Monday, June 16, 2014

How to Flip a Classroom; Let Me Count the Ways

On June 10th, thanks to the urging and assistance of our beloved Director of Educational Technology, Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky, with support from Rabbi Eli Ciner, Mrs. Chanie Schlesinger and I, stalwart members of The Frisch School Math Department, headed to Ramaz to attend the “unConference on Flipped Learning in Jewish Studies”. Many of the session leaders had trained in the year long course, The Flipped Jewish Studies Classroom, sponsored by The Lookstein Center with a grant from the UJA Federation of NY. They were eager to share their excitement and the expertise garnered over this past year.

What we learned is that there are many different ways to “flip a classroom”. Not all of them require intensive use of technology, but they require a re-evaluation of how we teach. What all Flipped Classroom models share is a recognition that we, as teachers, need to engage our students in new ways to promote meaningful learning that will prepare them for the world in which they will live and work. The world has changed dramatically. Julie Schell from Harvard University, the keynote speaker, made the point when she contrasted the differences between an operating room in the 1800’s with the operating room of today. They were shockingly different; technology had transformed the OR. When these OR photographs were contrasted with a comparison of the classroom of today and of yesteryear, the differences seemed shockingly non-existent. Sir Ken Robinson, in a video clip during one presentation, spoke about this lag in the development of new ways to teach, and warned that it was something we needed to address.

The emphasis is now on creativity, for both teachers and students. The availability of real time feedback to make sure all the students are set up for success, allows the teacher to rethink how he or she will teach her lesson. By empowering our students to take ownership of their studies, and encouraging and supporting their natural desire to collaborate and work together, the expectation is that our students will be able to learn better, deeper, and with an increased ability to apply what they have learned. The hope is that we can replace rote learning and memorization with analysis and critical thinking. What was very exciting was the idea that there isn't one method, one app, one style that is “the way”. Each teacher can adjust and adapt the process to mesh with his or her own strengths and talents. The key is to be willing to change and embrace new methods.

We were warmly welcomed by everyone; no one seemed to mind that there were Math teachers in the room! Many of the sessions were led by educators who were using some very powerful and exciting apps in their classrooms. They provided information and support. The keynote speaker also shared examples of ways to adjust our thinking to a Flipped Classroom Model that is not totally reliant on extensive use of technology.

There is no question, however, that technology gives us tools to interact with more students, often almost instantaneously in “real time”, so that we can have a better understanding of what they know and what they don’t yet know. Google Presentation, Google Forms, Socrative, eduCanon, were some of the apps we learned about. We learned about Club Academia which showcases student-made videos, allowing students to teach students. Both Mrs. Schlesinger and I hope to perfect our own video-making skills, in the coming year.

Both of us returned home eager to implement these programs in our Math classrooms. We look forward to sharing these ideas with our colleagues during the weekly meetings, organized by our Math Department Chair, Mrs. Sabrina Bernath, that are an important tool in our search to improve and keep abreast of new developments in Math education. We both agreed that Math at Frisch was going to be even more exciting in the coming year.

More important than any single app or program is the way this conference made us both feel. It inspired us to increase our efforts to find new ways to make our teaching more effective. We saw these changes as incredible opportunities for our students that we wanted to foster. As Mrs. Schlesinger put it, “I’m so excited that I can’t wait to get started. But I don’t think the summer will be long enough to do everything I want to do.” This is why we feel fortunate we have Rabbi Pittinsky and his famed summer Boot Camp to provide all the help we need. Bring on summer!

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