A typical math lesson taught by Sue Miller, a fifth grade teacher at the West Tisbury School, begins with a joke.
“What do you call a crushed angle?”
But the jokes aren’t delivered in school. Instead, they precede a video lesson that students watch online for homework.
Ms. Miller, who is Sue to her students, has been teaching a flipped math class for more than a year. Following a high-tech teaching model first introduced in the Midwest, Ms. Miller’s lectures are assigned for homework, and homework is completed in school.
Each night that math is assigned, students log onto Edmodo, a website whose design mimics Facebook, where they can watch the night’s math lecture. Each video shows a simulated white board where Ms. Miller introduces the lesson of the day, using the mouse to illustrate her explanations. Before she started flipping her math classroom, Ms. Miller would lecture for 20 minutes, which she says was too long for her students.
Instead, they asked that her take-home videos not exceed seven minutes.
Once students have finished viewing the assigned video and have written notes to summarize the lesson, they can move on to play online math games Ms. Miller has compiled on the site.
Flipping is the latest fad in American education, but beyond the fad part Ms. Miller said she’s found it produces long-lasting results in her classroom. Doing away with laborious paper homework, she introduces the essential concepts for each mathematical unit in a concise video that the students can watch at home. Precious classtime is used to meet with each of her 13 students individually. What’s best, students can pause, rewind and replay the lesson as many times as they need to learn the information.
The kids approve. By contrast they remember math lessons that weren’t flipped, when they sat through a lesson confused. “I’d probably end up in tears,” Maria Menezes said. Many students, like Gabby Carr, are hesitant to speak up and interrupt the teacher mid-lesson, so the flipped model gives them the chance to pause, rewind and review the information, Gabby said.
Ms. Miller admits that she tends to talk fast, so when kids have the opportunity to rewind her explanations, they absorb more of the information. “I get to go at my own speed,” Maria said. “It helps me feel like I am learning more.”
At certain points, Ms. Miller tells students to stop the video and write down a vocabulary word or draw a diagram before continuing with the lesson. While students can’t ask her questions during the lesson, they are encouraged to write them down in their notebooks, which is later rewarded with an extra point on the asssignment.
During the math period the following day, students practice their skills on worksheets that might have otherwise been assigned for homework. Rather than lecturing for 15 to 20 minutes of a 50-minute period, Ms. Miller now has time to meet individually with each student. “I talk to each kid every day,” she said.
In the past few years, Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, has popularized online math learning with videos he began making to help explain concepts to his cousin Nadia. Teachers nationwide now assign Mr. Khan’s videos to supplement their teaching. But Ms. Miller said her students prefer the videos that she narrates. “They want to hear their teacher,” she said. “It’s kind of like having your teacher right here. Sometimes they can even hear my dog in the background . . . They like that, because it helps them to get to know me.”
Some of her students traveled to Foxboro last week to present the flipped class model at a conference for Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (Mass CUE). The students created a three-part posterboard on which they illustrated the model with screen shots and colorful magazine cutouts. “The educators were wonderful,” Ms. Miller said. “They loved it.”
Ms. Miller learned about the flipped model, which was first adopted by high school physics classes, at a conference in California. Other Island teachers have experimented with the approach, including fifth grader Sydney Bierman’s mom, who teaches math at the regional high school. But putting a flipped classroom model into actual practice can be difficult when not all kids have consistent access to a computer in the evenings.
In Ms. Miller’s class, children who can’t access the Internet at night can log onto Edmodo the following morning at school.
Flipping also requires significant legwork for the teacher. Ms. Miller spent much of the summer of 2012 creating a library of math videos, which she can now reuse year after year. Because the videos are uploaded in advance, students with busy weekday schedules can watch a week’s worth of lessons online on Sunday night.
Parents liked the idea from the start, she said, and some even enjoy watching the videos at home with their kids. “Parents listen to the videos, too, because they can learn the vocabulary that might have been different when they were a kid,” she said. They also love the math jokes, whose punch lines are delivered at the end of the video, like this one.