Sunday, July 14, 2013

Flipping your Class: Instruction that Extends Beyond the Classroom and Improves Face to Face Time with Students

The following post is the result of a number of months of study and graduate course work I did for EDA 650, School Improvement at Northern Kentucky University with Dr. Rosa Weaver.  I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about Flipped Classroom Instruction, and I am amazed by the wealth of knowledge available on the topic and the extremely passionate and intelligent educators who are willing to share what they know and grow with others.  I will be sharing my work in my district at the beginning of this school year, and hope that others are inspired to give the instructional strategy a try for the benefit of teaching and learning.

Click on the blue text to follow links.

A Cyber Rabbit Hole
According to the authors of A Review of Flipped Learning  “In the Flipped Learning model, teachers

shift direct learning out of the large group learning space and move it in the individual learning space.” I first jumped down cyber rabbit hole of Flipped Classrooms back in March, and wrote about it in April in a newsletter to my teachers.  While the concept is a new one to me, it has actually been around since 2007 when Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two Chemistry teachers in Colorado, discovered a piece of screen capture technology that would allow them to record PowerPoint presentations with audio recording.  As Bergmann and Sams explain in their book Flip Your Classroom: Reach EveryStudent in Every Class Every Day, it began as a way to help get students who were absent caught up quickly and from the realization, as Sams states that “The time when students really need me physically present is when they get stuck and need my individual help.” 
As I read more, I realized that I actually have been, in some form or another, using these concepts to aid communication with my students.  Back when I was working on my Master’s in Library Science, I had to do an internship that required me to be off about a week of school.  In order to help my students understand the materials they were supposed to be working with, and to avoid confusing a substitute teacher, I simply created audio recordings of my lectures, and my class didn’t miss a beat.  The immediate benefits of this technique didn’t occur to me at the time, but having used the screencast technique as a librarian over the last three years to help demonstrate complex skills, like writing a works cited page, to my students, and after having explored the great number of resources available to teachers who are flipping their classes, I can see that this teaching strategy can really help to improve the face to face time teachers have with their students.

An Introduction to the Flipped Classroom

As an introduction to the flipped classroom model, I created a Prezi to present in a professional development session before school starts.

Networks of Teacher Learners

One of the most amazing things about the Flipped Classroom concept is the incredible networks








that teachers can join to learn and share their experiences.  This is especially helpful as you begin your exploration of Flipped Classroom instruction and look for a support system in implementation.  As educators it’s important to create a Professional Learning Network (PLN), and thanks to the wide variety of resources available online, your PLN can extend past the borders of your school building.
Much of the work Bergmann and Sams have done and continue to do can be found through the Flipped Learning Network .  Here you can find a plethora of resources to help build your PLN, including research and a Ning that allows for membership, so that you can participate in discussions, specific content or grade level groups and view videos related to instructional aspects of flipping the class.

Another excellent network for teachers to use is Sophia.org.  Sophia is a website that includes tools for both teachers and students and can be used as a hosting site for videos and lesson materials.  Sophia.org offers a series of screencasts and quizzes, created by Crystal Kirch, which allow teachers to become Flip Classroom Certified.  The sessions are fairly quick to get through, but are extremely informative.  Kirch covers topics such as: purposes for flipping, the need to create a class philosophy about flipping, the benefits of flipping, video construction, student expectations, how to plan for the lesson and write objectives, planning for assessment, differentiating the lesson, and tools you can use to create your videos and screencasts including the Sophia.org screencast platform.  The certification process includes four sessions that are extremely informative and bring up a number of things teachers should take into consideration as they work towards developing flipped lessons. If you are thinking about using the flipped classroom model as an instructional tool, but don’t feel confident with the technology or the process, this is an excellent way to learn more about it in a structured way that will help to ensure your success.

Perhaps the best tools you can use to network and stay up to date with information about the flipped class model is through Twitter.  Twitter is a dynamic way to create a Professional Learning Network (PLN).  If you search on Twitter #flipclass, you will find a number of timely topics being discussed and a number of passionate educators who are active and interested in discussing the topic.  If you’re not familiar with Twitter, a great quickstart guide, Twitter at a Glance, can be found at Gwyneth Jones, The Daring Librarian’s Flickr page.  You can search #flipclass any time, but the best time to search is every Monday evening from 8-9 when you can participate in the #flipclass chat.  Simply type in #flipclass to the search box at 8:00 and watch the chat unfold.

Tools to Use in Your Flip

Once you have explored some of the professional networks and have begun to develop your PLN, perhaps the most difficult decision you will need to make will be in deciding on which format you will use and how you will share your flipped instruction with your students.

As far as format goes, you can use podcasting, screencasting (a recording of your computer screen with audio), digital video or one of the various presentation formats.

There are many technology tools that you can use to help create the content you want to share. With limited budgets, it’s important to explore all the free options that you can when lining up your resources to create your flipped instructional units. For podcasting, freeware like Audacity are easy to use and share. Screencasting can be a little more complicated.  If you have a SMART board, you can make use of the SMART Recorder to create screencasts.  While the Smart Recorder is extremely easy to use (check out this Radford University video to see how), the drawback is that currently you cannot save your files as .wp4 files.  It’s important to save video files in .wp4 format because it’s a more accessible format for handheld devices.  Another, very simple (and free) screencast program to use is Screencast-o-matic.  There is a version you can pay for, however the free version will allow you to record up to 15 minutes and save it in .mp4 format.  Another free alternative for screencasting to check out is through Sophia.org.  There are a few more steps with this option, but the site provides ample support to help you get started.

Another option for sharing content is through presentation software.  Obviously you can upload PowerPoint content to a website, but there are tools that allow you to easily create, collaborate and share presentation content online.  One tool, that has made a lot of improvements in the form of templates and sharing over the years, is Prezi. You can easily create and collaborate on a presentation, include images, files and directly embed content from YouTube.
 Edcanvas offers a similar approach to sharing video, links and files, however it is uses a much simpler and more streamlined approach for the creator.  You simply add text or quizzes, or drop objects (documents, video, images etc) you want to share into a grid; then click “Share” to generate a link, QR code, embed code, etc to distribute to your students, and they simply can click through using arrows to receive the content.  Check out this “How to” video by Lacey Daniels to learn about the basics.

Tools to Use to Share your Flip

Just like there are many tools to consider using to help you create your flipped content, there are many ways you can use to share your flip with your students.

In Flip Your Classroom: Reach EveryStudent in Every Class Every Day, Bergmann and Sams talk about ways they helped their students, who did not have adequate computer and Internet access at home.  They burned content to DVD, shared it on jumpdrives, allowed students to load content on to iPods, and worked with students so that they could watch the content during class. When it comes to access, with creative solutions, you can help students be successful with the flipped content.
If you create digital videos or screencasts, you can of course share them on your own private website or blog.  YouTube is another logical choice; however, many schools block that. Student-safe alternatives to YouTube include SchoolTube and TeacherTube.  SchoolTube has an added security measure that requires confirmation that you are actually an educational professional.  This helps to improve the likelihood that content uploaded is educational in nature.  Videos also require strict moderation, which helps to improve the safety features of the site.

Another way to share your content is through social learning platforms.  Over the last few years there have been some excellent free resources that have been developed to aid teachers in creating an online classroom.  Moodle is a classroom environment that has been around for many years and allows teachers to create and maintain banks for test questions and assignments.  Edmodo and Schoology are two newer applications that teachers can use.  Both come with apps, and are very similar in nature in terms of the ability to interact with students and other professionals. 

Edmodo, which is about a year older than Schoology, does tend to include more content for teachers to draw from and has apps that you can embed for use in different classes.  A great blog entry that explains how to use Edmodo with your flipped classroom can be found at the Mamawolfe blog.  I believe the benefits of using this type of platform can be found in the interaction that surrounds the means.  For example, as a teacher, when you post content, students can comment on that content.  You post your videos on Edmodo, then students could ask questions about the video.  The teacher could then compile the questions prior to class and use them as the basis for discussion. 

Sophia.org and Edcanvas also allow teachers to create classrooms and assign content to students in their class.  You can learn about flipping your class with Sophia.org through the Flipped Classroom Certification. Be sure to learn from Teacher-Librarian, Nikki Robertson how to create class and invite students to your classes on Edcanvas.

Obviously there are many technology tools you can use to help in flipping your instruction.  Before you become too bogged down in the details, I suggest having a conversation with your District Technology Coordinator to see if there are other teachers in your district working on this and learn about methods your district may already have in place to help support you in your endeavors.   

Participating in a #flipclass chat may also yield some good tips and tricks to getting started.  If you see this as a work in progress and recognize that you will inevitably grow and find better ways to share content with your students it will take some of the pressure off of you to be perfect and have perfect content to share.  So, if it helps, the best thing you can do is start small and start with what you already know about.

Not about the Technology

While technology requires a lot of consideration as you develop the method you will use to flip your instruction, it is important that as educators we remember that choosing to flip your instruction needs to be a choice you make to benefit your students.  In their book, Bergmann and Sams point out that “We believe that flipping allows teachers to leverage technology to increase interaction with students.” As Crystal Kirch discusses in her second lesson in Sophia.org flipped classroom certification video TheTeaching Paradigm Shift, with the flipped class concept there is a shift away from the “sage on the stage” teacher mentality to a “guide on the side” mentality where students are at the center of discovering information.

You can place your videos in the location of the lesson sequence that best suits your needs.  Many people choose to begin by requiring students to watch the videos at the beginning of the lesson sequence as an introduction; then they work on creating projects with students or completing traditional homework assignments in class.  Bergmann and Sams discuss using this method in the beginning of their journey; however once they had their bank of videos developed, they discovered that using a mastery learning design was much more useful to their students and learning.   Through mastery learning, students work in groups or individually and complete lessons and projects that help them to demonstrate mastery of a concept.  In this model, Bergmann and Sams had students watch the videos when they needed direct instruction on a particular concept. 
No matter where you include the video, it is essential that you consider sound unit design.  For example, consider using something like Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s Principles of Understanding by Design, which Crystal Kirch advocates for in her Sophia.org videos.  With Backward Design, objectives are a very important part of the learning process and communicating those objectives clearly to your students is essential in helping them to understand if they have mastered the content. 

As you create your unit of study, it may be of some use to create a student learning contract that outlines all of the learning activities and assessment requirements or options students will be expected to do along with resources that the students will need to access to be successful.  These learning contracts could include the unit objectives and act as a guide for students as they work through content and can be a tool for students as they plan their time.  An excellent introduction to learning contracts can be found at “Creating a Personal Learning Contract Tutorial” through Sophia.org.  During my last few years as a high school English teacher I relied heavily on the use of “assignment contracts” to help empower my students as learners and to help them take ownership of their grades and the assignments that would be due.  I found this to be a useful way to differentiate instruction based on student needs and a way to give students choice in what they, as learners, needed the most practice with.  An example of an assignment contract I created is for a unit on Transcendentalism.  We used a fairly standard set of graphic organizers that targeted specific skills they needed to practice.  This particular format, with modification, could really help guide students through the flipped learning process.
The entire Understanding by Design (or Backward Design) process also encourages you to consider assessment procedures in the very beginning of the unit development process.  When considering different types of assessment you also need to take into consideration how you will formatively assess students’ understanding of the flipped content you have created.  Bergmann and Sams suggest having students use Cornell notes while viewing videos.  This method of note taking could easily be checked by teachers as evidence of understanding, and the questions generated through the method could be used as discussion points in class.  Crystal Kirch recommends using a WSQ model in her Technology and Resources video.  WSQ stands for Watch, Summary and Question.  Students watch the video, write a summary of the lesson and then develop a question to ask about the topic. Kirch has compiled a list of posts, WSQing, she has made about the WSQ format, including a discussion of how she uses them online.

In terms of summative assessment, you will likely need to include some sort of paper and pencil test, although you may find room to allow students to show what they know through project based learning.  In the section of their book called “The Mastery Model provides multiple chances for demonstrating understanding” Bergmann and Sams discuss how they discovered the reward in allowing students different ways of proving their mastery of content in a unit.  They allowed for summative unit exams, verbal discussion, PowerPoint presentations, student created videos or new ways developed by students.

Where to Start?

Obviously there are a lot of things to consider before flipping your instruction, and the more you explore the more you'll find to consider. To get a nice overview of some of the pros and cons of flipping, in particular, the dangers of the "digital divide" that can occur, you might want to check out School Library Journal's "Flipping the Classroom: a revolutionary approach to learning presents some pros and cons" by Karen Springen. 

As you plan your instructional units, it’s important to consider your objectives and the methods that will give you the most out of your face-to-face time with your students.  You also need to consider that not all students will watch the assigned work, and not all students will have the means to watch the assigned work. Flipping instruction can, when considered carefully, extend your instructional influence beyond the classroom.  By creating a recording of your lesson, you can share your instruction with your students, and if you make your videos public, you have the opportunity to reach others who may be struggling to understand concepts and processes.  You also give your students the power to pause, stop, rewind and rewatch.  Students who traditionally struggle to concentrate in a classroom setting during a lecture will have the opportunity to view or listen to the lecture at their convenience and will be able to revisit the material if they need a refresher.  Flipping your classroom can open up your face-to-face time to really coach your students through the struggle of using higher order thinking to create, share and learn at deep levels.

To get started, pick a unit of study that you feel could be improved by freeing up class time you would ordinarily use for lecture to allow students to engage in higher levels of thinking through project based learning.  When you have identified your unit, review your objectives and identify the lecture or lectures you would like to record.  For your first attempt, use those technologies you’re already familiar with and share on platforms that make the most sense to you.  Remember you don’t have to be perfect; this is a learning process for you as much as it is for your students, and asking your students for feedback on the delivery will help you to assess what works and what doesn’t work. 
Finally, the great thing about flipping your instruction is that you’re not alone in your quest to coach your students to higher levels of understanding; there are countless numbers of educators willing to share and discuss their work.  Dive into the cyber rabbit hole of the Flipped Classroom: grow your PLN, get flipping, and learn with your students.

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