Category Archives: Flipped Classroom

My experience with my new flipped math classes!

First Five Days – Alumni Advising Students

This year I was once again able to carry on one of my favorite classroom traditions: inviting former students to talk to my current students. Through social media, I reached out to all of my former students and asked if any of them would be interested in participating, and I was thrilled at the response! Some were unable to attend in person, and others volunteered to attend virtually.

I asked each interested alum for a preferred time and date, and from there, I set up a schedule for the first five days of class. I made sure that each class featured one or two alumni at the beginning and end of the period.

During class, once the scheduled alumni arrived, I introduced each of them: when they graduated high school, where they went to college, and what they are doing now. Because I have been teaching at my current school for 16 years, the alumni ranged from those who were just starting college to those who had finished law school or medical school and had been working in their chosen profession for a number of years.

After the alumni for each session were introduced, I invited the students to ask questions about anything: finishing high school, applying to college, what college is like, and so on. My current students impressed me with their questions, particularly how specific they were. Equally impressive were the responses given by the alumni, who truly wanted to give the sound advice they wished they’d received while approaching the end of high school.

Overall, this was one of the most successful “first five days” I’ve had since I started this tradition. And personally, it was a thrill for me to see my former students again and see how much they’ve grown since high school. I’m so proud of all of them!

Even though this whole process involved weeks of organization and preparation, I am extremely pleased with the end result, and I am so thankful to my former students who jumped at the chance to help out, and did so purely out of the goodness of their hearts. I’m so fortunate to have had them in my class, and even luckier now to have them as friends.

Thank you to Nikhil K., Akhila G., Ruben M., Clint B., Ritika P., Nils C., Dev T., Daniel C., Vishal S., Alley M., Murt N., Joanne J., Derek J., Dev C., Shivam L., Nicki M., Mateen A., Ryan I., Mihiro S., Celeste W., Holden B., Pranay S., Apurva G., Jordan W., Maggie T., Danielle P., Sahana R., Laila K., Maria L., Yue T., Saman H., Jess G., Sai P., Tony F., Maxwell R., Kevin C., Mo P., Ronak I., Rohin B., Shreya C., Neha L., Afrah S., Jonathan L., Alyssa R., Tanmay K., Dylan S., Vik K., Boxie Z., and Nivedya V.

First 5 Days 2021 – Alumni Advising Seniors

During the first five (okay, six) days of class this year, I was able to do something special and meaningful for my seniors. Through Facebook, I sent out a request for anybody that took my class and subsequently graduated high school, and asked if they would be willing to meet with my current seniors over Zoom to answer questions. Depending on how long these alumni were out of high school, I asked them if they would be willing to answer questions about applying to college, what college life is like, and even what to do after you graduate from college.

I have been lucky enough to teach at the same high school for 15 years, and have stayed in touch with many of my former students during that time. As a result, the response to my request was overwhelming! Eighty alumni said they were interested, sixty filled out an information form I sent out, and 48 were able to show up and visit with the seniors.

I was able to schedule two to three alumni at the beginning and end of each class, in order to give seniors different perspectives from different people at different stages of life after high school. I encouraged my current students to ask the same questions to different people so that they could get different answers, and hopefully realize that there is more than one right way to pursue their goals.

Selfishly, I was so happy to see my former students and I took the opportunity to tell them how proud I am of what each of them as accomplished since leaving my class.

In order to improve this experience for next year, I asked my seniors some follow-up questions.

In summary, 92.7% of seniors felt that the experience was helpful to them, 85% of seniors felt that there was an appropriate number of different visitors each class period, 88% of seniors felt that an appropriate amount of class time was devoted to this activity, and 100% of seniors felt that I should continue this tradition next year.

When asked for comments, there were some that made a lot of sense. The most frequently received comment was that I should wait until the second day of class to start the activity, and I should devote the first day of class to explaining the process and allowing seniors some time to think of questions to ask. That is something that I will definitely incorporate into next year’s activity.

When seniors were asked about what they learned, I was pleased by the responses. Seniors understood that they should apply to a college based on how well they feel they will fit in at each campus and happy they will be. They understood that going to college means getting involved and being social. They learned that they can switch majors and transfer to another college if it means they can pursue their personal passions and accomplish their personal goals. In general, they learned that it is up to them to do what they need to do in order for them to achieve individual success according to their own standards.

Overall, I feel very pleased with the outcome of this process. The alumni were very courteous and professional, and the seniors learned a lot and were able to reduce their stress about college.

A sincere thank-you to all of my former students who were able to help this year (pictured below):

Jasmine Morgan, Varshini Suresh, Cameron Frysinger, Celeste Wang, Sarah Sachak, Ady Chaudhari, Ashna Pathan, Rishi Lekkala, Ashwin Chandra, Shibi Riyaj, Siddharth Kumaran, Jenny Baggett, Shivi Sharma, Jess Goode, Colin Ruska, Sahana Ramasamy, Saman Hemani, Hannah Mathew, Erin Jordan, Ethan Janis, Alizeh Rehman, Priya Gupta, Amanda Clark, Bhoomika Kumar, Jerry Gao, Victoria Acuff, Shashi Dongur, Cedric Sinanovic, Danielle Piskor, Elieser Gonzalez, Julie Tan, Maya Garg, Joanne Jung, Kevin Chow, Beatriz Alapatt, Adithya Shastry, Adrian Galvan, Dev Chanana, Michael Sheffield, Murphy Scott, Puja Bhat, John Ibekwe, Akshaj Turebylu, Ronak Indurti, Travis Hinds, Jeanna Carlsson, Neha Ghanta, Erin O’Brien, Luke Farrell, JC Humen, Revant Ranjan, Sat Hardiker, Rohin Balkundi, Justin McCullough, Ryan Izadi, Cassidy Younghans

Flipped Classroom – IB Graduates Advising IB Seniors 2019

Again this year, I asked graduates of the IB Diploma program to visit with this year’s seniors – either in person or by video chat – to give advice on how to complete their high school careers without putting undue stress on themselves.

It’s a lot to deal with – extended essays, internal assessments, college applications, the onslaught of exams at the end of the year, finding and applying for scholarships – and to every senior who hasn’t been through it, it can seem overwhelming!

This year, the visiting graduates outdid themselves, providing a variety of answers to common questions, depending on each graduate’s experiences. And yet, there was consistency in most of their answers, so that the overall wisdom gained by the seniors was helpful moving into this year.

Some of the advice that I heard most frequently was:

  • Schedule time every day to work on something, and prioritize the work so that you’re not scrambling at the last minute.
  • IB truly prepares you for college, especially when it comes to writing. You will hate all of the writing you do as a senior, but when you get to college, you’ll find it’s easier to pump out a 2,000-word essay in a day.
  • College feels easier than high school, because while you have the same amount of work to do outside of class, you only spend about 3 hours a day in class, so you have more time outside of class to complete your work.
  • When applying to schools, find the school with the right program, not the right name. And if you can, visit the campuses of those colleges, so you can see if you’ll like being there.
  • Ask multiple people to edit your essays: college students, friends, anyone whose feedback you respect.
  • If possible, get things done early. That way, it’s not hanging over your head.
  • Don’t simply rely on counselors for scholarship information. Do your own research, especially what’s offered by each college.
  • Don’t just apply locally. International schools have programs just as good as those in your home state. Take a risk.
  • Don’t fill your resume with a lot of activities. Focus on what you enjoy.
  • Overall, to stand out in a college application, you have to have done something completely different from others. So look at your life, and figure out what makes your life experience different. Then articulate that in your application essay.

Hopefully, the seniors saw the same patterns I did with the advice, and will take it to heart. I know they will all be successful, even though their plans don’t work out the way they originally thought they would.

I just wish the seniors had as much faith in themselves as the graduates and I have in them. For now, all we can hope is that their minds are a little more at ease.

I wish I could say that all of this effort was completely selfless on my part, but honestly, it warms my heart to see all of these graduates again, even for a brief time. I sincerely enjoy seeing them grown up and full of true joy in the lives they are creating for themselves.

Thank you so much to the graduates who helped out this year:

Lea, Shreya, V, Jonathan, Karvi, Anita, BP, Alex, Amogh, Sahana, Michael, Saman, Edward, Veronica, Michelle, Jess, Natasha, Christina, Shivam, Shruti, Sarah, Kevin, Sophia, Kelly, Holden, Sravika, Apurva, Lauren, Angie, Laila, Adi, Ryan, Mehul, Daniel, and Sat.

Your advice helped so much more than mine would. It’s nice to know I can still count on you even when we’re miles apart.

Flipped Classroom – IB Graduates Advising IB Seniors

For the past couple of years, I have asked graduates from Coppell’s IB Diploma Programme to advise the current seniors on issues that consistently cause them stress during their final year of high school: how to successfully complete all IB assignments, how to apply to college, how to apply for financial aid, and what life is like once they attend college. I do this because it means more to the seniors when this advice comes from people who have recently gone through those challenges successfully.

This year, I invited the IB graduates to do the same thing, and the response was overwhelming! A total of 51 graduates were willing to offer their time to speak to the seniors, even though they were finishing up their summers: some were working, some were packing and getting ready to head back to campus, and others were getting ready for their first year orientation activities.

Scheduling 51 people over the first six days of school was a challenge, but it worked out so that every period of IB math class had two or three speakers at the beginning and the end of class. This may seem excessive. At one point I even thought to myself: These seniors are going to hear the same thing from everybody over and over again.

Near the end I realized, if these seniors hear the same thing from everybody over and over again, it will be even better! It’s not just the top-ranked students or the most outgoing students that were successful, it was all of them! Not only that, they had all chosen different paths with different success stories that led them to their current situation. So the advice was not only consistent, but it went against everything they thought they knew about college.

Seniors have often been told that grades and GPA are the most important thing. They are also told that they should apply to the best schools, with Ivy League schools topping the list, in the country so that they can get good jobs after they graduate.

But the graduates told a much different story, and the story was always the same:

  1. When choosing colleges, choose your interest first. Then find schools that have reputable programs that match. Also find schools that match your personal preferences: small vs. large, local vs. out-of-state vs. international. It’s important to note that American colleges tend to be far more expensive than colleges overseas. It’s important to choose some reach schools, some state schools, and some safety schools. And take advantage of the College Visit days that the high school gives you to visit the campuses that interest you.
  2. Grades are not as important as you think. Colleges know how skewed those scores can be from high school to high school. So focus on the essay. This is the opportunity for you to talk about yourself, things that schools can’t find in your transcript or your resume. And be genuine. It is the job of admissions officers to read these essays, and they can tell when someone is trying to play the game by telling these officers what they might want to hear just to get in.
  3. IB students feel more ready for college than non-IB students. This is because IB students do so much writing, and are required to acquire service hours for their IB diplomas. As a result, when college professors require a similar level of writing, it’s a task that IB students are already familiar with. Some IB students even said that their freshman year of college was easier than their senior year of high school. IB students have also had more practice at managing their time and being self-motivated. So the adjustment to a situation where they are the only ones accountable for meeting multiple deadlines is an easy one.
  4. While many students received credit for their IB courses, the students didn’t use this as an opportunity to finish college early. Instead, they filled their years of study by learning things that they were interested in, even though they were not required for their degrees. College is the place to learn as much as you can, as much as you want, and to enjoy the process of learning.
  5. Some students changed majors when they realized their original choice wasn’t working out. But it gets more challenging as the years pass, since most majors have a list of that every student has to take.
  6. Internships are a valuable addition to the college experience. Internships lead to connections that lead to jobs after graduation from college. And sometimes those jobs will help pay for a postgraduate degree.

If students heard these tidbits from two or three graduates, they might dismiss them as being an exception or a special case that didn’t apply to the general population. But since they heard the same advice from 51 individual people, from different backgrounds, with a wide range of GPAs, attending dozens of different colleges, majoring in a spectrum of programs, at different stages in their post-secondary life, I believe the message has finally hit home. There is no guarantee that life after high school will go your way, but if you pursue your individual goals, seek out opportunities to learn more, advocate for yourself with your new peers and professors, and hold on to your personal integrity, things will work out better than you could have planned.

I eagerly await the opportunity to do this again next fall. The organization of times and technology was a burden, but to see the faces of my former students being successful adults, and to see the faces of my current students now excited for what’s ahead, the whole process was more than worth the effort.

Thank you to Ashna P., Holden B., Pam M., Akshaya S., Dev T., Jeanna C., Janet H., Maanas S., Sarah H., Dharshini S., Varshini S., Anjali N., Sai P., Veronica N., Lesley W., Saman H., Daniel C., Jia L., Wesley V., Isha K., Jonathan L., Maggie T., Mason E., Nadia M., Kyle W., Maggie L., Amruta D., Lauren H., Sadie H., Jasmine L., Rohin B., Keaton L., Carena T., Christina L., Jess H., Jess G., Alex R., Rachana M., Mio Y., Erin J., Michael S., Revant R., Adithya S., Matthew G., Natasha S., Clint B., Maria L., Shreya C., Dev C., Mubin P., and Ryan I., for volunteering your time to help out this year’s IB seniors. I know they truly appreciate it!

Building Relationships: Know Your Students Before You Meet Them

School is only days away, and my mind is already excited for the first day. I love meeting all of the young people I will be teaching and guiding over the next ten months. Any teacher will tell you, though, that the hardest part is learning all of their names and getting to know all of them individually, all while getting through the curriculum.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that I value relationships with students above all else. I use the Flipped Classroom model so that I can spend more face-to-face time with each student. And I use the First Five Days of school to teach perspective, compassion, and empathy, so that they can have meaningful relationships with others. Well, there’s more:

A few years ago, a colleague of mine developed a survey to give to students, in order to learn more about them: what they like to be called, what math course they took last year, what activities they are involved in, and what their personal interests are.

I used this survey for a few years, and this year, I decided to make my own. I asked a lot of the same questions, but added some new ones: what is your main goal for math class this year, and what is your greatest obstacle in math class. I send out the survey as a Google Form and use a spreadsheet to track the results.

This accomplishes a lot of things. First of all, it lets me know quickly the varying levels of math background the students already have. Specifically in my Calculus BC class this year, I noticed that while most students have finished Calculus AB, there was one student who took Pre-Calculus last year, and two who took Honors Algebra 2. So before the year begins, I already know I’m going to have some conversations with these students, and possibly their parents and counselors, to let them know the level of knowledge and rigor that is expected in Calculus BC. I also know that when certain Calculus topics come up that require skills that they were not exposed to, I will have to give them some resources to get them to the same level as their classmates.

I was also fascinated by their varying goals. Some were focused on grades and GPA, while others just want to learn calculus, or just enjoy math. Personally, it worries me when someone’s goal is grades or GPA – it’s like saying my goal in life is to have a lot of money – I worry that they don’t care how they accomplish that goal, even if it involves dishonesty. But I have to give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they just haven’t really thought about what goals are supposed to look like. What I mean is, a goal should be to learn, whereas a high grade is a consequence of achieving that goal. Similarly, a worthwhile job is a goal, whereas money is a consequence.

As I look at the results, I now have a lot of information about my students before day one, which is to everyone’s advantage.

The survey itself is great, but I’m the only one who benefits if I stop here. So now comes the fun part. I write an email to each student and personally welcome him or her to my class. I comment on their responses, especially if we have something in common. For example, many of them are involved in a school music program, and I’ve been playing piano since I was 7. If we have nothing in common, I look for responses that I could talk to them about. Many of them are involved in activities outside of school that I know little to nothing about, and I want to learn. I tell them this in my message to them.

The whole process is very simple, and even though it takes time to write all of those emails, the student knows that he or she is a welcome and valued member of my class before walking into my classroom on the first day. The relationship has already begun and is already meaningful before we ever shake hands and say, “Good morning,” for the first time.

Flipped Classroom – Flip 7

This is my seventh year implementing the Flipped Classroom model, and I don’t know why, but I feel more excited than usual about this new year.

Maybe it’s because I’ve moved to a new classroom. For the past several years, I’ve been in a hallway with my fellow IB teachers, but now I’ve moved back to the math hallway. I will definitely miss my IB colleagues, but I think it will be good for me to be around more people who can talk math with me. Also, it will be a chance for them to learn more about what we actually do in IB Math classes.

Maybe I’m excited because I just came back from presenting at my second conference this year. Earlier this year I presented on “The Flipped Classroom” and “The First Five Days” at the Common Ground conference in Ocean City, Maryland, and was well-received. Last week, I presented on the same topics, plus “Making Assessments Cheat-Proof,” at the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teachers (CAMT) in Houston, Texas, and the response was amazing! The first session was three-quarters full and the other two were completely full! After the conference, I received multiple emails asking me to share my resources (which I gladly did).

Or maybe I’m excited because, while keeping all of my IB Math classes, I’ve gone from teaching Algebra 1 to teaching AP Calculus BC this year. It’s been a while since I’ve taught Calculus, but there are a lot of the same concepts in my IB Math courses. There are just a few lessons that I need to brush up on, and then I’ll be fine.

As far as flipping goes, I will still do that in my IB classes, because that continues to be successful. I think I will use this year to make my classes more asynchronous and mastery-based, but I know I will have to teach the students how to manage their independence. I still start the year keeping everybody on the same lesson on the same day, and then as the year progresses, assign firm deadlines but give more freedom as to how they get there.

I don’t feel comfortable flipping Calculus yet, especially since it’s my first year. But I will use this year to see which IB videos and activities I can directly transfer to the Calculus classes. Then next summer I can craft the necessary playlists for those classes.

Again, I don’t know why I’m excited. I think it’s because I get to work with more of those precious seniors than usual. Yes, I look forward to teaching them mathematics. But more importantly, I hope I can gradually build their sense of integrity and character, and give them a sense of assurance that life after high school will be okay.

Flipped Classroom – Interstate Tutoring: Update

You may recall that I started tutoring a high school IB student in Florida. Well, I’ve had four tutoring sessions with her, and things are going amazingly well. It’s still a bit clunky with my sketchy home Wi-Fi, but other than that, I feel that she is getting the same high quality of instruction as the students I tutor in person. Here’s my system:

On my MacBook, I use FaceTime to video chat with her. We have each other’s cell phone numbers so that’s what we use to contact each other. Using FaceTime allows me to read her facial expressions to see if she understands or maybe needs a different explanation of the concept. When the Wi-Fi connection is good, this proves very valuable, but sometimes the screen freezes, which makes for interesting conversation: “Do you have a question?… Are you there?… Hello?” On the bright side, if I only had audio, I wouldn’t be able to tell whether she was pausing to process ideas, or whether I lost the connection altogether.

On two-thirds of the same Macbook screen, I open a Google Doc. This allows her to copy and paste questions from assignments or test reviews so that we can work through them together and add our individual contributions to the same document, and we color-code our contributions. (The original question is in black, her contributions are in red, and mine are in green.) Usually I have time to look at them before the tutoring session begins, so I can write some notes that will remind me how to solve later, and may give her an idea of where to start.

Beside the MacBook is a separate device, my iPad. On it, I use an application called BaiBoard 3. This application is similar to a Google Doc, in that two people can contribute to the same page, but it’s for drawing instead of typing. So, if I need to draw a picture in order to explain my process or understanding, I go to the iPad and start drawing with my finger. (For those that have used Google Docs, you understand how difficult it may be to draw a picture in a Doc.) This has come in very handy when I need to use right-triangle trigonometry or division of polynomials.

The trickiest part was payment. Normally when I tutor, I get paid with cash or a check. But it’s not that easy when your student lives so far away. I honestly didn’t know much about transferring money, so the student’s father and I both started investigating. Her father discovered something called Zelle, which allows anyone to transfer money from their bank account to another bank account. All you need is the recipient’s permission and cell phone number. The student’s father now prepays for three hours’ worth of tutoring at a time.

I decided to keep track of total tutoring time and payments using Google Sheets, which is like Microsoft Excel. I’ve allowed the student’s father to view this document, just so that he doesn’t feel like I’m overcharging. On the Google Sheet, I keep track of how long each session is, and how much money I’ve been prepaid. Then when I reach or exceed three hours, I email the student’s father to let him know. He requested I do this so that he can stay current with payment.

So there it is! I know that there are other better applications I could be using to accomplish everything, and if you know of any, please let me know. But for now, this seems to be working for both of me and the student. The only app she hadn’t used before was BaiBoard, but once she downloaded it and gained access, the rest was easy.

Yesterday, we finished reviewing for her semester exam which she is taking today. Hopefully she does well. She does seem very pleased with how things are going, and with how much she understands now. She admitted to feeling much more confident about her semester exam. I must say that I look forward to working with her more next semester, and finding ways to make the whole experience even smoother and even more productive.

Flipped Classroom – Interstate Tutoring?

Like most teachers, I like to do tutoring after school for those who need it, and are not in my class. I will usually meet a student at the local library for about an hour once a week in the evening, answering any questions they have about the week’s assignments or working ahead in the curriculum if there’s time.

Since I live and work in different cities, I can tutor students from both cities. But I never thought I would be given an opportunity like this:

I received an email from a father who was concerned about his daughter’s success in a junior level IB math class. The difference is, they live in Florida!

He ran across my name by doing a search of IB math teachers online. It’s a good thing my online presence is positive, because I think I was one of the first teachers he contacted, if not the first.

Once I agreed to tutor his daughter, it was time to figure out logistics. How would we communicate? How could I watch her work and point out errors as they come up? How could the father compensate me for my time?

After doing some research, we (the student and I) decided to communicate face-to-face using Facetime on our laptops. We also downloaded BaiBoard 3, an interactive whiteboard app, to our iPads so that I could watch her work and give written feedback on the spot as well. Surprisingly, the easiest part was working out the transfer of funds. Most banks have this and make it easy for customers, regardless of the bank they use, to transfer money from one account to another.

So, it’s all set up now. We met briefly yesterday just to introduce ourselves, and the father paid me in advance for the first three hours. We even tested the BaiBoard app by writing “Hello” to each other. And everything went very smoothly.

Our first session is on Monday evening, and I’m very excited about this new way of tutoring. Perhaps if I’m successful, I could look into tutoring more students in other states, and maybe other countries.

If you would like to follow my progress, please let me know, and I’ll post more as the sessions progress.

Flipped Classroom – First Five Days: Grads Talking to Seniors

Last year, during the first five days of school, I invited my former students to visit my classroom, either in person or through Facetime, to talk to my current seniors and give them encouragement and advice. The response was overwhelming! The graduates were eager to share their experiences with the new seniors. Even though the graduates had schedules of their own, I was able to organize a schedule where each class of seniors was able to hear from one or two students each class, for the entire week. I was also able to make sure that the seniors were able to hear from students from two distinct groups: (1) recent graduates and (2) graduates from over a year ago.

Recent graduates proved to be very helpful with the college application process – which schools to apply to, financial aid, scholarships – as well as the stress of finishing all of the work required to earn their International Baccalaureate (IB) diplomas – multiple internal assessments, papers, and an extended essay.

Graduates from over a year ago were extremely helpful with advice about the college experience after admission – attending classes, getting involved in campus life, etc.

The event was so successful, and the feedback from the seniors was so positive, that I decided to do it again this year. Once again, the response was incredible! Personally, I smile because I’m able to see my former students again. For the students, the advice they received was so valuable, even though it was scary at times. There was a common thread to all conversations, with small differences in the details.




In general, the seniors were given the following advice:

  • Submit everything before the deadline. Any college-related application that was submitted on the deadline would greatly reduce your chances of getting accepted. Any IB work should also be done before the official deadlines so that it’s not hanging over your head.
  • Apply to a variety of colleges – “reach” schools, state schools, and “safety” schools, knowing that even if you don’t get into your dream college, you will still have a successful and meaningful college experience.
  • Enjoy your senior year – this is the last time you will be around your closest friends every day, so enjoy that time and make memories.
  • Actively research scholarships – there are many scholarships out there that people don’t know about. Do your research and apply to the reputable ones. And you can apply for scholarships each year you attend college, not just your freshman year.
  • Recognize that IB is preparing you for college, moreso than other advanced classes – Most of your time in IB is spent doing independent research and writing original reports and essays, so being able to manage your time, balance your activities, and take ownership of your learning in college is easier if you’ve been in IB.

Each graduate then spoke about his or her unique choices, experiences, problems, stresses, solutions, and strategies. They discussed how they narrowed down their college choices, how and when they applied for scholarships, how they strategized to get the most financial aid, what they do with their spare time, when they study, how they deal with dorm life, and so on. The answers varied greatly at this point and the seniors recognized that there are many ways for each of them to be successful at college.

I’m hoping with so many different perspectives, the seniors realize that there is no such thing as the one right path for everyone. I also hope they realize that if they plan and work hard, things will work out. Maybe not the way they dreamed, but they will certainly work out for their success and happiness.

♥ Thank you to Edward, Lea, Sophia, Adithya, Jess, Erin, Bobby, Angie, Jia, Veronica, Maanas, and Pam, for fielding random challenging questions. Video calls, talking to groups, answering questions without the opportunity for preparation – each of these things is difficult, but you handled all of it like professionals. I can’t tell you how proud and impressed I am with all of you. ♥

Flipped Classroom – Building Community Before Day One

When I think of my first day of high school, I think of the anxiety I felt: the building seemed huge, the people seemed old, and the idea of balancing multiple classes was overwhelming. So when I look at my rosters for my incoming Algebra 1 students, I can’t help but sympathize.

For several years, I had been using a survey created by a colleague to introduce myself to my IB seniors, and to find out more about them. And this year, when I found out I was teaching freshmen for the second year in a row, I knew it would be a great idea to find out more about them too. So, I created a similar Google form survey for them to complete, and emailed it to all of them. (If you decide to do this, remember to email it to yourself, and “blind-copy” the students.) The survey contained questions about last year’s math class experience, how they felt coming into this year, what other activities they would be involved in, and anything else I should know about them.

The results came back in a Google spreadsheet. And I was amazed at the sincerity of the responses, but more importantly, I was grateful. I learned that two of my incoming students are shy and don’t like to talk in class, one student likes to socialize but promises he will get his work done. Several were nervous about math not being their best subject, while others were worried it would be too easy. Some responded to the survey using nicknames, which I made a note of. Some students had a great summer, and others lost family members happen during those months. I kept notes on all of this so that I can be more sensitive to each student as they walk in my classroom.

But I wanted to do more. I wanted them to know that I appreciated their responses, and I had carefully read each one. So for every response I got, I sent an email back to the student, welcoming them, encouraging them, letting them know that I would do whatever it takes to match my instruction to their learning paces and styles, but more importantly, letting them know that I value each of them as a unique human being.

Knowing their names is pointless, though, if you can’t match them to the faces. So once the first day arrives (tomorrow), I will have each student make a name plate out of a folded piece of paper. Then, table by table, I will take pictures of the class, promising the students that the pictures will not be published in any way. I will also clarify any pronunciations with them and make notes of any that may cause me trouble. My homework will consist of looking through the pictures and remembering all of the students and the pronunciations of their names. The next time I see those students, I will quiz myself by going around the room and naming all of them. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. I can only imagine how special I would feel if the teachers of this huge building already knew my name by the second day of classes.

I think that the teacher-student relationship has a lot to do with how valued a student feels in high school, so I am always looking for ways to strengthen that relationship, whether it’s before I ever meet them, while we work together in class, or the following year when they’ve moved on to their next math class.

Often I stay in touch with my students long after they graduate. Sometimes it’s just an annual “happy birthday” message from me on Facebook, and sometimes it’s checking “I will attend” on a wedding invitation.

I’m excited to see how the survey and emails to students will affect the classroom environment on day one, and I can’t wait to match these names and personalities to their faces. I am hoping that stress and conflict will be reduced greatly, and I’m hoping that they see me as not just as their teacher, but someone who genuinely cares about them, and will be there for them when they need it.

Whether these students realize it or not, they now have someone new in their lives who will be thinking about them for a long time, wondering about their futures, and excited for what they are preparing to achieve in the many years of opportunities that lie ahead of them.

This is what teachers do – teaching children is my job, but caring about them is my purpose.


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