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Technology in our Schools: How “Schoology” Helps Teachers Flip Learning

February 28, 2013

As a science teacher, Jeanine Nielsen understands the importance of utilizing new technology as a way to keep classroom learning relevant and rigorous. She also knows that building relationships among her students through collaborative work will provide them with the real-world skills many employers today look for in their employees. That is why under the guidance of Monticello Schools Executive Director of Technology and Staff Development Shelley Rossitto, Ms. Nielsen and many other district teachers have begun utilizing the “flipped” classroom model for some of their lessons.

Flipping the classroom

The flipped classroom is a new approach to learning and teaching that is growing in popularity in schools across the country. Traditionally, teachers lecture during class and then assign students homework. In the flipped model, students are introduced to new topics via an online video lesson created by their teacher which they access from home through Monticello’s Schoology account.

The next day in class, students work together to complete assignments and solve problems based on the video lesson. This blends online instruction, teamwork, peer support, and teacher-guided work sessions and allows students to be more active participants in the learning process (one goal of the Common Core). MHS Regents Chemistry class

In a flipped classroom, teachers have more time to provide individualized and differentiated instruction. It allows a student more leeway to work at his or her own pace and have access to the teacher if they have questions. Ideally, this design should increase achievement and minimize disruption. In addition, flipping the classroom structure gives students more hands-on time for project-based lessons, something that Ms. Nielsen’s Regents Chemistry class requires.

“The things we are learning are very complex,” said eleventh-grader Thalia Lucas about her chemistry class. “I can watch the online video at home at my own pace. I can also replay it as many times as I need. This new way of learning allows me access to the teacher when I really need her to answer my questions.”

For Thalia and her classmates, the answers to those questions are essential to understanding some of the complex areas of study in chemistry, including heat calculations, vapor pressure problems and Avogadro’s (gas) law.

Photo: Executive Director of Technology and Staff Development Shelley Rossitto visits Jeanine Nielsen’s class to gather feedback about the flipped model of learning. High school juniors Thalia Lucas and Katrina Wegner both support the experience they are getting from the flipped Regents Chemistry class as a way to prepare for higher learning. Thalia plans to pursue a career in international finance while Katrina hopes to attend medical school after graduation.

The Schoology Learning Management System

Monticello began utilizing the Schoology online learning management system in October 2012. Teachers begin by logging in and posting information for their courses. This can include class outlines, tests, assignments, homework, document files, discussion threads and links to third party websites. Schoology also allows teachers to create their own websites and multimedia albums where they can post photos, audio files and video resources. A teacher would then select the names of his or her students as online users so they can access the class resources. Eventually, when all students utilize hand-held devices, digital tablets or laptop computers, this model will allow for a paperless classroom.

“We are instituting more engaging and supportive learning environments for students,” said Shelley Rossitto, who is in the process of creating a wireless network for internet access throughout the district. “For students to learn, we want to provide them with collaborative time with their teachers and their peers and a venue for project-based instruction. That can take place during the day if the content is delivered at another time. It also builds archived instruction that can be accessed anytime.”

In Schoology, teachers may also manage grade books and attendance sheets. They can become part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC) where they share resources with other users and access information posted by education professionals locally and throughout the world (Schoology has more than 1.6 million users). Currently, Monticello teachers are solving problems and overcoming challenges together in their iPad new user PLC. Anyone who owns an iPad and is interested in joining the Schoology iPad group should contact Ms. Rossitto at 845-794-7700, ext. 70550.

Hand-held Devices at Monticello High SchoolMHS students utilizing hand-held digital devices

Historically, Monticello High School has had a “no device” policy when it came to using personal digital devices in school. Now, their usefulness as part of a purposeful learning environment has become undeniable. The change in the building practice came about as part of a collaborative effort between the student government and the school administrators, with strong support from teachers and staff.

It was decided that designated zones of use throughout the building would be created as follows: Green Zones - comprised of the cafeteria and hallways - students are allowed unlimited access to use their devices, including smart phones, tablets, music players, cell phones and laptop computers. Yellow Zones – comprised of classrooms and office spaces – adults decide what level of usage, if any, is allowed. This is generally based on the need of teachers and the specific environmental conditions. Red Zones - including bathrooms, locker rooms and the auditorium - all devices are forbidden.

“School is a microcosm of the community. Learning should reflect the skills students will need once they leave here,” said Monticello High School Principal Lori Orestano-James. “This practice teaches students social responsibility that extends beyond our walls. By designating different areas of allowed usage helps students understand that there are appropriate and inappropriate places to use digital devices in the greater community. It also allows teachers to expand classroom learning to include 21st century technology.”

Since the implementation of the new procedures, there has been a significant increase in class attendance and a decrease in referrals and out-of-school suspensions. Ms. Orestano-James credits these to the positive change in the tone and climate of the school and added that “when the students are allowed to take ownership of their own educational process and feel that their ideas and opinions are being taken seriously, it sets the stage for an environment of mutual respect.”

Technology in an ELA class

Photo: Monticello High School students utilized their hand-held devices in Karen Collura's English class to research a literature question posed by Principal Lori Orestano-James.

Related Stories and Resources

Teachers Report 'Major Impact' of Internet on Learning (2/28/13 - Education Week)

Former Teacher of the Year flips classroom procedures (2/21/13 - Gulf Breeze News)

How a flipped classroom flipped a student’s perspective (2/15/13 - eSchoolNews)

In This Flipped Class, Teachers Learn From Students' Video (11/13/12 - The Journal)