In Defense of FLIP 101: When is a Good Idea Good Enough for now

I love my ringtone:

My all time favorite movies are the Back to the Future Trilogy.  The theme is my ringtone, the “twinkle” is my notification sounder, I even read the book version for a book report in junior high school, so it is little wonder I teach math for a living. With all of that nerd-cred in mind, if math teacher me from November 5, 2012 traveled just over three years forward to meet with math teacher me in February 2016 he would be very confused.  He would not recognize my classroom, not understand what happened to my role in the classroom, and being honest, 2012 me would also be agitated and defensive. However, the reality is my classroom, both physically and pedagogically, does look strikingly different as a result of flipped learning.

Where I am:

My classes hover somewhere between Flip 101 and flip learning, but no where near flip mastery. I teach seven math classes a day at the high school, representing five different subjects from special education math to Calculus II and everything in between, all flipped to one level or another.  This means that by the end of the school year I will have a full catalog of subject matter videos that cover the high school math spectrum.  It also means that my focus for the last eighteen months has not been making videos, although I am still doing that, but making class time rich and productive.

A different start:

I don’t start the year reviewing math topics with students anymore, they start the year creating review presentations, videos, websites, etc. of those topics building a student produced catalog of instruction.  The goal is to reactivate previous learning, set the standard for student input and quality I will be expecting, and training students in peer review procedure and effective use of technology.  By the end of the first week, every student has figured out that this is going to be a different kind of math class.  The class routine is a video and a handful of pre-class problems, followed in class with student presentation, group work, deeper content instruction, and a handful of reinforcing practice exercises, followed by the next video with the class staying basically synchronized with regard to daily topic.  I am expanding, cautiously, beyond paper/pencil assessment creating some self-paced units that are assessed by student demonstration and creation. (bit.ly/mrmooreflipclass)  According to the flipped learning books, blogs, twitter posts, webcasts, etc this remains firmly Flip 101.

This is as far as I go:

As I read the flipped learning books, blogs, twitter posts, webcasts, etc I feel compelled to move as quickly as possible to the promised land of flipped mastery and gamification.  To be clear, I am beginning to understand the draw and the appeal of mastery and gamification.  I also understand the fervor with which those who have ascended to that level approach the topic.  I find myself preaching obsessively about the untapped benefits of flip, edtech, higher Bloom’s, and the 24/7 classroom, not because I am better or smarter teacher but because I have seen the benefits in the classroom for students.  I just did training in my district and I saw the tilted head confused dog look from my colleagues, that 2012 version of me would have also sported, as I talked about early flip and even pre-flip ideas.  I have very talented colleagues but I think the reticence to truly change the way we view teaching and learning is a by product of the way our moderately affluent district,  high achieving students, and administration have defined success. State test scores that are well above average and well above those of neighboring districts have produced a climate where district leadership and the community see little need to move learning beyond the “check the requirement box” mentality.  There is little willingness to accept a course based on mastery and standards based grading, particularly if it is asynchronous because “what we do works”.  In my student’s defense, my district has become good and “doing school” and it permeates a “college bound” culture; if this is what the adults believe constitutes education then why would students seek or recognize an alternative.  So for now, Flip 101 with some stretching is as far as I have come.

A worthwhile stop:

My greatest defense of Flip 101, I believe, is in the power of positive patience.  What I mean is that Flip 101 has energized me as an educator to move beyond my self-imposed restrictions in my classroom.  Flip 101 has definitively improved my students comprehension and understanding of my course content bringing long term comprehensive assessment scores within a percent or two of the student’s semester long performance rather than the 10% drop seen historically in my classes and in my district.  Flip 101 has created greater parent awareness and involvement in my courses, to the point that parents recognize me by the sound of my voice and appearance having never met me, because I am in their living rooms via technology at night. Flip 101 has made class time more active and more student-led with every student involved.   Just because I feel constrained by administrative expectation about moving to mastery and higher level flip does not mean my students aren’t seeing very real gains.

Looking down the road:

There are potential opportunities for growth, and for now, patience can be a justifiable and defensible option. My colleagues are getting on board to varying levels, and as we move 1:1 at the junior high and high school next year the natural question for them is “what do we do with these Chromebook things?”  The ready answer is Flip 101; “If I can do it, as reluctant as I was, you can do it too”. (Flipped Class Radio webcast) As the Danielson model and new evaluation requirements in Illinois take full legal effect, Flip 101 provides a means to meeting the higher benchmarks.  With patience, examples of well designed and effectively implemented Flip 101 become the best sales pitch for moving toward a flipped learning mindset as a team, building, or district.

Enjoy the journey:

Hopefully if the math teacher me from 2018 comes back to visit me now I would be anxious to see how much farther I had moved down the road in the journey of flipping my classroom.  In the meantime, Flip 101 has provided a powerful boost to my classroom and set me on a journey that is a benefit to me and my students.  For now, I have an opportunity to do this phase well, without rushing off to the next thing just because it is the next thing.  Having said that, I appreciate the roadmap to flip mastery and gamification that some are blazing or have blazed but one thing I have learned from the journey thus far is that flipped learning is very flexible and multi-pathed.  In a sense for flipped learning, “Where we’re going we don’t need roads.”  (You knew it was coming.)

Contact Me:
What I love about the flipped community is the interaction, and I am very much interested in your thoughts, critiques, and ideas.  You can reach me at@matthew_t_moore on Twitter or via email, matthewmooremtz@gmail.com

Matthew Moore has been a high school mathematics teacher for the past sixteen years in Illinois. He has also done adjunct work for a local community college for twelve years. He is currently in his third year of flipping his classes.
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