Forget paper and pencil. Homework at Westwood Middle School in Manchester has gone virtual. Students watch videos online. They manage their assignments in a calendar on the class website. And, they submit their work with the tap of one button. Westwood Middle, part of the Manchester City K-8 School System, is mapping out a transition to flipped instruction, a model that reverses the traditional flow of information to students, and the sixth graders at Westwood are doing it with the help of brand new iPads.
Typically, teachers present new content in class and students use their homework to practice the skill after school. With flipped instruction students are presented with new material at home, maybe through a video, a link, or a short text, and then in class, they practice what they learned the night before. Administrators at Westwood say this shifts the role of the teacher to a facilitator.
Until this year, Westwood Middle’s sixth-grade science teacher, Lisa Bunde, said she had only dreamed of a class set of iPads. Now you can walk into her classroom on any given day to the glare of Apple icons while science books are tucked neatly under desks. Bunde said the school’s transition to flipped instruction is slow and purposeful. Careful not to overwhelm her students, she assigns two to three videos for homework a week, sometimes something she recorded herself, sometimes a link to another website. Her students post comments in response to specific questions and offer constructive feedback on their peers’ responses and projects. It’s a strategy used in college-level courses, but one that Bunde believes is critical even in the sixth grade.
“It lets students communicate with each other in a way they don’t in class. It also helps them understand the importance of online communication and understand how to do it productively,” said Bunde.
Andres Cabali is one of Bunde’s sixth-grade science students. He said he is not used to writing things down with paper and pencil anymore. Instead he prefers Edmodo, a free educational networkng site that enables users to create profiles similar to Facebook. Andres and his classmates submit assignments, get grades, and give feedback to their peers, all on a teacher-monitored site that feels more fun than formal.
It’s a strategy that parent Beth Mclean says also keeps her son organized.
Mclean, grateful to be done with the days of digging through her son’s backpack for papers said, “It isn’t easier work, but it’s easier organization.”
Mclean has had children in the K-8 Manchester City School System since 1994, and feels like Westwood is offering a rare opportunity for her son to get ahead.
Principal Chad Fletcher said everyone deserves one free pass, and assured parents that if an iPad is lost, damaged, or stolen the school will replace it the first time. Parents signed a contract agreeing to accept the financial responsibility of replacing the device if disaster strikes a second time.
Fletcher and his staff hosted a parent kick-off night before students ever got the devices, and he was overwhelmed by the family support.
“We are putting a product in the hands of children that many parents would have liked to have gotten their child anyway, but they couldn’t afford it, “ said Fletcher.
At the kick-off event earlier this fall Fletcher and teachers walked parents through classes on digital aps, flipped instruction, and online safety.
“I think there is an understanding that if our kids are going to be competitive and be college and career ready they have to have technology skills. They need to be able to use the technology that is out there, but also have the skills to adapt and use the technology to come,” said Fletcher.
Currently the school stays open for an extra hour three days a week for students to access the wi-fi. The school system has also partnered with 10 area businesses to offer wi-fi hot spots around the city, and hope to add more in the future. Fletcher also plans to slowly introduce iPads to the entire student body. He says his plan for controlled growth lets the school prove there is a need for this technology and that it will yield results. This year’s sixth graders will take their devices as they move up to seventh grade; next year’s incoming sixth-graders will receive new iPads.
Bunde said one of her student’s comments on Edmodo describes the benefits of this program best: “This is awesome. This new way of learning helps out a lot. The videos help me learn in a way that keeps me focused but entertained too. This will help lots of slow learning students. Yeah for no more worksheets.”
Ashley Ball manages content for Classroom Chronicles. She is a journalist turned educator.