"What is a teacher really needed for?"
Tom Warner, chemistry teacher at Jamestown High School, continues to ask this question of himself as he provides a twist to the learning environment offered in his classroom.
Warner teaches his two advanced placement classes as a flipped classroom environment. That is, students watch pre-recorded lectures outside of class, and then ask questions and solve what would traditionally be homework problems inside the classroom.
According to Warner, to understand a flipped classroom is to first understand a traditional classroom. A traditional classroom, he says, has a teacher that is lecturing to a group of students. The student then leaves the classroom to complete a homework assignment, based on the notes that they have taken during class.
While completing a homework assignment, students have the possibility of running into problems when they don't understand the assignment, or what a question is asking. As a result, they either complete a problem incorrectly, or simply do not finish the assignment.
With a flipped classroom, Warner's students are each given an iPad, which is supplied by the school, and already has each lesson loaded onto it. They receive their assignment in class as to which video to watch as homework. Each video is exactly what students would see in a classroom; Warner, lecturing and giving notes on whatever topic they are covering.
The following day, students arrive in the classroom and are able to ask Warner questions about things that they didn't understand from watching his lecture. From there, they are able to work on problems and receive one-on-one attention from Warner regarding whatever they don't understand.
"Rather than having students learn something incorrectly and then having to re-teach it, it's easier to teach it to them the right way in the first place," Warner said.
The idea of a flipped classroom originated with Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, who began teaching together at Woodland Park High School, in Woodland Park, Colo. in 2004.
Together, they realized that students who missed class, especially those who traveled for their high school sports teams, struggled to stay caught up with what was going on in class.
Warner also acknowledged that this is extremely relevant to what happens at Jamestown High School, as many times athletes are leaving class at the end of the day to travel to Buffalo schools.
As a result, Bergmann and Sams began to experiment with technology that would help keep students caught up. By 2007, the idea of a flipped classroom came to fruition. And, Bergmann and Sams soon realized that by teaching in this manner, they were able to connect better with their students and teach in a way that made learning easier.
Warner stumbled onto the flipped classroom idea on accident during school last year. He was already teaching a distance learning class, which allowed him to teach a class at the high school and at another high school simultaneously, through a program similar to a video conference.
From this, Warner became interested in the idea of recording his classes and loading them onto his website for students to view for when they had missed class. When talking about the logistics of his idea with the school's Information Services department, they brought up to Warner an article that they had seen about Bergmann and Sams' flipped classrooms.
The next step was to determine the best way for students to view the lessons. Warner knew that he couldn't expect that every student in his AP class would have a computer that would be able to view videos at home. And, burning DVDs for each of his 24 students would be time consuming and it was unrealistic that they would be expected to monopolize their family televisions in order to watch a lesson.
The high school already had enough iPads to supply Warner's students. The iPads, Warner explained, came to Jamestown High School at a drastically reduced price, thanks in part to being ordered through BOCES. Additionally, because of the way that the iPads are being used, grants can also be written in order to help reduce the cost to the school.
"Teachers were not laid off so that students could have iPads," Warner said.
Lessons were loaded onto the iPads, as well as various chemistry-related applications, from calculator and measurement tools, to games that can be related back to chemistry, to show students that with hard work comes rewards. Warner emphasized that the applications that are downloaded are the free versions of the app, so that unnecessary charges are not being made to the high school.
Warner has complete control over what is loaded onto the iPads. WiFi is turned on so that they can be tracked if they should become lost or stolen, but students do not have internet access, nor are they able to download their own apps. If there should be a behavioral problem, students can lose access to the apps as well.
Warner used last year's AP classes as a test pilot to this year's lessons. After AP testing was out of the way, he used one AP class as a flipped classroom and taught the other class in a traditional style to continue on with lessons. At the end of the lesson, he gave each class the same test. And, he found that the test results between the two classes were similar, which prompted him to move forward with teaching this year's classes.
So far, Warner hasn't seen what the end result of the flipped classrooms will be. However, students are enjoying the process. Anayra Andino and Annie Dyatel, two of Warner's current AP students, explained that they enjoy the one-on-one attention that Warner offers to his classes.
"It's a more efficient use of class time. We can watch the videos on our own time, and go back and re-watch them if we need to," Miss Andino said.
"Watching the videos at home doesn't take any longer than a lesson in the class would. And, anything that we don't understand, we can go back and ask about later," Miss Dyatel said.
Andino also explained that flipped classrooms have changed the dynamic of the students in the class as well.
"You don't feel dumb for asking a question the next day," Miss Andino said.
Aside from being able to answer questions in class, helping with homework helps Warner cut down on his paperwork at the end of the day, as he is able to grade questions as he walks around to visit each student.
Additionally, he is able to make better use of his class time, since students are watching lectures on their own time. For example, instead of losing a day to doing a lab and having to squeeze in a quick lecture, Warner is able to give a full lecture and take the time to ensure that students understand what they are doing.
Warner explained that students have different learning styles that educators must keep up with. With today's students being technology-savvy, offering videos to them on an iPad is a reasonable step to take in order to get them to pay attention and learn.
Currently, Warner is the only teacher at Jamestown High School teaching in this manner, although several others are experimenting with integrating current technology into their classrooms.