Date Archives February 2015

Answering a College Student’s Flipped Classroom Questions

First years teachers are bad.  The research shows that, but even without research, we know that from experience.  I was a horrible teacher in my first year.  I know that now, but I sure didn’t know that then.  We all develop and grow as teachers and, hopefully, continue to develop and grow.

I mention this because I received an email yesterday from a former student.  This was a student I had in my first 2 years of teaching and she is now in college studying Education. This student was always a very hard worker.  She was also very kind and considerate.  She regularly took the time to help me by cleaning the classroom, filing papers (this was before Google Drive), and other odd jobs. She even pretended to learn something from me now and again. She was one of the reasons I was able to keep my sanity in that stressful first year.  I’m sure she never realized it, but that kindness she showed me throughout that first year is why she stills holds a special place with me.

To the email….Since she is in Education, she had an assignment in which she needed to research the Flipped Classroom and she had some questions for me. If I can make her entry into the profession and provide some solace when she goes into her first year of teaching, I won’t hesitate to help her in any way that I can.  Since my blog is a reflective practice for me, I decided to answer her questions via blog post.  So, here they are:

1. Flipped classroom is a rather new way to teach in the classroom, how did you come across flipped classrooms?

While the term flipped classroom is relatively new, reverse instruction has been around for much longer than that.  Since I’ve flipped for several years now, I don’t remember the exact moment I came across the flipped classroom. What I do remember is that it was in roughly December and I was doing an internet search for something and came across the video by TechSmith (Camtasia) about Aaron Sams.


I saw this video and thought the idea sounded interesting.  However, since I was an English teacher and was using the Writers Workshop model at the time and didn’t immediately see the benefit to me.  I shared it with a colleague that taught Math and then put it on the back burner. The term kept crossing my path in various social media interactions and I came back to it over the next couple months and did more research.  In the summer of 2011, I attended the Flipped Classroom Conference in Woodland Park, Colorado, still not 100% convinced I wanted to flip.  I met Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, as well as many other Flipped Classroom gurus at that conference and soon realized how valuable flipping my class could be.
2. How effective did you find using a flipped classroom approach?
Quite honestly, the approach saved my career.  When I decided to flip, I was very stagnant and wasn’t enjoying teaching.  This student-centered, personalized approach made teaching much more rewarding for me.
But, me aside, was it effective for the students?  While my students continued to score relatively the same on standardized test scores as they had previously, their engagement was improved, their ability to explore topics more deeply was enhanced, and the overall culture of the classroom changed to one of inquiry, learning, collaboration, and community.
So, while other teachers have reported great gains in test scores, I did not. However, my students gained many untestable intangibles and I could not go back to the traditional model after that.
3. Do you think a flipped classroom benefited  the students, or was it better for the teacher?
In my case, as mentioned above, it benefited both. Obviously, the students are the most important and if they weren’t benefiting, I wouldn’t have continued. But, the majority of students loved the flipped classroom and the quality of work they were turning in was significantly improved.  While initially, the flipped classroom is more work for the teacher, the results are worth it.  As the teacher iterates their classroom, the approach becomes extremely student-centered and the technology we have now allows for very personalized instruction.  So, both the teacher and students benefit.
4. Where there any obstacles that you faced in using flipped classrooms?
I chuckle when I hear this question.  The obstacles seemed daunting at first, but looking back where minor bumps in the road. Many of the obstacles you face with any classroom were still present in the flipped classroom.  If a student struggles to do homework in a traditional model, they will still struggle to do homework in a flipped model.  It doesn’t immediately solve that problem.  You still have a certain amount of reluctant learners in any group of students. The flipped classroom, however, allows you the time to have private, individualized conversations with each of those student and begin working on the solution to that problem.
Obstacles inherent to the Flipped Classroom approach were more technical in nature. I had to make sure all students had adequate access to devices and the internet.  If they did not, I had to work with them to find a way to make the content available to them.
Students who were good at “playing school” at first resisted the Flipped Classroom.  However, they quickly adapted and many enjoyed it within a few weeks.
Time was on obstacle at first.  My students were consuming information faster than I could produce it.  I was running out of content and it seemed like I was always making videos.  Once I found a balance and also learned to pace students by using inquiry activities, time was never an issue.
On a very positive note, the initial obstacles forced me to question some of my beliefs and practices about teaching. Why, how, and when to assign and assess homework came to the forefront on my reflections.  The work of Ramsey Musallam greatly influenced the directions I took (and still take) at that point in my journey.  I really became a sponge of knowledge and teaching pedagogy and the time I freed by flipping my class provided me the opportunity to explore and iterate all kinds of new and innovative ideas in my classroom.  All because of the decision to flip!
5. What advice would you give a future teacher about using flipped classroom?
That’s a good question. I would say explore it deeply and learn what it truly offers you as a teacher.  It is a tool.  You don’t have to flip 100% of your content or class.  Only what fits in your instructional practices.
Once you successfully flip, you’ll realize the flipped classroom is not about the videos you create, but more about the activities you do in class with your face-to-face time.  That being said, the use of video as an instructional medium is only going to become more prevalent.  Learning to produce quality instructional videos would be very beneficial for any future teacher.
Flipped teachers are some of the most reflective teachers I’ve met.  The movement has been a grassroots movement built by teachers searching for better ways for students to learn. Even if you ultimately don’t decide to flip any of your content, adding flipped teachers to your PLN will help you grow as a teacher.
There’s also a very untapped market, if you will, in the flipped models.  Research shows that currently only about 3% of teachers actually flip.  That will only continue to increase.  When I started flipped English, there were very few ELA flippers I could find.  That allowed me the opportunity to be an explorer, a navigator, and an inventor.  I was able to write a book on Flipping English in order to help others.  Teachers entering the market willing to take on those challenges will be highly sought after by good principals.  My job title now is Director of Innovative Teaching.  I get to help other teachers concept and implement innovative teaching ideas. When I watched that Aaron Sams video some 4 years ago and began my flipped journey, I never imagined this is where it would take me.  If that interests you as a future teacher, get on board now!
Readers: feel free to share your answers to these questions in the comments or privately via email.  I want to help my former student have a rewarding career as an educator. Helping her build her PLN would be a great start!

A Digital “Pen Pal” Twist

Our 2nd grade teacher came to me to talk about ways she could do a pen pal type project digitally.  She wanted to cover some of her standards relating to communities and also make some contact with another class outside of our school.

We brainstormed some ideas and I shared the idea out to one of my Voxer groups.  Barb Gilman responded not only with a great idea but also a contact to work with.

Here’s the project:

After a lesson on letter writing, 2nd graders from my school hand wrote letters asking questions about community.  Once the teachers reviewed their letters and helped them revise, they were sent to me to record.  I recorded them reading their letters and took a photo of the letter.  Both items were placed together in VoiceThread.  We sent that VoiceThread to a 2nd grade class in another state that will then respond to their questions with audio comments.

Here is how the first part of the project turned out:

The other class sent us Tellagamis that they embedded into a Kidblog post.  Our students will then respond through the blog to those letters.

Here is the other classes blog posts:

By doing it this way, we covered many standards relating to community and letter writing, but we also worked in some speaking skills and formed a collaboration with another school that will hopefully continue on.

Change the World? We’re Writing a Book in One Day!

Notice to classrooms around the world, we are inviting you to join us as we write a book in one day.  That’s right….One Day!

Our 5th and 6th grade English class will spend the day on May 6, 2015 writing, writing, and more writing.  We will give the students the title of the book at 8:15 am EST and they will have to submit a publishable book by 2:45 pm EST.  The students will brainstorm what they want to write about, divide up the tasks, and write, revise, write, revise until the book is complete.

We want other classes to join us on the same day at roughly the same time (we understand if different time zones need to adjust).  Each class will write their own book, but with the same title.  The title of our book will be Change the World? Volume 1.  Each class that joins us in the project would be subsequent volumes.  So, the second class that joins would be Change the World? Volume 2 and the third Change the World? Volume 3 and so forth.  At the end, we plan to use Amazon’s Createspace Self-Publishing to print copies of the book.  We will only sell the book at the cost to print.  We will also provide free .pdf versions of each book to be available for download.  We’ll be writing our book in English, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

This is the first year we are doing this, so we are developing the process as we go.  All classes that join us will need to be able to share their book via Google Drive.  All grade levels are welcome. Throughout the day, we’d love to connect with other classes through Google Hangouts and talk about our progress or share resources.  We hope by the end our students learn skills in writing and editing, collaborating, preserving, but most importantly, how they can change the world.

If you’d like to join us on this project, email me here or comment on this post.  I hope you and your students can join us on May 6th as we Change the World?

Update (2/12): Right now, we have committed: Volume 1: Allison Fisher’s 5th/6th Grade Class from Little Flower Catholic School in Indianapolis, Indiana, Volume 2: Steve Auslander’s 5th Grade Class from Allisonville Elementary in Indianapolis, Indiana, Volume 3: Amie Trahan’s 8th Grade Class from Vanderbilt Catholic High School in Houma, Louisiana, and Volume 4: Nicole Carter’s 8th Grade Class from Neil Armstrong Middle School in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Update (2/16):  We have two more classes!  Volume 5: Beth Moore’s 5th Grade Class from Sacred Heart Elementary School in Fowler, Indiana and Volume 6: Sarah Landis’s Class from Pleasanton Unified School District in Pleasanton, California.

Update (3/8): Volume 7 is Ellen Smith’s 4th graders from Glenbrook Elementary in Streamwood, IL.  And, I think we’re very close to getting our first international participants!