Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tales from Zombie Flipped Class - Volume 1

Greetings and Happy Sunday to everyone. I thought I'd take a break from my massive correcting pile to post a much overdue update on the status of things in Zombie land. A new year brings a clean slate, and a chance to reinvent yourself and your teaching methods. Here's what I've been up to.

First off, I'd like to introduce you to my Voki!  A coworker forwarded me the link, and I dropped everything to play for over an hour. Make your own at

Create free animated avatars that you can embed in your Smart lessons, online, or wherever you want to interact with students. Choose any clothing, hair styles, characters and backgrounds that DON'T have the graduation cap on them, and you'll have fun, free, interactive cartoons that can be re-designed to say whatever you want them to.

Also new in Zombie pre-algebra: Full-time Flip Class! Holt/McDougal's 2012 edition makes this extremely easy to do, with massive resources both in print, text and online for me to pull from. This required a new seating arrangement more appropriate to lots of group work. My little zombies were the first to approve the change.

I have 8 pods of 4 desks, aligned at an angle to the Smart board for whole-group instruction. There are also a pair of desks, a work table and two rocker chairs in the front of the room (which you can't see) for students needing alternative or preferential seating.

We're nearly due for a seating change after only three weeks!!!

So anyway, what about Flipped Class? I have blogged about it before, and have added an information tab on my school website for parents. This was a big decision for me, not made lightly, and I am still working out a lot of the kinks. Here's how I went about it:

1. Complete Backwards Design on Chapter 1 "Principles of Algebra"

If you haven't yet read Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe, get ready to have your mind blown. You start with the "big ideas" of the unit, and work backwards to break down the larger ideas into more manageable chunks. Math books, for the most part, are already chunked out into the pieces. And the examples in each lesson are the manageable chunks. Language Arts and other content areas can be deconstructed as well, until you're down to a day-to-day agenda of manageable learning outcomes.

Then you start pulling from your resources... which ones will help with which students? And your assessments... which ones will provide meaningful data? And then your remediation/intervention... who will need which and how much and when? And start working forward again. It's a lot of thinking. Especially in the first run through a new curriculum. But well worth it.

Here is the math menu I initially came up with:  (click here for more info on menus)

This document provides a road map for students (and me!) to understand the chapter concepts in their own way. The "Homework" column seems backwards at first glance, and takes a lot of training for students new to flip-class. We spent several days during the first week about what good note-taking looks like, and when to stop reading the book and go to the video tutor... and how to take meaningful notes before attempting guided practice problems. (That's the GP) The "Think & Discuss" questions are the "T&D" and help students reflect on what they have read.

The "Class Work" column is what is traditionally assigned as homework (aka the book problems), but is now done in class. Students have the most trouble with this... understanding that if they don't finish it in class, they're not going to have to bring it home and finish it. (unless they've been screwing around and then I assign it anyway). My accelerated classes can usually bang through a lesson in a day, while the regular paced classes tend to need two days to really master the concepts... so we flip half the reading, and then half the book problems, and go back and forth as needed. Hence the leveled problems... purple is the traditional assignment, gold is a little more advanced.

The "Class Labs" are items that I think EVERYONE should complete, whatever their level, and however far along they are in their flip notes. You'll notice that there are reading strategy and study guide labs built in there, that are just good tips for any student. And of course, some extra credit and extensions to keep those high-flyers engaged, without getting too far ahead of the rest of the class.

Phew! That was a lot for Item #1.

Onto 2: Accumulating & disseminating your resources

This is where Schoology comes in. If you haven't taken a tour, DO IT NOW!!!! It's like Facebook and a school website and an agenda book, all rolled into one. And it's FREE. So I ran copies of worksheets for my room (remedial level, extra practice, challenge/puzzles, and independent projects) that I store in labeled dividers and uploaded electronic copies of everything to Schoology, where parents and students can access them from any device, at any time.

We completed our first quizzes on Friday, and rather than just giving them their score and moving on, I am assigning categories of re-teaching needs to each student. I will pull them in small groups this week to inform the necessary students of which areas they need to work on, before they are allowed to move on to the next thing. For example:

Student "A" scores a 31/35 on the quiz.  Great, they got a B+. They're fine, right? But note... they answered incorrectly on EVERY problem including subtracting integers, and could not correctly simplify a variable expression using the Distributive Property. It might only take this student 15 minutes on re-teaching each concept to attain mastery, but they should spend some more time on it. Which leads me to...

Item #3: Flexible and realistic pacing for the year. 

Part of completing  UbD on your units, is aligning them to the standards for your curricular area and state/national guidelines. I used the MN 2007 State Math Standards to align each and every lesson in our book, and decide which lessons to omit (or save for enrichment and/or end of year after testing). The biggest benefit in doing this, is that I was then able to count up the number of standards that applied to each lesson, in each chapter, and make this beautiful pie chart of emphasis.

How to read the chart... take Chapter 1 for example... There are ten lessons covering everything from what a variable is, how to use one, how to use properties and integer arithmetic, and how to solve one-step equations and inequalities. The 17% represents that there were 37 events of standards covered (3-4 per lesson, often overlapping & repeating) in the ten lessons.

There were a total of 216 events of standards covered in all 14 chapters of the book. (37/216 = 17%) I then take the 17% and multiply it by days in the school year. 17% x 184 actual instructional days and I get about 31 school days to dedicate to the chapter. Which helps SO MUCH.

Why does this help? BECAUSE WE ARE COMPETITIVE TEACHING ZOMBIES!!! Society and our coworkers and our students and parents and state testing have molded us into the "Faster Stronger Higher" mentality that is supposed to be reserved for the Olympics. Even in the 10K race I just ran, I was getting passed and passed and passed by faster, younger runners (both males and females)... and even though I creamed my 55-minute goal time to finish with 51:40, I still felt bad as I was running that I couldn't go any faster. This is SO TRUE for us in the classroom, and even more so for our students.

It is already driving me crazy that the other two teachers in my grade are a few lessons "ahead of me" pacing-wise in Chapter 1 in our regular classes, and it's driving another teacher crazy to have an accelerated class going at a slower pace than mine. I have to keep chanting in my head, "It's not a race! It's not a race! It's not a race!" and even it if were a race, we'd all finish at different times, depending on our prior training, current skill level, and ability/desire to push ourselves faster/harder.

What this pie chart gives me, and then I swear I'll shut up about it, is piece of mind, that yes... we are three weeks into school, and yes I'm technically "behind", but that it's better to go slower and deeper through the lessons, if my students need it, since this chapter is one of the two MOST IMPORTANT chapters of the entire year. I should be dedicating 30+ days to it, and I'm only on day 14 of that cycle and we are just about done with 1-4. So I think we can handle finishing another 6 lesson in 16 days.

Item #4: Adapting Flip Class for Middle School

Independent learning and functional group work are not concepts that come easily to seventh graders. But the sooner you train them to read textbooks for meaning, take good notes, and to seek help from others (not just the teacher), the more prepared they will be for high school and higher education. Some things that my students are already struggling with include:

   -what do I write in my notebook when I'm reading my flip lesson?
   -how do I take notes on an example without just copying down exactly what I read?
   -when do I give up on the book, and switch to the video tutor?
   -where do I go to get help if I get stuck on a math problem? (at home or in class)
   -when is it OK to ask the teacher for help, vs. when ask my friends or work on my own?
   -what is the difference between comparing answers, and copying answers?
   -how to ask for easier/harder/independent work and when to ask

And then there's MY questions, that I still haven't figured out the answers for:

   -how to pull students into needs-based groups without embarrassing them
   -how much whole-group instruction and review of "flip" notes is needed each day
   -how to keep students on task without sitting next to them
   -how to get students to ask for and/or admit they need help or don't get it
   -how many opportunities do I give to reteach/re-assess a concept before moving on
   -what to do with off-task students or those who don't have flip lesson done
   -when to assign the class work as homework for off-task students
   -when and how much to reduce the class work for slower paced learners
   -when to use the book and when to use worksheets (I waste so many trees!!!!)
   -how to use online assessment tools, versus paper, to demonstrate mastery
    (so I have less correcting to do, but what about cheating!?!?!?)

More to come on these and many other questions, as I continue to plod through it... in the mean time, please enjoy the Hunger Games / Harry Potter crossover  t-shirt I just purchased! Sure to get some appreciative laughs both in and out of school.