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Flipping Math

Written on January 14th, 2014

Flipping Math

In a flipped classroom students typically watch pre-recorded lectures at home before working on their assignments in class the next day—in some sense flipping classwork and homework. Reserving class time for what would traditionally be assigned as homework allows students to collaborate with peers as they explore new concepts and seek assistance from a readily accessible teacher.

Several teachers within the OACS community have been trying out variations of a flipped classroom model. For Alex van Donkersgoed, Grade 7 teacher at Halton Hills Christian School, the journey started three and a half years ago, during a math lesson. “I was using a large wooden protractor to teach students,” he explains. “Students couldn’t transfer what I was doing with my wooden piece tool on the chalk board to what they needed to do with their own plastic tool on a piece of paper.” Later that afternoon, an idea came to van Donkersgoed while fiddling with one of the school’s Webcams. 

“I hooked up the webcam and pointed it at my desk so that I could use the same tool as the students,” he recalls. After recording and uploading the protractor demonstration to his YouTube channel, van Donkersgoed sent the link to a student who hadn’t made it to math class. “He showed up at school the next day with the homework done,” he says. “That was the moment when I thought this changes everything!”.

As much as possible van Donkersgoed records videos that will put himself in the student’s spot, so that members of his class can easily apply what they see on screen to the materials they have in front of them. Today, he uses videos for every subject he teaches—History, English, Bible, Science, Art and even Physical Education.

When van Donkersgoed first began experimenting with the flipped classroom format, he had his video lectures playing on a projector at the front of the classroom. With most of the class keeping up with the lesson on screen, van Donkersgoed could focus on the small group of students who needed independent instruction. Now, his students have their own devices, and van Donkersgoed can still spend the majority of his class time working with kids who need extra help. 

Part of his current routine involves sitting down with each child and setting a goal for the week. For some students, their goal will be to finish one lesson, for others it may be to finish six. Either way, they have the opportunity to engage with material at their own pace. Van Donkersgoed suspects that one of his students is likely to finish the bulk of this year’s math curriculum by April, giving her time  to work on other, more challenging assignments that she wouldn’t have an opportunity to do otherwise.

Students who work through the material faster than others can also become resources for others in the class. “During last year I had a lot of success creating peer tutoring, where students were going to each other for help,” says van Donkersgoed. “That has been really powerful.”

Van Donkersgoed has seized every opportunity to share his flipped classroom success stories—his excitement has inspired teachers like Justin Versteeg at Providence Christian school in Dundas to give the learning model a try. To date, Versteeg has uploaded over seventy math videos onto his YouTube channel. Students watch a lesson at home and then work on practice problems based on what they’ve learned the next day (after taking up prior homework). The grade 6 & 7 teacher finds the change in format to be advantageous for several reasons; he has more time to work on math drills to improve student computation abilities, he’s able to monitor more closely how they’re doing their math questions, and he’s there to provide real time feedback while they apply what they’ve learned.

Flipped learning is changing high school courses too. John Templeton, math instructor at Toronto District Christian High School, has been making videos for his students for about three years now. Most of them are supplementary to his lessons; they expand on covered material or serve as a review tool, so that he doesn’t have to “reteach” concepts in class. Students can watch the videos online and then use the rest of the period to work. 

“In that sense it is very similar to a flipped classroom learning model,” says Templeton. A better description of his math courses would probably be partially flipped, he adds.

Although Templeton likes what he’s seen so far, the way he integrates technology into his classes will likely change in the future, as he experiments and plays with the resources available to him. 

“It’s going to take a lot of thinking and playing and learning,” he says. “I haven’t even come close to what I want to do with this stuff.” Fortunately, TDChristian’s long term vision around technology will support teachers with an interest in video making. The school is now looking into creating skills based videos for all of its curriculum. That could mean releasing (roughly) 100 videos a year per grade level. If the videos are accessible to a wider audience, they could become valuable online resources for many Christian schools in Ontario, says Templeton.

At the elementary level, Justin Versteeg recently invited teachers on the OACS eCurriculum site to use his math videos, even if it’s simply to reinforce concepts that students have already covered.

For educators like Versteeg, Templeton and van Donkersgoed, a willingness to share their own good work and learn from others, is all part of rethinking, re-imagining and flipping learning in the classroom.

Do you have questions or comments about the flipped classroom learning model? Visit the edifide EHE Gr 7-8 group on the eCurriculum site to join the conversation!