Friday, January 31, 2014

Peer Instruction Improves Student Learning

After twenty plus years of teaching and trying many different things to improve student learning, I just finished my second year (4th semester) of using the Peer Instruction Flipped Learning model.  The traditional flip helped my students learn more and do better on their assessments than lecture ever did, but the peer instruction flipped learning model has outperformed all other learning models that I have tried and really helped my students excel in mathematics.  I have used common assessments for many years here in my school, so I am able to concretely compare my lecture results, to the traditional flipped learning results, to my peer instruction flipped learning results.

Peer Instruction is where the students still learn the material before class which, for me, means the students are watching my video lessons before class. When the students come to class, I have two to four questions up on the board related to the video lesson they just watched.  Students sit down and answer, or try to answer, the questions without talking with anyone, but students may use their notes frp, the video lesson.  Once students have answered the questions, then they turn to their neighbor and discuss their answer with them.  If they disagree on the answer, they try to convince each other of their answer.  During this process students are discussing/arguing/debating mathematics in my room and getting at their thinking and reasons for their answer.  All the student discussions are great.  I love hearing students deeply engaged in discussions.  They are also emotionally engaged in the learning process since they trying to defend their answers or wondering if they are right.

I look at proficiencies (number of students at or above 80% on tests and finals) in gauging student learning.  When I switched from lecture to the traditional flipped classroom, my Calculus proficiencies rose 3.4% and Pre-Calculus rose 6.5%.  Two years ago (four semesters) I switched to the peer instruction flipped learning model.  My four semester average of peer instruction of Calculus proficiencies rose to 84.9% (a 13.6% increase), Pre-Calculus rose to 85.5 % (an 11.3% increase), and Algebra 2 rose to 95.7% (12.8%).  These four semester averages of peer instruction are great validation for me that students are learning more.  
I just finished my most successful semester yet.  I had great connections with students (see “Relationships Matter in Learning, Jan 16th 2014” blog post) and really good proficiencies.  My proficiencies just from this fall are:
  • Calculus: 89.0% (a 17.7% increase compared to lecture)
  • Pre-Calculus: 86.6% (a 12.4% increase compared to lecture)
  • Algebra 2: 98% (a 15.1% increase compared to lecture)

Note: I am missing Algebra 2 Traditional Flip compared to lecture due to having a yearlong student teacher during that time and I did not feel I could use his results.  Interested in learning about my  former, amazing student teacher who is now on staff with me? Visit and see his textbook free, open source statistics curriculum.

I cannot say for sure why this last semester was so good in regard to student learning, but I had  developed really good relationships with all my students.  It is possible that those good relationships made the difference.  It is possible it was just the group of students I had.  
The peer instruction process is effective by itself, but if you couple that with the relationships that develop in the flipped environment, the Peer Instruction Flipped Learning model is a very powerful model.  I would encourage you to try the Peer Instruction Flipped Learning model.  To learn more about how I use peer instruction in my room visit and click on Peer Instruction.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

One Small Change = Big Difference in Student Learning

Background:  My calculus class has been going pretty well these last few years.  Last spring I redid some videos on the lessons that students struggled with and that made a big change for that chapter in how student did on their test.  Their learning of the material greatly increased; my test proficiencies for that chapter increased from 58% to 100%.  I define proficiency as the number of students that are at 80% or above on their assessments. 
But over the last four years, I have noticed students’ grades typically dropped in the second half of the class.  On average, students who had below a 94% at the half-way mark would drop on average 3.57% in their overall grade.  Students who had above a 94% at the halfway mark would drop on average 1.35% in their overall grade.  I figured it was because the last half of the course was significantly harder (volumes of revolution, integration by parts, and doing calculus on transcendental functions) and initially dismissed it as something out of my control because of the difficulty of the material.  

The Change:  This fall when I taught the class, I decided I would require students who were below a 97% in the class to do “daily problems” and turn them in every day.  The daily problems were three or four questions that student needed to turn in before school every day except on test days.  This is different from my normal assignments that students do where they have access to the solutions manual and can always check their work, but for these daily problems there was no solutions manual for them to use to see if they were right.  Students would turn these daily problems in before school.  If they got them all right, that was great.  If not, then they would get the problems back and have to do corrections before the end of class.  If students did not do the problems or did not get the correction problems turned in, then they had to “hang out” with me during their lunch and do calculus. 
This change did a couple of things.  It was a reality check for the students to see if they really did understand the material without looking at the answers and for me to know which students were struggling with the material or which students I needed to work with more to help them understand the material.  This was a good check for understanding for the students since this class does not have quizzes and is based mainly on their tests grades and final.

The Results:  So, what are the results of this one small change?  Well, 80% of the students found the daily problems helpful in understanding the material better.  But better yet is what happened to students’ grades from halfway through the class to the end of the class.  Instead of student grades dropping by 1.35% to 3.57%, the students’ grades actually went up by 0.25% to 0.56% even though the material was significantly harder.  Another great thing that happened was the number of “A’s” rose significantly from 43% to 76%.  The number of “B’s” dropped because a lot of students went from the “B” range to the “A” range.  This change also kept a couple of my “B” students from dropping into the “C” range.
Calculus has a difficult reputation, even among math teachers. When I shared my findings with a colleague, he replied, "And Faulkner’s Calc ain't no cakewalk.  Wow.”  His reaction certainly helped validate the positive impact this small change has had. 

Since I am a data-guy, here is the summary data of the big changes:

Fall 2013
Prior Classes
Change in grade if <  94% @ halfway
Change in grade if > 94% @ halfway

This small change impacting students also had an impact on me.  I was reminded that “change” doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking or a massive “re-do”; small things can also greatly impact student learning in more ways than I could have imagined.  I was reminded once again that the journey is all about continuous improvement, for students and teachers.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Relationships Matter in Learning

When I was lecturing, I thought I had a relationship with all students, but in reality I did not.  Yes, I interacted with students, but it was often me with the whole class. There was a whole class relationship but not many individual, personal relationships.  I normally only got to develop a real relationship with a student if he/she regularly came in before or after school to get help.
In the fall of 2010, I started flipping my classroom, and I noticed a couple of things.  I loved not being the dispenser of information, being able to be out with the students, helping individuals or small groups of students.  I get to talk with each individual student.  I get to know them, their learning style, and their interests.  Each student gets to know me on a personal level.  As I am working with students and getting to know them and their interests, I can talk about how mathematics applies to their interests.

Personal relationship often leads to students putting in more effort.  
My Calculus 1 class is taught for college credit through a university and is taught at a very high level.  My calculus class last spring had incoming state math scores 15 points lower (a 100 point scale) than prior classes, but they out performed every prior calculus class taught by lecture and flipped.  I developed very good relationships with each student in that class.   In my Algebra 2 class, we missed two days last week because of the extreme cold (50 degree below wind chill) in the middle of a challenging chapter on trigonometry, yet their quiz average was 92% (historical average 82%).  With these deeper personal relationships, it is like I say, “Jump!” and the students respond with “How high?” and no matter how high I set the bar, they jump to that level.  Reflecting on this, I feel like I am able to get more effort/work out of my students because of the personal relationship I have with each student.  So when students know that their teacher genuinely cares for them on a personal level, they do not mind putting in the extra effort for that teacher.

More evidence of relationships mattering.  This past November, I was surprised by my students.  On a Tuesday, I got a phone call during class letting me know that my father-in-law had passed away unexpectedly.   I ended up leaving school in the middle of the day, but right before I left, a couple of students came back to my room to express their condolences.  That evening I received two emails from separate students expressing their condolences.  The next morning I received a card from one student.  I was touched by all these expressions of sympathy.   But what really brought tears to my eyes was on Wednesday at the end of school another student left a card for me on my desk.  I looked at it later when I had time, and every single student from all my classes had signed the card expressing their condolences to me at the passing of my father-in-law.  After returning from the funeral, I shared with my students how they impacted me and shared how touched I was by their card.  In the past when I was lecturing and experienced a lost, I do not recall any student saying anything to me.   I feel that I only experienced this out-pouring of sympathy from my students because of having those personal relationships with each student.

Right before Christmas, a student gave me a card that stated, “Merry Christmas!  I also want to say thank you for everything you do.  Even though I feel like I put a lot of time into Calculus, I know you put even more!  Also, just like you said that we impacted you, you definitely impact us too.  It’s nice to be able to know that there are teachers that genuinely care, and even cooler to know that you are one who also shares my beliefs.  … So thank you!  Anyway, I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas, and I will see you next year.  Thanks for dealing with me when I get frustrated.”
I think some of the increase in learning that I have seen in my classroom has been because of having students doing mathematics in class as a result of using flipped learning, but the other part of the increase in learning has been because of the relationships that have occurred as a result of flipped learning.