Flipped Mastery IS a 1:1 Classroom!

I was discussing the other night that it seems odd the term ‘flipped classroom’ is dated to me! Having run some type of flipped classroom for the past 6 years, it has become a perfectly normal part of my daily routine as a math teacher. Like any ‘edutrend’, innovative classroom practices that promise solutions to our educational woes spike peoples interest and then tend to fade away. Consider the cooperative engagement blitz of the 90’s and 00’s that pushed fresh ways to unstagnate math classrooms into the mainstream. These activities disrupted the old “rows” paradigm and started the new “pods” culture. The 4-person ability-tracked pods are an excellent way to keep students on task and constantly focused on the teacher. They are also, unfortunately, a perfect setting to ingrain “habitual mathematics” in students that does little to foster their creativity.  Pod members typically contribute key steps along the way throughout problems which means many students really only demonstrate the mastery in a ‘part’ or none of the problem. Claims of constant student engagement in these settings are true, although it is engagement in the group, not the problem at hand.  A teacher without technology cannot monitor every pod and the contributions of each student accurately.

As we look forward, it seems clear that 1:1 classrooms will be the norm soon.  Briefly, 1:1 classrooms are designed around the fact that every student has a computer device which allows the teacher to be “1:1” in contact or constantly measuring that student’s progress. It is tough to argue that will not be the case in every classroom in the very near future and many districts have already begun the process of planning the transition.

If we all agree that 1:1 will be the norm, then what will a NEW classroom look like?

What will it feel like? I can tell you for the next 10 years its not going to look any different.  Some of the teachers will run with new and exciting ways of incorporating the districts new toys(hopefully with top notch PD offered by their employer!), some of the teachers will scan their worksheets into .pdfs and hand them out to their students “digitally” and then some will begin to realize that the old classroom and its walls and its desks and its pods and its SMART boards and its mobiles and its famous quotes no longer meets the needs of student learning. By the time this last(and smallest) group of teachers is understood and eventually modeled, it will be 10 years and you will see changes in the modern high school classroom!

Anyone who is looking to see what a 1:1 environment can look like TODAY, find someone running a Flipped Mastery classroom.

There are thousands now checking in at www.flippedlearning.org where you can see exactly what teachers are doing.  Coming up on February 5th, 2014 is another “Flipped Classroom” open house where educators around the world will offer other teachers a chance to stop in and see what is going on.  Check out the site above for more details to sign up.  My classroom will be openIn June, the annual FlipCon conference in Pittsburgh this year will attract many teachers looking to flaunt their flipped classrooms and share the successes and failures along the way. My hint: look for the ones that have begun tackling Flipped Mastery classrooms. That is where all the real magic is happening.

(NOTE: This author runs TWO different environments for two different classes.  Flipped mastery (1:1) in my regular level class and a traditional flipped classroom in my AP class!)

The traditional flipped classroom, students watching videos or content at home and doing student centered work in class, is a good start but only an adaptation of the current classroom environment.  Teachers who move to the traditional flipped classroom report the obvious problem of students not watching the videos (imagine that, they don’t do homework!). That right there tends to kill the concept for some.  For me, it was a push towards the flipped mastery classroom(particularly in my lower level math class). This requires a 1:1 environment to function, but really begins to open up the type of flexibility needed for teachers to work with targeted students and their learning. Students are set free to work at their own pace, with their own practice levels, and with constant on demand help.  I call it an Asynchronous, Real-Time Help classroom. Although it bears the name flipped classroom, the NEW mastery classroom IS a 1:1 classroom.

More important, it is a glimpse of the near future of the modern American classroom. Like it or not…


Asking for help a tough lesson in the classroom

A few years back I was sitting in church and the message that Sunday from Pastor PJ Malin (@RevMalin) struck a chord with me.  Asking for help is one of the hardest things for ANYONE to do. 

By nature we enjoy helping one another and being a positive contributor to a community. The easy part is being the person that offers the help. Imagine the difference between having an extra $3 to burn or REALLY needing $3 to survive.  How easy it is to just throw that $3 at someone and feel like a hero compared to the person that has to ask or beg someone for $3.

Being the guy that asks for help is sometimes seen as degrading, emasculating or another form of weakness.  I often think back to that sermon when I know I should be seeking help from others but feel too weak or uncomfortable to do so. Recently I started thinking about this in the context of my Flipped-Mastery Classroom.

As much as I feel like I have created a perfect learning environment for students, one KEY component is getting at every student’s questions.  These questions can be BIG or SMALL, but any question that does not get asked, is lost. The nature of the flipped-mastery classroom forces students to ask questions when they REALLY struggle or they will physically make no progress. But what about little curiosities they have? What about an extension on the main idea that comes to them, but is quickly dismissed?

Here are some thoughts to promote a more ‘questioning‘ classroom:

  • At the end of EVERY assignment, have the students formulate a question. It can be two lines at the end of a worksheet, on a slip of paper on the way out the door or best yet a digital form that only you can see.  This accomplishes two things. First, if a student has a “first level” question that prohibits them from understanding the material, you will get that feedback and be able to quickly re-mediate. This also helps you as a teacher see if many students did not get the same concept. Second, tell students if they do not have a “first level” question then they must ask a “second level” question in which they consider the application for the current topic and ask a curious question. This will create great discussion starters in class the next day as well as allow you to see if students are thinking about their work.
  • Students are looking for mentors along their journey just like you and I look for mentors in our life endeavors. If a student sees the teacher as a mentor and someone that CAN offer them something, they are more inclined to reach out. I share my passion with fractal geometry and the Mandelbrot Set with my classes often as a way for them to see and hear me talk about non-class related mathematics topics.
  • Be consistent dealing with questions.  My worst days as a teacher are the ones when I know I treated a student question wrong. I always want my students to know they can raise an issue and I NEVER want them to apologize for asking too many questions. Of course, you have to balance this with the need to allow students to struggle a little bit so they can learn!
  • Go to the student.  Just the act of moving in and engaging in a conversation about the current topic can loosen up questions big and small from a student.  It may seem obvious, but talking to students is the best way to get them to ask for help!

Getting anyone, not just students, to ask for help is a delicate task.  I find that just recognizing that this is an issue in the classroom is a major first step.  Creating a culture where good questions arise from is a personal task and one of the many reasons why technology and computers are still far away from fully replacing teachers.

Can I Please Take the Test?

The flipped-classroom has brought a handful of surprises my way over the past few years.  Although I have heard this asked several times now, it just recently sank in how uniquely strange it was. From across the classroom, a student with their hand held high made eye contact with me and shouted,

“Mr. G, can I PLEASE take the test now!”

How awesome is that! I have endured years of seeing fear overcome students when faced with a math test or hearing the student that walks in on test day and declares, “Oh, there is a test today?” As teachers, there should be nothing more unsettling that a student who comes unprepared to take a test and yet we use that score as a benchmark to measure a student’s progress in math. Perhaps the student does have poor organizational and study skills, but have we really measured their math understanding?

In my flipped-mastery classroom, students come to ME to take the test. The student is required to gather the information and engage in the practice problems.  The student checks their understanding and gets immediate assistance from peers or myself. The student looks me in the eye and asks to take the test because they feel ready. The student celebrates the success of mastery or the student and I work on a plan to achieve that mastery.

It was a fun laugh for everyone in class when I brought to light that awesome question. We all agreed that was a FIRST for them in the high school math classroom!

What does ‘Flipped-Classroom’ mean to me?

I have spent the past six years teaching high school mathematics in a “flipped-classroom” environment. This classroom has evolved each year into something different for me and my students.  There have been an ever increasing number of articles written about the flipped-classroom recently from business websites to info-graphic websites to the social issues section of the New York Times recently. All of them attempting to describe what has been coined flipped-learning to teachers and administrators in the profession as well as students and parents at home.

What is it really like in a flipped-classroom? What has really changed about the way kids learn? Is this just the 21st century’s Edu-Tech-Gimmick or has there been a change in pedagogy here? Let me tell you what I value about flipped-learning and where I believe it will take us.

The term ‘flipped-learning’ came from the idea of swapping lecture time in class for teacher/student and student/student collaboration time. The simplest explanation to someone centers around that theme and today this seems to be everyone’s most popular definition. But the curation of a video collection for my PreCalculus class was not to replace my lecture. It is a resource for my students to use as they work toward mastery in my classroom.  Khan Academy was the first and will not be the last attempt to commercialize this concept, but all I need is a safe and trusted place for my students to gather information. The personal touch I put on the videos is important to me. Although I do not obsess about it because, it is not about the videos.

The term ‘flipped-classroom’ represents a brand new classroom for me and my students to collaboratively work toward their goal. Although I do have to impose a goal on the student (preparing for AP Calculus next year) the experience for both the struggling student and the accelerated student is uniquely different and appropriate for both.

Using technology to deliver content and measure progress and remediation for  27 students simultaneously used to be the stuff of legends and dreams for teachers. Today, with a little help from a suite of digital tools, being able to work one-on-one with students daily is not only possible, but ordinary. Imagine walking around the classroom making rounds like a doctor, chart(iPad) in hand, using the data from student assessments and small personal conversations as evidence of math health. My 19 years of professional math judgement and experience serving as THE key tool for instantly diagnosing and assisting students on the spot.

I was not getting good data from students, and most importantly, giving good data BACK to students when I gave and graded well over 300 questions (15 questions * 20 students) on a quiz.  Is this professional time well spent? Consider all the hours of grading and what it actually told the students (besides what their grade was).

The Flipped-Classroom is about Flipped-Assessment. The videos are a means to the end, but the new and exciting ways we can assess students and provide them meaningful feedback that shapes understanding is what I am attempting to get at.

A great example comes in the form of a “Birthday Polynomial” project my students come to as they finish Level 2 of the course.

In the past, students were all assigned the project on the same day and all 78 of my students turned in the project(some digital some with crayons) on the same day.  I had a great rubric that students had beforehand and I used it perfectly to grade all 78 projects during the Bears game on a Sunday afternoon.  Each student got the project back, with a little note from me about what was good, great or ugly.  I wrote the grade in the book and perhaps if the student felt motivated to come see me after school we could discuss it a little.

Today, students all get to the project at their own pace when they personally complete Level 2. They work in class on the project which has a description and many samples from archived student work.  They quickly choose to do a digital project knowing that I will not accept the project until it is perfect. Each time they attempt to submit it, it spawns a discussion between me and the student or student and student. When they turn the project in with bad math formatting in MS WORD we learn together how to use digital tools properly. I treat each student uniquely based on what I know about them. Students that really struggle I allow to produce the minimum standard while my advanced students I challenge to go further in their work to match their ability. No student has any idea how the other was graded. They all get the same grade. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM COMPLETES THE PROJECT. How awesome is that?

The best part is that every student WANTS to complete the project. I set a bar for them and I ask only that they reach it. BUT THEY MUST REACH IT. 

This is what Flipped-Learning is to me. My colleagues that also do this project agree that their classroom cannot sustain a “rubric less” project.  There is no time in their traditional classroom for students to work on their project in class, get immediate draft feedback and resubmit. They are compelled to create a rubric and give a score in order to hold students accountable for completion.

What has been coined “Flipped-Learning” has begun to pave the way for a new pedagogy. I am not convinced the name is going to stick around, but I am convinced this is the direction we need to move in. My five year classroom experiment has helped me automate and curate the facts of PreCalculus and set students free to learn at their own pace. Most important, since students are all engaged in a classroom activity, I have classroom time to spend with students who need me.

My out-of-classroom time is also spent more professionally. I think about mathematics and how I can help students connect it to the world around them rather than grade hundreds of quiz questions and shuffle through poster boards. I design higher-order processing problems and projects for students, collaborate more with other teachers and frankly just take a breath when I walk out of the classroom each day and go home.  It tends to be a fun, wild ride during the class period!

The flipped-classroom is a pedagogical revolution and will continue to evolve until is the new front end of every classroom experience, much the way lecture/quiz is the current front end.  Teachers still bring huge value and expertise that technology will not even come close to matching soon.  Being a teacher that uses his expertise to work with students and design classroom experiences has been a whole lot more fun than the one that lectured, quizzed and graded students in a cyclic nightmarish pattern.

For me, the flipped-classroom is allowing me to get back to my students where I belong.

The Modern Mastery Mathematics Classroom

It has been five years now that I have been experimenting with the new “flipped-learning” pedagogy in my high school PreCalculus course. It has been a blast! It has also been refreshing to start finding articles that flipped-learning does have statistical evidence that really just supports what a good educator knows in their heart: one on one student-teacher interaction always trumps teacher-classroom interaction.

The flipped-learning movement is a pedagogical step in the right direction. Now that technology has evolved to allow for it, why not free up 15-20 minutes of classroom time with students to work collaboratively or one-on-one instead of classroom lecture? Although intimidating from the technology side, numerous web tools and iOS apps are filling in the gaps making it easier every day for teachers to start screencasting their own mini videos. (And yes I mean MINI!)

For three years I ran what I call a traditional flipped classroom with my junior/senior PreCalculus class.  The experience was a good one, but cutting to the chase, I was not seeing the gains of flipping the classroom like I had hoped.  Essentially, kids still do not do homework unless properly motivated which is against our best assessment literacy practices in our building. Why not allow them to work at their own pace in class?  I already had the videos and the assignments.  All I needed was a way to house the course and also a way to generate and efficiently proctor genuine formative and summative assessments.

Enter BlackBoard.  I took one look under the hood of our district BlackBoard system and realized all the pieces are right here.  I create the course in BlackBoard and IT regulates where a student is.  Each student must watch a video and answers followups in Bb to get to the next video. All the units need to be completed for the assessment to “appear” online.  Students take assessments (in class only) that Bb generates from a bank of 100-200 questions that they must pass at 75% to “open” the next level of the course.  The students can go back and retake any assessment, anytime…after a conversation with me.

My class is now conversations with students all period long, and me doing all the class “teaching and organizing” outside of class or better yet, Blackboard doing it for me! How much fun class has become as I get the opportunity to drop from group to group giving that little bit of quick assistance a student in a high school PreCalculus class needs to help keep them engaged in the lesson and not frustrated. When I try and describe this class to other teachers I have used the phrase, “Online, asynchronous, realtime-help class”.  My 19 years of teaching have allowed me the experience to sum up students math issues with just a 30-60 second conversation.  Its amazing how that is all it takes to clear something up for a student and WE KNOW THAT…it is just too hard to execute that in class for all 27 students.  Until now.

This is year two of running the full blown Mastery classroom and all signs point towards good things ahead.  In my first year I cautiously worked on the pacing of the class being sure that all the material can be completed during the school year. I had students finish up to two weeks early with just our basic curriculum.  This second year I am adding another creative assessment to each level which gives students an opportunity to apply current topics using more modern math tools. The first round of assessments was a sweeping success!  Imagine this…a student has to create poster with specific information about a function and a photo of their choosing (see this example). A teacher COULD create a rubric and have students all turn in their project…OR…the teacher can insist on a digital version of the poster.  When the poster is not “perfect”, the teacher sends the poster back and has a discussion immediatly about what is missing. My favorite comment is “Please edit and resubmit.” The student happily edits their work and resubmits.  They earn no points for the project. No one gets an A+. They all simply meet the standard that I set for them. Then they can continue to the next level, always working toward successful completion of the course.

Working with students in this class has become enjoyable and worth while.  I get to know students much more personally and they know they can trust me anytime they need to ask for help.  The level of individual student responsibility goes through the roof in this setting and is a huge area of growth I see in many of the students.  It is also the biggest issue for most students that get behind.  So far so good.  I look forward to sharing more about my experiences in the Mastery Mathematics Classroom.

Check out this video interview with students in the class.

How do YOU spend your time with students?

Or maybe the more important question is

What do you WANT to do with your classroom time with students?

No teacher wants to be told how to run their classroom. Every teacher loves to hear how other people are doing it. It’s an interesting observation I’ve made over the years regarding the psyche of teachers. As I look forward into education I see both of these statements becoming very muddled for most teachers. Current teachers are being flooded with cooperative strategies to engage students in classroom work. As innovative as these strategies WERE, they all have the same issue in common…they rely on students to be respectfully active in their work and they assume that students can be the expert. I don’t have a beef with the respectfully active part. A well run classroom with respect shown and given from all parties should and will run smoothly. Student centered learning actives that assume and require the students to be the experts are effective, but how does a teacher really know about the conversations that transpired? Was accurate information shared or did a student convince their group of inaccurate information? I wrestle with these questions and have come to a fundamental direction for my classroom:

More direct contact time for me with my students will allow me to make the most professional decision regarding their immediate learning.

So what would your classroom look like if you could have anything you wanted? That’s hard for most teachers to even dream about because they don’t know what the reality of educational tools today is. Of course we would like a robot that grades our papers and calls parents and attends our stuffings for us, but that’s not reality!

For me, I didn’t want to spend my time with kids lecturing. That was a simple goal. Replace the lecture with another vehicle of information delivery, perhaps something they can do at home, and use my time with students to be actively engaged with their learning.

Individually. Sporadically. Only when they need me.

The Flipped Classroom was the answer for me and for my PreCalculus regular track math students that went home every night to practice math with no help. Some had mom and dad help, some tried to find me for help, some had absolutely no time in their day to get help and most just filled in their practice problems or cheated. The Flipped Classroom was a stepping stone that allowed me to get in the middle of the help cycle instead of just being there at the beginning and the end of every chapter.

What is that stepping stone for you? What do you really want to do in your classroom with kids? What’s your best role in the educational process? What kind of classroom pedagogies are at our disposal that take advantage of technology?

It starts by asking these questions, not by buying iPads or SMART boards. If today’s technology can create a small change to get you closer to your ideal classroom, wouldn’t it be worth it?