Niagara Gazette

July 27, 2013

Lew-Port Middle School flipping over technology

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Lewiston-Porter Middle School is flipping education on its head.

Before school ended for the summer, Principal Dean Ramirez decided to test out a new theory in education. He pulled aside sixth grade math teacher Amy Golden and asked her to implement a "flipped classroom" approach to try to bring more technology and less problems into the learning space.

Golden immediately took to the opportunity, she said.

"It's very interactive," she said. "Each lesson starts off with real-world problems. It has the students using technology. Education's not just a textbook and a spiral notebook anymore. It's interactive now.

"We started with area of irregular figures. We started with geometry because it's a visual thing. When they're in the comfort of their own home, they can watch it as much as they want until they understand what's being asked of them."

So what is a flipped classroom? Every teacher who's implemented the new education model does it differently, but generally speaking, it revolves around an idea of teaching students at home while classroom time is dedicated to real-world practice.

In Lew-Port, flipped came to mean once a week, Golden would send the students home with a link to a video she and Ramirez recorded. They'd teach a lesson the students could watch as many times as they'd need in order to understand the topic.

With students doing the typical learning inside their homes or on the school bus or after sports, classroom time opened up to practice problems as much as possible. They often raced each other to see who could post the first comment on the videos, distributed through education application My Big Campus.

Using a flipped classroom approach became possible and maybe even warranted after the state instructed its districts to implement the Common Core State Standards this past school year. The new model revolutionized the way both math and English Language Arts are taught and dramatically increased the knowledge students of all ages need to demonstrate in order to earn a passing grade.

While some have argued higher standards are important in the 21st century, those responsible for teaching the new standards have largely been caught off guard. And the trouble not only struck teachers, it also put a strain on parents who wanted to be involved in their children's education but simply couldn't keep up.

Ramirez said the flipped classroom allowed everyone to be involved in the education process this year.

"The Common Core State Standards were very demanding not just for the children but also for parents," he said. "The math curriculum has changed so much recently. With the parents involved, they can also help to reinforce learning at home. This is a nice bit of added support that will help our kids in the long run."

It didn't take long for everyone to notice the benefit. Golden said she was quickly notified of positive changes from parents of previously struggling students, letting her know they appreciated the videos. Some even asked her to make more of them than she'd planned, suggesting topics for further study. Parent-teacher conferences changed, as well.

Ramirez said in a world constantly pushing students to succeed and become college ready – the stated goal of the Common Core standards – a tool like video instruction like a flipped classroom can offer is important. So he has a grand plan to implement the flipped approach in all of his school's math classes come September.

In fact, it's something he said has merit across the school's core education system, from math to science and even ELA.

"Our whole goal is 'Aiming Higher,' " Ramirez said. "Any way we can tap into their interests to get them college ready, we're better off."

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.