Tag Archives: suggestions

Flipping the Flipped Classroom

In an earlier post I questioned the trendy use of foldables. Today I want to question the flipped classroom model which is all the rage right now. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with this model, here’s a handy infographic you should check out.

So the basic premise of the flipped classroom is that the lecture portion of instruction is recorded in some way and students watch this lecture on computers at home for homework. Then, in class, the students work on more engaging activities (practice) because they’ve already “learned” the content of the lesson at home. The teacher, free from having to lecture, is able to walk around and help students with problems as they arise. Educators like to talk about transitioning their role from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide on the side” and this model definitely allows for that transition in roles…in the classroom only.

Here is my primary concern:

What is with the insistence on the lecture (direct instruction) model?

Teachers appear to be loving the ability to offer more engaging, open-ended activities in class now that students are watching lectures at home.

What was stopping these teachers from offering these kinds of activities before?

Why do teachers think students have to be told what to do before they actually do any math?

The use of instructional videos as “pre-learning” shows that the transmission model of education is in no danger of going away. In all these years, hasn’t the field of education learned enough about how students learn best to know that talking at them is not ideal? Don’t get me wrong, having access to these kinds of videos as a resource is great. If I’m working out a problem, and I realize I need to brush up on the Pythagorean theorem, then watching a 5-7 minute video might be super helpful. Why do we assume students need to be told everything they need to know about a concept or a strategy before trying out a problem or two for themselves?

Flipping the Flipped Classroom

If anything, I would rather suggest flipping the classroom in the other direction. First, start with an engaging problem. Look at Dan Meyer’s three act problems for one approach. Don’t spend a lot of time talking at your students from the get go. Have a brief discussion about the situation and then let them go. If it’s challenging, let them work in pairs or small groups to brainstorm together. If they finish quickly, give them some other problems related to the big idea of the lesson. Finally, pull the class together and debrief. Talk. Have discussion, not lecture. At this point, if you want to tell the students something, they are much more receptive to hearing it and asking questions about it. I have witnessed this first hand. Students are more talkative after engaging with content, not before. Students love to think and talk, but they are more readily engaged if they have some connection with what you’re talking about. And if you still want to make an instructional video, great! The students have struggled with the content, they’ve talked about it with each other, and they’ve talked about it with you. Watching a video might help cement ideas that they weren’t quite sure about yet.

With this model you’re showing students that they can learn content without having to be told exactly what steps to take. Instead the role of a student is being problem solvers engaged in their own learning and processes, rather than passive recipients of information that may or may not “stick” or that they may not understand how to apply.

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Foldables

Source: Brian Stockus

Gather round everyone. I’m going to paraphrase a story.

“Once upon a time a week or so ago, a teacher made a foldable with her class to help them learn about integer operations. The day before the big unit test, the teacher decided to give the students a quiz first to help them prepare. Even though the students were able to access their interactive notebooks, none of them were using the integer operation foldable that was glued in their notebooks. The class bombed the quiz. The next day on the unit test, the students were again allowed to use their interactive notebooks, and again none of them were using the integer operations foldable. It wasn’t until after the test that the students realized that the foldable contained ALL of the rules they needed for integer operations. They could just open a flap for a particular operation and see what to do.”

I read this story on a blog this week and it struck me because I’ve been in the same situation with my students before. They had a resource in their hands that could help them, and yet they seemed oblivious to using it. Why?

As I said in my previous post, I want to question why everyone is using foldables so much. I’m not necessarily against them, but anecdotes like this make me want to pause and reflect.

What is the inherent advantage of taking the extra time to cut a piece of paper into flaps, write in it, and possibly glue it into a notebook? Some advantages I see:

Motivation. Making the foldable feels more “hands on” than taking notes, so it is possibly more motivating for students to make a foldable.

Source: Brian Stockus

Structure. The design of a foldable gives the content some structure. In the integer operations foldable, I can tell by looking at it that there are four key concepts, and each gets its own window. If students were just taking notes, they may do so haphazardly, losing the structure of the information in the process. I know my own note taking in high school was mostly just writing things down one after the other without any thought about how any of the information went together. I also spent a good chunk of time doodling in the margins, so I can’t say my mind was focused on what I was writing.

Source: Brian Stockus

Focus. Because the foldable usually has some kind of flaps, I have the ability to control the information I am seeing. If I want to learn about adding integers, I can open that flap and focus on that information. Look at how overwhelming it is when all of the flaps are open. That’s probably what it would look like if it was just notes in a notebook.

Source: Brian Stockus

Based on the opening story however, these advantages weren’t obvious to the students. It did not occur to them until AFTER the test that this tool was pretty useful, which tells me the foldable failed. Here are some musings about why that might have happened in this case and why it might happen in other classrooms:

Ownership. From my own experience and from what I’ve been reading, teachers are finding these clever foldables online as a way to summarize key concepts. They’re fun to do and they look attractive glued into interactive notebooks. The problem is that this is a teacher-centric activity. When it comes to summarizing student learning, the teacher has controlled the structure of that summary. She is even controlling the content if all students do is copy her words into their foldables. The students are basically just re-creating the teacher’s work. The activity lacks personal meaning so the students don’t think about the foldable as a tool that can help them later on.

To make foldables more meaningful, I think students need to learn about a variety of foldable templates. Then, after the class has learned about a topic, the teacher can ask students which foldable they want use to summarize their learning. (I might go so far as to say foldables are just one option. Students could also choose to make a graphic organizer or flash cards.) This would be a great discussion to hear students’ thoughts about how to structure the information they learned about. The students might not all make the same foldable, but at least what they make will be personally meaningful for them. It would be great to have students share their foldables afterwards so they can compare with classmates and make changes if they realize they got something wrong or left something out. And if you get to a point where the students feel none of the available options will work, then that’s the time to seek out and introduce a new template(s).

Making, followed by using. So, you spent 20 minutes making a clever foldable with definitions and examples of various mathematical properties. Students glue it in their notebooks, and later on when doing homework and other assignments they’ll turn to it as a helpful resource since it clearly summarizes important knowledge. But they don’t. Why?

My thought is that it has to do with the lack of experience actually using the foldable with any meaningful purpose. Once the foldable is made and glued in the notebook, it must be used. That’s what makes an interactive notebook, you know, interactive. Many students won’t do this naturally either. They need to hear the teacher at various points in class say things like, “Hmm, this problem includes subtracting two negative numbers. I know we just learned that. How can I check to make sure how to do that correctly?” or “This looks like a problem where I’m going to need to use the distributive property. Do I have a resource somewhere that I can use if I get stuck?” It sounds silly to ask these questions, but if students aren’t choosing to use their resources on their own, then obviously they haven’t learned how to ask themselves these questions. They need modeling.

In closing, I’d like to reiterate the point of asking my original question: Be critical of your practice. We’re not Sadako trying to fold 1,000 paper foldables so our education wish will be granted. The reality is that foldables are tools, and we can guide students to choose an appropriate tool for the job and model how to use it effectively.

Setting the tone and building relationships at the start of the school year

It’s amusing, and should probably come as no surprise, that I started this blog thinking I wouldn’t have anything to talk about. However, after reading through the new math blogger initiative posts today, I now have a list of 6-7 things I’d like to write about. Woo hoo!

So the question of the moment is, what do I write about first? Considering a lot of the posts I read today were about the start of school, I thought it would be timely to write about my own experiences and thoughts about the beginning of the school year.

Two recurring topics that stood out to me were setting the right tone and building relationships with students. I couldn’t agree more with how important these two tasks are, especially at the start of the school year.

I doubt it’s a magic bullet, but I had a lot of success with a community building program called Tribes. After a quick look at their Web site, I can tell they have more “stuff” these days that you can buy to implement/support the program, but honestly you’ll be set if you can get your hands on their book, which you can probably find used at a local store or on the internet.

(Although if it’s available in your area, I highly recommend the training. They don’t just teach you about the program, the entire training is structured so that it actually takes everyone through the phases of the program. You end the few days with new knowledge and new friends.)

The book is great because even if you don’t have time to read it all, just flip to the back. There is a huge section of easy to implement activities that I was able to use on their own or embedded in a content lesson to help students build positive relationships with me and each other.

A key component of all of these activities is reflection, although this applies to teaching in general, not just Tribes activities. How often did my students finish an activity and then move on to the next without stopping to think about what just happened?

  • Did I learn something? What was it?
  • Did I get in an argument with someone? How did I handle it?
  • What did I like about this activity? What did I dislike?

More importantly, how often did I stop the class to reflect during the lesson? If the students were in the middle of group work and I observed several groups goofing off or arguing, I learned to tell the class to freeze. I would ask them to rewind the past few minutes in their minds. What were they hearing? Seeing? Feeling? I told them to compare this to what should have been going on in the classroom. Then we brainstormed suggestions about how the activity could continue, but this time in line with expectations.

The beginning of the year was always a great time to reflect constantly with the students. It set the tone for the year. I didn’t just tell them my expectations, we worked on reaching them together. At first it felt like it was taking too much time or slowing things down, but reflecting back, I feel like it paid off in the long run.

Now I’m going to go off and be jealous of all of you who are getting to know your new students over the next few weeks. Before I go, here are some questions you can think about:

  • Have you used Tribes or some other community building programs? What were your experiences? What worked and what didn’t?
  • What do you do at the beginning of the year to set the tone and build relationships with your students?
  • Now that your first day of the school year is over (if it’s over) what would you do differently?