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Schools will test a new style of teaching

Dan Pickens is excited about a new style of teaching mathematics in Farmington Schools.

Pickens, a science, technology, engineering and mathematics specialist, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the new method, called inverted classes or, more commonly, flipped classes. He's helping bring it on board next year at all district schools.

Flipped classes are a fairly new concept in education. The delivery method has only been made possible thanks to advances in communication and information sharing. Essentially, flipped classes take the concept of teachers teaching lessons in school, then asking kids to work through problems at home and reverses it.

"To me, it just makes sense. It totally makes sense, especially for math," Pickens said.

Here's how the concept works: teachers will record a video of themselves teaching a lesson every day. Students will be required to go home, watch those videos and work through a couple of problems on their own time.

The next day, when those students go to class, their teacher will devote class time to helping students complete their assignments.

That's where the benefit will come, Pickens said. As a math teacher at FHS for six years, Pickens often heard frustration from students who were struggling. They would take homework home without fully understanding it, then struggle through the problems. In some cases, the students would turn to their parents for help, but parents who hadn't used math for a number of years found it hard to get through the problems, too.

"They're struggling, and they don't know what to do," Pickens said. "This flips that. Their homework is to watch the lesson for the next day. When they come to school, they work on their homework, which has actually become their school work, in class."

A pilot program

Not every class in every school will automatically flip next year. Farmington school officials plan to ease the district in that direction, to see if the program will do what they hope it will for students.

Right now, Pickens and ISD 192 teaching and learning specialist Jen Legatt are getting in touch with all of the principals in the district. The plan, Pickens said, is to have each principal find one teacher to implement the program in his or her classroom from the fall through early January, 2013. In most cases, the flipped class concept will be used for mathematics, though Pickens points out a variation of it is already being used in science classes at the high school.

The methods of evaluation are still being ironed out, Legatt said, but the plan is to be able to build a program where district officials can determine whether the flipped classes are helping students increase their test scores and achievement.

"We want to be able to track the data. We want to be able to take the average kids and track them. That's what a pilot can do. It lets us see how it affects their achievement," Legatt said.

The program is in the early stages, Legatt said. There are still a number of things that have to be worked out, like how students who do not have access to computers or other mobile devices outside of school will be able to watch the videos.

The benefits

One of the objections Pickens anticipates is the argument that computers or videos will replace the teachers, or that teachers aren't really teaching students anymore. But he sees the exact opposite.

As a math teacher last year, Pickens used a variation of flipped classes on his own students. He found videos that complemented his lessons, and recorded himself teaching lessons. Students could watch those videos on YouTube. Overall, Pickens saw an 11 percent increase in math test results.

"This really enriches the class time because teacher are able to work more with small groups and are able to kind of address some additional problems," Pickens said. "If there is a kid below grade level, this gives time to work on the material. It also gives the high flyers time to really move. We have 66 minutes of class time at the high school. Those 66 minutes are going to be much more meaningful for those kids because they don't have to sit and listen to a teacher lecture for the first 30 minutes of the class."

Watching the video at home also allows students who struggle to pause and rewind the video as often as necessary. Their parents can also watch the video if they want to help the students with homework.

The lessons would be available in several formats - videos on YouTube, downloadable for flash drives or burned on a DVD. Students would also be able to watch them at the school.

In his roundtable sessions this past week, superintendent Jay Haugen has introduced the concept as just one of a handful of new programs ISD 192 will try next year to help increase student achievement.

"All of these tools are geared toward customizing education. It's in there with a host of other things, but I think people think it's an exciting idea," Haugen said. "They see it as a very big thing. They see it as a big change and it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of work."

More information on the flipped classes pilot will be available at Haugen's next set of roundtable discussions in February.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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