Three quarters down…

Today – as we spend the afternoon without students – our principal asked us to reflect on the goals we set this year, and what we need for us and our students to be more successful.

The timing is just right for this exercise: It’s the beginning of the end – or as it is more commonly known in public school – it’s the start of 4th quarter. For my seniors, it’s their last quarter of high school – ever. For my juniors, it’s the last quarter before they become the top dogs. For my sophomores, it’s the last quarter before becoming upper class men. For my freshmen, it’s the last quarter before they are officially no longer ‘newbies.’ For me…well, I begin thinking of all the changes and new ways I’ll approach my courses next year, because for me – I get a ‘do over.’ I get next year to make it even better.

At the start of the year I developed goals that (for the first time, to be honest) felt truly relevant to me and my teaching, and they all center around flipped learning and working towards encouraging deeper understanding and reflection from my students.

Goal: Continued work to improve my practice of Flipped Learning. 

Four years ago, I made the decision to completely up end my teaching and utilize the flipped learning model. This has been the best professional choice I’ve ever made, and I continue to constantly refine and change my practice to ensure it still is the most effective model for my students. Flipped learning hits at all four of our practice domains, but especially domain 2. This model fosters a closer relationship with my students, and I firmly believe that students learn better in a class where they feel a greater connection to the teacher. We are daily working in small groups and having discussions with each other. The break up into small group work rather than full class direct instruction has opened more chances for student success, and promotes student responsibility more than the traditional teacher-centered focus. It allows them to takes risks and feel comfortable asking questions. We share in the learning, and we all work together to ensure my room is a space that promotes it.

With domain 3, flipped learning only enhances the quality of my instruction, but I argue it changes the focus of the origin of instruction. The origin is now much more student driven and authentic, and I can spend more of my time responding to students’ needs and providing direct feedback in a more proactive manner which targets more of what my students don’t understand. The big plus to this is that the learning now sits in the lap of the students, which can result in some pushback from students since they are so used to being in classes where the teacher tells them what they need to know, they take notes, and just spit it back. This has been particularly true with one of my 5 classes this year. As a result, I’ve had to pull back from full flipped and blend in a bit of the traditional with this crew (although their collective response to either has been low). This class has helped me identify the weaknesses in my model. They have tested all points of vulnerability and found the cracks. When >75% of the class has not completed the vodcast for the discussion that day, I’ve had to be flexible enough to figure out how to handle it without wasting the time of my students who did have it completed.

Over the past 4 years, the planning and preparation of flipped learning (domain 1) has become ‘easier’ as it is now so much a part of my day to day work. While I’m still the lone nut (with one colleague trying it on occasion) here at my school using flipped learning, I still effectively work with our biology PLC to design curricula that is better and more relevant for our students. Currently our focus is on the redesign of our science programs to better align with NGSS and our hope is to truly focus on this next year for full implementation in the fall of 2017. Our biggest barrier to really doing this well is going to be time.

Along with my department here, at the heart of my ability to use flipped learning successfully is my #flipclass PLN. The other flipped learning teachers across the country are my rock and keep me going. The weekly chats, discussions on Voxer, and Flipcon (where we actually get to breathe the same air) has become as much a part of my professional routine as grading papers is. Also my involvement with the NH Science Teachers Association has broadened my knowledge of science education in New Hampshire and has connected me with other strong educators in the state.

While I continue to make solid progress here – I feel that I’ve fallen short on my other goals. They are in what I would call ‘phase 1’ and I plan to continue to build on them next year. I very much want to focus on developing a feedback system that (at least in my classes) replaces the numerical grade in favor of standards. I’ve started to implement a more reflective process in my advanced and AP bio classes (check out this one!). Students are beginning to analyze if they have met a particular standard and how they know they have met it or what they did in class that solidifies it. They also have the opportunity to discuss what they feel they are missing. Some students are still struggling to understand the purpose of this, but many have honed in on it, and are using it as a tool to dig deeper into the learning we do each week. This is certainly something I will continue with next year.

As a whole, I’ve seen overall student achievement increase since bring in flipped learning. I have more students passing biology at the CP level, and many doing well as they continue into their science courses. My students who are in college are reporting that they feel very prepared (and almost over (gasp!) prepared) for their science classes. They are feeling super comfortable and this is helping them become much more successful in their college programs.

 

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