School Technology Grant Recipients Explain Their Projects

Though she’s used to good results with the so-called “flipped classroom,” Angela Barber, a sixth-grade science teacher at West Running Brook Middle School, was surprised at the progress made by one of her students.

“One student finished our entire curriculum over April vacation, and now they’re doing an independent research project on the brain,” she said.

It’s not your mother’s homework, or even yours. Barber, eighth-grade science teacher Stephanie Burke and West Running Brook computer teacher Holly Whitney have been experimenting with the “flipped classroom,” a concept where students receive their lesson at home at night and do their “homework” in class the next day.

Whitney, Barber and Burke were three of the four 21st Century Grant recipients reporting on their work at the June 9 School Board meeting. The grants, provided by a private foundation, are helping Derry teachers use technology in innovative ways, preparing students for the world they will one day live in.

Gordon Graham, Dot Wiley and District Technology Director Ray Larose, all members of the 21st-Century Learning board, attended the meeting to share their vision and reflect on their recipients’ success.

Whitney, Barber and Burke received $16,611 in grant funds to implement their “Flipped Classroom:” strategy. In a flipped classroom, the children receive their focus lesson in the evening by video, in what used to be the traditional “homework” time. They do their hands-on activities in class the next day.

The $16,611 paid for two sets of Chromebooks, video editing software called Comtasia, a microphone for teachers to use in taping their lessons, and a MacBook Pro, Whitney said. The two teachers recorded their lessons at school, the children watched them at home, and both dealt with progress or problems in class the next day.

Instead of using SchoolTube to post the videos, the team went with EdPuzzle, Barber said, noting, “You can’t fast-forward it.”

Barber noted that in science teaching, she serves a “huge range of abilities.” It’s not practical to divide them into small groups by ability, as reading and math teachers do, so it’s harder to do differentiated instruction, she said.

But with the flipped classroom each child can go at his or her own pace, she said. They receive a list of tasks at the beginning of each unit, and they go until they’re done. “It’s more freedom, but also more responsibility,” she observed.

The concept exceeded her expectations, she said, and “the quality of work was astounding.” Students watched the videos at home and “articulated their understanding better than I’ve ever seen.”

Burke said, “It has completely changed my pedagogy.” While she missed the whole “teaching thing,” for the first time in 10 years she had no failures.

“The role of the teacher has changed,” she said. “My classroom does not look ‘normal.’” But she would be sad to go back to the traditional way of teaching, she added.

The flipped classroom has accustomed her students to read directions and work on their own, she said. And with the “pace yourself” nature of the work, every child does every assignment, she added, saying, “There are no excuses.”

With the different pacing, if a new child comes in without any units in chemistry, she can back them up to where her students addressed it, she said. “If a kid comes in with only Life Science, we can make up the gap,” she said.

The trio presented their work at the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference and have been asked by other districts to come in, she said.

But Burke isn’t waiting for an invitation. She’s already corresponding by Twitter with other “flipped teachers” from around the world.

The three teachers want to see the concept continued. Whitney said she would like to see a budget for the upkeep and repair of the equipment and a platform to share with other teachers in the district.

Claire Scanlon, an art teacher splitting her time between Derry Village and East Derry Memorial elementary schools, used her $1,437 grant for an iPad and projector. She said with her previous projector, half the class would kneel on the floor while the other half looked over their heads. With the iPad, she said, “I can project from anywhere in the room.” She’s used the device for everything from showing great works of art to taping her students talking about their work.

Steve Lebel, a second-grade teacher at Ernest P. Barka Elementary School, continued with his “Imagineers” program, an after-school activity that introduces students to engineering. He received $7,656 to run the program at Grinnell Elementary School and Barka, and said the children in kindergarten through Grade 5 did everything from creating their own Kool-Aid flavors to designing cardboard chairs to studying water purity. “It’s powerful to see kindergarten students creating a water filter on their own,” Lebel observed.

This summer Lebel will be working on other grants. “I’d like to see us set up a ‘Maker Space,’ where anyone who wants to can come in and create, invent, learn,” he said.

Lori Fleming, school nurse for Gilbert H. Hood Middle School, and guidance counselor Jerry Kearns spoke of their project. They received $1,850 for iPad minis, which they used to produce guided imagery and relaxation techniques for students suffering from anxiety. Fleming said she would like to see the material adapted so students can use it on their home devices.

The nurses often see “anxious kids” before the counselors do, Fleming said. With 100 students passing through her office a day, she hasn’t been able to implement anti-anxiety strategies the way she’d like to. But, she added, counselors get the children started and then the students use the iPads in a quiet space in her office.

“You are giving them skills they can use for life,” board member Brenda Willis said. She suggested the technology be used for other students at high-stress times, such as test time and holidays.