Promoting Independent Learning and Reducing Student Anxiety in the Advanced Placement Classroom #flipclass #edchat #mathchat

As part of NAIS’ Teachers of the Future program, we are asked to moderating a discussion forum, prompted by discussions that we start. So here goes my first post…

(Note: This is my first post as part of NAIS’ 2012-2013 Teachers of the Future program!  I am so excited for this opportunity to share, learn, and grow together. –Stacey Roshan)

I became a teacher to help students get a peek into the beauty I see in mathematics, to make it seem a little more fun, a little more like play.  But when I started teaching AP Calculus, I realized I was forgetting one key factor – the almost paralyzing fear of earning anything less than an A.  Being a perfectionist myself, my students’ pain was all too real and left me with the vivid flashback of my own high school teachers scribbling on the board at what felt like lightening-fast speed, while I tried my very best to acurately transcibe the notes so that I could go home and digest some of what we had “learned” for the day. Between trying to figure out what my teacher was trying to convey and fumbling through homework problems over the phone with my best friend, I really don’t have the best memories of math class.  And I LOVED math.  It’s always felt like a gigantic mind game; that thrill of the concepts finally coming together and clicking was enough to keep me hooked.

So when, 4 years ago, my AP Calculus students were leaving class on a daily basis with more questions in their head than answers in their notebooks, I knew that I had to do better.  I wanted time to be the teacher I had set out to be when I started.  I wanted to help my students (re)discover their love of mathematics.  I wanted to have time to throw ideas around and talk about math and to check in with each of my students every single day.  I wanted to hear what they were struggling on… and what they were breezing right through.  I wanted them to have a chance to work together and to learn from one another within the school day.  I wanted to make that pressure to earn straight A’s a little more managable, by being there to talk them through a bad day, or a good day, or just an ordinary, regular old day.

In the summer of 2010, I attended the Building Learning Communities conference, hosted by Alan November.  While there, I saw a demonstration of Camtasia Studio and immediately knew that I was looking at my answer – a way to reduce anxiety in my AP Calculus classroom by eliminating the traditional lecture on the board.  I went home from that conference inspired and with a mission: to create a video for each of the lessons that I would have stood at the board teaching.  And that’s exactly what I did.  That year, I didn’t do a single traditional lecture.  Students watched the video for homework and then came into the classroom ready to dive into problems and discussion.  Not only was the lecture customizable to the student (with the ability to pause, rewind, and rewatch), but the classroom experience was also more personalized.  Students were able to work at a pace best suited for their needs and get the individual help they needed from me.  What I didn’t anticipate, however, is just how little they would actually need my help.  With time and reduced anxiety, students were suddenly becoming resourceful and independent.  Instead of looking at me as an answer key, they had time to ask a friend and talk things out.  And I was there, constantly listening over their shoulder, to guide, facilitate, and immediately catch misunderstandings.  No longer was I going into the classroom with a firm agenda; instead, I was becoming a part of the students’ conversations and addressing their needs for the day.

At the end of that year, I couldn’t have been a happier teacher.  What is now called the “flipped classroom”, my students called “backwards” that first year I switched up the classroom dynamic.  Mid-summer, when I received the scores of my students’ AP tests, I was amazed at the improvement.  I knew I was onto something and went into the 2011-2012 school year with a mission to focus on helping my students become the teacher.  After all, there is no better way to learn than through teaching; in order to instruct someone else, you yourself must first have a good understanding of the material and then have a game plan for how the information can best be delivered.  With a class set of iPads, I began by putting students in charge of test review.  Students chose a problem to master from the review packet I provided and then came up with a script for a video explanation.  Of course, I helped them make sure they had a good grasp of the concept before they went to record their lesson.  But it wasn’t me doing the final explanation.

I can’t say the above was wildly successful from the start.  Writing on the iPads was really difficult for some students and handwriting became almost illegible on some videos.  Noisy hallways weren’t always optimal for recording and some videos became too distracting.  Along the way, we learned techniques such as taking a clip of the problem with some of the work written out as background to begin with.  We brainstormed, we iterated, and we improved together.  By the end of the year, this process had evolved and grown.  And my students this year now have this full resource bank available to them.  Of course, they too will have the opportunity to build on that and our library of student-created content will grow.

In closing, I would ask those who refer to technology as being this ice-cold, robotic thing, please read my story.  Because technology has allowed me to bring the life back into my classroom and my teaching.  It has given a voice back to my students and put them in charge of their learning.  It has allowed me to individualize and personalize classroom time.  It has provided students an opportunity to take ownership for their learning and allowed them to teach one another.  In sum, technology has allowed me to create a supportive, calm, inspiring classroom – a learning space where students can truly thrive.

And now I will return to planning for class tomorrow – joyfully.

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One thought on “Promoting Independent Learning and Reducing Student Anxiety in the Advanced Placement Classroom #flipclass #edchat #mathchat

  1. Pingback: Friday 4 -The Craft of Teaching

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