Monday, December 10, 2012

Changes on the Way to My "Flipped" Classroom

If you are an educator you are probably already familiar with the concept of a flipped classroom. For the benefit of anyone who doesn't know you can check out this blog, it explains it quite well.

After reading this article (and then watching the 60 minutes clip with the Khan Academy founder) I promised that I would blog about the attempts that I have been making to change the way that I teach.

When I started teaching Grade 9 Science the course was already designed with a lot of student-centred ideas. I still teach lessons from time to time, but for the most part they explore, investigate and complete practice work that gets taken up and assessed. I manage to do most of this in class time (there are phases where they have homework, mostly related to major assignments) and the course is designed with a large emphasis on the lab process, lab writing, and the research process (we also use mind maps to support curriculum content). I also started using an online course module as part of my classroom this year which has allowed me to post online homework quizzes so students can monitor some of their progress.

What I would change going forward: the homework that is assigned that is content related in the future would be to learn the content. This would allow me to continue to spend as much time focusing on what we have agreed is important at my school and would hopefully allow me to even out the time spent on each unit (as it stands Space and Biology are on the neglected side). In the long run I think this would support the projects done in each unit.

My grade 11 class is the one that I made a conscious effort to make some changes to my teaching method. My first year I taught math and got into the "teach for the majority of class and give a few minutes of homework time" rut. When I got the chance a year later to teach 3U Physics I decided that I wanted to try to set my class up a little differently. I had two goals - provide students the opportunity to make use of lessons as it suits their learning styles; give as much in-class work time as possible.

These goals led me to:
- Assign readings the day before a lesson (this one is hard to motivate them to do)
- Try to shorten my "lessons"/notes as much as possible and make them example focused instead of content focused
- Post outlines of my lessons the night before (students can choose to print and follow along if desired)
- Post complete versions of each days lessons afterwards (students can listen to the lesson and print it out later)
- (Some choose note to print note and hand write the days lesson themselves)
- Provide as much class time for concept and practice exercises as possible
- Arrange the classroom to allow students to sit in groups

I find that this forces my students to think about what type of learner they are and choose which note method works best for them. As the semester progresses I also find that students use their class time more and more wisely (as they have now discovered that the course is not easy and that they are in Grade 11 and HW is actually a good idea). Having the students in groups (that they usually choose) promotes group work and encourages them to ask each other questions before they ask the teacher. Usually when I am asked questions now it is to clarify their understanding or find a math mistake in one of their solutions.

(I also use class TweetUps for this course, which I blogged about here if you are interested - this is used to encourage concept based discussion since class time is primarily used for problem solving.)

If I get the chance to teach the course again I will probably use videos (and reading so they can have a choice) as assigned homework to encourage them to do this part - which means I have have even short "lessons" (aka try an example or 2 as a class). I already post a link to videos done by the physics department at Earl Haig Secondary in Toronto (I did my placements with them) on my course website as a resource for extra help and I would like to explore the physics videos offered by Khan Academy.

Let the changes continue.

Hopefully I do end up back teaching some math in the near future of my career. And hopefully I can continue to make my classroom as student-centred as our current system allows.

And in case I don't post again in the next couple of weeks,
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Trouble with Technology (and Teaching)

I just finished reading a blog entry by Denise Krebs called "What Does Technology Have to Do With It?" and it made me want to write an entry of my own. (At the start of each school year I always vow to do this more and never succeed in doing takes inspiration, and I guess I don't see the inspiration to share in my every day "teaching".)

Here is what I see as a problem with the every day technology in our classroom:
We have yet to change the way we teach. Period.

Too many of us are looking to use technology to change the way we teach instead of changing the way we teach and then adding technology. Yes, it is cool when your colleague who is a few years from retirement wants to add a doc cam to his classroom and then uses it and tries to explore it. But really it's no different than when an overhead projector was used.

Unfortunately I am just as guilty of this phenomenon. And I am in my fourth year of teaching.

I grew up with teachers who taught us concepts and then asked us to practice them. It is easy for me to now do the same. Don't get me wrong. I am making efforts to change and am trying new things, but it is extremely overwhelming. There is so much out there and there are so many great educators that I am now connected to (through blogging, voiced, smarter science, and the verity of educators and education technology folk on my twitter account).

I give smarter science (and my colleague that first went to the work shop with me and got equally excited about it) the credit for the start of my changes. I am a math teacher at heart and have been teaching science exclusively since my second year on the job - so it has been great to be motivated about the subject and the job despite it really being a "second" love. It has shown me that we can use ways to motivate our kids to learn and it has given me the first few opportunities to stop "teaching" and start "coaching" (this is what I see as ultimately the change that most of our classrooms need - and I think would be a huge challenge when I get back into math).

So here I am. Excited. Motivated. Hopeful. But I still find myself teaching. And using the doc cam as a fancy overhead projector. And being scared to even begin to find something tech related to start with. because here's the truth - I may be seen as a "tech" teacher at school (people like to come to me to "fix" things when they are not working) but the REAL tech (the new apps, ideas, etc) has a learning curve that frightens me.

Hopefully we are able to end up with class sets of tablets at our school in the near future. Hopefully this encourages me to tackle something new. Because I still want to try.

I just worry that the technology will never be the motivator [of students] we are wishing for.

((I am realizing this entry is a little all over the map. For that I apologize.))

Or maybe I am doing this all better than I think. We are our best critics after all. And every time I go to any PD hoping to come out with a new tech idea, I feel less behind the curve.