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Focus on Teachers: Katie Christie, Using Technology to "Flip" Her Classroom

August 01, 2013

Elementary teacher Katie Christie credits her school district of Littleton, CO for providing “amazing support for technology in the classroom.”   Students receive their own online accounts in 2nd grade to produce, collaborate and share their work, an email account in 4th grade and then their own netbook computer in 5th grade.  Each student keeps their work in an e-portfolio that follows them from year to year. 

For teachers, Littleton hosts “Inspired Learning Cohorts” on technology-related instructional strategies.  Participating teachers meet four to five times per year and then present their work at the district’s annual technology conference.  The conference has grown so popular, according to Katie, teachers from other districts are now attending on their own time. 

While she doesn’t say it herself, Katie also deserves much credit for her role in Littleton’s vanguard approach to technology.   This past year she was a mentor for an Inspired Learning Cohort and is poised to co-lead the same team next year.  Katie also is pioneering a “flipped classroom”—a strategy that uses technology to minimize the class time used for lecturing and maximize the class time for students to work on challenging problems either with the teacher, in pairs or groups or individually.

So, what does Katie’s “flipped classroom” look like?    Each day, Katie assigns students homework in the form of a video mini-lesson she either conducted or adopted from teaching sites such as LearnZillon. Students watch the lesson (and re-watch or fast forward as necessary) and then complete a few problems on their own. 

The next day, Katie looks at the preliminary student work and leads discussions to see which students are beginning to acquire the skills and concepts from the video and which aren’t.  Students are then grouped based on what they need:  whether it is an opportunity to apply their new skills to more challenging problems, time alone to just practice what they learned or time with her directly so she can address misconceptions or reteach a step a student might finding confusing.

“The idea of the ‘flipped classroom’ is that students do the deep, hard work of practicing, applying and expanding upon the new concepts in class with me, not at home alone or with their parents. ” Katie explains.  “It doesn’t mean that students are just doing their homework in class but, instead, we are taking class time for more meaningful and real-world problem solving that would be difficult for students to do without my support or the support of their classmates.”   

Katie easily remembers the day she became “hooked” on the flipped classroom approach.  ”During my division unit last fall, my class had just watched a mini-lesson video on partial quotients for homework.  During class, I was reviewing the concepts with a small group of students who were struggling with it.  At the same time, two students were identifying a more advanced set of problems and new concepts to work on together.  Others were busy practicing what they had just learned.  And, a fourth group was working on computers and breaking down both the videos and the math problems step by step. Basically, when I looked around the classroom, there were four groups of students who were directing themselves in their math learning and engaging with me when they had questions, were confused or were proud of their work and wanted to share it.  I remember thinking, ‘This is what differentiated instruction is supposed to look like!’”

Katie’s approach grew out of her own participation in Littleton’s Inspired Learning Cohorts.  At one of the conferences, Katie presented her use of recorded lessons.  At the time, she was posting videos of her teaching online so that students could review the lesson at home before they did their homework and parents could see what their children were learning.  At the end of her presentation, a colleague asked Katie if she ever thought about assigning the videos for homework either as a mini-lesson itself or as a preview to the next day’s lesson.  Katie took it from there.

Katie sums up the experience, “It was this one teacher and one conversation that shifted my thinking and prompted me to change my approach.  And it is working.  I wouldn’t go back to the other way.”

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