Wareham teacher's 'flipped' classroom earns her PBS Innovator Award

By Jaime Rebhan | Apr 15, 2013
Courtesy of: Bonnie Lasorsa A student works on an iPad in Bonnie Lasorsa's "flipped" classroom at Wareham Middle School.

Bonnie Lasorsa's 7th-grade students learn their math lessons at home, do their "homework" in school, and demonstrate their skills by making movies, picture collages, recordings, and snapshots.

Lasorsa's use of technology in this "flipped" Wareham Middle School classroom earned her a second place PBS Innovator Award this month, but most importantly, has helped students who formerly struggled with the subject become stars.

"You're switching what you do at home and what you do in the classroom," Lasorsa explained. "What happens now is the class actually starts the night before."

Here's how it works.

The math lessons begin at home, the evening before class. Students watch videos in which Lasorsa herself explains a particular skill. The students take notes at their own pace, and can rewind, pause, and watch parts of the video over again until they understand a concept.

At the end of a lesson, the students complete a few problems in an online program that sends results straight to Lasorsa. The students also rate how comfortable they are with a concept, and are given the opportunity to ask any questions before class.

"I know before they walk into my room" what students are struggling with, said Lasorsa.

In class the next day, Lasorsa and the students review the topic from the night before, and then have 50 to 60 minutes of work, which can be collaborative or individual.

In that time, the students sometimes take a quiz to demonstrate that they know a skill, but often times, they create something with the classroom set of iPads — a movie, a recording, a puppet show, or other project — as Lasorsa is part of the district's iPad pilot program.

"It's definitely controlled chaos," Lasorsa says with a smile. "But they're working."

The iPads give students a choice of how to show they understand the concepts, but Lasorsa notes, you don't necessarily need the technology in order to "flip."

"You can definitely flip the class without iPads," Lasorsa said during a presentation to the School Committee on Wednesday, April 10, but added: "Your options are much more engaging if you have them."

It's the use of technology, however, that impressed judges of the PBS Innovator Awards.

"Ms. Lasorsa's innovative use of technology has 'flipped the classroom,' a method of blended learning that uses technology to give teachers more time to interact with students, rather than lecture," PBS wrote in a press release.

Lasorsa was one of 10 second-place award-winners. She'll receive a document camera and a bag of goodies from PBS and The Henry Ford. For more about the award and Lasorsa's entry, click here.

Lasorsa was inspired to flip her classroom as a potential solution to an age-old problem: Homework just doesn't work for everybody.

She realized that she had three groups of students in her classes: Those who understood a concept and completed the homework, students who don't even try to do the homework, and students who want to do the homework, but don't remember how to do it.

Because she "looped" with her students — that is, she moved up a grade level and was assigned mostly the same students this year as last — she had the perfect opportunity to make the course the way she wanted it to be, and put together all the videos needed to flip the class.

A total of 73% of Lasorsa's students have raised their math grades, 22% kept their grades steady, and 5% of students' grade decreased — but Lasorsa noted, the ones who did decrease only did so by a small number of points.

Students and parents alike are grateful for the change.

"She went from a, like most, struggling math student, an average student, to getting A's," parent Kristine Gallagher said of her daughter, Sara, at the School Committee meeting. "I have the opportunity to sit and watch these videos with her. Help her. … It's just enhancing the overall learning experience that she has."

Student Molly Spinner says she likes the "flip."

"Last year, when we had book homework, I wasn't good at it," Spinner explained. "I'm doing way better than I was last year. … Sometimes I get lost and I have to watch [the video] again, but then I get it."

Jared Yates feels similarly. He raised his score 25 points, and was recently named "most improved" in math.

"I kept focusing on my classwork and the videos," he said.

Kevin DeCollibus' daughter, Kaylee, was having a terrible time with math homework last year.

"The frustration, the tears, we're talking hours after she already put time in [in class] and the concepts just weren't coming home from the class," he told the School Committee. "The only time we got together at night was battling, and it was rough."

Kaylee's experience this year has been the opposite.

"The notes she takes are immaculate. … Last year, the anxiety and the stress, she'd do a problem in front of me and wince. Now, she's killing it. She's getting A's. … The confidence is crazy. …  I'm not going to have a daughter who shrugs her shoulders and says, 'I'm not good at math.' … This has been a lifesaver."

By flipping the classroom, students are able to progress through concepts at their own pace. If they need extra time for particular skill, they can take it.

"Student 'A' can be three levels ahead while the next one is still working on it," Lasorsa explained.

She keeps track of students' progress on a giant paper solar system on the wall. The students move their own little aliens from planet to planet when they complete a skill. (The class has also been represented by little goats moving up Mount Everest...)

Another benefit of the flip?

"They're doing three times more problems than they've ever done," Lasorsa said.

School Committee members were impressed.

"I think this is exactly what is needed," said School Committee Chair Rhonda Veugen.

School Committee member Ken Fontes said: "What you're doing is going over and beyond."

"My goal for [students] is that they take responsibility for what they're learning," said Lasorsa. "It needs to be about what they need."

Comments (2)
Posted by: toottoot | Apr 16, 2013 16:21

Bonnie Lasorsa's flip model should become an exemplar for future instruction here and across this innovative state. It works. It takes the tears out of homework because the general concepts are introduced at home and the teacher individualizes instruction and children move at their own pace in school. Homework the old way makes the parent find the mini-steps to unlock the child's own thought progression, and that frustration can kill other parent child interaction. School work the old way makes the professional deliver generalized instruction while individuals either are bored or bewildered. This flip worked because Bonnie Lasora put in plenty of uncompensated time - that will need to be addressed separately. Her work should become the new gold standard.

Posted by: Brian Litchfield | Apr 16, 2013 17:37

Congratulations to Bonnie Lasorsa! So nice to see Wareham schools being noticed for something so positive. Hopefully more to come in the future...

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