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WSCS Blog
Flippin' Out in Falk's Math Class

Before joining the staff at West Side Christian School in the fall of 2014, I taught math and science at Western Michigan Christian High School (WMC). It was at WMC that I was first introduced to the flipped classroom model, which emphasizes using class time for teacher interaction and problem solving and introducing new concepts and ideas via pre-recorded teacher videos that students could watch at home.

Before I started experimenting with this flipped classroom model, I would start math class by displaying the last night’s homework answers on the screen and answer questions about it, then I would teach the new concepts, finally students could work on that day’s assignment with what time was left. When were lots of question about difficult assignments or a large lesson to teach, there would be very little or no class time for the students to work, leaving them to grapple with difficult concepts at home on their own and they would sometimes return the next day frustrated and confused.

The concept of a flipped classroom intrigued me, so I tried a flipped model for two chapters, and students’ scores were much better using the flipped model and they really liked the change.  Existing research confirmed my personal experience: improved learning and student morale resulted from students having the instruction via video and having the teacher available to help them with the application rather than having to do it at home on their own.

 I spent a large portion of the next summer recording videos of myself teaching my math lessons using my Mac, a wireless slate and a program called Camtasia. I then uploaded the videos to my own YouTube channel. Now that I’m at West Side, I use the Explain Everything app on my iPad to teach my math lessons and have recorded and uploaded a video for almost every single lesson for my three math classes at West Side Christian School. Since restarting my YouTube channel in June, over 4,000 people have viewed a video!  Our students can find the videos by searching the internet or by going to the Moodle page for their class, where there are lots of other classroom resources as well. The videos are also a great resource for students who either miss class or want to hear me explain a concept again while working at home.

When I tried flipping one class here at West Side Christian School, we had trouble when the students would finish the assigned questions early (middle school assignments are shorter than high school assignments.) Having the students stay in the room with nothing to do wasted their time and made them a distraction to others. Sending them to the library to watch the next lesson didn’t work well between technical issues and not always having someone there to keep them on task. If students had a device in class where they could pop in headphones and watch right there in the room, they would be on task and engaged in the material and using class time productively without distracting other students!

The technology committee has dreamed and talked a lot this year about getting more devices into the hands of our students and possibly rolling out a blended learning (one-to-one) program for some of the higher grades at West Side. If this dream is realized, it would be much more feasible to have a similar flipped classroom model in my classes. I’m also really hoping to get the 9.7 inch iPad Pro, which has the processing power to run some apps my personal (old) iPad can’t. You can also use the new Apple pen with it, which would facilitate more precise graphing and allow for more legible notes.

Just for fun (because it’s my idea of fun!), I’ve started making short “how to” video tutorials for the rest of the staff demonstrating some cool features of the technology available in our classrooms such as our document cameras or apps like DocScan HD that I use all the time as a teacher. I love learning about these things, and I love sharing about the ways available technology can benefit our students!

Over the years I’ve observed how my students are increasingly technology driven and are very visually oriented – which makes sense since they’ve grown up surrounded by technology that we adults could only dream of when we were their age. Using technology in the classroom engages them in the way they’re used to getting and processing information, and I’m excited to see West Side Christian School take steps towards using the technology that kids are already immersed in to help them learn both within and beyond the classroom.

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