A New School Year, a New Approach

I’ve written a few posts over the past few years about flipping some of my courses. Flipping a course involves recording a screencast of the content and having students view the screencast for homework. When they come to class the next day, the teacher is available to work with them on the problems. So, the lecture part of teaching is “flipped” with the homework part.

This year, I’ve decided to hold my students more accountable for watching and understanding the material in my screencasts, and after talking with my department chair, I’m making some changes.

First, before they watch a screencast, I will hand out a worksheet (see attached file below for a sample) with the problems and examples that I cover in it. Students are expected to write the solutions to the examples as they watch, as well as fill in blanks where appropriate.

Second, I will ask them to solve one or two similar problems on their own before they come to class. I will check to make sure they’ve done them.

Third, I will see each student individually and ask her to solve a typical problem while I’m watching to make sure she has mastered the material.

Hopefully these steps will help my students take responsibility for learning the material I am including in their course’s screencasts.

Here’s the first worksheet for my College Algebra and Trigonometry Course:

Sec. 1.2 Worksheet

And here’s the corresponding screencast:

 

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A Benefit Of Flipped Classes

Last night, we had a massive storm system pass through Nashville, and it knocked out the power at my school. Initially, the administration planned on a 10:00 am opening with shortened blocks. By 9:30 the power was still not restored, so classes were cancelled for the entire day.

For me and my students, this was not a problem. I had uploaded screencasts covering content for all of my courses for the next two weeks. I simply emailed my students and told them to work on the problems that I had assigned for today, then watch the next screencast. They will come to school tomorrow ready to work on the scheduled assignment, as if we had never missed a day of school. I’ll answer any questions on the problems they worked on at home, but we should stay on track with the syllabus.

It is so easy to record a screencast now (www.screencast-o-matic.com), or create an asynchronous dialogue with your students (www.voicethread.com), there is no excuse for any class to fall behind a scheduled syllabus. Embrace the tools available, and be the most effective teacher you can be, even if classes are cancelled!

A Follow-Up to Teaching in a “Reverse Classroom”

Last year I made a brief post about a new technique I was trying out called “Reverse Classroom”. Basically, it entails my recording screencasts (I use screencast-o-matic) of the material I would normally teach my students via lecture, and posting them on a website that they access at home ( my school uses Moodle, but Haiku or Googlesites would work just as well.). Then, when we meet for class, they already know the content, and we work together on the “homework”. Except it’s not homework any more – it’s practice, or reinforcement. The advantages are:

1. Less time at home spent doing problems (they only need to watch a 6 – 15 minute screencast)

2. I’m available to answer questions while students work on an assignment.

3. Class time is freed up for more hands-on activities that are more memorable than plowing through worksheets.

4. Students can work at their own pace – some of them are two to three days ahead of the course syllabus.

5. All of my lectures are archived for use when it is time to review for exams.

My tentative steps into this teaching method last year were so successful that I began this year’s Honors Precalculus course with 100% flipped classes. After one semester, I asked my students for feedback. Here are the initial responses:

   I really like it because it gives us the opportunity to work through problems as a group, and ask for help if needed. Its way more time efficient to be able to ask a question right when we have it, instead of having to wait a day or two. The screencasts are also nice because if you didn’t understand something the first time, you can always rewind it.

   I have grown to really like the flipped classroom style. It’s easy to pause the screencast and process the material at your own pace. It also allows for doing more problems in class which helps me a lot because you can ask questions and work together to master the concepts. My only big concern is not having a formal lecture where you learn off of other classmate’s questions, but having you walk around to help with individual struggles, for me, is more effective. It caters to everyone’s learning styles. 
Thanks
   I really like it because it gives us the chance to try to learn the material on our own and then come in with any questions.  Also, I have the most questions when I’m working problems as opposed to taking the notes, so its helpful to be in class when these questions come up. Thanks!
   Here is my opinion:
Though it took some getting used to, I like the “flipped” classroom style. It is a lot easier to do homework in class because the teacher is right there to answer questions. It is also nice learning at home because students learn at different paces, and I can pause the teacher whenever I need to process something without bothering other people in the class. I am not a huge fan of the online homework because I prefer to use books and think it is easier to work out math when everything is written down. However, it is very helpful having the answers easily available and being able to redo the homework multiple times for practice before a test.
   I have loved the flipped classroom idea. It allows me to get ahead when I know I am going to have a busy night of homework. It also allows for me to be able to pause and rewatch a certain concept I may not understand clearly the first time. Then if I am still struggling after rewatching a few times, I am able to come to class with my questions already prepared.
Hope this is helpful. See you in class.
   I think that the “flipped” classroom learning technique allows for students, especially girls, to individually manage their time when taking notes and understanding the material. This is extremely helpful because not all students learn at the same pace, and this technique allows for them to each cover the same material but in their own way. I have also found that if after the lesson, I still do not understand the material, at least I already have information in my notebook to refer to when I go in to ask questions. It is very useful!
   I’ve really liked the flipped classroom technique.  I’ve had so much less homework and it’s been much more efficient.  The only drawback would be that we fly through the chapters pretty quickly and sometimes I feel like I don’t get to really absorb the material until I try to cram for the test.
   I like and dislike aspects of the reverse classroom technique, but one thing I didn’t like was the fact that if some girls worked ahead it made the rest of us rushed because there was no need to cover the material and less time to answer or ask questions. I do like how we can work on our homework in class and how you come around checking on each of us. I am also not a huge fan of the screen casts. Because they can’t be too long, sometimes I have a hard time understanding certain concepts. But with the reversed classroom, this problem basically fixes itself because even if we are confused from the screen cast, we can come in to ask questions while we are working.
   I really enjoy the flipped class technique.  It allows us to be exposed to the material/learn the material before we come in for class. This gives us the time to more in depth questions and begin our homework while you are still there to help us.
   Having “reverse classes” is like always having a teacher present! When we watch Mr. Wert’s screencasts at home we can take notes and write down questions. Then when we get to class we have both the opportunity to ask questions on the note-taking and broader part of a topic. Also, we then get to really dive in and be able to take risks and explore mathematics when working on homework because of the confidence we are given with having a teacher always available during class. The chance to do homework in class is very relieving and reduces the stress of tough homework (which discourages many from trying again). Instead of giving up on a seemingly-impossible problem, I can work extremely hard and collaborate with other classmates (because they are siting right beside me in class) because I know that Mr. Wert is available to help us out along the way. It is also positively helping our solving skills, because unlike normal class where the answer to a homework problem is just given the next day in class; because Mr. Wert is available he can give us little hints and advice as we are working the problem out. I feel more accomplished and educated when a teacher can help me along instead of giving me the correct answer and look at my work in retrospect. Also because of experience I know sometimes I ask, “what was I thinking when I did this homework?” Now when I am at home alone I can just write down something that is directly given to me and challenge myself during school amongst others so I will never get lost in a problem I am doing and will not have to ask the dreadful question of, “Where was I going with this?” Having witnesses and almost 16 times the help in a class like mine makes all the difference. I love reverse classes.
   I like the flipped math system because it allows me to get ahead on work if I finish my assignments early. I also concentrate better when reading notes in the comfort of my home, so I enjoy that feature very much. Having all of the notes via screencasts is also great  when studying for tests, just in case I forget to write a certain point or if I wanted to re-do an example problem.

By having our lectures on a screencast, I get to set the pace of how fast or slow I want to take my notes. Also, if there is something I don’t understand, I can watch it multiple times. While studying for tests, I am able to re-watch lectures at my disposal instead of having to guess what I wrote (or left out) in my notes.

 

I also like doing the practice problems and homework in class because I am able to ask questions on the spot instead of having to wait till the next day to understand a problem.

So what can we conclude from these positive responses? I think online tools have become easy enough to use, and accessible enough for students, that almost all teaching and learning should have an online component. However, it is crucial that the teacher be aware of any student getting left behind. Face-to-face contact is still vital to real learning.

Flipping My Math Classes

I’ve been slowly recording and posting screencasts for my classes (primarily my Honors Precalculus and BC Calculus courses), so that I can teach using the “reverse classroom” or “flipped class” method. It’s a very simple concept: instead of my students listening to me lecture in class, then going home and trying to work through a lot of homework alone, I post a screencast of my lecture (6 – 12 minutes) on the course’s Moodle page and their only homework is watch it and bring questions about it to class. Then, we work on the problems together in class, or maybe we do an activity that reinforces the concept being taught.

For example, here’s a picture of a one of my BC students learning about volumes of rotated solids by calculating the volumes of disks that she has sliced a cucumber into:

The point is, instead doing the passive learning in school (listening to me talk), my students are able to do a lot more active learning, whether it’s merely working together on problems, or a math lab. The passive learning takes place whenever they want to pull out their laptops and watch my screencast.

All of my screencasts are available via the links in the right column in the home page of this blog. You are welcome to use them.

Update: After a full semester of reverse teaching, I asked my students for feedback. Their responses are very thoughtful and illuminating. I compiled them in another post you can read here.