Structures and Routines I Use to Flip Classes

--Originally published at Flipping With Joy

This is my second post towards Andrew Swan's 20-over-30 September #flipblogs challenge. See my first entry here for some context and a little more information about the challenge. My first reaction to the challenge may have been, "You're killing me, Swan!", but when it comes to talking about flipped classes, I can tend to rather run on :). On to part 2...

As I've experimented and learned more about flipping classes over the last 5 years, one thing I've learned is the importance of having structures and routines in place to help my students navigate this different way of doing things compared to more traditional lessons. This has been especially important as I've pushed myself to flip more lessons in a given course. When you expect students to access content outside of a traditional in-class setting or textbook on a regular basis, the students need:

  • a consistent place to visit where they know they'll be able to find any relevant video and document links
  • a consistent idea of what they're expected to do with that content, both to soothe their nerves and to help them learn how to do well within that new framework.
The structures and routines I’m using right now fall into a few different categories.

1. Content delivery

When I started flipping classes, I followed the example of Crystal Kirch by using a class blog to give students links to each course’s unlisted YouTube videos, Google Forms, electronic copies of handouts, and so on. It was through the examples she shared that I learned about using tabbed sections in a Blogger/Blogspot blog, partly to help gather material relevant to each chapter and an independent study unit, and I also tried using a Google Calendar embedded in a tab of the blog for each course to alert students to upcoming tests and other important dates.

(Incidentally, I set up this blog around the same time as those class blogs so I could try reflecting and sharing my journey in the same way modelled by Kirch. I even modelled the URL after hers -- flippingwithjoy vs. flippingwithkirch -- I figured flippingwithmccourt didn't have the same ring somehow! Since becoming more active in the #flipclass Twitter chat community, I’ve sometimes felt a little self-conscious about “stealing” this pattern from her, but it’s stuck now, so I just continue to give credit where it’s due when appropriate.)

Using the blog to deliver links was very useful, and I liked the control I could usually have over the formatting of the posts (not that Blogger formatting doesn’t have its share of headaches at times), but it did irk me somewhat that the blog wasn’t necessarily private to my own class. I got one negative  comment on one of my early grade 12 videos, and as far as I could tell it didn’t come from a student at my school. Well, of course I hyper-focused on that one negative comment somewhat for a while, even though some of my own students gave me great comments thanking me for my time, saying the videos were very clear, etc. I hadn’t wrapped my head around the possibility of sharing my videos with the greater education community worldwide (the prospect still gives me a bit of stage fright), and I started wondering if a more private solution existed. I also had concerns about how my sharing of answers to questions, lab discussions, etc. would affect teachers elsewhere of the same course in terms of their students’ academic honesty.

When I changed schools at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, I learned that the students at this school are all very familiar with the use of Google Classroom. Instead of training students to access a new website, blog, or platform, I could just use a tool with which they were already familiar and for which they were automatically registered through their school board e-mail addresses. On top of that, I learned there are several educational tools that can tie into Classroom, and I wanted to explore how using them could further help my classes. I do miss the richer formatting options that I had when creating a Blogger post for my students (there is no option to use bold, underline, etc. in a Classroom post, unless I’m overlooking something), but having the students arrive already trained in how to access Classroom has been a big plus for me, and I love the way Classroom gathers all the documents posted to a particular Classroom into a Google Drive folder particular to that class.

2. Building community in the "group space"

I mentioned in my previous post that I teach in 3 different classrooms this semester. Each room I share is used by only 1 other teacher, who uses it the other 3 periods of the day. Don't get me wrong -- those teachers have all made me feel welcome and offered me places for my stuff, and when I'm in the room, I in no way feel like just a visitor...but that doesn't mean that I can rearrange the furniture in any way I'd like and leave it that way. I've had to brainstorm a way to break the class out of the traditional row arrangement at least part of the time and yet get the desks back into rows with a minimum of fuss at the end of each class. More on that in a sec.

Hmm...what can I do with this?

I also mentioned in my previous post the importance of building relationships in the class, and that includes meaningful, useful (for lack of a better term) relationships between the students themselves. I want my classes to have a sense of community. To do so this year, I'm experimenting with something I've been eyeing for a while: gamifying some aspects of my course using Classcraft. One thing that intrigued me about Classcraft compared to the little else I know about gamification is that it is designed to build interdependence among the members of small teams of students -- tying directly into my desire to get the students relating to each other in a meaningful, positive way. I met Lucas Conner at the FlipTech East Coast conference this past June, and hearing him talk and tweet some about his experience with Classcraft gave me the motivation (and, through direct messages, lots of tips) I needed to finally check it out. Besides, I'm an old World of Warcraft nerd (who has no time for that anymore)...Classcraft practically screamed at me the very first time I learned of it.

My classes are each broken into teams of 5-7 students. On the second day of classes, I specified which desks would form each team, and how they should be rotated to form a team "table" out of their individual desks. Each team has chosen a name (other than the one that I had to call "They Who Shall Not Be Named" because they couldn't come up with one themselves), a Classcraft crest and background, and roles for each person to ensure a balance of the three player types (Warrior, Mage, and Healer). I've had my grade 9 classes rotate into and out of their team arrangements almost every day since then. While I think the way I chose the desks involved in each team is partly to thank for this, the students have been super at getting the desks into team form and back quickly, neatly, and with a minimum of fuss. The other teachers I share with have had no complaints, and I get to have at least one form of non-row seating whenever I want. Score!

By the way, the building of community is actually just a bonus on top of the main reason I want to use some gamification strategies in my classes. The #1 reason I want to game the system for myself is to help address one of the top questions asked of flipping teachers: "What if they [the students] don't watch the videos?" Well, if they don't watch the videos this time, not only can we have the discussion about whether they have access, why their taking ownership is important, etc., but now I can give those who watch the dopamine hit of a game reward and/or the "sorry, it's not my fault, that's just the rule of the game" consequence of docking their character some health. I think I'm going to kind of love this :). Thanks not only to Lucas but also to Gilbert Ng Ying Fong for sharing about gamification at FlipTech East Coast -- there's nothing like hearing from someone who's personally had success with a technique to motivate you to check it out in more detail.

3. Staying sane in the shuffle

This last bit doesn't really have to do with flipping classes, but I'll mention it anyway: bins, bins, folders, bins. I have a tray in which I keep the attendance and so on relevant to each class, each clearly labelled with the class. When I arrive, I sort into the trays any relevant paperwork I took home for those classes. As my classes begin, I grab my Morning Math tray and head off. At lunch, I shuffle some of the common-to-both-classes stuff from that tray into the Afternoon Math tray, then grab that and my SCH3U (grade 11 chemistry) tray to head off to my afternoon classes. Each bin has folders in it clearly labelled to be for collected items, items to hand back, a copy of each handout for myself to indicate the order (and to hold my answer keys), and so on. Every once in a while during my career someone comments that I am "so organized" -- well, I'm not (I do still misplace things and fall behind), but I had to have some kind of system like this if I'm not going to go completely insane!

Tomorrow I'll probably talk about some reflecting I've been doing tonight related to a particular student, but who knows what the day will bring. Thanks for dropping by!

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