“Y equals F of X denotes that Y is a function of X,” says the voice. Sawyer Lyons taps the screen on his Asus Android tablet a few times. The voice repeats the statement. “Y equals F of X denotes that Y is a function of X.”
Sawyer, a McCallie School seventh-grader, is viewing a video lecture by his accelerated Algebra I teacher Cary Hubbard. He is studying the “introduction to functions” lesson in the comfort of his own home, feet propped up.
Through the use of technology, Mr. Hubbard and Roc Evans ’91 are utilizing the “flipped classroom” teaching methods in their respective math classes. A flipped classroom refers to the inversion of traditional teaching methods; that is instruction occurring outside the classroom and homework being done during class time.
“I think it’s a game-changer,” Mr. Hubbard says. “It’s a new way to teach math.”
Mr. Hubbard’s video lessons are all online and easily accessible by his students. He uses a screen-recording and video editing program called Camtasia which records his voice while simultaneously capturing his on-screen actions to his MacBook Pro laptop. Using a Bamboo pen tablet enables him to write words and numbers and draw symbols on the screen in his choice of colors as he would on a whiteboard in front of a class.
He has about 110 video lessons, ranging from 10 to 25 minutes in length, embedded on his Moodle page (McCallie’s learning management system). A student’s regular homework assignment is to watch the video and take notes. The following class day consists of a quiz to ensure he watched the video, and the remainder of class time is spent working on practice problems reinforcing the concepts covered in the previous night’s video.
“What I love is that this works so well,” says Mr. Hubbard, a McCallie Middle School teacher since 1999. “Students really need to develop mental muscle memory. That’s where the math is in that practice. It’s important that they can practice it at school.
“People say it’s cool that I teach by making videos. Well the flipped side of that is what we can do in class. They are finding success working through these problems with their buddies as I walk around and am able to help them as opposed to doing traditional homework at home and struggling if mom and dad can’t help them.”
Mr. Evans and Mr. Hubbard started experimenting with the flipped classroom during the final semester of the 2011-12 school year. They each have a goal of eliminating their respective textbooks next year, using video lessons and practice sheets generated by them.
Admittedly, the technology Mr. Evans employs for his sixth-grade math classes is simpler than that of Mr. Hubbard. His lessons are recorded on his iPad using the ShowMe interactive whiteboard and a stylus. Similar to Camtasia, ShowMe can record audio voice-over while Mr. Evans diagrams formulas, solves equations and shares notes on the iPad screen.
Regardless of the technology being implemented, students of Mr. Evans and Mr. Hubbard can complete their homework in these classes on any device available to them – PC, Mac, iPad, tablet, Kindle, Nook, smartphone. They are not platform-specific.
“I will come to class and see guys watching the video on an iPad, a computer or their phones,” says Mr. Evans, in his 16th year teaching at McCallie. “Or they are rewatching it. That’s what’s important to me. They may not get it and can rewind it. I’ve asked parents, ‘How many times when you were in school would you have liked to pause your professor or rewind what he said?’ This provides us with that opportunity.”
The flipped classroom idea is credited to Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two high school teachers from Woodland Park, Colo., who began using screencast technology as an educational tool in 2006.
Teachers who have gone to the flipped method are basically using videos and other technology to teach the lesson, and then reinforcing those ideas in the classroom, a practice that has garnered positive feedback from McCallie Middle School students.
“I like it because I am able to do all the practice problems in class with my friends,” says seventh-grader Thomas Priest. “We are able to work together to find the solutions. I also like being able to watch the videos again if it is a hard topic.
“It has not been hard to use this method. The videos are fun to watch, and it makes learning math easier.”
“I like the way Mr. Evans teaches because it gives me another way to solve mathematical terminologies, and I can understand things much easier,” sixth-grader Willie Spight says. “Also, he has a lot of patience if we don’t know a problem that we are supposed to know. He usually gives us a few pointers and has us solve from there.”
Accentuating the benefits for both students and teachers is the efficiency it offers in the classroom.
“It’s technology,” Mr. Evans says. “It’s fun for the kids. They are not restricted to learning in a classroom setting. Their homework assignment is pretty easy. Practicing the problems is under my watch. That’s how I like it. Class time is much more efficient. I have more time to work with those who need the extra one-on-one.”
“It really helps me meet each boy’s needs much better because I’m not just throwing out a blanket to everybody,” Mr. Hubbard says. “You don’t want to teach above too many kids, and you don’t want to slow everyone else down. Everybody gets more of what they need. If they need more concept instruction, they can watch the video again and in class. It doesn’t take me out of the equation at all. It just lessens my role. I’m more of a helper than the main star.”
Rob Lyons ’88 video records his lectures for his Upper School honors and accelerated Pre-Calculus classes. If a boy misses a lesson or needs to review, he can access the video lecture online any time. Mr. Lyons encourages technology use in the classroom. Students are allowed to use cell phones to snap photos of complex problems on the board for reference, and he has recorded a homework set and distributed the video to students using only his cell phone.
While Mr. Lyons endorses the flipped classroom method and has 40 to 50 videos and screencasts in his YouTube library, he says he has not yet had the time to commit to that approach but hopes to do so in the near future.
“My son is in Mr. Hubbard’s Algebra I class,” he says. “I’m seeing the process at home as a parent. Sawyer is thriving in the class. It’s not traditional. He’s not sitting there plugging and chugging at home doing math problems over and over. He’s watching the videos.
“It’s the lecture, and the student has to be very intent on understanding it. It’s not about watching a TV show. You are focusing and taking notes. Otherwise when you get into the work, you are lost.
“Students struggle with homework and understanding concepts. They can be on an island by themselves doing homework. With the flipped classroom, they are not any more. If they have problems with the lecture, they can watch it again. The teacher can answer questions the next day.”
The flipped model has received its share of publicity recently because of the popularity of Khan Academy. Salman Khan began producing screencast videos to better explain schoolwork to his nephew. What was once a weekend project is now Khan Academy, a non-profit, worldwide phenomenon offering educational videos to anyone with Internet access.
The Khan Academy concept is often grouped with the flipped classroom idea; however, it is only one form of the model. Mr. Khan is an advocate for classroom technology which, he says, can create deeper classroom experiences.
“In discussions about bringing technology into the classroom, I sometimes hear people say that virtual resources will replace physical instruction,” he says in an October 2012 commentary in “Education Week.” “I think this idea is absolutely wrong. Technology will never replace teachers; in fact, it will make teachers even more important. Technology will give teachers valuable real-time data to diagnose students’ weak points and design appropriate interventions.”
McCallie is a bring-your-own-device school where students are welcome to use any personal device to augment the learning experience. According to Information Systems Director Robert Wilson, 1,021 personal devices are currently registered with the information technology office.
“We hear (Headmaster) Dr. Walker say all the time that McCallie is built on relationships,” Mr. Evans says. “People come to McCallie because of the relationships with the teachers. There might be a fear that a device is going to replace the relationship with the student. I don’t want it to do that. I still want to build relationships with my students. This doesn’t replace that. It’s just an avenue to enhance that relationship.”
The flipped model is not without its unfavorable attributes. Mr. Evans says the method limits group interaction in a math class. Mr. Hubbard points out the increased work required of the teacher, and Mr. Lyons explains that if students don’t watch the videos intently, it is like missing the class.
An article in “The Economist” gave an unflattering assessment of the flipped classroom stating that any change can boost people’s performance simply because of the novelty value the change offers. This is known as the Hawthorne effect.
Many McCallie teachers use forms of technology to teach their classes. The school’s 10-member technology committee, led by Mr. Wilson, researches how teaching and learning can be improved through the use of technology. It is currently evaluating the latest software that could eventually lead to more teachers flipping their respective classrooms. At this date, math courses seem to lend themselves most favorably to this approach.
“In the past, I would try to teach a concept in a 50-minute class where some boys in the upper end of the class would understand it in 10 minutes and be ready to start practicing,” Mr. Hubbard says. “Others would need 50 minutes or more before they felt comfortable. I had to find the middle. So I loved the idea that if a concept is on the video, the boy who needs to watch it once can, and he who needs to watch it 15 times can do so.
“That’s where it started. The pluses just kept popping up. Anything you can put on your computer screen you can put into a video. There are no limits. And what we can do in the classroom and the collaborative learning that goes on has really been positive for me. The grades are good. The discussions I hear are better. The flip side of this is not just getting them to work in class. As I walk around, I can pinpoint who needs help and in what areas. I think this will revolutionize the way math is taught.”