Sunday, April 21, 2013

A wild ride .....

I got an encouraging email from a Health Teacher in New York and while replying to her email I was motivated to write this blog.  I thought I would share some thoughts about the last year as I re-vamped my teaching style and philosophy.  Thanks Jen for the email and good luck to you as you embark on a new chapter ….   

 Why did I do this?:

Last year at this time I was burned out to say the least.  I have been teaching my butt off but it just seemed to be falling on deaf ears.  For a few years now I have been thinking … “There HAS to be a better way!?”  I saw some info on this “Flipped Classroom” idea and started to look into it.  Like most teachers starting their flip I was doing the same thing ... seeking as much info as I could about the Flipped Classroom.  I went to FlipCon12 on my own dime to gain the magic formula on this “new era in education”.  I was a sponge, taking in all I could but in the health education area I was coming up blank. I knew this was the direction I wanted to and I saw the potential but was freaked a little about what to do in class? I have lectured for 15 years .... what would I do during class?  What happens if the kids don’t do stuff?  What if it doesn’t work?  

I bought the book “Flip your Classroom” and stood in line to get Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams to sign my book, but secretly I just wanted to get some leads on health teachers that are flipping their classes so I could look them up.  I got to Jon and asked “so do you know any health ed. teachers that are flipping?”  I anxiously awaited … he said “Nope?! … I can’t see why it wouldn’t work though” … Aaron just shook his head from side to side.  In my head I screamed “CRAP!  So … I am on my own on this one” … and off I went thinking … “well, I guess I can make it whatever I want.”  And that is the cool thing about flipping your classes is that there is no set format.  It is all in how it works in YOUR class for YOUR kids.  My 2nd semester looks different from my 1st.  My 3rd hour class looks a little different than my 7th.  I have learned that Flipping your teaching is a fluid, dynamic thing that changes as you and your students do.  The great thing is that the backbone of the flipped model allows for that freedom of adaptation.  It will bend, and grow as you do.  That has been so cool.

So how did I start?:

I started looking at what I could do with the time I never had.  What things did I always wish I had time for?  I started remembering all the activities that I rushed through and never felt I gave ample time for the connections to be made.  I started isolating what I could put on video as I put my block plan together and it started to evolve. Things I rushed through or had a question mark next to based on time started to become more a focal point in the unit.  Those activities could now be the “A-Ha” moments for the kids to make the connection from head knowledge to true understanding. 

In the beginning I also had to get comfortable not being the "sage on the stage" and being the "guide on the side".  Sometimes it almost feels like I am not doing much just because I am not up front blabbing. On the other hand I am scooting from area to area checking in, answering questions, asking questions, checking answers, evaluating, restating, challenging, etc .... I feel like I am a teacher of individuals now rather than teaching a class!  It’s been a fun change to be honest. It hasn’t been a simple change, it has been work, but it’s been energizing work.

Just the other day I had my classes watching my vodcast on the Female Reproductive System in class and filling out the notes (Vodcast 5.3 – it’s a long one so i gave them in-class time to work on it) and I started feeling guilty because I was basically watching them watch me ... but then it hit me ... "I have ALL their undivided attention right now for 33 minutes!” ... every kid was engaged, watching, writing, pausing, re-watching, giggling asking each other questions, showing each other things in the vodcast, etc ... no way could I have done that in class lecturing.

It was a paradigm shift and it was cool to see.

So what about now?

I think the videos are the easy part ... getting the students to apply the content now is the work but it is cool to see the kids really understand it better. I am still having some issues with a few classes but as problems arise I find solutions or try new things and increase my knowledge and skill set. It's not like my classes run like a well-oiled machine just yet. I still have those days where it all falls apart but you just learn from it and go on just like when I lectured 100% of the time .... but now the kids don't look at me with that blank stare anymore ... ;-)

I spent many a night going to bed at 3 am because I was getting a video finally uploaded but that was only a season. I had committed to it, put my head down, pushed forward and did it. I am fortunate enough to have a semester class so I knew that once the videos were done I wouldn't have to worry about doing them for the second semester. Semester 2 has been about tweaking the classroom end and working the bugs out of my flip.

So has it solved all my problems?

I say to people all the time, "The flipped classroom has solved more problems than it has created." and it is true. There are still frustrations though. I have kids still getting 25% in class because they don't do anything ... notes/emails home, phone calls, progress reports, administration interventions, PBIS, etc .... they still just don't do anything. But.... they always have access to everything when and if they choose too, and I have put them 100% in the center of the learning environment so I am not "accused" of not doing something. It's all right there for them to take and do.

I love that part!

The kids are accountable for their learning and I am accountable for giving them an OPPROTUNITY to learn.  I am providing a differentiated, individualized environment for every student 24/7. Most take advantage of it ... some don't. That is the reality of the human condition. We all make choices and have to live with consequences good and bad. The Flipped classroom provides both of those experiences for students.  They can choose to take advantage of the learning opportunities set in front of them, or not.   The ones that take advantage of those opportunities are very successful (even the special ed, ELL and at-risk kids), and the ones that are not taking advantage of the opportunities are struggling … just like in a traditional classroom.  But my videos and quizzes are still there for them if they want … it’s up to them.

Just the other day I had a student in one of my “challenging” classes say “you know, when I watch the videos, class make so much more sense … I actually know what is going on now!”  She was one that sporadically watched the vodcasts or consistently watched them “late” so we had already moved through the application pieces in class.  When her grade was starting to deteriorate, she started following the suggested timeline for the videos and “VoilĂ ” class made sense for a change.

In saying that … I have another student in the same class say to me “now let me get this straight, I can watch the video, take the quiz as many times as I need to and do my homework in class … you have to try really hard to fail!”  I said “Yup!”  …. He is failing ??  It can be frustrating when kids still won’t take what you have put in front of them.  Lead them to water … but they have to drink.  Most do, some don’t but ALL have the opportunity to succeed.  That is what I love about my Flip!