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Building a Middle School Flipped Classroom

This is a guest post by Adam Coulter Johnson, math teacher in Birmingham, Ala. for the quarterly newsletter, The Learning Lounge.

I teach math, and it may come as a surprise that I am not a detail-oriented person. Nor am I much for linear thinking. I am rather scattered on most days and tend to have a thousand tasks going at any given moment. It is not in my personality to invest my time and energy into long-term planning and looking at when lessons will land on the calendar. In my ideal classroom I would not spend my time writing lesson plans or grading papers. Any teacher reading this is probably saying to themselves, “So you don’t like grading and you don’t like planning… those are two critical skills to being a teacher!” To be fair, I agree. While I don’t love either, I understand the value of being highly skilled in both so I have had to learn how to do each well. In fact, I am still learning.

My Perfect Classroom

In my grand vision of the perfect classroom there would neither be lesson plans nor formal grades. However, the curriculum would be set based upon the needs of the students within a specific content area. The pace of the curriculum would be different for each class, each student and each day. Rather grades marked on a page, there would be constant feedback provided to every student that is specific to his/her successes and failures. The weekly calendar would not be determined by anything other than what students know and what students do not know. Each day would be an adventure for everyone involved. Customized paths means I need to write out detailed plans for every single student. It doesn’t take a math teacher to see how many individual plans I’d need to prepare every day…it’s not sustainable.

But what if there was a way to use technology to help design these plans? What if there was a way to use the personality of the teacher in combination with technology to monitor what every individual student understands? Which student needs extra attention on a topic and which student needs to be pushed to explore more advanced topics? We live in a world where you can order custom designed sneakers and have them delivered to your door in 48 hours or less. You no longer have to sit for hours upon hours and record the songs from the local radio station in order to make the perfect mixtape for your latest crush. You can simply create a playlist and share it out to all of your crushes (you may even consider some custom shoes for that lucky someone). If this level of customization and efficiency is possible for shoes, clothes, music, phones, etc. then it why isn’t it possible for how we learn?

I am not quite at the level of fully customizing my classroom for all of my students, but I am closer now than I have ever been. Using the Flipped Learning methodology, a strong Virtual Learning Environment (MoodleRooms) and state-of-the-art technologies (Camtasia, Snagit and Screencast.com) I am able to interact with my students individually on a daily basis. Before they come to class they watch a video that I have prepared using Camtasia. The video is designed using interactive “quizzes” and graphic organizers. The quizzes help the student assess his/her understanding of the content as the information is being delivered rather than waiting until several hours later when they are away from the classroom. The graphic organizer serves two purposes: it helps me plan/organize the “script” for the material and assists the student in organizing and making sense of his/her thoughts while participating in the video lesson.

Informed Improvement

Each day I receive a detailed report and a summary report of how the students participated and engaged in the video lesson. School systems around the world pay lots of money to have this type of data and it usually is gathered after the students have moved on to another grade level. In less than 20 minutes I can determine if we will be moving forward or investing more time on a specific problem type. All of this allows me to determine if we are achieving mastery or not. While this isn’t the first piece of software to report this, it is the first type I have found (that is teacher-budget-friendly) that reports it in such an easy-to-use format. Also, it is the first type of software that reports data on my students from my videos. They are not logging into another site and using pre-made videos. I have been able to target my specific students and their specific needs as I create the videos and design the quiz questions.

I am on track to designing a customizable flipped classroom that allows the student to write their own lesson plans and enables me to guide the journey and facilitate true mastery of the curriculum.

About the Author

Adam Coulter JohnsonAdam Coulter Johnson currently teaches 8th grade Pre-Algebra in Mountain Brook, Alabama. This fall marked his tenth year as an educator. He has flipped his classes for the last four years and continues to learn about its benefits with each lesson.

The featured image for this post is creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by ptrlx