Saturday, 10 August 2013

Flipping the flipped classroom

Last week the eLearning co-ordinater at my school sent me a link to this article, a study done at the Sanford Graduate School of Education. The study's findings show that a group of undergrad students perform better on tests when first exploring a concept through inquiry, then being introduced to the theory, rather than the other way around. The study advocates "flipping flipped learning", so that instead of showing students a video or having them read text prior to a lesson, and then exploring that concept, you have them explore first. In this way the students are able to make their own connections and this is more likely to lead to actual understanding, rather than just memorising theories and processes taught.

This is what I started to do when putting together our current Year 8 unit on Probability. Instead of starting the lesson by introducing theory and going straight into how to calculate probabilities (with thousands of practice questions centred around coins, dice and cards) we played a game called Three Dice (ok, admittedly using dice), an activity from the Nuffield Foundation. Each student had to fill a 3 by 3 card with 9 different numbers of their choosing. In pairs, they then rolled 3 dice. If the sum of the three dice was on their card, they could cross it off. The winner was the first person to cross all 9 numbers of their card first.

Students had to write a reason explaining why they chose their 9 numbers before I gave them the dice to play. I went around checking their explanations, not giving any feedback at this point, as I just wanted to get a sense of their initial thinking. Some students said they chose numbers like 10,11,12,13 as they were in the middle of the possible sums (from 3 to 18 - although I did not specifically tell them they could only choose from 3 to 18). Others just said they chose randomly, which I accepted as an explanation, as these students obviously did not have an idea initially that some numbers were more likely than others.

Once they played the game with a partner twice, they could then improve their board and change their numbers, but again had to give an explanation as to why they made the changes they did.

Without any direct instruction some concepts of probability began to emerge, and I could question and prompt individual groups depending on how far they were getting. I began to see some terminology of probability being used, such as likely and impossible, which was great as I hadn't introduced any of that myself. Some students started to keep a tally of how many times each number came up to see which numbers were most likely. They then started to explore different combinations for each sum, and wondering if 1+1+2 was the same as 1+2+1?

Those that got furthest started to see patterns with the combinations. For example, the number 4 can only be made with a combination of 1, 1 and 2. There are 3 ways of arranging these two numbers:

However, a number like 6 can be made with 1, 2 and 3. And because there are three different numbers, there are 6 ways of arranging them:

Once they had discovered this, they could work out the total amount of combinations for each sum, without listing them all. We could then go about calculating the probability of getting each sum, although they needed to have worked out the total number of combinations in order for this to happen.

Now, not all students got to this point, and not all got to this point on their own. However, this was a mixed ability class, and we covered far more topics within probability that I would have normally if I was just introducing the theory and getting them to practice. They had to think about combinations and look for patterns, and also work systematically to ensure that they hadn't missed any combinations.

Since starting to write this post, I have been reading about Ramsey Musallam's model 'Explore-Flip-Apply'. In this model students are given the chance to explore concepts and make their own connections before watching video tutorials that covers content. The students then apply their learning following the video instruction in lessons. The most important thing about the 'Flipped' phase is that they only cover content that is low-level on Bloom's Taxonomy: recalling facts, definitions, straight-forward examples, etc. The applying, evaluating, analysing and creating are done in class, during the 'Explore' or 'Apply' phases of flipped learning.

Last week I met up with the head of maths at our school's other campus, who has implemented a similar model (without the flip) in Year 7 this year. At the start of each unit, the students spend a week 'Exploring' before they are taught any formal mathematics, and they are finding it hugely successful. In a few weeks I will visit their campus to observe what they are doing and talk to some of the teachers who have been involved in the planning of this. We are planning to work more closely together between the two campus, trying to combine their model of exploration before theory with what we have been doing with Flipped Learning.

For the last four weeks of the school year the students move up to the next year level, in what is called our Early Commencement Programme, or ECP. My plan is to have some time for the maths department to collaborate and plan units for the Year 8s and 9s using the Explore-Flip-Apply model. We then have a few days before the start of summer break after the students have finished where we can review what we have done and refine the model for the start of the 2014 academic year.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Term 3 Goals

It's Sunday afternoon, the day before Term 3 starts. I can't believe we are already halfway through the school year here in Australia, and that I've been in this country for 6 months! Time has flown by.

This will be my second term flipping my year 7, 8 and 9 maths classes, and I have thought a lot about how to improve on the model this term. These are my goals for improving my classroom lessons this term:

Goal Number 1
Use more problem solving within lessons, starting with teaching students how to solve problems, with help from George Polya. More on this here.

Goal Number 2
Improve techniques for formative assessment. I thought it would be great to incorporate technology into this goal, and after looking around at various options I have decided to try using the student response system Socrative. I think I will start using it by doing Exit Tickets at the end of lessons, along with multiple choice or short answer questions to start off the lesson to see how well the students have understood the video the night before.

I have also planned some formative tasks into my Year 8 and 9 units.

Year 9 will be doing a unit on Linear Relations so I will be using these two tasks from the Mathematics Assessment Project Classroom Challenges, which is an American Resource:

Lines and Linear Equations
Modeling Solutions with Linear Equations

Year 8 are doing a unit on Probability. Before any theory is taught the students will be doing this activity from the Nuffield Foundation:
Three Dice
Which involves a game where students have to try and choose the numbers that will occur most frequently when three dice are thrown. I love the Nuffield Foundation activities because not only do they give detailed information on how to teach and assess mathematical processes, they also give examples of students work and the types of questions you might ask students to really see if they have a deep understanding of the mathematics.

I will also used some activities from Nrich, which has a fantastic section on teaching probability, including research and case studies of schools who have used the tasks. The tasks I am going to use are:
Which Team Will Win
The Dog Ate My Homework
These activities will also help me to achieve Goal Number 1!

Goal Number 3
I really want to improve the behaviour of my classes, namely my all boys Year 8 class. Before the holidays I started using Class Dojo with them, which seemed to help, so I will continue to use that. What I liked about Class Dojo is that you can keep track of both positive and negative behaviour at the same time. As a class we came up with rewards for those students who consistently display positive behaviour. The best part is that the rewards are not things like prizes or chocolate. The reward is a certificate for those who have over 95% positive behaviour for the week, and longer term is a letter home to their parents.

Which leads me to a "sub-goal" of Goal Number 3, and that is to communicate more with parents. Calling parents, for either good or bad news, is so effective, and I KNOW this! It's just that at 5:30pm when I am drained after a day at school, the last thing I want to do is get on the phone with a parent. But the pay off is worth it, and I always feel that way when I finish the call. I'm always so glad I did it once it's over. (In a way calling parents is a bit like exercise... you know you should, you know you'll feel better once it's done, and even while it's happening... but the thought of it is just so overwhelming!) Maybe I need to find a better time to call them, and not leave it until the evening when I just want to get home. I will have to think more about that one.

Anyway, 3 goals is enough for anyone, and I hope I have made them 'smart' enough that I will be able to make progress towards achieving them. I look forward to reporting the results here on this blog on a regular basis. (I feel another goal coming on...)

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Flipping doesn't replace teachers

I haven't updated the blog in a few weeks for 2 main reasons:
1) We are in the middle of a 3 week mid-winter holiday
2) I have been working on my Masters dissertation, which is due in September

The Masters is a 3-year part-time MA in Education with London South Bank University, which I started back in England in 2010. The dissertation is the final project, a 20,000 word research based paper. I won't bore you with a lot of details, and it has nothing to do with flipped learning, but a lot of the reading I have been doing concerns curriculum reform. As I've been reading, I've been struck by some research findings that can be applied to flipped learning.

Curriculum reform is a major way for governments and policymakers to try and improve education. Teachers tend to be very wary of curriculum reform and of curriculum materials in general, a feeling that researchers say have stemmed from reforms in the 50s and 60s where curriculum materials were designed to be "teacher-proof"; that is, the thought was that if the curriculum materials (and in mathematics this tends to  mean textbooks) are good enough, then the quality of teaching won't matter.

Well, obviously this idea didn't really work - all it succeed in doing was making teachers wary of using textbooks and other curriculum materials. Teaching is a human activity and no two teachers will teach the same curriculum in exactly the same way. This is the difference between the planned curriculum (what has been designed for teachers), the intended curriculum (how teachers plan to deliver their lesson) and the enacted curriculum (what actually happens in the classroom).The way teachers use curriculum materials has a lot more to do with their knowledge and beliefs surrounding mathematics and pedagogy, the way they were taught maths themselves, the culture of the school and routines and practices they  have already established, than the curriculum materials themselves. And, what can really mess things up is when a teacher uses curriculum materials without really understanding the goals or ideology behind them.

Well, what does this all have to do with flipping? Reading this stuff about teachers' uses of curriculum made me think about one of the key issues people have against flipped learning: that it replaces teachers with online videos. Along with that argument some might also think that flipping can replace a POOR teacher, so this could be a great way to improve the quality of teaching in a school. I mean, if a teacher is not standing at the front lecturing, and the material is being taught online at home, how much harm (or good) can they actually be doing, right?

WRONG! Since flipping I've had to think much harder about how I structure my lessons. First of all, if you are recording your own lessons it takes a lot more thought and planning to make a video. You have to be able to anticipate the questions students might have, or the parts they will find difficult and try to explain them in a way that they will all understand. This is much easier to address in a live classroom where the students can ask their questions right away, and you can at least see their facial expressions and ask critical questions to gauge understanding.

Also I have had to think more about the activities I set up in the classroom. Flipping can get pretty boring if all the students do is come in and work on questions from the textbook. The questions you need to ask them to see if they have understood last night's video are so important, as is ensuring you are stretching the most able students with challenging and engaging problems.

Anyway, I guess my point is - good teaching is good teaching. It doesn't matter what tool you are using to deliver the lessons (and video lessons are just that - a tool). Flipping does not replace a teacher, just the opposite, it gives the teacher more time to interact on a more personal level with their class. It, along with any other educational reforms, will never be "teacher-proof"!

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

More problem solving please!

We've had about 8 weeks of flipped learning in maths now in Year 7,8 and 9. As mentioned in my previous post, not all classes have been running smoothly, however I'd have to say that my classes have pretty much accepted that this is the way we do things now. As you'd expect some students have adapted better than others, and those that consistently watch the videos, write good summaries and try to ask interesting questions are benefiting the most. The culture of the classroom is slowly changing.

I mentioned at the start that in terms of class work I've pretty much stuck to what the students are familiar with, which are questions from the text book. I do try to find more interesting worksheets (usually from the old SMILE resources used in England before I was even a teacher, or some of the CIMT activities), but it's not always inspiring stuff. Now that the structure of flipped learning is in place I want to spend more time designing interesting activities for the students to do in lessons.

The issue that needs tackling is that currently our students are not great problem solvers (as a whole, of course there are exceptions to this!) I've taken problem solving to mean "any task for which the solution method is not known in advance".

In a recent department meeting we discussed reasons that might stop students from attempting complex problem:
  • They don't understand the problem
  • They are unsure of how to get started
  • They don't know any strategies to solve the problem
  • They feel they are not good at maths
  • The problem is not interesting to them
  • They are unwilling to take risks or experience failure
All of these issues are things that we can do something about as teachers. The one that is most obvious for us to tackle is to actually teach the students strategies for solving problems in a structured way. Sometimes as teachers we are very quick to complain about lazy students who don't try, but if we've never tried to help them improve their strategies than who's fault is it really??

So, in Term 3 we will start a Problem Solving programme with Year 7, 8 and 9 classes. We have based this around George Polya's 4 Principles of Problem Solving:

1. Understand the Problem
2. Devise a Plan
3. Carry out the Plan
4. Reflect on the Solution

Currently the students are mostly doing questions that only use Step 3: That is they are given a method to use to answer questions and the carry out the computation. But the other 3 steps are what are going to be most useful to them not only in a maths classroom, but in other subjects and beyond the classroom into the "real world".

We will teach each of these 12 heuristics:
1. Guess and improve
2. Make an organized List
3. Draw a diagram
4. Make a table
5. Look for a pattern
6. Solve a simpler problem
8. Act it out
9. Work backwards
10. Use deduction
11. Change your point of view
12. Write an equation

The idea is to teach one of these strategies each week over 12 weeks. We will spend about 20 minutes each week on this, no more, and continue with the "regular" curriculum at the same time. At the end of the 12 weeks students will be presented with a variety of problems and have to start to make decisions about what strategies to use. They will be formally taught to use the 4 Principles each time they tackle a problem. Hopefully, students will start to  naturally use these strategies with their textbook questions as well. 

As mentioned before, we will use this with Year 7, 8 and 9, with the aim that in the future we will teach it in Year 7 only but constantly refer to the strategies throughout all year groups. 

Our aims for the program are this:

1. Improve students' willingness to try problems and increase perseverance
2. Make students aware of problem solving strategies
3. Make students aware that there is more than one way to solve a problem
4. Improve students' ability to work systematically
5. Improve students' ability to choose and implement a suitable strategy for solving problems

I have high hopes about this program and look forward to reflecting on what is working (and what is not) on the blog in Term 3.

Many thanks to Tom Reardon for his helpful paper on this, accessed here

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Leading Flipped Learning

I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I am Head of Middle Years Maths at my school. Flipped learning was something I wanted to try and most of the other teachers in my department were on board. In the beginning I was creating all the unit plans and videos which the other teachers were using, however some have started working with me on unit plans and videos in Year 7 and 8 which has been fantastic.

I have noticed a big improvement in my classrooms but it has not been smooth sailing for all teachers. In fact one teacher came to me at the end of the week to say her class was revolting against flipped learning! I offered to go and talk to them, to explain why we have started using flipped learning and answer any questions they might have. I had this issue earlier in the term with another class and the discussion I had with the class went really well, so I was expecting pretty much the same thing to occur. Boy, was I wrong!

A quick background on this class: They are an all boy class, 25 students, 14-15 years old. The class is mixed ability, however in the school there is one "advanced" maths class so none of the "top" maths students are in this class. The teacher is new to the school, however an experienced teacher. She has had difficulty with them behaviour-wise and found them challenging to teach, especially in a "traditional, lecture-style" classroom.

This was probably one of the toughest groups I have tried to talk to about flipped learning. Here are a few of the issues (which I don't necessarily have a solution to) and some of my observations about the class:

1. The class was very badly behaved at the start of the year, and they have been given the impression that they are doing flipped learning as the teacher feels she can't teach them from the front as they don't listen. I presume they have been given this impression from their teacher, so I tried to clear that up - letting them know the reasons why we've implemented the flipped classroom.

2. There is a small but very vocal group of boys who are completely against flipped learning and who won't seem to consider the reasons given for using the method. They monopolised the questions being asked set the tone for the class which is unfortunate. Some of the responses I got were 

"why do we have to do this? None of our other subjects do" and 
"last year we were taught from the front and we were able to learn that way" 

When explaining the reasons I just kept getting met with "But we don't want to do it" from the same 4-5 students over and over.

I think a main issue here is that (and I could be wrong) this class is not having ANY class discussion time anymore, and also there not being any importance placed on the "summarise"and "question" aspect of the WSQ. So they are not seeing the benefit of attempting to understand or write things in their own words prior to the lesson.

3. Some of the boys said they didn't think they were responsible enough to work on their own or in small groups. I called them out on this, and said that I thought they were just making excuses, as at 14-15 years old I would expect a lot more responsibility and maturity. This is something I think needs to be brought up with their Head of Year as the working culture of the class isn't great and is, I'm sure, similar in other subjects.

4. It came out that some students felt the teacher was unapproachable and they didn't feel comfortable asking her questions. I commend the teacher for the way she handled this and actually think this was an important issue for the class and her to discuss openly. She admitted that at times she was unhappy with the class's behaviour and (lack of) respect towards her, and apologised for projecting this onto the class. She stressed that she was there to help them and want them to achieve their best, and could they all agree to start fresh? It was a very open, raw conversation and I have nothing but the highest respect for her, and also for the boy who very politely opened up this discussion. 

In short I think that behaviour issues from the start of the year have lead to a negative classroom culture. This tied in with the huge change in teaching method have been disruptive for the class, and I think they believe that flipped learning has caused the negative culture even though it existed before it was brought in. I also think (and this may sound like I'm trying to make excuses so I apologise for that!) the vocal minority are the typical passive and somewhat lazy students who don't like the fact that they are now responsible for their own learning!

That said, it is our job as the teacher to change classroom culture, and clearly something needs to change in this class. I have left the option of returning to a traditional classroom up to the teacher if she feels it will help improve things. The difficult thing is I do think she believes flipped learning is best for them, and I know it is working well with one of her other classes. 

Perhaps speaking to some of the vocal boys one-on-one would work better, instead of in a whole class situation, or maybe even with their parents present. 

Some sort of positive behaviour routine would be helpful as well. I have just started using ClassDojo with a similar Year 8 class which so far they are responding to which I will recommend to the teacher.

This incident left me reflecting on my own leadership of the teachers in my department. It is very possible that I have not communicated the principles behind flipped learning clearly enough to them, or spent enough time with the team prior to implementing it. I have left them to structure their classrooms as they would like, which has worked for some but others probably need more guidance. 

Some things I would advise or do differently if I was starting over:

1. Ensure there is the time to work with the team well in advance of flipped learning. Make sure there are common goals as to what happens both in and out of the class room. Agree rewards and sanctions. 

For example if a student doesn't watch the video on time I allow them to watch it in the lesson. However if this happens twice in a row they are given a "strike" which is in line with our school behaviour policy. I didn't want to give the students a strike right away as I didn't want to turn them off flipped learning, however this isn't something that has happened across all classes. Some teachers don't let the students watch the videos in class at all which means that during class time they don't know what to do, causing more issues than it is worth in my opinion!

2. Give teachers the option of implementation. Only those that are fully bought in should use it, as the classroom sessions will not be great otherwise! I was asked by the "higher ups" to make sure all Year 9 classes were flipping which I wish I had fought against in hindsight.

3. Ideally everyone would make their own video lessons for their own classrooms. Maybe some will think this is over doing it but I do think there is something to the students hearing their own teacher's voices on the videos. Also a lot of my students seem to have an appreciation of the amount of work I've been putting into the flipped lessons, whereas some other classes (like this one I was dealing with) have the impression that their teacher now doesn't have to do any work. 

All in all it was a tiring end to a tiring week but after thinking about it this weekend I've thought a lot about myself as a leader and how I can improve in future. 

If anyone else out there has any recommendations for leading a team of teachers to flip I welcome your comments and suggestions! 

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A "Traditional" Mistake

End of semester, exams and reports have led to me neglecting this blog a little bit lately, however amongst the craziness of all this I thought I'd share a story from a few weeks ago.
My year 9s were coming to the end of their first flipped learning unit on trigonometry. We had one revision class before the test so I thought I'd put together a collection of questions to revise as a class. I had included questions I thought they would have trouble with, including questions with bearnings and applications of trigonometry. I quickly put a (rather boring) power point together and thought I would spend half the lesson going through these as a class and then they would have the last half to revise whatever they wanted to. A return to the traditional classroom. Wow. What a HUGE mistake.
It was basically a car crash of a lesson. Especially compared to the hard work and focus I'd come to expect from this class since introducing flipped learning. Some students knew everything and were bored. Some were completely lost when it came to bearings and got frustrated when I moved too quickly. Some lost focus and started chatting, creating distraction. For some strange reason I felt I had to plough on with what I had planned instead of changing plans mid-lesson. It took me the whole lesson to get through it all and so they had no time to revise on their own. They probably left the lesson feeling more stressed about thier test than they did when the class started. Basically, it was what I'd call an EPIC FAIL.
Near the end of the lesson, completely exasperated I said to them "So, do you see why we've been doing flipped learning?!" We had a bit of a laugh about it as a class, and I apologized to them for my poor planning. They were more forgiving of me than I was of myself - I actually think they are so used to this traditional style of teaching that they didn't think it was all that bad. The good news is it reinforced the need for flipped learning in a class with such diverse learning styles and needs, and the fact that the students much preferred this style of learning.
In order to slighly adapt this lesson next time I think I will create video solutions to the revision questions. This way students can attempt them without help if they want, or view the video if they need help getting started. I can then spend the lesson working with a small group or one-on-one helping with concepts they individually need help with. I suppose a failed lesson isn't all bad as long as you learn something from it!
(Side note: This test results on this unit were 10% higher on average than our last unit test, taught in the traditional method. It's difficult to compare as the topics were completely different, but it certianly gave the students a boost and they have almost totally bought into flipped learning!)

Friday, 10 May 2013

A Great Student Question!

I had a great lesson come as a result of the Flipped Class with my year 8s the other day. We were working on solving linear equations, and during our WSQ conversations at the start of the lesson a few students in one group asked "How do you solve an equation with 2 variables? Is it possible?" Great question, I thought! With that small group I briefly explained that you need to have 2 equations to solve for 2 variables and went through a quick and simple example. Originally I thought I'd give some of the students that as extension work the next lesson, but instead I decided to start the next lesson with the whole class working on this problem:

There are some rabbits and chickens in a field. Altogether there are 62 heads and 190 feet. How many rabbits and how many chickens are there?

I didn't give them any strategies or hints to solve this, and most did trial and improvement to try to work it out, which, in my opinion, at this stage is a valid strategy for this type of problem. 

Once they had had a few minutes trying to work this out (and after clarifying that chickens had 2 feet each and rabbits had 4!) and about half the class had worked out the solution we discussed some students' strategies together on the board. 

After some giving explanations of their trial and improvement I moved them on to creating equations to represent the word problem, which some had attempted to do on their own. They had no problem understanding that the "heads" part of the problem could be written as:

r + c = 62

and that the "feet" part of the problem could be written as:

4r + 2c = 190

I discussed with the that if we only knew the total amount of "heads" in the field that it would be impossible to know how many of each animal we had, and that we needed the second bit of information about the amount of feet to solve the problem. So we agreed that with equations, if we have 2 unknowns then we need at least 2 equations to solve them. 

The next bit was more challenging, as I showed them how to use substitution to solve. It helped that the problem was in context so rearranging the first equation to give:

c = 62 - r

was easy to understand - simply the amount of chickens was 62 minus the number of rabbits. The substitution bit took longer for some to get than others to get and I'm not convinced they would all be able to solve a problem like this on their own, but the fact that they have all now been introduced to simultaneous equations at year 8 (normally we teach it in the last half of the year in year 9) was good enough for me. The students were then given the choice to work on solving "regular" linear equations or simultaneous equations problems for the rest of the lesson.

I thought this was a great example of how, because of the WSQ structure that goes along with the video tutorials, the students asked a questions that led to a lesson that I would not have normally taught them at their age. The questions actually changed what I had planned to teach and moved them beyond the curriculum, and the whole class had some sort of challenge presented to them. What an awesome "teaching moment!"