Letting go and Hanging on – the first week of school

So here it is… my first blog post! I have to admit that I’ve composed hundreds of blog posts in my mind but never actually committed to typing them out. Partially that’s because I want them to be eloquently written with impeccable grammar and that would just take more time than I have. This summer, and this week, I’ve spoken to several educators who make a habit of blogging and I’ve decided that the benefits of reflecting in this format will outweigh the complete humiliation of poor sentence structure. Letting go of the highly organized, high strung, type-A perfectionist is going to have to be a theme this year since I am trying many things for the first time, so why not add blogging to the list?

At the top of the “trying it for the first time” list is my flipped Algebra 1 course. Flipping the classroom can mean a lot of things. At its core, it’s about making the most of classroom time with students. I’m planning to do this by creating videos of my lectures for students to watch outside of class. This will take the place of traditional homework assignments like problem sets. Over the summer I recorded one video for each topic of our first unit. Most of them were recorded using a free screen-casting website called screencastomatic. This captures what’s happening on my computer screen and on my webcam at the same time. When students watch the video, they are basically watching a power-point presentation but there is a small video of me in the bottom corner talking them through it. For other videos, I used an iPad app called educreations. This lets me write with a stylus on the iPad and captures the writing and my voice but not my picture. I plan to show both to the students and ask which they prefer. Since students come to class having already watched the video, we use class time to practice new skills, ask/answer questions and better assess their progress.

On the first day of school, I introduced the broad idea, much the same way that I did above. I had no idea what to expect. I teach three sections of this class which is 75 students. About 60 of them had no reaction at all; it was as if they had come to class without any notion of how a math course should run, so this news was not surprising, unusual or interesting to them in any way. Most of the others gave me a vague indication that they were pleased with the idea, intrigued by it at least, and excited to give it a try. One student actually said something close to “that sounds good”.

On the second day of school, I showed them how to find the videos, which are all stored online. I have a youtube channel where I keep the screen-casts and an account with educreations where I store those videos. I use sophia.com to organize the videos and I create self-assessments there so that students know what they should be able to do after watching a video. Sophia also has a class discussion feature so students can ask and answer questions of each other online. The sophia playlists are linked to my wikispace, which is how students access it all. We watched the first video together so that they could see how it should work. It went well. For homework, they were expected to watch that same video again. The purpose of the homework assignment was more to ensure that they could navigate the process than anything else.

On the third day of school, I had a short individual check-in with each student to see if they had any concerns. Five of them have such limited access to internet at home that they didn’t think they would ever be able to watch videos that way. About 10 others told me that their internet access is “spotty” but if they had the videos far enough in advance, they should be able to keep up. I gave DVDs that I had burned in advance to four of the students who said that they have no internet access. The fifth student is deaf and uses an ASL interpreter in our class; watching DVDs at home didn’t seem like it would be an option in any format… until I found out that you can add closed captions to videos on youtube! I spent most of the night typing up closed captions for all of my unit 1 videos and delivered a DVD to his third period study hall this morning (day 4). When I saw him in class later today, he told me that the closed captions worked perfectly and he had his guided-note sheet completely filled in. The bad news is that three of the other four students that I gave DVDs to told me that they didn’t work in their home DVD players. They all have study hall on their schedule so I’m hoping that we can find a way for them to watch videos at school next week when the school library opens.

There were some truly encouraging moments in this short week when I felt sure that this is the right path (like when a student who failed Algebra 1 with me last year and was very discouraged in June came to class with all of his notes page filled in). There were other moments, both in and outside of the flipped class, where I felt that I had lost control and maybe it would just be safer to do everything the same way that I had in the past. I’m fortunate to work in a school where I have incredibly supportive colleagues and to have discovered a network of teachers on twitter who are acting as my cheerleaders right now. For the moment, I’m pushing the negative thoughts out of my mind and hanging onto the idea that “I am exactly the right teacher for these students and they are exactly the right students for me”. This was part of a 140 character pep-talk that I was given before the first day of school and it has gone a long way this week.

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One Response to Letting go and Hanging on – the first week of school

  1. Lisa says:

    I think its important to know that your feelings are really quite normal. When trying something new you can read about it all you want but until you start taking the steps yourself and actually walking the journey you just don’t know what its really like. Take in the positives and work through the negative. CONSTANTLY remind yourself you are doing the right thing because you are PUTTING STUDENTS FIRST! Congratulations on your first week. It will get better!

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