Math homework.

We’ve all been there, pencil in hand, struggling with that one baffling problem, straining to decipher textbook examples and notes scrawled hastily in class.

It’s frustrating at best and, at times, completely disheartening.

Cue audience participation: “There’s got to be a better way!”

Perhaps there is.

Dowell Middle School math teachers Kimberly Howard, Trista Hennebry, Pamela Starrett and Ashley Cruz have adopted a unique concept that is changing the way their students are approaching math, both at school and at home. It’s called flipped classrooms.

Pioneered by Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, chemistry teachers from Woodland Park, Colorado, the flipped classroom offers teachers more time in class with students as they investigate and apply new concepts.

Here's how it works:

A few times a week, the Dowell Middle School math teachers post instructional videos online. Some are funny, teacher-created offerings while others come from sources such as the Khan Academy, a non-profit online resource.

At home, students watch an assigned video and come to class the next day prepared to put new concepts to work through guided practice and engaging learning activities. If a student is struggling with a concept, the teacher is there to assess and reteach.

Currently, the Dowell Middle School seventh-grade Pre-AP Math classes are fully flipped; elements of the approach have been used in seventh- and eighth-grade Academic Math classes with a full implementation planned in the near future.

Dowell Middle School Principal Dr. Logan Faris lauds the approach, not as an educational cure-all, but as a powerful tool to supplement the basics of classroom instruction.

“We need a diverse set of opportunities for teachers to utilize,” he said. “Flipped classrooms provide a valuable way for students to engage while in class and for teachers to ensure that those first important attempts with the material are successful. It’s kid-friendly.”

And it’s getting results. “Students have taken more responsibility for their learning,” said Howard. “They know that the teacher is not the only bearer of information and are seeking the information outside of class, whether it be our video lectures or other sources.”

“This has been all about keeping the students engaged in their education and not creating passive learners, but students who take ownership of what they are expected to learn,” Hennebry said.

Part of that ownership is the flexibility for students to proceed at a pace that works for them. “We hear from students that they love that they can pause, slow down, rewind or fast forward a video lecture to suit their learning needs. While these students may not raise their hand in class, they have no problem rewinding a video to revisit a concept they don't understand,” said Howard.

“Overall, the flipped model has allowed us to interact with students more in class since we are no longer spending the majority of class time in a direct teach mode at the front of the classroom,” said Howard.

“It has created the opportunity for us to dig deeper with our students, rather than covering more material,” said Hennebry.

Parents are getting onboard with flipped classrooms as well. “Parents are able to monitor students watching a video rather than trying to re-learn math in order to help their kids with homework,” said Howard. “Many parents watch the videos alongside their student and they learn the concept together.”

When it comes to the flipped classroom model, Howard and Hennebry are the local experts. Along with Assistant Principal Jamie Thomas, they were primarily responsible for bringing the approach to Dowell Middle School, and they are enthusiastic about sharing what they have learned.

In January, they opened their doors for the National Flipped Classroom Open House and hosted several visitors from area districts. Recently they presented at the Region 10 Innovate 2 Educate Technology Conference.

In July, they will speak at the Allen ISD Flipped Conference.

McKinney ISD Superintendent Dr. J.D. Kennedy visited Dowell Middle School in April to observe flipped classrooms at work. With him were three area superintendents who share Dr. Kennedy’s vision for making student work more engaging and challenging: Lancaster ISD Superintendent Dr. Michael D. McFarland, Sunnyvale ISD Superintendent Dr. Doug Williams and Cedar Hill ISD Superintendent Dr. Horace Williams. Also in attendance was Cedar Hill ISD Secondary Technology Instructional Coordinator Ed Ohan.

They found classrooms abuzz with teenagers actively engaged in a variety of student-selected projects. The kids were energized, and so were the teachers.

Dr. Horace Williams said, “I saw really energized teachers that love what they do, and that translated into the classroom. The kids said that they were having fun. They’re learning, and this is a great way to engage them.”

Students are engaged. Teachers are energized. Parents are in the loop. Here is hope for those who struggle with math homework -- flipped classrooms.   

Cue applause.


About the author: Shane Mauldin is a communications specialist with McKinney ISD.