Saturday, September 3, 2011

Flipped Week 4 - Are Middle Schoolers Mature Enough?

I was out most of last week with my 7th grade homeroom at an outdoor leadership camp. That was a positive experience and is always worth the time taken away from school. So, I returned for week 4 of my Flipped Class anxious to see how things would be when I returned. Here are my thoughts from Week 4.

1. Is it the Middle School age?
I remember at the Flipped Class Conference this summer, someone said that most Middle School kids don't have the maturity to handle the independence of the Flipped Class. I knew some of my kids would struggle, as mentioned in previous posts, but I thought most could. My belief is that if you make the expectations clear and reasonable and hold them accountable, most Middle Schoolers will meet that expectation. Many have told me they like the independence they're given and appreciate being trusted to do their work. They like being treated "like high school students" since they are getting older, as opposed to the teachers that still treat them like "little kids".
Well, before I left for the camp, I gave the kids all the work they were expected to complete in my absence. They had ample time to complete it in class. I left the list with the sub and asked her to remind them everyday what they had to complete. In addition, they had other assignments that they could work ahead on if they completed the due work. When I returned on Monday, I expected every student, with the exception of maybe 1 or 2, to be ahead of schedule. I got no notes from the sub about any disruptions to class, so I knew they had 3 full class periods to work. She also said the kids were well-behaved, so I went in to school on Monday very encouraged. Unfortunately, that was short lived. I have all my 8th grade classes early in the day and it turned out roughly 75% of the students completed little to none of the work. I was baffled. How could so many students have 3 full class periods to work complete absolutely nothing? Even worse, they didn't do the work over the weekend to have ready on Monday.
They came to class and seemed to expect to be allowed and capable to complete all of it during that period. I was very discouraged to say the least. True, this isn't a product of the flipped class. But, up to this point, most of my students have shown excellent responsibility in completing their worked with flipped instruction. What this told me is that these students (and maybe most Middle School students) can't be trusted to complete their work without me checking in with them almost daily.
I gave the kids zeros for the work they didn't complete. I did get one parent email that claimed her child should not be responsible for the work because, according the her daughter, "the sub told them they didn't have to do it." But, don't we always have one of those regardless of the instruction method?
I'm going to be out for a day in October for a conference. My thought right now is to assign a worksheet due at the end of the class period. No computers, no ipods, nothing can be used during the class period. Just their textbook and a pen.
What do you think? Do Middle Schoolers have the maturity to handle the flipped classroom?

2. Textbook is still available....
With each video, I include the textbook page number for the same content. I got that idea from Aaron Sams. Most kids payed no attention to that part of the list and have kept doing the videos. Which is fine. On Wednesday, I saw a student diligently working from a textbook. At first I thought she was doing work from another class. As I made my way towards her, I noticed she was using my English textbook. I was pleasantly surprised by this and asked her what she was working on. She said the video didn't make a lot of sense so she was trying to learn it from the textbook. "Great," I said. "Let me know if you have any questions." I normally keep the textbooks stacked in the classroom for their reference. At the end of the period, she asked if she could take a textbook with her to keep at home. Certainly, I told her I had no problem with that as long as she returned it at the end of the year. The next day, another student asked a question and she suggested he use the textbook. His surprised response, "You mean its in there? Cool!" I was thrilled that one student is figuring out optional ways to learn the material. I was disappointed that the other student was amazed that the content would actually be in the textbook. I have to remind myself that its a process and they're still learning.

3. Excuse to be a bad teacher?
I will have to say, on Thursday of this week, I was extremely tired. I had made a couple videos on Wednesday night and was up later than I should have been. As the day went on, I was dragging more and more. My classes were working quietly and being productive. By the time my afternoon classes rolled around, I realized I was doing a lot of sitting and not engaging with students. With the flipped method, it became easy to sit doing nothing, just watching the students work and become a bad teacher. Now, this was only one day, so I'm giving myself a pass this time. But, it is certainly something to be cognitive of in the future. I went to this method so I could have more meaningful conversations with kids about their learning. I need to make sure I'm doing that even on the days its easy to not.

4. New technology - Livescribe Pen
I received a Livescribe pen this week as part of their Educator Ambassador Program. I saw Jason Kern at the Flipped Class Conference discuss ways a Math teacher at his school used it. I would like to find a way to use it with grading students' work. I plan to do some pencasts and turn them into video lessons, but haven't figured out the topics I want to use it for yet. I'm also considering having some of my better note takers take some of their notes using the Livescribe pen and notebook, having them talk through their thought process as they decide what to write in their notes. Then, I can use that as a model for some students that need help with note taking skills. I showed the pen and some of the things it could do to a few students and 1 other teacher. By the end of the day, I had 3 other teachers come ask to see the pen in action. I'm talking with our Resource Department about putting together a grant to get more of the pens.
I can think of a lot of math pencasts using the pen, but am struggling with Language Arts pencasts. Any suggestions?
If you haven't seen these pens in action, Google them. They're pretty cool.

Those are my thoughts for Week 4 of my Flipped Class. I was concerned the kids might start getting burned out on the videos. I asked a few kids for some informal feedback on the workload and videos. The ones I talked with still liked the system and didn't feel the workload was too demanding. Our 5th grade teacher wants to try some flipped methods with her math class. Our GT teacher is considering doing this with her 3rd and 4th graders. Her and I brainstormed some ideas for lessons that it might work with. I showed her Ramsey Musallam's Models of Flipped Instruction and she really liked the Explore-Flip-Apply model. I want to move my students towards this model more often, so I will be interested to see how it works in her class.

I'm still very encouraged by the results I'm observing. I'd love to hear your thoughts to the question I presented above. Do most Middle Schoolers struggle with the maturity it takes to handle the independence of Flipped Instruction?


  1. Glad to hear about your success. Keep up the amazing work.

  2. I'm not doing a flipped classroom, but all my freshmen have iPads, so I am doing a lot of independent student-driven projects. I do think the methods are worth implementing, but from my experience most students will not do the work without regular check points. My students just completed a group presentation on short stories and it became clear within the first few days that I would have to check their progress daily. There are too many distractions for them to motivate themselves to stay on task.