Incorporating Technology into the Classroom
by Paul Bailey
Jon came up to me slightly upset that he received a 60% (6 out of 10) on his summative assessment. He knew he needed an 80% or higher to move on to the next section, so he planned to retake the assessment. He explained his mistakes on two problems, informed me that his friend helped him with one problem, and asked me to assist with the fourth he incorrectly answered. I felt that at the moment, Jon truly understood how to use all of his available resources to learn. This is one of the defining moments that I will remember that teaching students to ‘learn how to learn’ can be achieved by every kid.
Using technology in the classroom was like pushing the accelerator to floor….the accelerator of a large sized family car or full-size pickup truck, not the supercharged sports car though. I say this because the supercharged sports car will instantly push you back in the seat and make it difficult to breathe, maybe even feel your insides move around sharp corners. A full-size car will accelerate quickly and get to cruising speed rapidly, with the zero to fast experience being comfortable. For the first time in my teaching career, I felt like every kid in my class was learning the foundational math that they would need for future mathematics courses.
My first few years of teaching were traditional...lecture, assign homework, grade homework, repeat. I felt that if kids did not learn, it was their fault because they did not study, do their homework, or stay after school for tutoring. This is the way I was taught in my high school classes and college courses. Even though we may have been exposed to differentiated instruction in our education courses, successful implementation was never really dug into deeply.
Students were passively ‘learning’ in my class, and most were not truly learning. Many students told me they did not understand the homework and no one was at home to help. So, the assignment was not attempted. Many parents in conferences would say to me that they either did not understand Algebra or even take it when they were in school.
At the time I was struggling internally with teaching. The level of learning that needed to be achieved by students at the time was to learn the academic standards set forth by Ohio. There were the Ohio Graduation Tests for tenth graders. However, I was teaching freshman and the test results were a culmination of learning from 8-10th grades. I struggled because I focused on the struggling students and felt that I was doing a terrible job in teaching. I had become a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of kids. I wanted to help that ‘light bulb’ go off in their head as my former high school teacher, Mr. George Koncar, told me while observing him during my undergraduate coursework.
I realized that if I wanted every child to learn, I would have to do something different. I signed up for Modspar with Dr. Greg Foley in the summer of 2011 on the campus of Ohio University. Modspar was great because it was professional development for high school math teachers. From the first day, the learning was hands-on and active. We drew on an orange and compared it to Earth using a globe. Our discussion of Spherical Geometry did not seem like we were learning. Many new and useful technologies were utilized during the two weeks of learning. Each participant was provided a TI-CAS calculator by Texas Instruments and Ohio University. Learning exploded for me those two weeks and my outlook on teaching greatly changed.
One moment of Modspar a U.S. News article was shared about Aaron Sams (@ChemicalSams) and Jon Bergmann (@JonBergmann) teaching Chemistry through online lectures. The teaching style was called the flipped classroom. Students watched their lessons at home and returned to school the next day to ask questions, complete in-class assignments and lab activities. At the time I did not put much thought into the flipped classroom because I was overloaded with modeling and project-based learning ideas from Modspar. However, in the first few months of the school year, the assistant superintendent, Tom Musgrave, emailed the same exact U.S. News article to the entire district. I began my research in the flipped classroom. I watched every YouTube video and read every article. Sams and Bergman had been in most publications, along with Karl Fisch (@KarlFisch), a mathematics teacher. The more I thought about the idea of the flipped classroom, the more I realized it was great for learning.
I dove into the flipped classroom by recording video lessons using the SMART board, uploaded the lessons to YouTube, and posted the links to my teacher website for the district. I focused on Algebra that year, recording video lessons on Sunday mornings and over winter and spring break. For students that did not have an internet connection, I made DVDs of my videos.
I worked with the technology coordinator to use old desktop computers for the learning lab that I set up in my classroom. My past experiences setting up and repairing computers were helpful with keeping the oldest computers in the district working well enough to use the flipped classroom.
Learning had transformed from passive to active with the flipped classroom. No longer could students sit in class listening, or not listening, to a lecture of examples. No longer could students sit in class writing examples, or not writing examples, of the problems I completed. No longer could students not complete the assigned homework. Not learning was no longer an option. The students were actively engaged in learning Algebra.
In my flipped classroom, students were assigned to watch the video lessons and takes notes in their math notebook. The next day in class, students would arrive with the assignment written on the board. While students were completing the assignment, I was observing their work and providing feedback. If students struggled, I referred back to their notes for a guided example. Student desks were organized together so they could work with each other to answer questions. Answer keys were provided to students so that they could check the accuracy of their work. Students tried to identify and correct their mistakes. Sometimes they would need to ask a classmate or me for assistance. After a few days of formative assessments, students would complete the summative assessment.
I felt that the flipped classroom was an effective model for every single student to learn at their ability level. I was able to engage in deep and enriching discussions with some students. I was able to provide step by step assistance for students, or small groups, that needed help with the basic ideas of the lesson.
Throughout the next few years, I began to add to my curriculum. Implementation mastery learning and use of Canvas, a learning management system, for summative assessments became the norm. I added more computers to the classroom and implemented note taking during class time. The building administrators did have to field phone calls from parents about their concerns with the teaching method. Therefore, an introductory video explanation of the flipped classroom was provided for parents. Also, for a small additional fee per month, I opened one more line on my cell phone plan connecting it to an old device. I provided parents and students with this number to contact me at any time for assistance. This proved useful on a few occasions for students and helped parents to stay in touch. I added video lessons for Algebra 2 and some Geometry lessons. Those new videos were chunked into shorter segments than my Algebra I videos.
Collectively the scores of the students in the Algebra I class were in the highest level on the Quality Core Algebra I End of Course Exam as reported on my yearly student growth measures. More importantly, the flipped classroom allowed me to meet with every student each day for a discussion. Some discussions were about mathematics, note-taking, and other discussions were about their life. I was always moving around the room monitoring student work and enjoyed those discussions learning about students while reviewing their work. The flipped classroom and incorporation of technology allowed students to move through the course at their own pace. It was amazing to hear students tell me that they finally understood how to do math. I have always taught at schools of high poverty and felt that teachers were always great at teaching to the middle while differentiating for students with lower ability levels. However, with the flipped classroom, two students in my Algebra 2 class finished the year two chapters ahead of all other students. The flipped classroom made learning possible for all students.