Student-Centered Learning and Attention Disorders

The first test is graded.  However, the totals have not been tallied due to the addition of an “exam wrapper”.  More on this in future blogs, but Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation has great information about these reflection tools.

I would like to address several comments students have made.  Regarding using technology to deliver content:  A freshman told me that she expected college teachers to use technology in the classroom.  She used Moodle in high school and expected most college professors to use the learning management system and technology to deliver content.  This was interesting as I have not seen this expectation from high school students prior to this year.  I believe K-12 teachers are now harnessing the power of e-learning.  Great news!  However, many of my colleagues are not.

Several students told me that they really like having the “lecture” recorded.  Their main reason was the ability to have this information readily available to review.

Several students told me that the “collected and graded” notes were extremely beneficial because it forced them to take notes on the videos and actually watch them!  One repeating student indicated that he was watching them this time and preparing for class.  Bingo!

Other students have expressed that they are having difficulties in class concentrating on the problems because they need silence.  The room is not loud, but when you have 40 students in a small room, the cumulative discussion becomes loud.  Some students have attention disorders and even the smallest distractions become disorienting.  I have not seen any other flipped classroom instructor/blogger comment on this.  My students are not unique so I am sure this is not an isolated issue.  Any suggestions on how to address this will be appreciated. Please feel free to comment below.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, my flipped classroom is becoming highly functional.  It’s not an easy transition, but one I feel is necessary to increase student learning and retention.  If nothing else, the engagement in class has increased and students are not falling asleep.

 

#FlipClass and #Cornell Notes: A perfect combination

The fall semester is 1/4 over.  I am teaching general chemistry again in a flipped classroom learning environment.  I continue to structure the class as I did during the Spring 2014 semester.  You can read about it here.  The structure seemed to be conducive to student learning in that most knew what was expected before class.  However, expectations and actually completing the activities were very different.  One of the biggest issues was that most students did not watch the videos, let alone interact with them in a meaningful way.  You can read about this here.

I decided to implement Cornell Note-taking method into my pre-class activities.  The Lessons templates were distributed during the first class and available to students upon request. These notes are then collected periodically and unannounced.  I have collected the first two chapters and was amazed that 85% of the students not only filled in the template, but took amazingly detailed notes.  Most students went beyond my expectations; highlighting and color coding ideas and topics.  The comments students have made to me have been very positive:  They like the structure.  It makes them take notes more carefully.  One said that knowing they would be collected is key.

As a result of taking good notes and completing the pre-class lesson activities, the in class sessions are more positive.  Most students are ready to do the more complex problems and are willing to help each other.  The questions students are asking are at a higher level which indicates a deeper level of understanding.  Now, this atmosphere may just be my luck of the draw.  I have a really dynamic, focused group of students who are willing to help each other.  But, I do think the implementation of the Notes template has solved the problem of the students not watching the videos.  In fact, “watching” is not really what the students are doing.  The are interacting with the content in meaningful ways.  That’s the piece of this flipped class puzzle I have been trying to find.  The flipped classroom is “not about the video”, rather it’s about actively interacting with the content so that knowledge is constructed.

My next blog entry will occur after the first exam.  I am cautiously optimistic about the students’ success.

Thanks @Northcentral! Goal Accomplished!

It’s been a few months since I last posted a blog entry.  The end of the semester brought a flurry of deadlines.  I participated in the online ACS ConfChem where a paper about Flipping at an Open-Enrollment College was presented (more on this in upcoming blogs).  More importantly, I ran my statistics on the data from my dissertation study.  Over the summer months I revised the dissertation, and yesterday I defended and earned the title of Dr. Butzler!

When I began my journey towards a doctoral degree, I researched a variety of institutions.  I was looking for a degree in education with an emphasis in e-learning or online learning.  Most importantly, I needed a degree plan that was flexible and convenient and ONLINE.  Surprisingly there were few institutions that offered such a degree.  I found Northcentral University located physically in Arizona.  I was apprehensive, but as I dug deeper into the degree structure, I knew that this would be a good fit with my busy schedule.

I started in April of 2011 taking courses in 12 week intervals.  I could overlap courses; start a second at about week 4 of the prior course.  I could end early and pick up more classes.  A year and a half of course work was followed by comprehensive exams.  Then came the dissertation courses.  Although frustrating at times, this experience was PERFECT for my busy life… full time job and 4 kids!  I applaud Northcentral for designing and offering degrees that are tailored for adults like me.  I learned so much and as a result, I am a better educator and researcher.  And writer!

Online learning is not for everyone.  A doctoral degree is not for everyone.  You need to be self-disciplined and a self-directed learner.  Above all else, you need to be humble.  The mentors, chairs, and committee members know more than you.  Take their advice and learn from it.  Thank you Northcentral!  My goal of obtaining a doctoral degree has been accomplished!

“I don’t watch the videos” in #FlipClass

As the Spring semester winds down, I started to ask students for input to improve the flipped classroom.  I have yet to label their learning environment as a “flipped classroom” and plan not to ever put a name to how I teach.

To my knowledge, this semester of flipping has produced the least amount of complaints.  Several factors have contributed to this and as a result, I have less to change for the Fall semester.  One of the biggest issues, however, is that students are still not completing the before class activities including watching the vodcast. This is confirmed by their responses on the Gate Checks and lack of foundational knowledge to begin the problems assigned for in class.  Most students are just filling out the Gate Check to get credit without actually completing any of the activities.

The research that is emerging  about the flipped classroom indicates that students like the pre-class recorded lectures and complete the activities. A recent article by Long, Logan, and Waugh (2013)  indicated that students find the recorded lectures beneficial.  Long et al. reported that 78.4% of the students found the recorded lectures beneficial.  I assume that 78% of the 51 students are viewing the recorded lectures.  My reality is not aligned with these findings.  Those who actually watch the vodcasts find them useful, but only about 10% of the students are viewing them.  I feel like I am constantly trying to find ways to “make” students do what I ask them to do.  I know I should not do this, but frankly, very few students would not do anything outside of class if it was not graded.  Why do so many of my students NOT view the recorded lectures?

I asked his question to those students who I know do not view the vodcasts.  They say that they “don’t like learning from a vodcast” or they “don’t have time”, or they “can’t learn this way”.  I tried to probe this response by asking them “why don’t you think you can learn from a vodcast”?  They respond by saying “I just can’t”.  I’m not sure how to convince them to try to learn this way.  However, I think I need to show and guide students on how to learn.  To this end, I plan on asking students to keep a separate notebook that includes notes from vodcasts/readings, problem solving examples clearly written, and before class problems completed.  I will check these entries periodically and randomly so that students feel the need to keep up and I don’t have to spend time collecting and grading everyday.  The student has to be in class in order to submit the notebook. In addition, I will ask those who are successful in this class to give advice to the Fall semester students.  Perhaps student testimony and advice will help.

My next blog will include student responses from a survey about the vodcasts and the flipped classroom learning environment.  I am looking forward to reading their responses.

 

Refining my #FlipClass

As part of my teaching position, I am evaluated by my school dean once every 3 years.  Even though I have “tenure”, we are continually observed in the classroom.  I welcome this opportunity as a way for me to get input from an outside observer.  I am very fortunate that my dean has several decades of teaching experience in both higher ed AND K-12.  He is a master teacher in mathematics and has been discussing the flipped classroom with me for several years.

His observations were aligned with my observations.  The in class activities (solving a list of problems) became more like a study hall.  Every student was working on their own even if they were grouped.  There was little conversation and this only occurred if someone didn’t get the “right” answer that was listed in the text.  I had to run around answering and guiding individual students sometimes repeating my response over and over.  The more prepared students finished quickly and either sat there or worked ahead.  The students who struggled could barely finish the assigned problems or stay on task.  The more prepared students didn’t want to spend time explaining to the struggling student nor did the struggling student want to ask them for help.

So my dean gave me an idea that he had observed another instructor do.  Each student got a number (1-4).  All number 1’s moved to meet together and work on two problems.  Each #1 student was responsible for knowing how to solve their two problems.  The numbered students returned to their original group tasked with teaching their group mates how to solve their two problems.  All students left having the information to solve all 8 problems.

I tried this today.  Students were at first resistant; giving me that look of “please don’t make me move”.  Once they were in their groups, they resorted back to doing the problems independently.  I had to stop at each group, question, and “ask” a member to explain their answer to their group members.  Then I heard it….   talking, teaching, and learning.  They asked each other to explain and heard my most quiet students explaining to others.  Everyone was on task; no phones; no straying conversations.  When the numbered groups finished their problems, I asked them to move back to their original groups.

In their original groups, each numbered student had to teach their group mates.  This also went very well as each was confident in their answers and were able to explain.  Everyone left having completed the same problems and feeling confident in their answers.

I am going to try this again.  It seems MUCH better than the “study hall” environment.  I also don’t have to run around and answer the same question 20 times. I can address one problem with four students.  I also think having a whiteboard with each group will help the students explain to their peers more easily than on paper.

The next issue is how to group students in their original group.  It was suggested that group them according to ability…. all weak together, middle together, and high together.  This seems counterintuitive to me.  I did attempt to place a low, middle, and high together last fall.  This didn’t work very well as the high performing student didn’t want to take the time to help a low achieving student and the low achieving student didn’t want to admit they didn’t know something or were not prepared.  How do you group students?

The next issue is the number of assigned “in class” problems.  Is less more?  I observed that most students do the problems to get the done rather than understanding them… rushing through them to “check off” that assignment.  Should I assign less problems so that students spend more quality time on them?  Maybe give “extra” problems for those who are motivated to do more?

I am determined to find the right balance and practices for implementing the flipped classroom.  I will not give up on this…  Just the other day a student asked me if (M1/M2) * V2 would give the same answers as M1V2/M2.  I would never have had this conversation with the student had it not been for the opportunities to talk with every student, everyday in the flipped classroom.

#Flipclass not for Every Student

Throughout my entire journey to the flipped classroom, I maintained that the most important aspect of flipping is that the instructor can reach every student in every class.  I love teaching in this environment.  Currently, I am able to help those students in the class that are struggling.  But, I have two classes of about 16 students.  In the fall semester, my class size will again be at about 50 students.

Here lies the problem:

Because my institution is open-enrollment, there are many students who lack the study skills needed to reach high achievement in college.  Many of my students graduated at the mid- to bottom-third of their high school graduating class.  Additionally, the math level of most entering the college was at or below College Algebra.  Like many learners today, my students face learning disability challenges such as ADD and ADHD.  However, placed among these students are well-prepared, self-directed learners with the foundational skills needed to be successful.

My current students are really trying hard.  Most do what I ask them to do:  view the vodcast, read, complete the Gate Check, etc.  They are taking good notes.  They are respectful and really fun to have in class.  I absolutely love this group of students.  BUT…. they aren’t “getting it”.  I bring in relevance when I can…. “why they need to know this”….real-world examples of chemistry in action in healthcare and industry.  No help.  Many still don’t know how to convert grams to moles or that molecular weight is g/mol not just grams.

Many of my students get off-task.  They have a hard time focusing on the problems for 50 minutes.  Many of them need my help to the point where they want me to sit with them for the entire 50 minutes and guide them through every step of every problem.  I can devote time to them this semester because there are only 16 students in the class.  But, I won’t be able to give each student the time they need in the Fall when there are 50 students in one class (and no TA).  When the student can’t figure out a problem on his or her own, they turn to their neighbors who show them what to do.  They write it down, but don’t comprehend what they are doing.  OR the frustrated student sits there completely off-task doing nothing.  They become disruptive and bother those around them who are getting it and trying to focus.

I think the flipped classroom is dragging down those more prepared and academically motivated students.  And, honestly, the less prepared student isn’t understanding college chemistry any better in the flipped classroom. 

There I said it.

I am going to continue to flip my general chemistry class this semester because of the small class size and the ability to work one-on-one with the students.  But, come fall, I am going back to lecture (or a modified lecture) unless my current students really insist that they like this method of learning.

Different class, Same #FlipClass story

So excited about flipping my classes this semester!  Not sure what is causing the differences, but so far the overall atmosphere in the classroom is positive. I just read Robert Talbert’s blog post “The Inverted Calculus course” this morning in The Chronicle and found his story eerily similar to mine.

The changes made from last semester have been very well accepted by students.  As I told the students, they are good students.  Now I want to make them great learners.  What is the difference?  My students are good at coming to class, asking questions, doing what they are told to do…. all attributes of a good student.  They are preparing themselves well for the in class sessions of the class.  BUT, I have found that they don’t really know how to learn and prepare for those high-stakes assessments.

Test 1 was graded and the overall median was not very good.  I had a sit down discussion with them to try to figure out how they approached their learning.  They did what I told them to do prior to every class… watch the vodcasts, pause, rewind, take good notes.  Try the Gate check and before class problems.  In class, they worked collaboratively in groups on the assigned in class problems.  All these steps were directed by me, the teacher.

Then I asked them what they did to prepare for Test 1.  Almost every student told me that they re-watched the vodcasts, looked over notes, and read the textbook.  NOT ONE SINGLE student actively reworked any of the in class problems (the problems normally assigned for homework).  In other words, the students repeated the content acquisition yet none of them worked on the problem solving.  I was astounded!  I assumed they knew to do this.

As a result, I challenged the class to work together to improve the overall class average on the next test.  If the class increased their overall test average by 10%, I would add 10 points to each student’s grade on test 2.  They responded well to this.  I am trying to get them to support and work with each other collaboratively rather than against each other.  I also hope with this “team concept” for learning, they focus less on the grade and competing and more on the learning.  

The overall class atmosphere is very conducive to learning.  I am loving the positive interactions and working with these students.  I believe they really want to learn the material, they just didn’t know how to approach preparing for a high-stakes assessment.  I hope the “team concept” helps.