By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — Ethan Anderson’s eighth-grade algebra class at Dakota Meadows Middle School begins with what most would consider to be homework.
After completing a preliminary quiz based on the lesson the kids learned at home on the Order of Operations, he determines which students will do which assignment in class. Students who got none or one problem wrong got one assignment. Students who got five or six correct out of eight got another assignment.
“You did OK, but you still need a little bit of practice on the Order of Operations,” Anderson said before picking up the third and final sheet. “If you got less than five, this one has some additional notes and some tips and tricks.”
Anderson isn’t the only teacher in Mankato Area Public Schools framing class periods around assignments rather than lessons. About 600 students in the district are trying out a newer teaching method called the flipped classroom model.
All eighth-grade Algebra 1 classes are utilizing the technique this year, said Tracy Brovold, online learning and technology integration specialist for the district. The district is one of many in the region trying out the model this year.
Basically, rather than students receiving lessons at school and going home to complete assignments, the teaching method is reversed. Students watch guided videos at home to learn new material and then teachers help them with the practical application of that material in the classroom.
The key to success is “formative assessment,” Brovold said, which means teachers first determine which students understood the material, which students need more practice, and which didn’t understand at all.
“Teachers differentiate the assignment and help the students accordingly,” she said.
Anderson said he walks around at the start of class to check students’ “guided notes,” which they are required to take while watching the videos. It’s a way to make sure the students have completed the lesson at home.
Brovold brought the idea to Anderson last spring for the flipped classroom, and a group took a trip to a school in Byron to observe how it worked. Anderson appreciated the use of technology.
“I’ve been using a lot of technology in my classroom for the last six to eight years, so the idea of incorporating the technology into the classroom and allowing the students to use their devices to receive instruction was kind of intriguing,” he said.
When the flipped classroom idea spread, all the eighth-grade math teachers wanted to try it, Brovold said. So they all prepared over the summer.
Brovold said she thinks the method will help students better understand the lessons. When watching the videos, they can rewind and replay parts they need to hear again, Brovold said. They can’t easily do that in the classroom with a live teacher.
“They get the teacher for the most important part of the lesson, and that’s the practice,” Brovold said.
That’s exactly why several of Anderson’s students said they appreciated the new method. Kaleb Braun-Schulz said it’s much easier having the lessons on video so he can watch them again if he needs to. Allison Zielske said the technology makes homework more streamlined and easier to keep organized. Shayla Cook agreed.
“You don’t have to deal with all the papers around,” Cook said.
Many times, when students in traditional classrooms learn the material and go home to do the assignment, parents can’t help them when they’re stuck because it’s been too long since they learned those skills, Brovold said.
Anderson said the method has significantly decreased homework time for his students. He said the videos take 15 minutes at the most to complete. Before, students could spend an hour on a homework assignment and still not quite understand it.
“Now I get to see them working on it. I get to help them,” he said.
There have been issues with students showing up unprepared, Anderson said. But that’s true when any work is given to complete outside of the classroom, he said.
Children who do not have access to computers or other technology to view videos can check out iPads at school or use the school’s computer lab before school, during study hall or after school, Anderson said. Students who do have iPads, laptops or smart phones can bring their own devices into the classroom, Brovold said.
Anderson said he’s enjoying using the model this year. However, he said it’s too soon to know if the method will be more effective for student achievement on standardized tests.
Brovold said the Byron district did see growth in achievement on tests.
Mankato may look at expanding the teaching method next year to seventh grade, she said.