Monday, July 16, 2012

What does failure mean?

I've been thinking a lot about failure and what it means to fail at something.  Several situations have made me really examine my beliefs on failing grades.

*Earlier this month a family member shared their little girl failed swimming lessons because she wasn't able to open her eyes underwater.  After the family member shared her story she said, "I don't want her to be a failure."  I thought is being able to open your eyes make you an effective swimmer?  Because their little girl (she is only 4 years old) failed to open her eyes, in my opinion she by no means is a failure, but only needs more practice. 
*In a class I was teaching to pre-service teachers, we got into a debate about late homework. A pre-service teacher shared part of a student's grade was being able to hand the work in on time as we are grading their responsibility as well.  Is classroom homework a reflection of what a student has learned or what a student is able to complete with responsibility behaviors attached?  Is the classroom grade a real reflection of what the student knows? 
*I failed biology as an undergrad, mind you; I was a biology major.  I did not apply myself or work to my potential. I was not motivated to learn anything about ribosome, DNA, or other biologically terminology.  Am I considered a failure? At the time I felt like one, but what did failing teach me? It taught me I needed to really pick a major and career path I completely enjoyed and be motivated to do my best and grow professionally within it.
*Asking a few family members and friends about what failure means to them, brought similarities to my own thinking. Some said if they failed at something it meant they did not try hard enough.  Others said they were not motivated enough to achieve the goal.

In schools we fail students when they do not meet our expectations, either behaviorally, socially, and/or academically.  Is it fair to fail a student if they hand in their homework late?  And what if they never hand it in? Are they really learning the material then?  When and how do we truly know a student has learned the material? Only when they past our assessments or when they are able to remember the information at the end of a semester or a school year, or for the rest of their lives?  Maybe if we look at our definition of success, we will be able to define failure.

I don't know all the answers about failing and passing students, nor do I feel I have a supported opinion either way at this point. I am however going to think about what I grade, how I grade it, and what it really shows the students are learning.  More reflecting and reading required to fully understanding this educational concept, and yet I may never come to a clear answer.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Flipped Classroom

I recently taught a class for practicing teachers at a nearby university.  We had many great discussions about what works well for students who struggle in school and what teachers can do to support them in the classrooms.  I asked them if they had ever used the idea of a flipped classroom in their teaching, which had been introduced to me by a co-worker this past school year.  They had not heard of these types of lessons.  I challenged them for one of their teaching lessons to create a math lesson using the idea of a 'flipped classroom.'

This came with some trepedation & many questions, not only from them, but myself as well. I kept wondering would it be beneficial for students, would teachers be excited designing their lessons, is it worth the time & effort it takes to create the lesson, video, & learning guide? We continued to challenge each other with the idea of a flipped classroom through our conversations and questions, and I began to explore research-based articles & web links of teachers who use the teaching concept. 

The last week of class came, and I had never seen practicing teachers so excited about presenting their learning to each other before. Each student chose a different math lesson and presented by creating a powerpoint, used storybooks & sing alongs, manipulatives, and visual presentations for their students. The lessons consisted of learning how to count & write the number 5, finding the perimeter of polygons, determining the correct change after a purchase, and finding patterns based on colors. I had chills with what they created, and I felt I had done something really great for their students, even if I never meet them face to face.

We discussed how flipped classrooms are beneficial for students in many ways:
  • Students come to class knowing what they are going to learn
  • Parents can see what students are learning and through the teacher's examples may be able to help at home with questions & homework
  • Even if students don't have access to computers or internet at home, teachers are more than willing to find time & resources during the school day to access the flipped lessons
  • Teachers will be able to use class time to apply concepts and have time to meet with each student to ensure they are understanding and learning the material
  • Students are held accountable for their learning by how the teacher designs the flipped lesson
  • Using flipped lessons may be a way to help close the achievement gap for struggling students
  • Using flipped lessons could extend gifted learners to the next level of understanding a concept
  • Learning new ways to reach students is really, really exciting for teachers!

I realized I had done something really exciting when one teacher in the class said she had already talked with her principal about implementing flipped lessons in her curriculum to help reach students. The principal and her are going to continue to talk about it as the school year approaches.  I, too, am already planning on using a several flipped lessons in my math classes, and I am really, really excited about trying somthing new & growing professional!