Tri-City United school district explores flipped classrooms

/ 20 November 2014 / Shawna
Grace Webb, Lonsdale Area News-Review, November 16, 2014
TCU High School teacher Ted Doyle has started offering a flipped classroom approach for his pre-calculus students, pictured here. (Grace Webb/Lonsdale News Review)

TCU High School teacher Ted Doyle has started offering a flipped classroom approach for his pre-calculus students, pictured here. (Grace Webb/Lonsdale News Review)

Teachers in the Tri-City United school district are exploring a new way of teaching aimed at giving students more one-on-one time with instructors. It’s called flipped classrooms.

Students in flipped classrooms spend time outside of class watching lessons online, either during study hall or at home, and then spend most of their time in class working on homework problems with their teacher.

According to TCU Superintendent Teri Preisler, flipped classrooms have been around for about 10 years, and she had experience with them during her previous position as an administrator in Owatonna.

“The reason that we began to look at it here was we knew that it’d be a way to provide more one-on-one time between the teacher and students,” she said.

To more easily incorporate the outside lessons, the district set up a website, called Moodle, where teachers can create lesson plans and students can access them. Moodle allows for lessons, videos, practice quizzes and other materials.

While one TCU teacher began working with flipped classrooms last year, this year is the official pilot year for the initiative, and Preisler said there are already about a dozen TCU teachers using flipped classrooms, a hybrid of flipped-and-traditional classrooms or the Moodle website.

“I’m proud of how quickly a number of our teachers have embraced a shift in their instruction in order to provide more educator support for students within their class,” she said.

Ted Doyle is a math teacher at TCU High School who began working with flipped classrooms this year. He has totally flipped his pre-calculus class, but he offers a hybrid version for his geometry students.

“I’m really happy with it, because it gives me so much more time to work with kids,” he said. “They can get their individual questions answered better because I have more time to do that.”

Doyle said that while students are allowed to do their lessons in class, most of them prefer to use class time to work on the homework with their classmates and with him. He added that flipped classrooms are especially convenient for kids who have to miss extended periods of class due to sickness or family vacations, since they can keep up with what the rest of the students are learning.

For students who don’t have internet at home, Doyle said there are a number of other options, from working during study hall to visiting the library. Students can also download all of his videos onto a jump drive to take home.

Many of Doyle’s students spoke up in favor of the new class setup, saying that it gives them more personal help and allows them to go at their own pace. If they finish early, they can either work ahead or use the rest of the time as a study hall.

“I like how it gives us a lot more time in class to learn,” said pre-calculus student Max Kalina, 17.

“It’s nice to not have to sit through a really long lecture,” added classmate Taylor Factor, 17.

Not all teachers are offering flipped classrooms this year, but even some of those who aren’t have begun to use Moodle. Amy Kunelius, a teacher at Lonsdale Elementary, uses Moodle to offer practice quizzes to her fourth grade class. If students choose the wrong answer, they’re told immediately, so they know what they did wrong and how to fix it. She also uses the site to offer more challenging material to students who have mastered the lessons and want to move ahead.

“The kids who need the challenge, I can teach them in small groups and they can go on to something more difficult,” she said.

Both Kunelius and Doyle said they want to keep adding to their Moodle sites as they learn more about the technology. Kunelius said she thought adding videos will help her students better understand new concepts, and Doyle said he wants to start offering more quizzes online.

“It’s not something that happens overnight,” Doyle said. “It’ll take several years before the content you’ve created is where you want it to be.”

Preisler said there will be more training offered to teachers as time goes by to help them become better at these new initiatives. She added that the district will also further study how to address Moodle’s accessibility to students to decide how far the initiative can be expanded.

“This is our chance to explore which [initiatives] work best for our students,” she said.

Grace Webb covers the cities of Northfield and Lonsdale, and writes about public safety. You can reach her at 645-1117.