Monday, September 30, 2013

My "flipping" classroom

I've been seeing a lot of talk lately (twitter) about "flipping" the classroom. What it boils down to is increasing teacher/student working interaction by using classroom time as "homework" time and home for the instruction time. The teacher provides instructional material through the use of video, audio, or other for the students to take in on their own time outside of school. The result is class time used for more direct, teacher guided practice and projects done during the school day. This drives away the possibility of students struggling to pass a class because of homework since it's done under the supervision and support of the teacher. Sounds pretty good, huh?

Well, I have to be honest, I've been doing my own version of this for several years now. I created a blog that I post mini-lessons to. These lessons are a quick 5-6 minute re-teach of the day's lesson. I use my document camera to take a single take of the lesson. I then upload it to YouTube, and pop it on my blog. (take a look here). The kids and the parents (especially the parents) love it. It's a great way to keep up with the class, and to see how I'm teaching the material.

The trouble I'm finding is that up here in Fairbanks, there are sill quite a few families that don't have internet. That may be simply because they live so far out of town there isn't service available, or maybe they can't afford it, or maybe they think the internet is The Government's way of keeping track of you (a more real fear up here than you might think). In the end, there is still a strong percentage of kiddos that don't have the internet for me to expect them to watch my lessons at home.

Truth be told, I have a tough time expecting my students to have any homework done whether that is watching one of my videos from my blog or the traditional homework assignment. What that means is that I have to use my class time for observable practice. I make it my goal to see as many problems each of my students does in my class each day. I need to see with my own eyes how all 120+ of my kiddos are doing when they are right in front of me. I can't expect parents to be helping, or for them to be doing the work diligently at home. I have to instead anticipate the fact that I have no idea what home life is like for my crew of students, so it's on me to teach them while they're right there in front of me. And if I can see them do the examples on their own, or with the help of a neighbor, then I know that for the "now" they get it.

Now, do I still assign homework? Sure. Math is a skill that needs to be practiced, and a strong majority of my kids find the time to do that work for a little bit of credit (5pts/assignment). But I find ways to still help the kiddos that simply can't get any type of homework done. I do this because I believe my job is about assessing what the kids know, and not on whether they can do homework. So for example, I can take the performance shown on a quiz and extend that documented knowledge toward a homework score. And then when/if that assignment does get finished, I can replace it with a new score, because I will take any assignment late as long as it's turned in before the end of the quarter it was assigned.

In the end, I do provide my lessons to the students out on the www, but what I've learned about "flipping" my classroom has more to do with me striving to effectively teach, and assess my students while they are right there in front of me, and less about expecting them to accomplish anything at home... even if that thing is watching their favorite math teacher teach! :)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

They'll learn, just be the role model they need.

I recently saw a post on a LinkedIn group page asking "Have you ever met a student that didn't want to learn?" I ignored clicking on the discussion for several days... I wasn't ready to read the disappointment that I knew would follow such a question. It's not that I'm cynical in regards to teachers (I am one!), it's just that I know there are a lot teachers out there that are simply getting a paycheck. That aren't in the profession for the kids, and show no understanding to what the outside world might look like for them.

I've seen so many crazy things in my 8 years of teaching in Fairbanks. The hard conditions translate to harsh realities for many people (adults and kids) up here when temps can get so low that they become life threatening. And with all of the kids that come into my room daily, with all of their stories some of which you wouldn't wish on anyone, I've never met a single kiddo that didn't want to learn. That didn't want to be cared for in a school setting.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are some students out there that are tougher to get through to. Some who have lost all faith in adults for whatever reason. Some that are simply at school to survive another day, and know nothing more than to act out for someone to give them attention. These kiddos are the ones that cause distractions, that end up getting kicked out of classrooms, and spend most of their time in In-School Suspension. These are the kiddos that need to have someone show them they care beyond a superficial level. And in order for this to happen, an entire school needs to be ready to help. Because if even one teacher starts writing them off, and forcing the kid out of the classrooms with referral upon referral, then there will never be the time to reach the kiddo to help build the sense of self-worth that is needed to pull them out.

Even at the elementary school level, I've seen teachers, counselors and principals write kids off. Kids that still have more than a chance, because deep down I know that they want to be helped. That they want to learn and grow as people. They just simply have been told by the people around them that they can't. And these kids have then given up.

So, I challenge you to make a stand and help all kids by understanding that even in the most disrespectful encounters they simply have learned to have their walls up. They've learned a behavior that we can work together to fix. If you better the attitude you bring each day, and act as the positive role models they need, then we can fix the craziness around us all.

I know that I became a teacher to change the world, by being a positive role model to kids. I didn't choose this career because I love math, and the politics of education. I did it because the most important people in my life as a kid were the amazing adults that taught and coached me. I'm doing this to say thank you to all of them for helping build the man I am today.