There are four modifications that I believe have made a significant impact on my classroom in the past five weeks:
- Focusing on what students need to be doing in order to create understanding.
- Designing formative assessments that inform me about what students truly know and what they are thinking.
- Guiding students along the Ladder of Abstraction to help them confront misconceptions and build good mental models.
- Using Edmodo for class communication.
The flipped classroom model has made the above changes possible. Just making a decision to try a new approach to instruction has caused me to place my entire focus on the student.
Flipped instruction facilitates this mindset. I can use videos and other resources to make information available to students. Students can use time outside of class to acquire knowledge that they will use in class in order to build understanding.
Formative assessments are critical for tracking how much understanding of material that students are creating. Worksheets and multiple choice quizzes don’t quite cut it in this area. I have found that I only know what students think and understand by having them write for me. I have them use the Cornell note-taking method and reflect on their notes – I then read their comments and notations. I have found Google forms to be an incredibly powerful tool to collect student thinking. I often have students watch a video and then answer two or three questions that force them to process what they are learning and communicate their thinking in writing. This is a powerful learning strategy that also provides accountability and reveals understanding.
As a science teacher I have been devoting a great amount of effort into carefully structuring and guiding the way students move between concrete experiences and abstract mental models. I try to ensure that all students have interesting and engaging concrete experiences that provide a point of common prior knowledge. These experiences are also critical for creating relevance by making the students ask their own questions. It is imperative that students ask questions they care about answering. Class time is then devoted to activities that allow the student time to create sound mental models of their concrete experience. Students spend time building abstractions in the form of language, diagrams, graphs, and mathematics.
I have finally learned that students need time to confront their misconceptions and create these different abstractions. Students cannot create the entire mental model all at once. Textbooks and curriculum often attempt to do this and that is one reason students struggle. I am finding instead that a structured and intentional approach that works on each form of abstraction separately while reinforcing previous lessons is working well. The flipped classroom model allows time for higher order thinking activities in class because the students engage in lower level Bloom’s activities (taking notes and watching videos) outside of class.
Asking students to follow a non-traditional model of instruction provides opportunities for confusion. Edmodo has been very valuable as a communication tool with my students. We have created a routine where every day I post a recap of the events of that day. I post all documents that a student receives in class; if they lose an assignment, they just click on the document and print themselves a new copy. Any notes that are made in class using the IWB are saved in .pdf form and posted. I can take simple opinion polls and give short quizzes to assess learning and keep students engaged. They are forced to remain mentally engaged and that prevents them from procrastinating quite as much. As time goes by, they are becoming more comfortable asking questions and helping each other online.
At the end of five weeks I have to say I am very pleased with the class culture that is forming. I still have a few students who struggle and have not engaged the process and taken responsibility for their learning. For the students that have embraced the process I am convinced that they are happier and learning more as a result of the flipped model of instruction.