates that students and teachers do better when they have variety, flexibility, and comfort in their environment—the very qualities that classrooms lack. (Prakash Nair, 2011

Before we can see the evolution of technology application in schools, we need to think much more creatively about the learning spaces themselves. There are 101 different TV shows these days about how to design your home to make it “open concept” or improve the “flow”. These design principles are nothing new. The Chinese have been using feng shui in their architectural design for thousands of years. The basic idea is to provide a harmonious relationship between humans and the environments in which we interact. Obviously, this is something that traditional school design has not considered. So, if we spend just as much time at school as we do at home, shouldn’t we want the learning environment be just as comfortable? If students (and teachers) are at ease with their surroundings, a school becomes a much more creative, engaging and interactive space.

So, the bottom line is that our current model of school design is outdated and doesn’t match the ideal environment that would fully embrace the learning modes of today’s teachers and students. Let’s be clear, the idea of a classroom will (and should) always have a place. The point is that the spaces should be flexible, expandable and adaptable to suit the type of learning and the types of learners that we work with. I spent some time this week looking through the variety of projects that the Fielding Nair architectural group has been involved with and was pleasantly surprised. It turns out that the firm is not only an architectural design group, but also provides educational consultancy services. This combination of design vision, with educational perspective provides a very powerful model for building the new learning environments that we need.

For a great example of Fielding Nair’s work, I highly recommend watching the video below as it highlights the kinds of developmentally appropriate learning spaces that are possible with some clear creative vision. Be sure to watch for the flexibility of space, the variety of sizes and structures in the environments and the sense of community portrayed in the design. If the future path of my teaching career takes me to a learning community like this, I will be a very happy educator.

Flip the Switch?

Source: Pixabay

I’ve been hearing about the idea of the flipped classroom for the past few years and to be honest, reflecting on my research this week, I don’t think I’ve given it fair consideration. Perhaps it was due to my disdain for edu-buzz words or perhaps it was simply feeling unsure of where to start with something so counter to my current practice.

However, the readings and videos this week did peak my interest. It’s probably the research combined with the fact that I am just back from a three day math workshop that has me excited to consider flipping the learning environment in my math classroom.

So… how do I get started? I’m not one that easily turns 180 and changes things overnight. That’s not realistic in any sense. Of course there are many how-to’s out there that could walk you through the process, but I kind of like the approach that Ramsey Musallam has in his Edutopia article. The idea of simply taking some time to reflect on a few key considerations before diving into the full flip is very appealing. It makes sense to me that you need to consider your teaching style, your content, technical logistics and the students that you work with before you start. His approach follows this reflective path:

  1. Teaching Style – Consider your style. Are you someone who stands and delivers? Are you willing to move away from that role? Are you OK with giving the “control” of learning to your students?
  2. Review Content – As a math teacher, there are times where I do spend too long dealing with procedural work. By flipping thing around, this would give me more time to work with students individually. Ideally, this would give me more time to both the struggling learners and those that need a challenge. It is the latter that are often left out in busy day of math class triage.
  3. Tech Logistics – So, who is going to make these videos? Me? or can I use existing ones? Do I have time to create video lessons? What software should I use? Do I know how to use it? Do my students know how to view the videos? Where will I host/post all my lessons? Shared directly? A blog? These are important considerations as we cannot assume that all students have the same access outside of school.
  4. Reflect on Reflection – Consider building in some sort of student self-reflection. Once they have seen your video, they should have some way to respond to you. Either through comments or email or a return video or a survey. Using these responses as formative assessment will help you guide the instruction that you will give to individuals when the arrive in your classroom.

The next step would be to try to picture what this new learning environment might look like. I enjoyed watching Aaron Sams’ classroom in action in “The Flipped Classroom” video to the right. It is always interesting to get a glimpse of other teaching environments and this is no exception. Seeing the students take control of their learning by arriving at class feeling prepared to explore and apply concepts, rather than learning them for the first time, is the goal of flipping. This video shows that if done well, this method of learning can be very engaging. The piece of this that I like is that it helps develop the students’ sense of responsibility. Ideally, the are excited to come to class and excited to explore the ideas that they watched on the videos the night before.

My final consideration is this: How will this look to the parent community? I already have parents that have difficulty understanding the idea of project based learning, but this takes things to a whole new level. That is why I was happy to discover that Jon Bergmann, one of the co-founders of flipping, has created a great video entitled “The Flipped Class Primer for Parents“. The main idea is to demonstrate to parents that their child will actually benefit more from being in a flipped class as it enables the teacher to deliver tailored one-to-one instruction and provides more valuable exploratory learning time with the content.

So I have moved from skepticism (or maybe apathy) about flipping, to a place where I am actually excited to try flipping things around. I’m now considering making this the focus of my Course 5 Project as I can see that the timing works well with my Geometry unit in the new year. I guess all that is left to do is to start looking back at Ramsey Musallem’s four steps and get this party started!