Turning the traditional classroom upside down - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Turning the traditional classroom upside down

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In the ongoing debate regarding educational reform, teachers at Wayne High School and Ceredo-Kenova Middle School have decided a break from traditional methods might make for more engaged and enthused students.

By adopting a "flipped classroom" educational model, Wayne High School science teacher Jason Gibbs and Ceredo-Kenova Middle School math and science teacher Nikki Buchman take advantage of technology through video and voice recordings students can watch and listen to at home.

In this flipped classroom setting, teachers record their lectures, often using PowerPoint slides to illustrate their points, with students answering questions at home that are sent to the teacher. The movement started five years ago at a Colorado high school through the collaboration of Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams on ways to use technology to improve face-to-face time with students.

Gibbs, who said this is his first year of using the model, and Buchman, who just started using the model, both said they have seen a change in their classrooms.

Delivering instruction differently

With content being delivered at home, Gibbs said the "flipped classroom" model allows instructors to restructure class time and is a model that works specifically well for math and science.

With the restructured time, Bill Rosenberger, Wayne County Board of Education communications coordinator, said teachers like Gibbs and Buchman are able to focus during the class period on activities and answering questions students might have from listening or watching the lesson the night before.

"(The restructured time) allows (Gibbs) to have more time to do labs and answer questions," he said. "(Gibbs) is able to jump right into the lesson."

Based on the answers students give to questions asked after the technological lecture, Gibbs said he is also better able to gauge where individual students are and who might need additional help.

By devoting time in class to questions and activities, Gibbs said he is better able to make sure struggling students learn the material. 

Not only does it allow teachers to reconstruct how instruction is delivered, but because of the ability to pause and rewind, students are able to individually tailor the pace at which information is delivered.

"Kids really like that they can pause and rewind," Gibbs said. 

Using technology to deliver instruction is something that speaks to kids and is something they respond to, Gibbs said. Not only is delivering instruction via technology different than traditional classroom methods, but also time efficient for kids busy with extra-curricular and community activities.

"Kids are really busy," Gibbs said. "Let's let them take instruction whenever they need to get it."

Because "kids need the teacher most when they're at home," Gibbs said the concept of being able to listen to classroom lectures whenever and wherever they want significantly helps students adequately learn the material. 

Catering to middle school

Because middle school students are not ready for complete independence, Buchman said her delivery of content works a little differently.

"The goal for this year is to introduce videos and do it periodically," she said.

By being present as students watch and navigate the video, Buchman said she is able to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Because Buchman's students were accustomed to an "ask a question and then answer" scenario, she said it took a while to catch on.

"(The students) didn't like it at first," Buchman said. "After they got used to it, they ran with it."

After being able to see a difference in her classroom, Buchman said she will "definitely continue using the model next year."

Students engage in debate and discuss the "why" as part of the answer, she said. 

Student responsibility

According to Rosenberger, the "flipped classroom" model entails a sense of responsibility on the student's end.

Students are expected to watch and listen to the PowerPoint lecture and answer the questions at home so the class period can be used to make sure students understand the content. 

In Gibbs' classroom, the kids themselves have spoken to its effect.

"The kids themselves are saying they're learning more," Gibbs said. "The conversations are fantastic. There's powerful learning going on."

Students experience increased interaction, talking one at a time or in small group settings.

Wayne High School sophomore Mason Adkins credits the educational model for an improvement in grades. Adkins, who had Gibbs as a freshman for physical science passed with a C. This year, he has an A.

Buchman said she has noticed an increase in student interest since incorporating the "flipped classroom" model at Ceredo-Kenova Middle School.

"It's a lot of work on the teacher's part, but it's so worth it when you see how much more interested (the students) are versus textbook work," she said. 

In flipped classrooms, Gibbs said scores have increased by 20-25 percent.

"Numbers don't lie," he said. 

No time lost

According to Gibbs and Buchman, the "flipped classroom" also helped during the county's many snow days this year. While activities might have been missed, very little actual instruction was lost due to students being able to access the videos and recordings at home.

Because students can access the electronic lectures via computer, smartphones and iPads, it also provides much more flexibility, Gibbs said. If students are physically absent from the classroom, being able to log into the lecture electronically ensures they don't miss much instruction.

Even parents get involved, he said, sometimes watching the videos with their kids.

For students without Internet at home, both Gibbs and Buchman provide laptops in class for students to catch up. It is also possible to burn the lesson videos on CDs. At Ceredo-Kenova Middle School, a resource period is available for students unable to access the videos and recordings. 

Although the "flipped classroom" method is not for everyone, Gibbs said, it does have the potential to be a viable alternative teaching method.

"It's a powerful means of instruction," he said. "I see a lot of potential. The depth of learning is incredible."

For Gibbs, the most valuable feature of a "flipped classroom" is being able to restructure time in class to make the most out of the limited time he has with his students. He also enjoys the increased interaction with his students. 

Next year, Gibbs said more teachers at Wayne High School are scheduled to "flip" their classrooms.