Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Could swapping homework problems for video lectures change the way schools work?
SAN DIEGO Using technology in the classroom can mean using a digital whiteboard instead of a blackboard and chalk or accessing textbook chapters online. But two San Diego teachers are leading the way in using the internet to flip the traditional classroom.
On a Monday morning at Innovation Middle School in Clairemont Mesa, Michael Salamanca’s Advanced Algebra students are about 15 minutes into class. And, like most mornings – the room is nearly silent.
The seventh and eighth graders are taking a short quiz about a video lesson they watched over the weekend. Salamanca records the videos himself and posts them to his class website. They let him do something called flipping.
“Rather than sitting there and listening to me talk for 30 or 40 minutes," he said, "they take a quick daily assessment so we can actually put them in differentiated groups.”
All of Salamanca’s students are able to watch the videos at home because they have small laptops issued by San Diego Unified that have wireless internet. They log onto a class website to watch the videos. They can also access the quizzes they take in class and other worksheets and class projects.
During the quizzes Salamanca can see exactly which students are answering the questions correctly and incorrectly in real time, so he knows who needs his help during class.
“So instead of that 30 minutes lecturing, it’s 30 minutes of I’m going to sit with this table or I’m going to sit with that table over there and we’re working on their specific issues instead of a more generic ‘this is where people tend to make mistakes,’" he said. "Because, as we all know, a lot of these kids learn differently.”
Seventh grader Kelly Luevano missed one of the questions on this morning’s quiz, but she doesn’t mind that Salamanca can see her errors right away.
“Because if he knows that we don’t get it, he’ll be able to help us to understand it,” she said
In past classes she didn’t always feel she was getting the help she needed.
“The work we do at home here – we watch a video and we learn about a certain subject and when we come back to school he reviews us," she said. "In our past classes, they’d give us homework and we’d have to kind of figure it out ourselves. I think it’s a lot more helpful with the video.”
Eighth grader Nathan Cua agrees the video lessons take off some of the pressure.
“Because you can just watch it as many times as you want and then you’d get it whenever you’re ready," he said. "It’s much easier than last year’s method. Because then sometimes you wouldn’t get it at all. And then when it comes to tests, you wouldn’t do so well.”
This is the first year Salamanca and his teaching partner Julie Garcia are using the flipped classroom model. The approach has been gaining devotees across the country over the last few years.
The students may feel like it’s making things easier for them, but for the teachers it meant a summer’s worth of research and figuring out the best ways to record the screencast lessons. Two classrooms down, Garcia is still working out some of the kinks.
She stands in front of a whiteboard, recording the lecture she would normally give to students with a headset while her laptop records the problems she writes on the board. The video lessons last about 10 minutes and Garcia and Salamanca agree they can fit most of what they would cover in one class period into the shorter format. There's no time wasted telling students to quiet down or waiting out the silence that follows the request for an answer to a question.
Garcia started using video lessons from a nonprofit called Khan Academy about once a week in her classes last year.
“I noticed they were really focused on what they were doing" she said. "They were copying the steps down and at times were even asking questions about why. What I wanted was something that was personalized for my students.”
That personalization doesn’t just come through their computer screens.
“It’s a lot more work, because I’m constantly circulating the room, checking work, talking with students," she said. "But I feel like I really know my students now because I can tell you after a 50 minute period I’ve probably talked to every single student at least three or four times and that kind of personal attention for students you don’t necessarily get with direct instruction.”
The benefits Salamanca and Garcia see from the extra work has made them mentors for others who want to give flipping a try. They’re giving classes on flipping at regional conferences and showing teachers how to get started at ten other San Diego Unified schools where students began using district-issued laptops this year.