Flipped Classrooms: Make your time with students valuable

I was fortunate to attend the Pennsylvania Educational Technology Expo and Conference and learned from so many amazing educators.  One of the most inspirational moments was listening to George Couros on developing the innovators mindset.  His passion and genuine desire to help children find a love for learning is incredibly motivational.  I attended many sessions of teachers using great formative assessment tools, independent learning centers, and utilizing the last five minutes of class effectively.  STEM or STEAM was a major theme of many conversations and is so valuable.  I left the event motivated and my brain spinning with ideas.

I started to reflect on my own session that I facilitated, “Flipping your Classroom” introduction.  How does this fit, is it as valuable as other ideas?  Is the flipped class truly beneficial, or is it going to be a short lived trend in education?  Flipping your classroom is the key to unlocking the time to do valuable activities with your students.

An easy way to start flipping your classroom is to choose basic lessons to deliver the content at home.  The students come to your classroom prepared with adequate background knowledge to be more successful engaging in the content.  As educators, one of our top priorities should be to create an engaging, exciting, enjoyable class for students.  I truly believe that flipped lessons gives us a head start, it gives us an opportunity to build in those great activities on a daily basis.  I am leaving this motivating conference with so many ideas of amazing activities to try with my students.

So this week’s post is short, but hopefully intriguing.  As we move forward on this journey of flipping lessons and classrooms, keep this idea in mind.  We can now make more time more valuable for our students.

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Beating the Homework Battle

Think for a minute or two, the homework you give now, what is its’ purpose? I would guess to practice, review, extend the days learning, or inform parents at home. At the center of it, our homework is to help students continue growth and learning. However, somewhere along the line in the last twenty years that message was lost and homework has become a battle. This battle is fought on two fronts.

We have our students who try and always want to do well. They want to please their teachers, their parents, and ultimately themselves. When they are doing traditional homework they may forget the lesson, not fully understand it, or genuinely are not prepared to be successful. They get frustrated, parents try to help and get frustrated, and maybe they even become frustrated with one another. If you are a parent, I’m sure you can relate. This homework, with good intentions at heart, has become a battle.

We also have our students who may lack the work ethic, responsibility, or desire to complete homework. They come to school and are now pushed through the process of missed homework assignment discipline the teacher has in place. This causes a negative interaction between the student and teacher. Even if it is for one minute, when occurring over and over again, think of all the negative energy created. Again, homework that had good intentions creates another battle.

So what is causing this problem? How can we fix it? The problem is these occurrences happen every year from 1st grade through graduation. After a few years, homework, regardless of intention or quality, has a negative rapport with students. The solution? Flip it.

Flipped homework is to provide students a more comfortable experienced learning new material. The message isn’t lost because it is a lesson. There is no pressure on students. Interact with the homework, learn as best you can, get ready to practice tomorrow. Parents are more apt and able to help because they see the lessons too. Our first battle is gone.

The next day in class students see a different classroom where they are applying and learning in exciting ways. If they didn’t do their homework, my solution is simple. Grab a device, grab headphones, go into the hallway/back of the room/wherever , and do it. There are no consequences, no lectures, just valuing the ultimate goal: learning. Now, I do encourage my students to see me before class to tell me they didn’t do the homework so they can make it up before class. What’s the catch? The catch is your classroom is dynamic, fun, and challenging. Students see that you are assigning homework for a reason, it has value to you and them. They don’t want to miss it, because then they miss out on all the fun class activities and have to make that up later. Flipped homework dramatically reduced the amount of missed homework assignments and completely eliminated all my frequent flyers. I don’t have any students that consistently miss. Now, I’m not saying this works for everyone. You may have to use your own discipline approach for your demographic and age level. Half way through my first year of a flipped classroom, I asked my students “why do you think I’m not strict on homework and checking you did it?” Many students raised their hands, the first one I called on: “cause you trust us.” Almost every hand went down, obviously sharing the same thought. I never imagined I could deliver that powerful of a message to an entire class with homework.

When considering the flipped classroom, it will eliminate our two major homework battles. It eliminates it by putting the value back in homework, and more importantly, students seeing the value

Choosing Content and Creating Lessons

Creating your first lesson can be a daunting task for teachers to overcome, especially for the first time.  So many questions could be running through your head:

  • Where do I start?
  • What subject/course do I start with?
  • What lesson can I flip?
  • How will I flip the lesson?

There are a few strategies to help you get started on creating your first flipped lesson.  It will ease the anxiety and ensure that you are flipping for a reason.  The biggest mistake teachers can make is flipping a lesson just to say they flipped.  It is the same challenge we face with incorporating technology into classrooms today; don’t use an iPad just to use it.  The iPad should provide extra enhancement, engagement, and overall success of a lesson.  However, the first time you use an iPad in a lesson no one expects your students to be creating a world class iMovie; we can start at a much more basic level.  Perhaps your students are using the camera to take pictures of objects or actions that represent vocabulary words.  Regardless, we start small with technology integration.  We are going to start small with flipping lessons.

Picking a Subject/Course:

  • My advise, start where you are most comfortable delivering content.
  • If you are a jack of all trades elementary school teacher, pick your best content area.
  • Secondary teachers, choose the class that you feel most confident, or the group of students you think would be best to start with a new adventure.

Choosing a specific lesson/topic to flip:

  • Choose the lesson where you feel the content is dry or basic.  Something that students typically grasp easily that you feel confident in delivering through media.
  • Science and Social Studies: Perhaps choosing the unit vocabulary is a good place to start.  The lessons objectives could be to simply have the students read and listen to the vocabulary and copy down the important information.  It could be enhanced with videos to further explain the vocabulary or vivid pictures with your dialogue to add more knowledge.
  • Math: Choosing a basic skill where students are following a new process is always a great place to start.  The students will be more engaged and can focus on the work without outside distractions.  The next day in class is a brief review and practice.
  • Reading/Language Arts:  Similar to science and social studies, unit vocabulary is a great place to start.  Other options could be background knowledge on a new writing style, word patterns, author study, etc.  Background knowledge is an important part of reading and writing, providing students with additional information could drastically increase the level of engagement in class.
  • Physical Education:  If you start your kinesthetic class with a exercise routine, you could preview the new exercises.  The next day in class student can go right into the workout without spending time demonstrating the new exercises.  Your job will then be to facilitate and critique students to perfect their form.
  • Art:  Preview your next project beginning to end.  Allow the students to see the materials they will use, the process at a glimpse, and the product at the end.  They will be more prepared for the beginning of the new unit.
  • Music: Similar to physical education or art, perhaps a simple preview of the new music, new composition style will be important.  Also, similar to Reading/Language Arts providing background knowledge on a new area of study or composer could be useful.

How to flip the lesson:

This decision is going to depend on many factors.  You need to evaluate the tools you have available to deliver content at home, your comfort level, and what you think will be best for your students.  Below are three basic types of methods for flipping lessons, however, you are not limited to these types.  Regardless of the mode you choose, the lessons should not last more than ten minutes, especially the videos.  Taking into account students pausing and watching multiple times, the whole process should not exceed twenty minutes.

Video Lecture:

  • Defining it in a simple manner, the teacher is delivering a lecture similar to class in-front of a camera
  • Keep in mind, if a lecture is boring in person, it will be boring through video.  Use the skills and strategies that make you a great teacher in your video lecture as well.
  • TouchCast is an excellent free app for delivering video lectures.  It is very basic to use but also offers advanced features like green screens, and embedding photos, videos, and websites.  You can upload the video directly to TouchCast, youtube, or save it to your iPad as a file.
  • Even though the students aren’t there, ask questions, tell the students to pause the video and come back when they have an answer.

Screencast:

  • The teacher captures the images on a screen and provides additional narration in the background.
  • This is a great tool for providing tutorials on computer functions, navigating websites, following a written out process, or defining vocabulary.
  • It is a great way to have students focus in on the process while still gaining the important narration and dialogue from the teacher.
  • Teachers uncomfortable seeing themselves, this avoids that hurdle.
  • Again, even though students aren’t present, ask questions so students can pause and answer.

Interactive presentation:

  • The teacher creates slides for the students to read, similar to Keynotes or Powerpoint.  In a traditional lecture the teacher would be providing additional dialogue.  This can still be accomplished.
  • Embed audio recordings into each slide to provide that additional narration.  The students can read the information at their own pace.  They can copy the information at their own pace.  They can listen to the teacher when they are ready.  No need to multi-task those three parts.
  • Teacher’s can add screencasts, videos, website links, and so much more to make the presentations more powerful.
  • You can simply upload the PowerPoint or Keynote for students to view or Nearpod is a powerful tool to use.  Unfortunately, for students to navigate Nearpod on their own, this requires a paid membership.

The Next Day in Class

Future blogs will provide more direction and advise for transforming you classroom, but there is one important piece to the day after a flipped lesson.  DON’T deliver the same lecture/lesson to the students as what they did for homework.  If you do, you are giving them the message that the homework was pointless and a waste of time.  Your next lesson needs to be some sort of interactive work applying what they learned.  Even a worksheet is better then reteaching the content.  You can address questions and provide further assistance on the lesson, but do not reteach.  If there are only a few students with questions, pull them into a small group and let everyone else start applying!

Preparing Students and Families for the flip

There is a good chance that you could be the first teacher in your school and possibly your district to flip.  Regardless if your the first or not, you need to set your students and families up for success.  As educators, it is critical to spend time in the beginning of the school year or semester to set expectations for your students of routines, homework policies, attendance, participation, etc.  Depending on your age-level and subject area that list of “expectations” changes.

Facilitating a flipped classroom, we still need to follow the same procedures.  I am a true believer in being honest, upfront, and open with students and families.  Here is my laundry list of expectations and topics to review with students and parents about participating in a flipped classroom:

  • Why you made the professional decision to drastically change your teaching style and what you hope to accomplish.
  • How will you be delivering the information home?
  • What are the expectations of families and students when completing flipped homework at home?
  • What will class look like now?  What can students look forward to being new versus the old structure of your classroom?

The best decision I made was spending the first class having the students each on a device going through the first homework in class.  They navigated to my learning management system, logged-in, selected the assignment, went through the slide show, and watched the videos.  Then, the homework was to do the same assignment at home with a family member to show them the process.

The students navigated through a few slides defining the flipped class, and defining my expectations.  However, here is my first video lesson that was included in the presentation…

24seven teaching introduction

My name is Ken Ehrmann, I teach fifth grade in Pennridge School District in Pennsylvania, a small suburban district outside Philadelphia.  In addition to teaching fifth grade, I spent the last 4 year tutoring over 50 different students grades 3-12 in all subject areas, time management skills, and executive function skills.  Additionally, I teach graduate courses focusing on incorporating iPads and 21st century learning skills into the classroom.

I am a passionate teacher constantly evaluating my own teaching, learning styles, and the status quo of public education.  I believe that education is on the verge of large transformations that will have a great impact on the success of our students.  This generation of 21st century learners bring so many more diverse needs and talents to classrooms never seen before.  It is our job as educators to meet the times.

This blog will serve as one of many avenues in which I bring new ideas, questions, and challenges to the education field.  In addition to the blogs, I will post webcasts that reflect my teaching style as a flipped classroom educator.  Lastly, I offer professional development seminars that range from one hour presentations to multiple class hands-on workshops.  These professional development sessions have flipped learning ingrained in the format, creating this idea of 24seven teaching: reaching all learners at all times.