Expert Corner: Flipping Your Classroom with Gizmos

Dan Muscarella, a high school math teacher in Ashburn, VA, shared the lessons (and tools) he learned from flipping his math classroom, and explained how Gizmos helped him flip.

What does it mean to flip your classroom?

In a traditional classroom, teachers lecture during class and students do homework at night. In a flipped classroom, students watch lectures on video at home, and do homework problems with the teacher and various other activities to reinforce the concepts they learned in the lectures when they’re in class.

Why did you decide to flip your classroom?

I flipped because I wanted to change the focus of my teaching from me to my students. And that was hard for me to do as a math teacher, because traditionally math teachers lecture and give notes during class. But most kids don’t struggle during note taking, they struggle when they’re doing their homework. I wanted to help my students when they needed it most and give them more support. I enjoy spending the time in class helping them with problems and working one on one with students.

One of the biggest adjustments for my students is they’re now a lot more responsible for their own learning. They were used to a “sit and get it” environment in math class, so that was a big shift for them. Now in class, no one is sitting in rows. They’re up, they’re at the board. Students are working together, and I walk around the classroom assisting them, working with small groups. It is really a 3-ring circus, which is really invigorating for me.

I’ve been flipping my classroom for the past four years. Every year I learn something slightly different to help my students be successful.

What tools did you need to flip your classroom?

I had to have a laptop, a tablet where I could write notes, Microsoft word, and a Promethean flip chart (imported notes from Microsoft word). I spent too much time at the beginning working on different things, because I thought I was a movie director and it had to be perfect. I soon learned otherwise! It doesn’t have to be perfect. I started breaking up each lesson into several videos, which helps with kids’ attention spans.

I used Camtasia 2 for Mac for videos. I hosted the videos on YouTube. But if your school blocks access to YouTube, there are alternatives like Teacher Tube, School Tube or Sophia.

Here’s my work flow:

  • Create student flip chart in Microsoft Word
  • Create questions about notes in a Google Form – a quick check for understanding
  • Create a flip chart using the note pack on ActiveInspire
  • Record lessons and edit them on Camtasia Mac
  • Post videos on YouTube (or another site)
  • Place videos on student accessible drive at school
  • Put links on my website to the videos

It’s important to get administrators involved and have their support before you start. Kids need access to content and videos. If Internet access at home is an issue, and there are definitely alternatives. Videos can be put on a thumb drive or a DVD so that everyone has access. I also put the videos on the school’s network drive.

How do you flip your classroom with Gizmos?

In my classroom, because I’ve flipped my classroom for Geometry, and I do a little bit in some of my other courses that I teach, Gizmos was a very natural component for that because kids could do that on their own time if they needed to, or if they were absent they could do that. But in the classroom we’ve really used it as one other tool to help enhance their instruction and really deepen their understanding of mathematics at a much deeper level than sometimes the four or five questions I would have had them do out of the textbook.

When did you first start using Gizmos?

The first time that I used Gizmos was back in 2001. My students were struggling with a topic, and I knew they had always struggled with this topic. I knew I had to find something else that would reach them. I looked to see what was out there on the Internet and came across the ExploreLearning Gizmos. As the company has added more Gizmos, that’s allowed me to find different ways to reach kids. At the end of the day that’s what it’s about, trying to get kids to understand a particular concept. Gizmos will do things that I couldn’t do, because I can’t run a simulation in the same way that a Gizmo can. That’s what I love about it. The questions that come along with it … everything is put together in order to ensure students’ success. That’s why I love using Gizmos in my classroom.

What subjects are easier to teach with Gizmos?

ExploreLearning has two Gizmos for rational functions. That particular concept is one that is usually a challenge for so many kids. Why I love the Gizmos is because it takes a very challenging subject and makes it not just visual, but kids can manipulate that to develop patterns. When they’re recognizing some of those patterns, as they’re sitting next to each other or as I’m demonstrating something on the board in the classroom, there’s a conversation that’s happening. So there’s communication skills that are being further enhanced and mathematic language’s being developed, and conversations are really starting to blossom about the technical pieces about rational functions. When I used each of those Gizmos with my students, I saw them understand concepts so much faster than they did before I had used those Gizmos where it was just me teaching and demonstrating in a way that was not the same as using the interactiveness of the Gizmo. I won’t go back to teaching it the other way, ever, because it’s night and day.

How do Gizmos help you meet state standards?

One of the things I really like about Gizmos is the ability to look at the academic standards for your state. I’m in Virginia, so I can look at the particular standards for our state and cross-reference those with a list that ExploreLearning’s already put together. From there my work is already half done because ExploreLearning has done that ahead of time for me, so I know which standard to use and I know which Gizmos to align with that standard.

I’ll use my experience to go through there and work with that particular Gizmo with my students to really enhance their knowledge of that particular topic. Nine times out of ten, anything that we do with a Gizmo goes far deeper and far richer than any textbook ever could. That’s why I love the interactive simulations that ExploreLearning has brought with their Gizmos because as we look at the testing landscape throughout our country, it’s changing to be more of an interactive simulation.

ExploreLearning’s really on the cutting edge and on the front line of giving kids those rich experiences, so then when they have to take a state assessment, where it’s high stakes testing, and there’s a lot on the line for not just kids, but teachers, students, communities. It’s a whole gamut of people that there’s a lot riding on a particular test. ExploreLearning’s done a great job of putting Gizmos together to make sure kids have wonderful, robust experiences that are going to mimic a lot of times that level of knowledge that you need to be successful on a state level test.

Have Gizmos ever changed the way you teach a topic?

The experience that I’ve had is that kids have a much deeper level of understanding about mathematics and certain topics when utilizing Gizmos throughout the year. That allows them to perform better on the state tests which are also set up to be simulations, so they’re very comfortable with that. If I can bring that experience to my students, that’s going to help them do better on all of the state tests and make us, as a school, look better. It’ll make me look better as a teacher. At the end, it’s about me helping them understand mathematics better.

Creating a Flipped ClassroomDan Muscarella, M.Ed., NBCT, is a high school mathematics teacher in Ashburn, VA. He has taught everything from Math 7 through Calculus, and is currently teaching Functions, Advanced Functions, and AP Calculus BC. Check out this webinar on how he flipped his classroom for more.