Flipped learning – the ups and downs

This year I’m trialling flipped learning for my Year 7 class. I have one Year 7 class who I teach for 5 subjects – English, Maths, Science, Geography and History. For maths, I’ve decided to try flipped learning in order to be more efficient at differentiated learning.

So what made me feel the need to try flipped learning? In the first couple of weeks when I had maths lessons with my class, I’d find myself spending 20-30 minutes explaining the concept and doing worked examples as whole class instruction. I found that the whole class instruction treated every student as the same; that every student knew nothing about the concepts I was explaining. However the reality was that some students already knew how to do the maths I was explaining. Some students didn’t but picked it up quickly. Some students needed the explanations to be repeated. Other students needed individual instruction. I asked myself, ‘How can I better differentiate my maths lessons so that students are able to move at their own pace and allow me to provide individualised instruction more easily?’ The answer was flipped learning with OfficeMix.

Here’s an example of one of my OfficeMix maths videos:
https://mix.office.com/embed/16o5y0wf7l85l

I’m not doing the traditional flipped learning where students watch explanation videos at home and then do the exercises in class. I’ve modified it so that students watch the explanation videos in class. I find this version of modified flipped learning work for my students.

So here’s the ups and downs I have found so far with flipped learning:

Ups

  • OfficeMix is a really easy tool for making instruction/explanation videos. Because it is part of PowerPoint, it is extremely accessible to teachers (all teachers are familiar with PowerPoint). OfficeMix also have analytics where you can see how many times students have viewed a video and how long they spent watching certain sections. I have not used this feature yet.
  • Flipped learning allows my students to move at their own pace. Those who pick up concepts very quickly can move on quickly. Those that need more time can rewind and watch certain parts again. This then enables me to go around to each student and help them as individuals.
  • The videos allow students (and their families) to review the explanations at a later date, which is great for revision.

Downs (I prefer to label them as “areas to work on”)

  • Flipped learning is an acquired skill and needs to be taught. Flipped learning requires students to be independent learners, to know themselves whether they understand a concept or require further help. As a teacher, I need to teach this to my students.
  • Making the videos do take time. I have 4 hours of maths a week and I find that 1 to 2 videos per week is the most effective. We don’t have new videos in every lesson.
  • The need to copy information – I found that with the videos, some students did not take the time to process the information. They just watched it. In my latest videos, I have included instructions for students to copy the worked examples in the video as I believe the act of writing out the working out process will allow students to take the time to process the information.

So far, I think this version of flipped learning is working for my students. I am planning to evaluate this strategy with student surveys and focus groups in a few week’s time.

 

 

Student technology help desk for BYOD

student technology help desk poster

I’ve been leading my school in implementing BYOD for students for a few years now and one of the things we have noticed in our ongoing evaluation is students need technical support (eg. help in connecting their devices to the school wifi) and learning advice (eg. which apps to use for notetaking and for particular ways of presenting information for assignments) when they are bringing their own devices for schools. While many teachers believe that students are digital natives, we have noticed that many students are not as naturally competent and confident in using technology for learning as we think they are. Many students know how to use devices for social purposes but when it comes to enhancing their learning with their own devices, they need teachers to guide them. However, a major challenge is that teachers are also on the same learning journey as students. With BYOD, a teacher faces a large array of types of devices so it is a huge challenge to provide technical support or to be an expert in the thousands of apps that are available for students to use.

To meet this challenge, I’m currently experimenting with the Student Technology Help Desk. This is a service where students drop into a classroom at a certain time each week and get technical support or learning advice for BYOD from me and student digital leaders (who are trained to be tech-savvy). It is sort of like a Genius Bar. At the moment the Student Technology Help Desk is opened for 30 minutes a week and it every session has been non-stop from beginning to end. Staffing the help desk is me and three other students. There is a roster of which students staff the help desk so that each student gives up their time a maximum of twice a term. So far most help requests are for connecting devices to the school wifi, setting up Google Apps on devices and advice on apps to complete class tasks and assessments. So far it is working well and I think it’s a great way for help students bring their own devices to school and also a great learning opportunity for the student digital leaders.

Do you have BYOD at your school? Why not set up a Student Technology Help Desk as well?

Are teachers stretched to the limit?

Note: I love my school and all staff and students who work at my school. This post isn’t about how my school works. It’s about teaching in general.

I read a post tititled, How far can you stretch a piece of elastic before it snaps, this week and it really resonated with me. The post highlighted how the increasing workload demands on teachers are affecting their wellbeing. When I first started my current position, an older, more experienced teacher told me to watch myself because schools are blood suckers. They will keep drawing your blood unless you set the limits. It doesn’t matter how much blood you give, they will find a way to draw more until you are sucked dry.

This is a rather gruesome analogy that I don’t believe in 100%. I do believe that my school and the people who work in it all respect each other’s wellbeing and look after each other. But the post with the elastic band strategy and the blood sucking analogy highlights something that is rarely spoken about in schools – the effects of workload on teacher health and wellbeing.

One of the reasons I think many teachers feel they are stretched to the limit is the sheer amount of work involved in teaching. The following is a list of some thing steachers do:

  • Plan lessons & create resources
  • Marking and providing feedback to students
  • Work with colleagues to plan cross curricular lessons like project based learning
  • Teach classes
  • Admin and paper work – registers, recording student achievement data, entering professional learning hours onto a database, etc
  • Organising and running excursions, incursions and other extra-curricular activities like training sporting teams
  • Meetings – faculty meetings, staff meetings, committee meetings, parent meetings (there are many more types)
  • Observing other teachers’ lessons & providing feedback to them
  • Following up on student learning issues with a range of people including parents, counsellors, other teachers, etc
  • Follow up on emails – many, many emails
  • Create and monitor budgets for the area you are responsible for – faculty, sport, special programs

This is not an exhaustive list. I have probably forgotten to list a dozen more things teachers do on a regular basis. My question is can these things be done within work hours? I’m not talking about a 9-3 school day. I’m talking about a 8-5 work day that most other people in society work. My feeling is teachers cannot do what they need to do in a 9 hour working day and this is 9 hours straight. Many teachers do not eat, drink or even go to the bathroom at work because that is just not enough time.

My next question is is this what we expect teachers to do. Is teaching a job where to do everything you need to do, you have to put in 9 hours straight with no breaks at school, then work another 3 hours at home and then work 8 hours over the weekend?

People who know me may say that this post is just me adjusting to working full time after the birth of my baby. It isn’t. I have felt like this for a long time.  Many other teachers with or without kids feel this way. Many don’t want to say anything because sharing these thoughts may result in getting labeled as unproductive, ineffective, or uncommitted to your students. The last one is the worst assumption.

Are you a teacher? Do you think a teacher’s work can be done in work hours with minimal impact on personal wellbeing? Are teachers stretched to the limit?

Managing impacts of staffing on your workload

As any leader of a curriculum area would know, when teachers you supervise call in sick, it can be an absolute nightmare on your workload. It can also cause a lot of stress during the day, particularly when multiple teachers take sick leave at the same time, which often happens during winter. I had such a day today when I had two teachers call in sick, both with a large number of lessons on their timetables. It took me over an hour to plan their lessons , organise all the printing and rolls for their relieving teachers. This meant starting the work at home at 6am. It is not a teacher’s fault when they call in sick. When you are sick, you are sick and there’s nothing you can do, but the impact on other teachers can be significant. I’ve spoken to some curriculum leaders for advice on how to better manage this impact on my workload as I don’t want it to impact my time with my baby. Before baby, I can go to school at 7am when multiple teachers call in sick. But now I can’t as my baby needs to be dropped off at daycare first and I don’t want to because I don’t want to sacrifice time I spend with baby in the morning. She shouldn’t miss out on time with her parent because others has called in sick. So here are some strategie I’ve been told:

(1) Unless a teacher is so sick they are in an emergency ward, they have to set their own relief work

I know this is a strategy in some schools but I don’t like it for several reasons. It encourages sick teachers to come to school because coming to school when you are too sick is easier than setting the relief work. This facilitates the spread of the illness and the next thing you know, more teachers are sick. I also think when you are sick, you should be resting and recovering, not setting relief work.

(2) A buddy system

Some have suggested that each teacher should be buddies with another teacher so that when one teacher is sick, the buddy has to set the relief work. I haven’t tried this but I think it’s a bit of a cop out from the curriculum leader. It’s almost like palming off your role to your staff. I personally will not implement this system by choice.

(3) Programming with relief work already in place

This is the strategy I like so far and would like to put in place from next term. Programs for units of work have one-off, relief teacher friendly work for each lesson. Teachers have to complete their registers day by day and leave them on their desks so that anyone can see where they are up to at any time. This strategy takes a lot of work to set up but will minimise stress and workload increase.
So how do you deal with the workload that comes with teachers taking sick leave?

How schools and teachers can use Periscope

periscope

Periscope is a recently-released app from Twitter that allows you to live broadcast. What’s different about it in comparison to other digital tools for live broadcasting is that it lets you have a conversation with others viewing the live broadcast via ‘tweets’ (I don’t know the official name but when you watch a live broadcast on Periscope, you can type text in the ‘say something’ box and the text appears over the broadcast).

I’m currently playing around with Periscope for personal and professional use. Periscope has so many opportunities for schools. Here are some ideas:

Live broadcast major school events

Schools can live broadcast events like awards and carnivals. Parents, families and the community can watch these events live wherever they are.

Professional learning

This is where I think it’s the most exciting potential for Periscope for education. Learning from observing other teachers is one of the most valuable professional learning for teachers. However, a lot of the times it is restricted to observing colleagues at your own school. With Periscope, lessons can be live broadcasted. Multiple teachers can observe live online and ‘chat’ about the lesson via the text conversation feature of the app. The teacher being observed can then watch the saved video of this with the text conversation as feedback. This can also be used for pre-service teachers at university. They can watch a number of lessons back-to-back and have online conversations that is overlayed on the video.

There’s so much potential for Periscope in education. I can’t wait to see how teachers and schools use it. How are you and your school using Periscope?

Note: If you’re a teacher, please consult your Principal or education authority before using Periscope

A humbling experience 

Today at the bank a lady approached me and asked some questions to confirm who I was. She then told me she thought it was me and she followed my blog. I was in utter shock as I never knew my ramblings would result in being recognised in public. The lady walked away quickly as I think she was busy. But I was in such a surprise I was lost for words. Hopefully I didn’t seem rude. So if you are that lady, I’d like to say thank you for reading my blog. If we bump into each other again, I hope we will have more time to chat 🙂