Saturday, December 8, 2012

Of Teaching Less and Steaks?

I think I'm getting smarter.  At least I hope so in this instance.  I have decided to reduce the amount of new content per week to just three new math lessons. Three lessons -- only three new lessons a week??!!  In the past I would do four in a weeks time, but now just three??!!

Providing just three math lessons to my 6th graders is a stretch for me.  I have this nagging sense that I am not doing enough -- that I am somehow slacking off and denying my students the opportunity to maintain a somewhat accelerated pace though the curriculum.  I fight the feeling that I am short-changing my sixth graders by not providing "enough" content weekly. And yet, I think that in the end, three new lessons weekly is the best for student learning.

Below is my modified schedule to accommodate three lessons weekly:

 (*Note: The independent practice for a lesson is done the first thing the day after the guided and collaborative practice.)

Here are a few reasons why I am moving to this framework:
  1. Marinating Steak:  I truly believe that students need lots of time to soak up  new math concepts.  Like a steak that has been marinated for hours, students require opportunities to practice new learning over the course of days.  (Especially with decimals and fractions!)
  2. Keeping Pace:  Even in teaching just three lessons a week, I should be aligned to the pacing guide set by our school district.
  3. Stress Reduction:  I think by reducing the amount of the "new", students will feel less anxious  knowing that we will continue to practice the new concepts learned the week before on Mondays.
  4. Flexibility: With the adjustment to the schedule, not only will we be better able to review material, but we will also be able to use Mondays and Fridays to assess understanding. I can target these days as days to administer quick quizzes or unit tests.
Am I getting smarter about my teaching? We'll try this for a few weeks and see...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Effective Flipping Means Engagement -- by ALL

In my flipped classroom not only are students engaged in the math, but I am also.  Having moved my direct instruction to the video format for home viewing, I find that, if I am doing my job right, I am constantly moving from kid to kid most of the 80-minute math period.

Engaging in the Familiar: Independent Work 

Once students get into my classroom I want them engaged in doing math for as many minutes of the period as possible. Entering class, students take 2 or 3 minutes to write that evening's video assignment in their daily planners.  From the moment they finish putting their planners away, my sixth graders are "doing math" -- either working independently on a few problems as a warm-up exercise or working independently on a series of problems related to the previous day's lesson.  These problems reflect the type of problems the students encountered in class with a partner the day before. So the first part of my math class is actually the last part of my lesson carried over from the previous day, the independent phase (see post on gradual release).

As they work on the sheet of problems (the difficulty level of which they self-select) for 20-30 minutes, I move from one student to another checking their work and asking them questions based on their level of understanding.  I ask simple process questions of my strugglers (e.g. What do you put in the quotient before you even begin to divide a decimal by a whole number?). I may ask "higher order" questions of those secure with the concept (e.g. What does a remainder that is bigger than your divisor tell you about your calculation?)  Many days I can move myself to most every student.   Those that I don't catch initially I will make my way towards later during the period when they are engaged working through problems in the new lesson.  My goal is to be able to have meaningful contact with every student everyday! By meaningful, I mean interaction that moves forward their mathematical understanding or corrects misconceptions.

As they complete their set of problems they will self-correct their answers against answer keys posted in a handful of locations around the classroom. The time following when a student corrects their sheet and awaits the rest of the class to correct their own is the time I need to structure differently to continue to have them engaged in doing math.  Currently that time is anywhere from 5-10 minutes. I default to having them read in their "just-right" books for that short window of time, but feel compelled to have them continue to be engaged in doing math.  Maybe a "problem of the day"  projected on the board after they are finished correcting is a viable option -- a problem that can be wrestled by a student within a 5-10 minute window. That time chunk requires more scrutiny.

Engaging in the New: Interacting with the New Lesson

Once the students are done correcting, we move into a 5-minute review of the new lesson by working through the one or two problems they did the evening as assigned by the video.  We spend an additional 5 minutes together as a class working through related problems in the new lesson. These 10 minutes spent as a whole class engaged in reviewing what was learned in the video and then corporately solving a handful of related problems launches us into the "bread and butter" of the 80-minute period -- working on problems in partnerships. Once again I am steadily moving from partnership to partnership -- encouraging, pushing, correcting, validating, clarifying students as they tackle the day's concept collaboratively.

I tell the kids every day. "You are working on these problems in your partnerships not to finish all the problems, but to ensure that both of you know how to do the problems that you do encounter."

I want them to work cooperatively during these 20-25 minutes.  I want them to gain confidence in their abilities.  I want those who struggle with the concept to gain better understanding through the work of collaboration.  I want those who readily understand the concept to become secure in it by asking guiding questions that would lead their partners to the correct answer. Checking in with each partnership, I listen to how they help each other. I clarify and correct.

When the 20-25 minutes have gone by, I will usually project the answers on the ActivBoard for them to self-correct.  Then selecting a couple problems, I direct 2 or 3 pairs of students to show the class how they solved those problems.  This allows for some accountability as well as validates the thinking and struggles going on in the classroom.

As the period comes to a close my students today have spent more time engaged in actually doing math than students in my classes before adopting a flipped model. My students will spend 60 to 70 minutes of the 80-minute period solving problems!  In years past, students used to watch me model a lot of problems in class to teach a concept which took a ton of time. I would err on the side of modeling more problems to them to "ensure" my struggling learners had more chance to understand; yet, this grace given those students that struggled began to take a toll on those that already got it after the very first problem.  Through flipping my classroom and adherence to the gradual release model.  I have not only increased time spent with students doing math, I have increased the time I spend supporting kids -- and isn't that what what I came into teaching to do over 17 years ago?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Week 1 & 2: In the Saddle Again

I am at the start of my second year of flipping 6th Grade Math.  Thank goodness for Screencast-o-Matic.  First it's free. Second, I think if I were to choose a screencasting software that was more robust with ample editing options I would probably be someone that would spend too much time in perfecting a single video lesson.  As it is now, my videos are 1 or 2-take affairs that leave little doubt that I am indeed an amateur videographer and probably will never have a video lesson without mistakes.  Ah well, as long as my kids are learning and digging the flip, they can have a chuckle at my expense during amateur hour (actually around 10 minutes) every night on SchoolTube.

Today I began to familiarize my 6th graders with Edmodo.  Oh the joys of Edmodo! Thank goodness for Edmodo.  Students are placed in a social network where a mindset of social interaction is created to benefit mutual understanding.  It was wonderful to see them interact--as my classes did last year--with the specific purpose of furthering concept mastery. Granted my video lesson was just on taking notes, not a high-interest -- but necessary -- procedural lesson.  I missed EdmodoCon this past August because my wife, two children, and I were on the road in Yellowstone National Park making our way to Livingston, Montana.  Family came first.  Well the family, the bison, the pronghorn sheep, the geysers, elk, etc ALL came before EdmodoCon. 

Like last year, the kids are digging Edmodo  and relishing the opportunity to post a comment or reply. With a little bit of guidance, the students are beginning to see the power of Edmodo to collaborate outside of school -- like a study group.  The student posts are fast becoming conduits by which students can not only give and receive help from  others, but also gauge their own understanding of the content by simply watching what bubbles to the top in what their peers share.

Students who are a part of a flipped classroom should learn at home through sites like Screencast-o-Matic and Edmodo. These tools make flipping possible.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Students Reflect on the Flip

As I approach the last week of school, I recognize that flipping this year has most indelibly transformed my instruction over any other of my 16 years of teaching. The transformation this year has been much larger than even the sudden positive impact that my ActivBoard had upon student engagement in my classroom a few years ago .  Although the journey in flipping my classroom was not necessarily easy, instructionally it was the right on target!

Just as it was a huge adjustment for me, it was undoubtedly a greater adjustment for my students who were not used to so much collaboration in math class.  A few of my students who are excellent mathematicians wanted me to go back to the way things used to be -- even as late as last week -- where there was a lesson in class, and problems to take home and complete.

But these students are certainly in the minority.  I gave my classes a poll just two weeks ago.  Would they desire a flipped class as they moved into junior high next year or would they prefer the traditional classroom model?  Their answers are shown below:

As the results began to trickle in the night I posted the poll, I was dismayed as the first 4 or 5 responses were for the traditional model.  I began to question my perception of how well the students received this innovation to the classroom.  I began to question my own effectiveness at carrying out this model. But as the night wore on and students finished the poll the next day in class, my dismay turned to delight! These results have already spawned some conversation with the 7th grade teachers at the junior high. Interestingly enough the handful of students who wanted traditional back are students who are some of my hardest workers and among the best in the class.

I also polled my class on what they thought was most beneficial about the flipped class model.  Again two of my girls with great aptitude for math asked, "Mr. V. do we have to answer even if we don't like the flipped class?" With empathy, I told them that although they may prefer the traditional model, they still needed to take the poll and tell me what about the flipped class was most beneficial to them.  The results are below:

As you can see the flip had its intended result.  The strength of the flip does not lie in the content of the video (especially my rough-shod one-take lessons).  The strength of the flip lies in what happens in the classroom.  The students feel access to the teacher in class and access to their peers has been most beneficial to them in the flipped math classroom.  Yes!

More student reflections to come...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bad Test Scores - Failure of Flipping?

Well, it happened.  Although grades increased significantly on the first unit tested after flipping, the latest unit test scores were awful!  This most recent test assessed my students' abilities to calculate surface area and volume of prisms.  The results in all three classrooms were so very, ugly.

Is this an indictment on the failure of flipped teaching in my classroom? The results of our first unit test in a flipped structure was stellar! So what happened!!??  I was taken aback.  Had the flipped class contributed to the failure of student understanding? Let me just end the suspense and say it now -- the flipped model had nothing to do with the poor scores.  Read on...

First, let me recount the facts and then present an analysis of why the scores tanked.

  1. Unit 10 involved finding area, surface area and volume in nine (9) lessons. (One lesson on finding the volume of a cylinder was skipped because the lesson did not align to the standards as dictated by the state of Washington.)
  2. The unit began on April 4th and ended with the unit assessment on May 7th.  The calendar span of the unit of eight lessons was over one month!
  3. Spring Break, a week away from the curriculum, was preceded by a non-student (in-service) day for a total of 6 weekdays the students were away from school.  The last lesson taught before Spring Break was the 4th of 9 lessons -- the very middle of the unit.
  4. The Measurement of Student Learning (MSP), the state of Washington's exam for grades 3-8, was administered for two days on May 2nd and 3rd where no instruction was given regarding Unit 10.  Preparation for the math portion of the MSP was combined with the Unit 10 lessons a week prior to testing.
  5. The unit test was given two school days after the MSP.
The analysis?
  1. The two major disruptions to our regular schedule -- Spring Break and the preparation for the MSP -- seemed to have the greatest impact on the Unit 10 instruction NOT the flipped format. Spring Break fell in the midst of the unit.  
  2. After Spring Break, I "knit-in" a review for the MSP into the instruction. Pairing a review of concepts encountered since the beginning of the year along with new and unrelated geometric concepts was not the best idea.
  3. Whether a flipped classroom or a traditional classroom, the failure was not in the model of teaching, but rather in my ineffective planning around the Spring Break and MSP testing.  
The synthesis? Embarrassingly the following seems like just plain common sense, beginning teacher stuff, "well duh!" solutions--oh well:
  1. I need to plan a review that is wholly for the MSP which teaches nothing new conceptually.
  2. I need to plan to end and assess a unit or a "mini-unit" just prior to Spring Break.  (A mini-unit might be half of a unit.)  The key point being that I would not carry any instruction over Spring Break that would be tested after the break.
I can now breathe a sigh of relief. I can see the flip was NOT the reason the test results flopped. I now see that come Spring next year I will simply need to be more efficient in planning effective instruction around the same parameters encountered this year.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Serendipity and the Gradual Release of Responsibility

I have adjusted my daily class routine rather accidentally.  I having been using the Gradual Release of Responsibility model (Fisher and Frey) to organize the delivery of instruction in my classroom (see previous post). It works GREAT with flipping the class! The focus lesson is, of course, viewed via my video the evening before.  The other three aspects of the GRR -- guided instruction, collaborative, and independent phases --  are done in class the next day.

But one day, a few weeks ago I just plain ran out of time.  The guided instruction I provided and the extensive collaboration students were engaged in afterwards ate up the clock.  Don't get me wrong, the students needed that collaboration, but there was not sufficient time to send them to do any productive independent work as part of the GRR.  We used the remaining time in class, 10-15 minutes, to do Math Masters -- an engaging way to practice old skills. I decided to push the independent practice until the next day.

So at the beginning of class the next day and after a short two-problem review, the students worked through the independent practice problems instead of a warm-up I routinely give them to start the math period.  Glory, hallelujah!  It was great to see them work largely independently and unhurried unlike other days where their independent practice may have been cut short by the end of class.  It seemed also that the math taught only a day earlier had 'marinated' nicely overnight through their cranium and well into their gray matter.

So this is serendipity. Although I should have seen separating independent practice from guided/collaborative instruction by a day as a good option, I did not.  It took serendipity to give it clarity.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Glance at MangaHigh: Week 8

Although most of my homework simply requires 6th students to take two-column notes while watching my video, I have begun to infuse another assignment into the week which seems to beat the pants off of the traditional worksheet or textbook problems.  Many of you may already know it.  It's called Manga High and the kids LOVE it! 

This free, on-line, no-fee service is excellent in providing students at all grade levels practice over mathematical concepts that can be selected to align with the Common Core, or a handful of other similar standards.  After entering student names into the Manga High database, you are given login/password information for each kiddo.  When they login, they have access to all the high-interest math games on the site -- all of which do an excellent job of incorporating various math concepts into practice. 

Not only do the students play the games, but teachers can assign "challenges." These challenges cover the gamut of mathematics. This past week woven into the preparation for the Measurement of Student Progress (MSP), our state assessment, I assigned a handful of challenges to my 6th graders. I chose these activities to hammer out what we are currently studying, namely perimeter, area, surface area, and volume and also review some of those skills we learned at the beginning of the school year. I set each challenge to the bronze level, the minimum points I wanted them achieve. Each student then used time in class on MacBooks and at home on their own computers trying to achieve the bronze level in the 10 questions given for each attempt.

The great thing about the challenges is that they are self-differentiating.  Follow up questions are based on  whether a student answers right or wrong to a given question.  Get three answers right in a row and the student moves up a level to more difficult questions.  Get answers wrong twice in a row and you move down a level to simpler questions. Not only does it tell you immediately if you got it right or wrong, it tells you how to get the right answer to the problem for all problems missed within a 10-question run.

Manga High does a great service to the spectrum of my 6th grade learners. Most all my students who struggle with math, do achieve the bronze level but usually after multiple tries. My students who can achieve bronze after only 2-3 tries will push themselves to try to get as high a ranking in the class as possible.  These kiddos love the competition and always want me to show the rankings on my ActivBoard.

Recently we took competition to another level on Manga High through our participation in what is called a "Fai-To" (pronounced fy-toe).  In yet another facet of Manga High we are currently in the midst of a math "fight" with a senior high school in Perth, Australia.  As students achieve at certain levels in either the games or the challenges, these successes translate to points for their school. The first school to win five 24-hour rounds gets a digital trophy that could be lost or added to in future encounters with other schools who want to fai-to.  

Check it out at!