Flipping the Upper Elementary Classroom

Flipped Classroom. Blended Learning. Chances are, you’ve heard one or both of these terms. Maybe you’ve tried it yourself. Maybe you’ve been wanting to try it, but didn’t know where to start. Maybe your district is pushing you to try it, and you’re skeptical. In any case, today I want to share a little about how I utilize the flipped classroom concept in my math class.
Flipped Classroom TITLE

Let me start off by saying that flipped learning will not work for everyone. I know this because I flipped my classroom for one and a half years. This past school year, I intended to flip. I set my class up that way from the beginning… but it did NOT work. I can’t pinpoint why, other than the simple fact that it just wasn’t the right fit for this group of students. I fully intend to try flipping again next year, though, and I am excited about the chance to teach this way again. Because when it does work, IT WORKS! I’ll tell you more about that in a minute.

Definitions…

Flipped Learning – “a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.” (from EduCause.edu)
Blended Learning – “the practice of using both online and in-person learning experiences when teaching students.” (from EdGlossary.org)

Flipped or Blended?

My classroom, and like many elementary classes using flipped lessons, is technically a blended learning environment. In math, I use flipped lessons most of the time, but I also incorporate more traditional lessons when I feel that the content is best delivered in person, rather than in a video. Like anything else in education, flipped learning isn’t best used as a one-size-fits-all, this-is-how-I-teach-every-lesson, but as a tool, among many tools that we keep in our proverbial toolboxes.

What Flipped Learning looks like in my class…

I first started flipping my classroom in the spring, and we flipped one chapter of math. I knew right away that I liked the concept, but that the videos I was using weren’t what I wanted to use long term. So the next chapter, we went back to traditional teaching while I took some time to reflect and plan. The following fall, I jumped right in, with a plan based on my previous experiences, and it was amazing! Here’s a peek at how it works in my room:
I create my own video mini-lessons for each skill. You do NOT have to do this, but I was convinced after watching Katie Gimbar’s video on why she makes her own videos that this was the best option for me. I use Screencast-O-Matic to record mini-lectures that I deliver using a PowerPoint and occasionally my document camera. If you aren’t ready to create your own, I’m adding some resources at the end of this post for some free online videos you can use instead, and depending on what your school uses, there are sometimes videos included with your curriculum that align to your textbook as well.
Flipped Classroom 3
I then upload my videos to Schoology, which my district has purchased, but it is available free to individual teachers as well. Within Schoology, I create a Math class, and add a folder to it for each chapter. Inside the chapter folder, I create an assignment for each lesson, where students will watch the video and respond in the class discussion. For each lesson my students tell three things: a bright idea – our code for something they learned (bi), a question they still have(q), and a connection they made to something else we’ve learned (c).
Flipped Classroom 1
Students then complete a “Quick Check” with 2-4 questions so that I can get an idea of how well they understood the concept. The key here is that I check the results every morning, before class, so that I have a good idea before we even start class of who needs more help, who is right on track, and who needs a challenge activity. (You might notice that Schoology calls these quick checks “quizzes.” I do not count these grades, and be sure to carefully explain this to my students and parents when we first start using Schoology.)
Flipped Classroom 2
At the beginning of math class, we have a Math Meeting. I like to think of it as a morning meeting just for math class. Everyone gathers on the carpet, I have my laptop with their discussion and quiz results pulled  up (for only me to see), and we have a quick chat about the video they watched. I always do a “temperature check” first. I ask how they are feeling about this concept, and they respond thumbs up, down, or sideways. Next, I answer questions students have. I ask for questions first, but also go back to the questions posted in the discussion in case some students aren’t willing to ask out loud. Then, I allow 2-3 students to share bright ideas or connections. This allows those who needed clarification to share bright ideas that came to them during our math meeting.
The last step in our meeting is maybe the most important. I ask my students who is ready to practice on their own and who feels like they need more help. In order to get them to answer honestly, I work very hard to build a culture in which it is accepted, even expected, that everyone will need help sometimes, and that asking for help is a sign of strength and smarts in my classroom. Students who need extra help meet me at the small group table, and I work with each student until he/she becomes comfortable enough to work alone.
Before heading to the small group table, I assign practice problems or activities to the students who are ready to work independently. I usually have students complete 4-5 problems, and then bring them to the small group table for me to check in between working with students. I then assign additional problems, games, or enrichment activities depending on each student’s progress, reteaching at the small group table as needed.

Does it really work? Yes! If your class is consistently watching the videos and paying close attention to them, it absolutely does. Is this always the case? No, of course not. As I mentioned earlier, I was not able to flip lessons this past school year. Although every one of my students had the technology at home to watch the videos, they didn't actually do the homework. I decided that this was not the year to flip, but I will try it again, because the year prior, I had almost 100% participation every day!

What if a student doesn’t watch the video? My solution was to tell students that if they do not watch the video at home, for whatever reason, they may come to class early in the morning to watch the video before school starts, no questions asked. I am always there 30 minutes before school starts, and I felt it was worth it for students to watch the video before class. Students who don’t watch and don’t come early start the video while the rest of us have our meeting, and begin the practice work when they finish the video.

What about students with disabilities? In all honesty, I was worried about this too. What I found was that flipped learning is an incredible tool for these students specifically. Here’s what one parent told me about it (paraphrased, of course): “I was really worried that (student) would struggle with math this year when I heard how you would be teaching with videos, but it has been so good for her. Watching the videos at home cuts down on distractions, and she can watch it over and over until she gets it. When it’s time to study for the test, she watches the videos again to refresh her memory. She’s doing better than ever in math this year!” This student was one of two that year who made an A for the last semester with no accommodations. In fact, the mom has a rising fifth grader again this coming year, and approached me at the end of the school year to tell me she had requested me, and to ask if I’m still doing “those math videos” because she was so impressed with how it helped her older child.

Tips for Getting Started

  • Don’t feel like you need to dive in headfirst. Start by flipping one lesson or plan to flip one chapter. Then take some time to reflect on how it went, and how you can improve.
  • Use the resources you already have. Many textbooks come with online videos, and there are numerous videos available online that can be used for flipped learning. Long-term, I decided that it was best for me and for my classes to create my own videos, but you certainly don’t have to start out that way. I used Kahn Academy and StudyJams videos along with our curriculum to facilitate flipped lessons for the first few months before I was ready to commit to making my own videos.
  • Hold students accountable. There are numerous ways to do this, but be sure to think it through and choose one! Getting your students to consistently watch the videos is key in the success of your flipped classroom.

Resources…

If you want to know more about flipped/blended learning or if you are looking for some resources to get started, here are a few of the ones I have used and learned from as I began implementing flipped lessons in my class:
FlippedLearning.org
StudyJams.scholastic.com
KhanAcademy.com
BrainPop.com
BrightStorm.com
Fizz Flipped Classroom Training
Katie Gimbar’s Flipped Classroom on Facebook

If you have more questions about flipping your classroom or the tools I use to make it happen, I'd be happy to help!

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