OG ‘flips’ over new teaching method

NEW MANCHESTER – In the topsy-turvy world of Mat Deveany’s math classrooms, “homework” is done in school and lectures are watched online at home.

Deveany, 25, a second-year math teacher at Oak Glen High School, said he’s getting good results using the “flipped classroom” model of teaching, so much so that he’s been asked to give presentations on flipping to the Hancock County school board and the Regional Education Service Agency 6 in Wheeling.

“I’m happy with the opportunity to do it. I won’t go back to the traditional way of teaching,” he said. “This is something I want to do.”

The flipped classroom model turns traditional classroom instruction on its head, Deveany explained, by requiring students to watch pre-recorded lectures online at home and work on projects, assigned problems and exercises in the classroom.

The method allows students, especially those who are struggling in math, to work at their own pace, repeat lessons if necessary and get more one-on-one attention from the teacher, he said. For his part, Deveany said he spends less time lecturing and more time working individually with students.

“I’m less a ‘sage on the stage’ and more the ‘guide on the side,’ ” he said. “Before, I felt like an entertainer in front of the class.”

With the flipped classroom, Deveany prepares his lectures beforehand – he’s recorded between 90 and 100 videos since the beginning of the school year – and makes them available to students after school via YouTube. Students watch the lectures, which are usually 10 to 15 minutes long, and then come to school the next day prepared to tackle the material in small teams and with Deveany’s help.

Deveany, who teaches Math 1 and 2 to freshmen and sophomores, said he began the year using the traditional flipped classroom model, in which all students are working on the same lesson the same day. That approach was labor-intensive for Deveany because he felt like he was constantly making lecture videos.

“I’d come in an hour before class and stay an hour after class. I’d spend my planning periods and lunch breaks making videos,” he said. “It took an hour and a half to make a 10- to 15-minute video. I’m not the most tech-savvy person in the world.”

Following Christmas break, Deveany switched to the “flipped mastery” approach, in which he gave students all the lecture material and assignments at the beginning of the trimester. Students work through the material at their own pace and must get a 75 percent on a test to move on to the next unit.

Sophomore Destiny Lowther, 15, of Chester, said she likes being in a flipped classroom because she’s able to repeat a lecture if she misses a day or doesn’t understand a concept. All she has to do is look up Deveany’s name on YouTube.

“It’s a lot easier for me than with the normal teacher talking,” she said. “I’m doing very well – better than with my other math classes. I can stay on pace because he has it all laid out ahead of time.”

Oak Glen Principal Barbara Logue said the flipped classroom, by reversing the normal elements of a course, gives students more of an opportunity to master the material and move on when they’re ready.

“For kids who are struggling in math, this is beneficial. It seems to be working,” she said. “I’m kind of excited about it.”

Deveany, a 2010 graduate of Waynesburg (Pa.) University, learned about the flipped classroom concept last year, during his first year teaching at Oak Glen. On his first day, he received an iPad and started experimenting with various educational applications. If he missed a day or if a student needed extra help, he recorded a lecture and uploaded it to YouTube.

He started to learn more about flipped classrooms through Khan Academy and Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two Colorado high school teachers who are considered pioneers in the method.

“I thought, ‘This is cool, this is interesting. This is something I want to start doing,’ ” Deveany said.

Then, over the summer, Deveany had what he describes as an educational epiphany over the question: What is the purpose of public education?

“Public education is really about meta-cognition – students need to know how to learn. They lack critical thinking skills. That’s where I want to go with this,” he said.

Deveany said the flipped classroom works best for students who are self-starters and self-learners. Not everyone takes to the concept right away, he said.

“Some students don’t like it because they have to be accountable for things. For nine or 10 years, they’ve been playing this thing called school, and this is different,” he said. “It requires a lot of student responsibility.”

As a result, being in a flipped classroom can be somewhat of a culture shock for students, he said. “Independence has been tough for them. It’s a growth process,” he said.

Parents also have to adjust to the flipped classroom, whose reliance on technology is a problem for some families, Deveany said.

“You have to be able to do some work at home,” he said.