What could you use more of in your classroom? Space? Sunlight? Computers? Clones of yourself? Less isn’t always more when it comes to teaching. In fact, the thing teachers could always use more of? Time. One-on-one time with students, without sacrificing classroom instruction, is always at the top of the priority list.

So what can you do?

In the past few years, more teachers are exploring the idea of flipping their classrooms. You may have heard of this before: students watch and learn a lesson at home during their traditional “homework” time, and in class, they investigate problems and projects with the teacher by their side. The idea is that the more “teacher-focused” activity (teacher imparting the necessary knowledge) should happen at home, while the “student-focused” activity (student using knowledge to solve problems/explore concepts) should happen while the teacher is present to provide support.  And the perfect time to start flipping your classroom? This summer.

Ready? Set… Flip!

This idea was wildly popular at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference in Boston. Each time block had at least one session devoted to flipping! We connected with three presenting teams after the conference to pick their brains further on what flipping looks like in their schools, and here’s what we learned:

Flipping Empowers Students

Joe Steiner and Kurt Mederer of Greens Farms Academy highlight flipping as a way to re-focus the classroom, emphasize student learning, and “eliminate the teacher’s voice as the dominant one in the classroom.” Steiner in particular notices students taking ownership of their own education by becoming “responsible learners” who are able to identify sticky spots in their knowledge and actively seek help. Mederer adds that the process of flipping is “the best vehicle to let problems be the focus and let students do the talking.” By empowering student voices, flipping may help alleviate math anxiety and make reluctant learners think twice before declaring, “I hate math!”

Be Intentional with “Why” You’re Flipping

Jonathan Osters of the Blake School in Minnesota says that flipping, for him, was born out of a larger cultural shift throughout the school to “experience first,” where students are presented with a real-life problem they then learn how to solve. That way, students aren’t learning meaningless concepts in a vacuum, but instead experience an activity “that necessitates math they don’t yet have.” Osters didn’t flip his classroom for the sake of flipping; he did it in order to promote an atmosphere of deep inquiry that “digs deep into conceptual understandings.”

Videos Are Forever (and Free!)

Beverly Heigre and Elizabeth Milanovitch of San Jose’s Notre Dame High School listed all of the “pros” for at-home videos, the first of which is that they can be watched again! Since you’re making and curating the videos, they can be whatever you need them to be: they can introduce a concept, review an old topic, or prompt conversation. They recommend quick and free online programs such as Desmos (an online graphing calculator), Kahoot (interactive polling), and Screencast-o-matic (video software to flip your lesson), which help to crystallize concepts and begin a conversation of last night’s lesson. We also love Zaption as a way to annotate any existing video (personally uploaded or publicly hosted on Youtube, Vimeo, etc.) with your own reflection questions, multiple-choice check for understanding, extended resources, and more.

No software? No problem: 10 Ways to Create Videos Without Installing Software.

And the Parental Response?

When asked about parental response, Osters shared that parents voice their wishes that they’d had a flipped class when they were in school. Osters encourages parents to watch the videos themselves for a peek into what their child is learning. Heigre explains her arrangement each year on parent night to an enthusiastic audience, while Steiner is considering flipping his beginning-of-the-year welcome letter: parents will watch a video of how flipping in the classroom works, thus experience a flipped lesson themselves!

You Can Flip a LITTLE Bit

All of the session leaders emphasized flipping can happen gradually – there isn’t a “To Flip or Not to Flip” question here! You can flip in this class, and not that one; you can flip this unit, and not that one. The goal is to maximize the effectiveness of class-time and have greater contact with students when they’re with you. You know your classroom best; whatever will work for your class is the ideal fit, even if your flip isn’t full-scale.

Thank you to our panelists for speaking with us over several weeks to complete this post.  Look for them next year at NCTM 2016 in San Francisco!  

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