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Middle school algebra classroom gets ‘flipped’

Teacher Phil Palumbo assists Algebra 1 students with an assignment during a recent class at Lewis F. Mayer Middle School. The course follows a “flipped” format, where problems are done during the class and instructional video lessons are watch as homework. (West Life photo by Kevin Kelley)

By Kevin Kelley

Fairview Park

If you’re a parent who hasn’t solved a polynomial equation in decades, you may find the flipped classroom to be one of the most welcomed educational innovations ever.

“Flipping” a classroom means that homework problems traditionally done at night are done during the actual class, with the teachers on hand to help out students. That way, struggling students aren’t forced to ask often clueless parents for assistance with homework. In turn, students watch videos of teachers introducing new material as their homework assignments.

Because they ordinarily include problems as homework assignments, math classes are the most logical ones to flip. So it is at Lewis F. Mayer Middle School, where the Algebra 1 classes, normally taught to eighth-grade students by Phil Palumbo and Matt Ziemnik, have been flipped.

Brady Sheets, principal of Fairview High School and Mayer Middle School, mentioned the flipped classroom as one of the district’s innovations at the recent State of the Schools program. But Sheets emphasized to West Life that is has been a teacher-led initiative.

Palumbo began experimenting with the new format toward the end of the last school year after researching the concept on the Internet.

“I was frustrated because I felt like lecturing wasn’t working,” Palumbo told West Life. Students were initially reluctant to watch videos for homework, he said, but began doing it when they realized they needed to in order to pass.

Palumbo and Ziemnik record their educational videos on Apple iPads. They use apps which replicate a whiteboard on which they write algebraic problems while narrating instructions. The videos can be accessed by students (and parents) at home over the Internet via YouTube or edmodo.com, an educational website the Fairview Park City Schools utilize.

The flipped classroom approach is especially helpful when students are absent because they can keep up on new lessons they otherwise would have missed, Ziemnik said. Students having difficulties can also watch lessons repeatedly until they catch on, he added.

In class, the teachers say they are better able to observe if students are understanding and applying the material.

“We’re more available to help kids on a daily basis then we would with the traditional model,” Ziemnik said.

During a recent Algebra 1 class, Palumbo walked around the classroom looking to see if students were getting the hang of solving systems of equations.

“The idea is for us to be freed up so we’re not in front of the classroom just lecturing or giving out information,” Ziemnik explained. “We’re free to walk around the room and guide them.”

Ziemnik said it’s too early to tell if the flipped classroom model is resulting in better test scores.

“I have noticed that my students this year are so much more engaged in class,” he said.

Parental reaction to the new model has been limited but mixed, Ziemnik said. A few have e-mailed to say they love it, while some seemed baffled by it because it’s so different.

Ziemnik said he isn’t concerned that the flipped classroom model will reduce teachers to being glorified tutors.

“We’re still providing instruction,” he said, adding that on occasion he still offers class time instruction the traditional way.

 

 

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