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Published: Sunday, 12/9/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Education

Schools flip for technology

'Inverted,' 'flipped' approach puts focus back on students

BY RONEISHA MULLEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Brooklyn Grant, right, 14, of Toledo, tackles coursework on a cmoputer at Nexus Academy, a public charter school in downtown Toledo. Brooklyn Grant, right, 14, of Toledo, tackles coursework on a cmoputer at Nexus Academy, a public charter school in downtown Toledo.
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From chalkboards to smart boards, text books to e-books and worksheets to web applications, technology has fundamentally transformed the way teachers teach and students learn.

The digital revolution has played a significant role in this transformation by increasing the speed at which education has changed, ultimately reshaping the way learning takes place and knowledge is delivered.

At Nexus Academy, a public charter school in downtown Toledo, education is delivered in an office-like setting, where students lounge on sofas or read while riding a stationary bicycle. The school specializes in blended learning, a combination of traditional face-to-face classroom work mixed with computer-based activities.

And at the University of Toledo, students are learning their lessons before class begins, usually through earbuds or by watching a video.

“The students like it,” said Suzan Orra, an associate lecturer of math and statistics at UT. “It’s a lot of prep work, but in class, it’s less hectic because I can just focus on the students and what they’re having trouble with.”

The technique, called inverted learning or flipped courses, puts the focus back on students, not the professor. Under this setup, students watch or listen to a lecture at home and then apply the lesson with the instructor in the classroom.

To ensure they’ve done the assignment, Ms. Orra, who started teaching a flipped course earlier this year, requires her students to answer a question from the lecture.

“The only way they could answer the question is if they watched the video,” Ms. Orra said. “Overall, it works. There are a lot of students who are really dedicated to it.”

Andrya Ibbitson, 15, of Toledo, works on her computer at Nexus Academy. Andrya Ibbitson, 15, of Toledo, works on her computer at Nexus Academy.
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Instructors say the inverted learning design allows students to absorb the material as homework and then practice what they’ve learned in class with help from the teacher. This new style makes class time more productive for both teachers and students and increases student engagement.

“By watching the lesson at home, when they get to class, they can take advantage of me being there,” Ms. Orra said. “The students will know what it is they need help with and we can focus on that, versus me teaching a lesson in class and sending them home to work on it without my help.”

Both the UT and Nexus programs are still in their infancy, so there isn’t any data to show how well the programs are working. So far, the blended learning setup has worked well for Andrya Ibbitson, who finished her freshman year at Whitmer High School with below average grades. Since transferring to Nexus this school year, her grades have improved.

“There were more than 500 kids in my freshman class at Whitmer. It was overwhelming,” said Andrya, 15. “But here, (at Nexus), I can work at my own pace. If I’m behind, I can catch up or I can work ahead.”

The relaxed atmosphere and small student population allows school staff to get to know the students and their needs, said Andrea Weilacher, school principal.

“Students who feel like their home school isn’t working for them — for reasons like overcrowded classrooms, not enough help from the teacher, or a number of other reasons — they lack focus,” Mrs. Weilacher said. “In a school like this, we can sort of combat those reasons.”

Student Andrya Ibbitson, left, and school counselor Karen Sanders visit between the morning and afternoon sessions at Nexus Academy. Student Andrya Ibbitson, left, and school counselor Karen Sanders visit between the morning and afternoon sessions at Nexus Academy.
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Students attend school four days a week for four hours a day. While they are a major part of the curriculum, the online components of blended learning are treated as an add-on to the conventional classroom structure, as students spend part of the school day in a classroom with an in-person teacher for math and English lessons. Other courses are taken online and feature lectures, videos and interactive assignments. Student progress is tracked through computer programs that monitor students study habits and achievement.

“Our system allows staff to see how long students spent on a lesson and when they worked on it,” said Karen Sanders, school counselor. “With that, I can narrow down areas where they’re struggling. Maybe they’re not spending enough time on the assignment or they’re not watching the videos. Whatever the case, we’re about to go to the student and say here is your weakness.

“If it’s math, instead of focusing on math as a whole, I can focus on fractions or whatever specific area they need help in.”

In addition, the system gives students access to a live tutor, who is available during the evening to help with the college prep curriculum.

The school is equipped for 150 students, but only 32 students are enrolled. Every day those students meet with "success coaches" to get help with homework and discuss goals and achievement.

“I feel like they really care,” said Brooklyn Grant, a freshman at Nexus. “Here I’ll get the one-on-one with the teacher to boost my grades and get into a good college.”

The non-traditional learning environment is also favorable for students who suffer from attention deficit disorder and Asperger’s syndrome and may not do well at traditional schools, Ms. Sanders said.

“Ultimately, the kids get a personal plan designed just for them,” Ms. Sanders said. “It’s like, 'Who are you and how do you learn best?”

Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: rmullen@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.



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