RHS algebra change solves problem | PostIndependent.com

RHS algebra change solves problem

Rifle High School Algebra I teacher Alissa Skinner works through a problem with her class as part of the school's flipped classroom concept.
Provided photo |

Rifle High School freshman Colt Rohrig doesn’t consider himself a math wiz.

“I’m not bad,” he said sheepishly after class last week.

His Algebra I teacher Melissa Proebstle, however, has him feeling much more confident about his math skills. She and the other three Rifle High School Algebra I instructors, Laura Alfini, Alissa Skinner and Kathi Gibes, have turned their classrooms upside down.

In a traditional Algebra I classroom, teachers spend the bulk of class time delivering a lesson, showing examples, helping students with a handful of problems and send them home to finish their homework. The RHS teachers found that not all students were successful in this model.

So they flipped the classroom. Problems are now done in class with the guidance of the teacher, and concepts are introduced at home on the student’s computer or mobile device.

“The concept of flipping the classroom came from our students that go home and can’t be successful on their homework because they didn’t understand it in class,” Proebstle said. “We asked, ‘What is in our circle of control?’ because we can’t do their homework for them, but we can support them in their practice of the concepts while they are in school.”

That led to the “flipped classroom.” Students have homework at night that includes watching at least one three- to 11-minute video. The video describes and illustrates the concept that the Algebra I instructors will be presenting in class the next day. The idea is that the students get introduced to the concept at home, watch the video as many times as they need, and take notes and develop questions to bring in to class.

Class time then can be used to help students master the skill with the teacher present to guide them through questions.

“The students in many cases can reach mastery of the concept in class rather than do the scary part at home if they didn’t get the skills they needed in class,” Alfini said. “As instructors, we get to work with every student every day to understand where they are, rather than just those that volunteer the answers, or those that have the courage to ask for help.”

Skinner added, “It gives students the confidence to share in class and have rich conversations about math because they had the time at home to watch the video as many times as they needed to understand the concept.”

Rohrig, the freshman, said he likes the approach.

“I think it is easier. I understand it better,” he said. “In my previous math classes, I wasn’t always understanding the concepts in class. The homework was harder because I didn’t know how to do it at home. By watching the videos before I come to class, it helps me understand it better.”

He explained that he is able to watch the videos several times before class, and again at home if he still doesn’t quite understand.

“My mom watches the videos too if I need help with my math homework so that she can help me at home if I need it,” he added.

Traci Rohrig, Colt’s mother, likes the unconventional approach as well.

“I wanted to let you know how thrilled I am with the ‘reverse classroom,’” she wrote in an e-mail to Proebstle. “I think it is extremely beneficial for several reasons, but one important one is that he/we are able to go back and watch a video again when he is not understanding or forgetting. I also am grateful to be able to see what he is learning, so I am better able to help him with assignments and preparing for tests.”

Students can access the videos through iTunes U, Edmodo, or through DVDs and flash drives if they do not have access to the Internet. Some of the videos were developed by the math teachers over the summer, and many are gleaned from other resources. The Rifle High Algebra I team spent many hours over the summer devising the videos to meet the more rigorous Colorado Academic Standards for math.

Another benefit to the students is that they have access to all of the videos whenever they need a refresher of the concepts. Since this is the first year for the different type of instruction, they have little evidence to see how well it is working. Algebra I students just finished their first common assessments, and are also taking weekly quizzes and the new unit assessments, but the first-quarter anecdotal information looks good.

“Our students are connecting with math at a much deeper level than we have ever seen before,” said Proebstle. “Our goal is to find the supporting materials that can help our students advocate for themselves as math learners at any level. We are the facilitators of learning and our students are our partners in the process.”

HONORS: Congratulations to Val Harju, Laurie Dickey and New Castle Subway for being named volunteer, staff person and business of the month during the Nov. 11 school board meeting. The next board meeting will be held at Coal Ridge High School starting at 5 p.m. Dec. 9.

Theresa Hamilton is director of districtwide services for Garfield Re-2 School District.

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