OCHS flipped classroom engages students

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OCEAN CITY — In the traditional approach to teaching mathematics, students come to class and sit in rows, spending most of their time listening to a teacher’s lecture and taking notes. Then they go home and try to make sense of the material through homework assignments, including problem sets and other solo activities.

In Scot Rainear’s mathematics classes at Ocean City High School, the lecturing and note taking take place at home on the computer through a recorded video presentation. When they return to the classroom, it’s time to work on the problems, in groups or, for struggling students, one-on-one instruction time.

Known as a “flipped classroom,” the concept turns the traditional classroom upside, and may make “math anxiety” a thing of the past.

“Flipping the classroom allows me to use class time more effectively,” Rainear said. Everyone in the learning community works together, deepening their understanding of the assignment through interactive learning exercises, assuring that no student falls behind, he said.

Rainear’s teaching methodology is making a big splash at Ocean City High School, so he was invited by Superintendent Kathleen Taylor to make a presentation to members of the Ocean City Board of Education at a Wednesday, Feb. 27 meeting.

Rainear has been teaching at Ocean City High School for 15 years.

He said the traditional philosophy is that students had about five minutes, at best, to ask questions after furiously taking notes off a chalkboard.

“The teacher would say, ‘Here, you try this problem,’ and, ‘Oh, by the way, do these 10 problems for homework. Best of luck,’” he said.

The bell would ring and students would be on their way. When they got home they often faced frustration and confusion, Rainear explained.

“Some got it and some didn’t,” he said. “Does that sound familiar?”

Rainear records his own 15-minute presentations, which are updated daily, illustrating a problem and demonstrating how to solve it, all the while adding helpful hints. Students are encouraged to watch the video over and over until they understand the concept.

The concept, Rainear said, grabbed his attention last year.

“I learned about it online,” he said, adding that he first tried it with his calculus students.

“It works, and it works phenomenally,” he said.

Ten students, he said, soared with the flipped classroom.

“Instead of me using a chalkboard and putting up notes, we could get in a meaningful discussion,” he said. “We could troubleshoot. If a student didn’t understand, we could help them. Sometimes students are nervous to ask questions. There are some kids who will never raise their hand, and if they don’t understand a concept, it just builds.

“You get a small gap, and it just gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “Little holes become huge. When they get to algebra II, it just all falls apart.”

Taylor heard about the flipped classroom and asked Rainear to roll it out with all of his classrooms this year.

Over the summer, he formulated a plan and found an application that would permit him to record a 15-minute problem-solving lecture.

“They can see me writing, solving the problem, they hear my voice,” he said. “It’s really the same thing as if I was sitting there writing.”

Rainear said he knows when students log in and out, and he can see their work. Though he struggled with the challenge of the students taking the concept seriously, it’s working very well, he said.

“The students sit in six learning pods in the classroom, working together,” he said. “I can go from pod to pod and check their work. I carry a folding chair around the room.

“I can see who needs some calculus love,” he said.

Rainear said he went into teaching for the joy of helping students learn, not to lecture five times a day and frustrate them.

“This lets me be what I wanted to be,” he said. “I enjoy teaching a lot more; it’s been a rejuvenating experience for me.

“I can get a much better feel when I can sit with them and see what they are doing and where they are having trouble. It helps them, just working with the other students. In a small group, they will ask questions if they don’t grasp something.”

Rainear said flipped classrooms are not designed to replace the teacher.

“If all a teacher is doing is posting lectures and videos online, they’re not flipping the classroom,” he said. “The true value of the flipped classroom is the time it allows the teachers to engage the students in the learning process and the opportunity it provides for us to work together.”

Taylor said teachers and administrators from other school districts have asked to visit Rainear’s classroom and see for themselves how the concept works.

“The other day we had two school districts come to visit,” she said. “They were very impressed with the level of discussion that was taking place, how the students were talking about the problems and working together.”

Taylor said she talked to students about the concept and they couldn’t be happier.

“The students can go back and watch the videos over and over,” she said. “The students say it helps them, they can go back and study it. You can’t do that when the teacher lectures in the classroom. Sometimes they don’t get it the first time."

Rainear said his AP calculus class is on track to finish by Easter break, which will allow them a month to prepare for the AP test.

The classroom average, Rainear said, increased from 81 to 89 this year, which he attributes to the flipped classroom concept.

“The students have a lot more confidence," he said. "They have more time to process the information. They can pause, skip over, rewind and listen again and again. They get instant affirmation, instant feeback that they are doing it right. There is no ‘paralysis by analysis,’ where they don’t know what to do."

Rainear also said the concept is beneficial when a student is out sick, for a short or extended period of time because it allows them to keep up with their classmates.

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