Guest Post: You can teach an old teacher new tricks

Guest post by teacher, Steve Kelly.

Math chalkboardIt took a rude awakening for me to realize I had fallen behind as an educator.  I remember the day like I was hit by a lightning bolt.  I met 150 teachers at an NME conference that were so far ahead of me I didn’t know if I could catch up.  I thought I was a good teacher, but I forgot it wasn’t 1997 anymore.  I made a commitment on my drive home from the conference to get better and start that very day.

How does a teacher in a solitary classroom learn how to get better?  I started by getting out of the classroom during my conference period and into other teacher’s classrooms.  I wanted to know what the young teachers were doing that I was not.  I also started reading every modern book on education I could get my hands on.  I started to collaborate with other teachers and humble myself to ask for help with new technology that I was too inept to figure out on my own.  I also started creating a list of all of the things others were telling me needed to happen in education.  A partial list included formative assessment, differentiation, relevance, common core, social networking, Moodle, vodcasting, relationships, Dale’s Cone of influence, cloud storage, screencast, Camtasia, Google Docs, wiki, blog, QR codes, publishable products, smart phones, interactive whiteboards, mastery learning, innovation, … The list started to get obnoxiously long and I had no idea how to accomplish all of it within our current bell and calendar schedule.  I needed a new way of managing my class time.

With a little luck, three months into my transformation, I ran across an email for a flip conference in CO.  I didn’t know much about the flip classroom, but I knew the direct instruction was done on video and traditional homework was done in class.  It sounded intriguing, so I begged my school for $400 for gas and road tripped it 1,200 miles to Woodland Park to meet Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann.  They talked TechSmith into giving all of the attendees of the conference a copy of Camtasia to get us started on the right track.  After spending three days with outstanding educators and a handful of Woodland Park students, I was off and running-or so I thought!

It took me over a month of thinking and planning before I made my first official lesson on a screencast.  I had to reorganize my curriculum according to the newly released common core.  I took the time to separate all of the common core topics for algebra II into ten units to be covered over one school year.  Within each unit, I have included outlines for students to take notes from the screencast, practice problems, second chance assignments in case mastery was not obtained on the first practice, small projects/application problems for each topic, and one culminating project to be used as an alternative form of assessment.  I tried to use web 2.0 applications within each culminating project.

Steve Kelly on YouTubeAs I started using Camtasia to make my direct instruction videos, I still had two huge questions weighing me down.  Where do I host the videos and how to get access for all of my students?  The first question was easily solved by getting a subscription to Screencast.com.  I chose this route over using other hosting solutions because it made it easy for me and easy for my students.  On my end, all I had to do was hit share with Screencast.com and my work was done.  The videos are available on my screencast site and are easily embedded into other sites.  Screencast.com also makes it easy for my students to find the videos to watch online or download to be used on their mobile devices.

With the host problem solved, I was still nervous about getting all of my students access when the school year began.  Like most things I get all nerved up for, all issues were solved within two school days.  Over 80% of my students had internet access at home or on a mobile device.  Some of my students without access watched the videos on the school computers and the rest borrowed a DVD of my videos to watch in their DVD player at home.  Since this time, I have learned that I can burn an entire semester of MP4 movies onto one DVD.  I plan to hand these DVD’s out on the first day of school and hope that solves most of my issues next year.  Many of my students found their home internet connection was too slow to stream the movies, but they could install an MP4 file on their machine and watch it easily.

I have been sold on the flip class for several reasons, but the most memorable quote came from Mr. Bergmann, “It’s not about the videos, it’s about the quality curriculum you offer during your new found class time.”  More class time was not the only reason for changing to the flip, but it has freed up enough time to reintroduce higher level thinking skills and 21st century projects.  It has given me a chance to attack the items on my list of changes I need to make.  The flip class has given me time to interact one on one with all of my students every day.  I have been able to reintroduce mastery learning and online testing.  My students are now able to work at their own pace through Algebra II while taking assessments only when they are truly ready.

After a year of flipping, what’s next?  I am currently working on a collaborative project with a math teacher (Zach Cresswell, Mt. Pleasant High School) from 20 miles up the road from me.  We are working on creating our own version of a project based learning for pre-calculus.  We have taken all of our beginning of the year review work and created a differentiated flip with screencasts for major topics our students may have forgotten since algebra II.  We are working on creating leading questions for major topics throughout the school year.  We are hoping these questions will lead to student discovery of knowledge as opposed to teacher driven direct instruction.  We are going to use the flip model to provide needed information throughout each unit.  We are also planning on having a student inspired culminating project after each unit.  We want the students to dig deeper into topics that were of interest to them within each unit.  The students will be responsible for generating something of value from their research.  We feel that we are using both inductive and deductive reasoning throughout our new approach and hope this will generate more student interest in upper level mathematics.

Can’t see the video? Watch it on YouTube!

I do not know if the flip class model is the answer to all of the issues in our education system, but I am getting much better results from my students than I did with my traditional methods.  I truly believe the flip method is the glue that holds all of the ever changing pieces of the educational puzzle.  Flipping has been the key to helping me reinvent myself as an educator.

Steve KellySteve Kelly has been teaching high school math and science in St. Louis, Michigan since 1990.  Steve became a National Board Certified Teacher of secondary mathematics in 2010. You can mail Mr. Kelly at bigkxcountry@gmail.com or connect with him on Twitter: @bigkxcountry