Three Observations from Implementing a Bring-Your-Own-Device Approach in my Classroom

FullSizeRender

I must admit – I’m a tech-hoarder. Here’s a picture of all the devices that I have been able to collect or purchase so far to help implement a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment with my students. I’ve dabbled over the past little while with browser-based apps like Desmos, Kahoot! and Socrative that work with any type of device (Android, iOS, Chrome, Windows) and definitely see how they augment the learning of complex ideas or allow more effective assessment of student understanding. I wanted to write not about any tools that could be used, but rather three interesting things that I’ve observed first-hand while implementing BYOD.

1. Students look forward to using their devices for learning, unless they’re at low battery

As a whole, students are totally into using their phones and iPods for class activities. However, I’ve had times when one or two students say they don’t want to participate because their phones are at 8% power. Nowadays, if the BYOD portion of a lesson is later in the period, I give students a heads-up and allow them to charge their phones in anticipation. I carry some extra USB plugs, micro-USB cords and the odd Apple 30-pin or Lightning cable in my drawer in case anyone needs them. In the future, I’m hoping to make a DIY charging station, like these beauties, for my classroom (I’ll have to channel my inner Martha Stewart).

2. In an BYOD setting, understand that students will do others things on their devices once in a while, but minimize it whenever possible and don’t be mean about it

With lots of devices comes lots of responsibility. Devices can obviously act as distractions for students, even when they’re in the middle of using it for educational purposes. In my class, I see students on YouTube, texting, or on social media all the time. Rather than making things punitive and nasty, I simply nudge them back on task, or start reading out loud what they’re messaging, which usually gets them to stop quite quickly. It’s near-impossible to monitor the use of thirty devices by thirty students, so vigilance is key, but I also accept that students will from time to time do something else on the devices, and it’s okay, as long as it’s not a huge distraction. Even pencils and paper can be a distraction if people start doodling; that doesn’t mean we don’t allow students to use pencils and paper, right?

3. Equity of access to mobile devices is an issue, but not THAT big an issue

Just because many of my students come from lower-income families doesn’t mean they don’t have mobile devices. From my data collection, roughly 60-80% of students will have a device that they can use. Perhaps it’s part of the teenage culture of conspicuous consumption, or pressure that students exert on their parents/guardians, but the majority of students in any given class will typically own a device. For those that don’t have one, I allow them to borrow for the period the aforementioned top-up devices that I’ve collected over the years. Without top-up devices, students who don’t own devices will definitely feel excluded; therefore, they are a must in any BYOD environment, in my opinion.

As school budgets start to get tight, BYOD will be the only viable strategy to involve technology use in classrooms. The Toronto District School Board is behind other boards like Peel DSB that have official policies and supports around BYOD implementation. Students definitely enjoy using their own devices, but some challenges, like charging and distractions, come with the territory. We shouldn’t let these issues get in the way of integrating technology for the benefit of student learning.

P.S. For more info on BYOD in education, here’s a great site.

Making EQAO review a bit more tolerable using Kahoot!, a web-based learning game

IMG_3077January is here, which means it’s Grade 9 EQAO assessment of mathematics season (sigh). I’m not a huge advocate of standardized testing, but I’ve spent a large chunk of my teaching career working on resources and ways to help my students succeed on them. Why? Because achievement on these tests, whether we like it or not, is arguably the most heavily scrutinized benchmark for student learning, teacher competency, and school effectiveness. Politically, the results of these assessments either tell the world that the kids are alright, or that we have a full-blown educational crisis on our hands and we need to scream, flail our arms and run in circles.

For students (as you all might remember from your days of schooling), the greatest challenge of an end-of-semester test is remembering everything that they have learned over the last five months. I devote about a week to try to go over all the main concepts that we’ve done as a class over the course of the semester. In previous years, these review sessions would consist of some teacher-led examples, students working on questions to try to jolt their memory, and some form of summary. It was a bit dull, but I felt that it was the most effective use of time. This year, I’ve decided to appeal to students’ desires to have fun while learning. That’s where the gifts come to play.

Today, I centered the (re)learning of linear relations around Kahoot!, a web-based game that students play using mobile devices. In a nutshell, Kahoot! allows teachers to create a multiple-choice quiz and students answer the questions using their devices. For each question, a correct answer earns points, and the faster students answer, the more points they receive. Whoever has the most points at the end wins the right to choose from the wrapped prizes. I created a quiz that contained questions regarding linear relations, with the hope that students were more motivated to learn during class in order to be prepared for the game at the end of the period. To some degree it was a success; I’m trying it for the rest of the week to see if the motivational factor increases or decreases. The game itself was a success – students definitely enjoyed themselves, and I feel that many of them consolidated their learning through engaging with the questions.

Is this a game-changing approach? Probably not, but at least it’s way more fun and positive compared to the alternative. After all, it’s not just about the content we teach, but the positive attitudes that we should try to instill upon our students. If you can have a good time and prepare for a standardized test all at once, then why not do it, right? You can’t spell fundamentals without “fun.”

Using Twitter to Show Student Work During Instruction

Screenshot 2015-01-05 at 9.21.56 PM

Now that school’s back in session, I can finally start blogging about some really educational stuff (not that meeting Paleo authors wasn’t cool or anything).

For the past semester, I’ve put an emphasis on showing student working during instruction. Since I don’t have the luxury of a document camera in my classroom, which would make projecting student work a cinch, I thought of using Twitter and my own smartphone instead, along with my computer and digital projector, to project student solutions for everyone to see. Basically, when students are working on solving a problem that I’ve posed, I circulate and identify one or two solutions that I feel would be worth sharing to the whole group. Using my phone, I take a picture of the solutions, upload them to a Twitter account that I use for this kind of thing, and then display the tweet and photo using my computer.

There are many advantages to displaying student thinking for all to see – it doesn’t have to involve Twitter: (1) often there are a variety of ways to approach a math problem, so showing some off and discussing them sends the message that there is never one correct way to go about solving a problem; (2) I have found that students are more likely to look at someone else’s work than the work that a teacher puts up; (3) students, especially those who haven’t historically felt much success in math class, are eager to have their work shown off and are proud when their work has been chosen as the focus of discussion; (4) it gives students more of a voice during a lesson; (5) students can always look at the Twitter account from their own devices/computers at a later time to look at some sample work.

I envision this idea of using Twitter to show student work expanding in a 1:1 iPad or BYOD (bring-your-own-device) environment where all students have some kind of a mobile device. Each student can create a class-specific Twitter account and can then use their own devices to take photos and upload their work to share, rather than having the teacher do it. A hashtag could be used to make finding student tweets easier.

From my 5 months of experience using Twitter to show student work, I have found it to be very effective in hooking students and also sharing quality work amongst everyone. I would recommend others to try this out, especially if you don’t have a document camera. I think there’s also a mild cool factor that attracts the students because it involves Twitter, something that’s pretty hip with the young ones these days. If anyone can think of a way to show student work using SnapChat, send me an email,

The Paleo Diet: Meeting Stacy & Sarah and my Paleo Experience

IMG_3054
Today, I ventured to my first-ever book signing at the Bay and Bloor Indigo to meet Stacy Toth and Sarah Ballantyne, two best-selling authors and voices in the ever-growing Paleo diet movement. Now, to be honest, I only ever listen to their Paleo View podcast when my partner, who’s the real fan, plays it on her phone for everyone to hear, but I enjoy it nonetheless (speaking of my partner, she just worked 26 hours at Sick Kids Hospital and was recovering in bed, hence her absence in the photo). I wanted to buy a couple of Paleo cookbooks and have them signed just as a little present for my slumbering doctor back home, so I arrived an hour early to beat the rush and get in line. But, after my purchase, I noticed that Stacy and Sarah were already sitting at their signing table with nobody else around. Seeing a golden opportunity before me, I made a beeline to the table, introduced myself, got my books signed just like that, and had a nice 10-minute chat about their latest travels (they just got off a plane from Minneapolis), Sarah’s post-doctoral work in Toronto (she did a fellowship at St. Michael’s Hospital), falling glass from downtown buildings, what a great city Toronto is, and miscellaneous Canadiana. It was a great experience and I was really glad to meet the owners of the podcast voices that regularly fill my home.

Am I a devoted follower of the Paleo diet? I’m off-and-on, and not nearly as much as I’d like to be (see my McDonalds post for proof). There’s definitely credible evidence around in favour of the Paleo diet. Eating good meat, lots and lots of vegetables, reducing/eliminating grains, and getting rid of processed foods, to me, just makes a lot of sense. You really can’t argue against eating REAL food. Also, and more to the point, any diet that says that it’s good to eat saturated fat, butter, and bacon will always be viewed favourably in my books. For the two months that I was a really good boy, I actually did lose weight. However, lately – and especially during the holidays – it’s been tough to not overeat or resist the yumminess of cookies and sandwiches. Thirty years of eating whatever without much regard for anything inevitably takes some time to undo. I’m working on it. It doesn’t help that McDonalds keeps sending me coupons.

A few years ago, I shared with my Grade 9 math students this blog post that contains a scatter plot showing the lack of association between saturated fat intake and heart disease. They were surprised to see that the negative messaging that they had received regarding saturated fat was actually not backed up by scientific evidence. But, as I am not a health professional, I didn’t tell my students to head to the nearest fridge and start downing butter sticks. I let them think about what the data might suggest and left it at that. Now, with some mainstream media writing about how doctors got saturated fat all wrong, I would direct students to read up on the topic, and also read some counter-arguments, and make up their own minds.

All in all, today was a fun day. My partner loved the cookbooks, and now I have no excuse to ever eat McDonalds at home, ever.

Unless more coupons come my way…

Critical Thinking and Gas Prices

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/3c1/61675252/files/2015/01/img_3050-0.jpg

Today, I did something that I haven’t done since my family got our first car four years ago – I filled up the tank with sub-90-cent gas. Oddly, in addition to feeling the obvious joy for saving money, I felt a momentary sense of worry about turning into a liberated gas-guzzler. Like many others, my driving habits reflected the tough times of $1.30/L fuel – I drove less, travelled to more local options, and conserved gas however I could (e.g. opening the windows instead of using the air conditioning). Now that gas feels like a bargain, I fear that I and others like me will start taking long joy rides with the AC blasting for no good reason (even in the dead of winter), and in so doing, contribute even more of those nasty greenhouse gases I’ve heard a bit about to Mother Earth. After all, the whole reason fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars came to be is due to the economic pressures that came with high fuel prices, and not for any environmental considerations. Money drives behaviour, unfortunately. When it comes to low gas prices, it’s not all roses and rainbows.

So what’s the educational spin in all this? Students should be encouraged to explore all sides of any issue. Role playing and debating are some simple ways to promote critical thinking. This coming semester, I’ll be incorporating social justice issues into math, and no doubt there’ll be some serious debating happening.

In the meantime, I’ll try to enjoy the low gas prices and, well, walk, We’ll see how that goes, as I stare at a snowstorm out the window.

Inspiration from McDonalds

 

McDonalds

Alright, so maybe I shouldn’t be outing myself as a more-frequent-than-I-should-be customer of McDonalds, but today’s visit was interesting for several reasons. Firstly, my order was taken by an old CW Jefferys student of mine who’s doing a paid co-op placement, so we got to catch up and talk about her plans after high school. Also, I learned that my Filet-o-Fish (pictured above) was made with MSC-certified sustainably-sourced wild Alaskan Pollock, which basically means that it’s a bit better for me than farmed fish, the fish lived decent lives and weren’t fed junk like GMO corn or soy. Also, all sorts of math can be done using the McD’s own nutritional information, not only to learn math concepts, but also to use the math to raise awareness of making informed decisions about the food students choose to eat.

For instance, have students create three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) that they would enjoy eating, and then calculate the percentage of daily intake for calories, fat, etc. according to Canada’s Food Guide. Then, have students create three healthier (and I do use that term loosely) meals from the list of McDonalds food items and see the difference in the percentage of caloric and nutritional intake. I’m quite sure that plenty of questions about what is/isn’t healthy will abound in this exercise, which is an important lesson in and of itself. I’ve always thought about trying something like this with my Grade 9s. Now that I’ve thought it through a bit more, sounds like it’s definitely worth doing next time around.

I knew going to McDonalds today was a good idea.

Math with Mewtwo – Learning math using Pokemon TCG Cards

Pokemon cards

If you are like me and a proud parent of a 7-ish year-old boy, you’ve no doubt encountered Pokemon cards – you may have even been completely into them yourself as a youth (personally, I was more into Power Rangers). These cards with pictures of strange animal-like creatures are part of a trading card game similar to Magic, and my son LOVES them. So, why not try to make the most of this often expensive interest and make it educational? For the past few months, rather than playing the real rules of the card game, we play with them by taking turns “battling” each other’s Pokemon with their attacks and associated amount of damage until the opposing Pokemon’s health points (HP) are reduced to zero. Needless to say, this involves plenty of subtraction using mental math. I’ve noticed that after several months of playing, my son’s subtraction skills are getting stronger – he even explains what he’s doing in his head after each calculation. Plus, he’s willing to do this for, like, an hour or two. It’s amazing how much learning kids will do if the activity is a game or using something that they’re totally interested in. That’s what I’ll be bringing back to my classroom after the winter break. Whether it’s basketball, dancing, or Pokemon cards (my Grade 9s LOVE Pokemon, too), make math fun and relevant.

Two math “shortcuts” that drive me nuts (and aren’t really shortcuts anyway)

short·cut (noun \ˈshȯrt-ˌkət also -ˈkət\): a method or means of doing something more directly and quickly than and often not so thoroughly as by ordinary procedure (via merriam-webster.com).

Who doesn’t love a good shortcut? If you use them, you get places faster, get more things done, or do something at a fraction of the time. But, as the above definition suggests, shortcuts are often not as good as the original thing. Unfortunately, with respect to mathematical procedures, the same holds true. I’m personally a math teacher who’s big on teaching for understanding rather than simply to be proficient, and so I never EVER show my students the “shortcuts” that work but don’t follow any mathematical principles. Sure, they do the job okay, but I feel that they come at the expense of students understanding and/or consolidating mathematical rules. Besides, a few of these shortcuts don’t actually save any time, steps, or pencil lead anyway, so why do they persist? My guess is because teachers today were taught the same shortcuts when they were students back in the day, and so we teachers perpetuate the same ill-advised methods to the next generation because, well, they work.

There are two such shortcuts I have identified (though definitely not the first person to do so) that I am on a mission to remove from the face of the Earth. I will show definitively that the more mathematically-sound procedure is actually just as fast, if not faster, than the traditional shortcut. Note: don’t worry if you’re not a math whiz – chances are you’ve been taught these shortcuts before so some of this will ring a bell.

Bad Shortcut #1: Solving equations by moving terms to the other side of the equation (i.e. the Magic Portal Method)

So, the premise is this: to solve a linear equation, such as 3x + 7 = 22, you would first need to remove the 7 from the left side of the equation in an effort to isolate the variable, x. How have most students (including I) been taught to do this? Well, we simply move the +7 to the other side of the equation and change the sign so that it’s now -7. But here’s the issue: why does the sign get to change when a term moves to the other side of an equation? Is the equal sign a gateway to some sort of magic portal that transforms positives to negatives, goodness to evil, or Rob Ford to a respectable political figure? Of course not. There is no justification for changing signs. This is a shortcut without a mathematical leg on which to stand, and yet it is so widely popular (strangely, I can’t find a consistent name for this shortcut, so I’ll refer to it from now on as the Magic Portal Method – trademark). Yes the method works, but when you really think about it, it actually doesn’t make any sense! Why not do something that DOES make sense?

Solution to Bad Shortcut #1: the Balanced Method

As a recap, equations are math statements with two sides showing that two expressions are equal. If one side of an equation is altered, the same change must be made to the other side in order for the expressions to remain equal. If 5 is added to one side of an equation, then 5 must be added to the other side in order for the balance to be maintained. This is the essence of solving equations using the Balanced Method. The mantra that I chant with my students is: “Whatever you do to one side of an equation, you do the same thing to the other side,” which is mathematically valid. Terms are removed from an equation by performing inverse operations (i.e. doing opposite things). In other words, we undo whatever is happening in an equation. To show how the Balanced Method compares to the Magic Portal Method, here are the solutions to solving 3x + 7 = 22 using both approaches:

Blog - Math Shortcuts - Solving Equations 01

Using the Balanced Method, the first step is to remove the +7 by subtracting 7 on both sides of the equation. When comparing to the Magic Portal Method, the Balanced Method actually one fewer step AND makes sense mathematically. You get to have your cake and eat it too.

What if there are variables on both sides of the equation? Let’s see:

Blog - Math Shortcuts - Solving Equations 02

As you can see, the Balanced Method uses the same number of steps as the “shortcut.” Also, note that in the solution using the shortcut, the Balanced Method is actually utilized at the end (dividing both sides by 2). Why should we use two different strategies when one will suffice?

Whenever students share with me that they have learned to solve equations by moving terms to the other side and switching signs, I ask them why they are allowed to do that. Their most common response: “Uhhh…just ’cause.” We math teachers are not doing students favours by promoting nonsensical tricks that don’t actually help with making life easier. If the Magic Portal Method isn’t really a shortcut AND it doesn’t make sense mathematically, then maybe we as math teachers should reconsider sharing it with our students and instead focus on the more mathematically-favourable Balanced Method as a way to solve equations.

Bad Shortcut #2: Solve a proportion by cross-multiplying

Okay, so this is also technically solving equations, but when two fractions are equated, such as x/4 = 21/28, we’ve been historically taught to use another little trick to solve buggers like this: cross-multiplication. Simply put, the first step to cross-multiplication is to multiply the numerator of one fraction with the denominator of the other fraction and make the products equal. Similar to moving terms to the other side of an equation, this procedure is also without merit. Again, this method works, but math students typically do not know why they can do it, and that’s the main problem. Let’s contrast the cross-multiplication solution to x/4 = 21/28 with one using the Balanced Method:

Blog - Math Shortcuts - Cross-Multiplication 01

Well, this is embarrassing. It seems that the Balanced Method provides the Usain Bolt of solutions, while the cross-multiplication solution is more like an injured mule. Clearly, the shortcut is the long-cut here. You may wonder how the Balanced Method can be used if the variable is in the denominator rather than in the numerator. All you would have to do is take the reciprocal of both sides to fix that issue (i.e. flip both fractions upside-down):

 

Blog - Math Shortcuts - Cross-Multiplication 02

Same number of steps. Short-cut, shmort-cut.

So there you have it. It appears that moving terms to the other side of an equation and cross-multiplication are techniques that not only students use without any understanding, but they also don’t even make math any quicker. By instead focusing on the universal approach of the Balanced Method, math teachers can promote a sound understanding and a better way to solve equations. Let’s not share the poor methods of our forefathers and break the cycle of ineffective math skills. After all…

Smokey the Bear - only you can prevent bad math habits

Crunching the Numbers: The Cost of Going “Paperless” with iPads

penultimate

We, as tech-loving teachers, have all heard this statement before: “Just think of all the money you’d save by going paperless!” With iPads dominating the education technology landscape as the go-to alternative to paper, teachers across the world are pleading with their school administrators for more funds in order to make the transition from paper to PDFs and handouts to handhelds. Not only would this save trees, many argue, but also a ton of money. But is this premise true? Are the costs of purchasing and maintaining iPads offset by the savings produced by eliminating paper and photocopies? I sought to get to the bottom of this, and the results may be surprising.

The “True” Cost of an iPad

A few assumptions must be made in order to proceed with calculating a “true” cost of an iPad. First, let’s assume that, in addition to a bulk purchase of 30 iPad Air (16GB) units, each unit will require a protective case and a storage option. In terms of storage, most educators will insist on a powered cart for ease of charging, syncing, and security.

20140530-231850-83930300.jpg

20140530-231850-83930397.jpg

We must also think about how long an iPad will last. Some believe that its lifespan is two years, but let’s be optimistic and assume each unit will last three years.

Finally, to make a fair comparison of costs between iPads and paper handouts, let’s calculate the average cost of both options for one student per school period, assuming an instructional day consisting of four periods, and 180 instructional days a year (or 90 per semester).

All the prices that I’ll be using are based on those listed in the TDSB’s purchasing catalogues. So, without further ado, let’s go shopping:

30 iPad Air (16 GB) (@ $5005 for 10 units x 3): $15,015.00
30 Big Grips Slim Frame cover (@ $31.92 each): $957.60
Bretford PowerSync Cart: $2799.95
Total Cost: $18,772.55
Total Cost per period, per student, for 3 year life-span: $0.2897

This cost per student, $0.2897, for an iPad for every school period is likely an underestimation, as this assumes a 100% use rate for the iPads and does not take into account the inevitable costs of repairs and replacement units.

The Cost of Handouts

I must confess – I give lots of handouts to my students. Many of my math lessons involve pre-made slides using an interactive whiteboard, so I give students the unannotated slides on handouts so they can easily follow along and focus on the learning activities, rather than vigorously scribbling every word and getting distracted from discussions. For some classes, these handouts are four pages in length (two pieces of paper printed on both sides), but often reach up to eight pages if I’m providing practice questions. So, for the paper handout calculations, let’s assume the high end of the spectrum and go with eight pages of handouts per student per class.

So, exactly how much does a photocopy cost? According to the TDSB photocopier price book, “The cost per copy is $0.01183. This cost includes; equipment, all supplies except paper and staples, all service and repair costs including parts, labour, delivery, pick-up, rigging and other related charges, plus all training costs.”

Okay, so what about the cost of the paper and staples? Thanks to my school’s budget secretary, I found that a box of 5000 sheets can be purchased for $39.74 (or $0.007948 per sheet), a rather reasonable price. However, what really shocked me was the price of the photocopier staples: 25000 for $213.30! That’s $0.008532 per staple, which is greater than the cost of a sheet of paper. Comparing that to a box of 5000 conventional staples for $0.83, the photocopier staples are over 50 times the price! Bananas.

Anyway, back to the cost of a handout, consisting of eight copies, four sheets of paper, and one photocopier staple:

8 copies (@ $0.01183 per copy): $0.09464
4 sheets of paper (@ $0.007948 per sheet): $0.03179
1 photocopier staple (@ $0.008532 per staple): $0.008532
Total Cost per Student: $0.1350

Compare this to the cost per student per period for the iPads, $0.2897, and it’s clear that iPads actually cost over twice as much as paper handouts.

Other Considerations

Of course, iPads offer much more than just an alternative to paper. The value added from the myriad of other functions and capabilities is really what makes the iPad (and other tablets) the revolutionary educational tools that they are professed to be. The question is whether the added cost is worth it? Depending on the type of use, the answer can go either way; any use that’s on the lower end of the SAMR model of technology use would not justify the cost.

From an environmental and ethical standpoint, it would seem wise to consider the switch from paper to iPads. After all, the plight of forests and the environmental and ecological impact due to paper production is widely known. However, the production of iPads is not without its share of controversy. Notably, the minerals used to create iPads were sourced from countries that would use the revenue to finance war. However, Apple has recently made aggressive efforts to reduce the use of such “conflict minerals,” but cannot confirm the end of their use.

Conclusions

Let’s get back to the main question: does it make sense from a financial standpoint to switch from paper handouts to iPads? I would say no, unless teachers are committed to using them at or near 100% of the time and take advantage of their enormous capabilities. Then one can argue that the cost of iPads would be worth it. Before taking the plunge and “investing” $18,000 towards iPads, be sure to have a plan, or else you might just end up using the iPad cart as an extra surface to organize your eight-page handouts.

Reflections on my Flipped Learning Experiment

Note: For a quick intro regarding the basic flipped learning model, view this. There are also other iterations of the flipped model.

This past November, after much research and debate with my inner voice, I decided to take the leap and implement the “flipped learning” model of teaching in my second-semester Grade 9 Academic Math class. My reasoning was three-fold:

  1. I wanted more time in class to assist my students. I strongly feel that immediate and personal feedback is critical to successful learning. Also, students learn much more from “doing” than from “watching.” So, the idea of having an entire 75-minute period for me to talk to students and for students to work after watching a video lesson the night before was a huge plus.
  2. I wanted non-traditional homework. From my experience teaching at inner-city schools, I have learned that a significant proportion of students are not willing/able to complete traditional homework. Therefore, I felt that if homework involved watching and following along with a video on YouTube, something that many of my students already do, it would increase the likelihood of students completing the task.
  3. I wanted to level the playing field. Historically, students at my school have performed far below average on the provincial standardized assessment of mathematics. This is due to a myriad of reasons, many of which come from the fact that my school, Westview Centennial Secondary School, has the second-neediest student population of any high school in the Toronto District School Board. I felt that the nature of the flipped learning model could help close this achievement gap, particularly for students at the lower end of the academic scale.

So, for the next few months, I spent hours at a time preparing video lessons and planning class activities now that a greater amount in-class time would be allocated to students actively working and learning. I organized my content on Desire2Learn, fully equipped with quizzes that students could try after viewing a video as a self-assessment tool. In my mind, it was all going to be glorious, and for the first week, it was going great. Every student was watching the video and some were taking the online quizzes, but everyone was coming to class ready to work on problems and participate in class activities. However, after this honeymoon phase, I realized that my glorious plan was starting to crumble. Fewer and fewer students were coming to class prepared and almost no one was trying the quizzes, so students had to watch the videos during class time and hence defeating the purpose of flipped learning. I didn’t want things to become punitive (and I’m not that kind of teacher), so I just continued to encourage everyone to view the videos and come to class ready. After two months, and things seeming to hit a wall, I took a step back and evaluated the situation. I came up with several conclusions:

  • Flipped homework is still homework. Even though the homework was watching a video on YouTube, some students still came to class without completing the task. If a student doesn’t complete the traditional homework of practice math questions, at least they probably learned something while in class. However, if a student doesn’t complete their flipped homework, they haven’t learned anything, and they arrive in class knowing nothing! Needless to say, this was extremely frustrating.
  • The flipped learning model works really well for students with high motivation to learn, and doesn’t work very well for students with low motivation. When I went around asking students if they enjoyed the flipped learning model, the biggest supporters were the students whom I would describe as highly motivated to learn and succeed. Students who were lukewarm or opposed to flipped learning were those who struggled with other subjects in school. From my observations, the students that regularly came to class unprepared were also those who weren’t likely to complete traditional homework, which leads me to believe that the flipped model may deepen the divide between engaged and disengaged students.
  • Some topics are better taught in-person. After many consecutive weeks of flipping algebra, I decided to teach scatter plots in-person because I had prepared lessons from a year ago that worked very well. This time, they worked very well! From that experience, I realized that maybe I shouldn’t flip all the time, and only flip when I feel that I need more time in class to further develop a topic.

Where I stand now: I’m usually not one to abandon ship, but after reflecting on how the past few months have played out, I am going back to my teaching ways prior to flipping (which I think was pretty good to begin with :)). Maybe I’m not doing it right, but I believe that the flipped model just doesn’t jive with my group of students as a whole. However, my next plan is to try the flipped model with a Grade 12 Data Management class. Why? I feel that a more mature crowd will embrace the benefits of flipped learning more. Also, my primary goal is to create a curriculum for the course that revolves around social justice issues, so I feel that more time is needed in class to discuss those themes, and the flipped model can provide me with just that.

What do you think? What are your experiences with flipped learning? Have you made flipped learning successful in a school with a lower-income population? Let me know! I’d love to get your feedback.