Saturday, July 29, 2017

How my #flipclass journey began #flipblogs

I tell this story at every training I give.  It was October of 2011, and I was trying something new in my Math Analysis classroom.  It was a strategy I had seen during walkthroughs of other math teachers' classrooms, and I thought it had great potential (and it does... I just didn't execute it greatly on my first attempt).  It was called "expert teacher" and the idea was that I would teach a small group of 8ish students the skill, and then they would go back and teach their small group of 2-3 classmates.  Then, I could walk around and support the groups, but not have to try to instruct all of them at one time.

The skill was how to use their graphing calculator to find relative maxima and minima.  The majority of my students left that day still confused because their "expert" did not explain it very well.  I felt rushed, frustrated, and disappointed, but my optimistic self told my students as they walked out the door, "Still make sure to try those homework problems, and we'll revisit this tomorrow."  As soon as they walked out the door, I knew I had to do something.  I had gotten a new Aver Document Camera at the beginning of the year that recorded videos straight to my mac, so I put the graphing calculator and some paper under the camera and recorded a quick video that explained the lesson. I posted it on Edmodo and sent it out to my students to watch "if they needed it."  

When my students came back the next day, I got really good feedback about how helpful the video was, and how easy it was to understand what they were supposed to learn the previous day.  Most of them said, "This was actually really easy."  I left that second day with thoughts beginning to form in my mind about what it would look like if my students had watched that video before coming in to the "expert teacher" lesson.  Would they have been able to get the differentiated support they needed?  Would I have been able to go deeper with the material and gotten to more application or analysis work?

I did some searching online (at the time I was not on Twitter) for "using video in the math classroom" and stumbled across the idea of something called a "flipped classroom".  It was in the middle of the first semester, but I proposed the idea to my students based on our experience with the "expert teacher" lesson, and they thought we should give it a try.  So, for a couple weeks, I had my students watch a video explaining the basics of the material for two or three of the lessons.  Then, when they came into class, they were able to work together and with me in small groups to apply their knowledge and do the practice.

I quickly realized it was a lot harder to "flip" a few lessons a week than to just be "flipping" every day.  There was too much confusion on expectations ("was today a video day or a regular day?"), so I jumped 100% in.  (I always tell people in trainings that at this point, I had no kids at home... I had more time on my hands and could do this.  Not that it's not doable with kids at home, but it is a lot of work...)

After another month, I proposed the idea to my Algebra 1 class as a "trial" - did they want to try what seemed to be working so well in my other class for just one unit?  They struggled with doing homework at home, and I knew a good percentage of the students struggled not because of motivation but because they would forget the content or needed support at home that they did not have.  I proposed it to them as a way to be able to get help with their homework during class time, and they jumped on board.

It's a long story, but why did I start?  Why was I inspired to flip my classroom, resulting in a completely new philosophy of teaching and learning?   I wanted to better support all my students, and I didn't feel like I was able to do that consistently or effectively. I wanted to be there to help them and challenge them when they needed it the most, and not just "teach to the middle".  I wanted class time to be more about them and less about me, where learning went beyond just being able to solve problems I had modeled for them.  I wanted them to have more opportunities to demonstrate TWIRLS (see #flipblogs post #1).  Flipping solved a problem that I had in a way that nothing else I had tried could. 

What problem does flipping solve for you?  If you don't have an answer, then why are you doing it?  
  • If it's because flipping sounds "cool" or "techy" or "modern", then please... STOP.  
  • If you think all it means is having students watch videos at home, then please... STOP (or just don't call that flipping).   
  • If you think it will save you time or make your life easier, then please... STOP.  
  • If you aren't willing to put the time into taking risks and trying new things, reflecting on what is and isn't working in your classroom (including gathering feedback from students), reaching out and collaborating with others to learn best practices and get new ideas, and refining what you are doing in your classroom, then please... STOP.

I realize I only answered the first question for this week's #flipblogs prompt, but I've gone on long enough.  (Unless you say my first step was sending videos home with my students. I guess it was.  But flipping truly became transformational once I developed the WSQ model and really started trying new things with my class time besides "work on these problems and I'll help you".)  

If you want to know more about what my first steps really were, then please check out my 2011-2012 weekly reflections, where you can really see week by week how I started and where I went starting in January of 2012.  I think it will be well worth your time. 

In addition, you can read more about what has worked for me in flipping my classroom in Flipping with Kirch: The Ups and Downs from Inside my Flipped Classroom.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Taking learning to the next level through structures that allow for TWIRLS... #flipblogs

Design Credit: Matthew Moore
Credit: Andrew Swan
Introduction & Background
A random Twitter conversation between myself, Andrew Swan, and Matthew Moore led to the launch of a flipped learning chat modeled after good flipped learning practices.  You can read the goals and purposes in the image above.  I hope this encourages many of you to open up the walls of your classrooms by blogging about the prompts that will be posted to the #flipblogs hashtag.  Here is my attempt at going back in time to share a moment from my classroom.  If you'd like to read more, check out my weekly reflection posts (2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014) or my book, full of practical strategies, examples, and recommendations at  I hope to chat with many of you during the Twitter Chats on #flipblogs!

Credit: Andrew Swan

I was in my 5th year of teaching when I started flipping my class.  I remember having an unfulfilled desire every year: I wanted my students talking more and writing more in my math class.  I tried so many strategies that I learned about in different workshops, but I was not able to find a way to successfully and consistently provide opportunities for my students to talk and write to the extent that I desired.

One of my first posts when I started blogging back in 2012 was titled TWRLS, and briefly explains the transformation I began seeing in my students being able to show their thinking through writing, reading, listening, and speaking. (Note: Later I added and "I" in the middle for "Interacting" and it became TWIRLS.  Someone at a webinar I was hosting mentioned it in the chat and I loved it, so I added it!). 

It was so rewarding and gratifying to find a way where daily my students were taking their learning to the next level and expressing their learning to me (and their peers) in many more ways than just solving rote problems.

So, how did flipping my class allow my students to demonstrate TWIRLS (Thinking, Writing, Interacting, Reading, Listening, Speaking) effectively and consistently when I tried for so long with success?  I believe it can be pinpointed to 2 things, all that deal around structures that provided the time and space for students to do so.  If you've read my blog before, you know I am a fan of structures, because I feel like having consistent and clear structures help to set students up for success.  Here's a very brief overview of the structures I feel helped to make the transformation for my students.  For more info, check out the 4 part series I wrote in August of 2016 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

1. Pre-Class Structures
Students don't "Watch a Video", they complete a WSQ.  I'm going to just direct you to the 4-part series linked in the previous paragraph (Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4) or to my book to learn more about how to utilize the WSQ method effectively.  Please ask questions in the comments and I'll clarify or direct you to a more specific place.

2. In-Class Structures
Class time transformed from having students be able to just work on practice problems and get individualized attention and support to a place where I was actually able to talk with every student every day (it's not just a coined phrase - it can actually happen!).  Because we started class with a WSQ Chat (see part 4 linked above) and then provided opportunities for students to process their learning and demonstrate their understanding through blogging (see more student blogging resources here), I began to see that it wasn't just me (the teacher) who could demonstrate TWIRLS in class.  It became my goal that my students were always the one demonstrating the most TWIRLS on a daily basis.

In my classroom...
I can't just pick one story to share in this I decided to pull a video from the archives where my students share about their experience and how the flipped classroom helps them demonstrate TWIRLS in many ways.  It's 10 minutes long, but I think hugely valuable to give a window into my story.

Also on at

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