Teacher Lee Briggs on technology in today's classroom. Brought to you by Weekly Reader.

Posts tagged ‘homework’

Engaging Students Through Social Networking

My love for Edmodo as a teacher knows no bounds. I have been using the education-geared social network for several months now and I really do think that it is the wave of the future. Seriously, if you are not using it now, start.

I have been having trouble getting my students to get their homework done, or to even think of doing homework. Math, it seemed, was for school; home was for TV. Then I decided to try an experiment. On our assignment notebook board I wrote: “Check Edmodo at 7pm.”  Since finding out last week that all of my students, even the most rural of farm kids, has internet access, there was no excuse not to check it. Several of my students got iPod Touches for Christmas (they seem to be the Gameboy of this generation) and they loaded their devices up with the Edmodo app (which is fantastic, by the way).

At 7 pm I posted a math question. It was the kind I used to give my students in the form of a copied mini-worksheet: a daily word problem that they, for the most part, ignore. The first night I got 8 of my 16 students replying to the question. The second night it was 11, and the third it was all of them. I got them to do work at home, after dinner, during prime time! They did not even know what the assignment was; just that it was coming.

Edmodo in action (click to enlarge)

I don’t even need to give a reward anymore; they check Edmodo on their own, casually, the same way they would check their email or Facebook. And I have to be honest, I am seeing an uptick in their interest in math, or at least in the conversations that we are having about the subject.

I am not saying that social media is the cure-all, but it does represent a form of interaction that my students are comfortable with. I am sure that I could have arguments about how this is not preparing them for the real world, or that I am pandering to my student’s anti-social, media-obsessed digital lifestyle. But I can’t argue that my students seem more interested in their subjects when they are allowed to use tools that they are familiar with and find interesting. And I have to admit, it is nice to look at my Edmodo page and see a student asking for help on a math problem after school, and then see that several of her classmates have pitched in to offer help. Tools like this are new to everyone, and I can’t wait to see how they pan out.

The “Flipped” Classroom

Flipped classrooms are a recent trend in many schools and are getting a lot of attention with a advent of new technologies and the large-scale use of video on the internet through such wonderful sites as Khan Academy and Learn Zillion to name a few.

The idea of a flipped classroom is students watch a video demonstration or presentation of the content at home or during their free time, and do their coursework at school where they can get help. This new method hopes to use the online media revolution to streamline the educational process and have students take ownership in their education.

Another great explanation can be found in this short video:

Personally, I like this idea. I find that I get the most out of my teaching working one on one with struggling students, rather than speaking to the whole class, most of whom (if I did my job right) should know most of the content right away (if they followed along in their textbook). I would gladly give up my time in front of the board to look over the shoulders of my students while they do their homework.

But there are some speed bumps on the way to a flipped classroom that I can see down the road.

  • Dependence on technology: Many teachers would love to be in a situation where every student had a dependable computer or tablet, and a high-speed internet connection. However, most of the world is not there yet. School budgets are tight lately and most don’t want to buy a laptop for each student when they have trouble keeping the heat on. Asking students to foot the bill? Any school with lots of free and reduced lunch students and a back room full of second-hand winter clothes would have a hard time asking families to shell out hundreds of dollars for a device and a high-speed internet bill. For this to work there needs to be a rock-solid 1 to 1 laptop or BYOD program in place.
  • A tech-savvy staff: There needs to be a breed of teacher who is comfortable publishing, grading and interacting on the web, and has the ability to keep up with trends down the road. A teacher that occasionally sends an email and has a shelf full of VHS tapes and a film-strip projector is not going to feel comfortable exporting lessons on the web.
  • Lots of oversight: Students are distractible. There needs to be a level of structure and discipline in place to ensure that students are learning their content in their free time. This would seem to be solved by the homework-at-school part of a flipped classroom; a teacher would know if students missed their lesson when he or she sees them at work, as long as they’re checking them while they work. I could see students forgetting to watch their lesson just as easily as forgetting their homework.
  • Professional considerations: What is the role of the teacher if the teacher is not instructing? They are no longer lecturing, sure, but then their role changes into that of a super-tutor. Many teachers define their jobs by instruction. But I would argue that giving up instruction frees up time for labs, demonstrations, experiments, and the kinds of hands-on lessons that define me as a teacher.

This last week I dipped a toe into the flipped classroom. I decided to record a set of lessons using a great little screen capture tool called camstudio, my smartboard and a USB headset. I then had most of my class follow along with the recording as I worked with students that had not yet mastered the topics from the day before. This ensured that every student had mastered their needed skills before proceeding to the next lesson. The work was stressful, fast-paced and exciting. While I was not in full control, I was much more available to my students than I had been before, and got a chance to intervene with students where I had not been able to before. A week later, my students’ grades are up and everyone is challenged and getting the help they need.

Anyone in flipped classroom or seen one at work? Ever used Khan Academy as a stand-in for a lesson? Please share your experiences!

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