Flipped Classroom, Forward Thinking

From projectors to iPads and iPod Touches, YouTube and teacher-created “textbooks,” multimedia lessons and the technology needed to run it are throughout New Braunfels Independent School District (ISD) in New Braunfels, Texas, from kindergarten to high school. It all started when Randy Moczygemba became the district superintendent.

“When they made me superintendent,” Moczygemba explains, “I asked the board to designate $3 million of our fund balance to technology so that we could prepare to start incorporating this kind of technology in the district.”

Knowing they were going to focus at certain grade levels with 1:1 and a flipped classroom model, Moczygemba also wanted to make an impact in every classroom. So the district began by installing Epson projectors in every classroom to give teachers and students a chance to try out the technology. Teachers could use their own classroom computer with the whole class, and any issues could be managed by the district’s technology department in their office.

Along with projectors, teachers have another tool to create their innovative lessons — the iProjection app. “We have an app on our iPads and our [iPod] Touches that allows teachers to give access to the students to display work,” he says. “That is moving more towards the flipped classroom where it’s more student centered than teacher centered.”

Giving teachers the “basics” with projectors in every classroom, computers and devices for students, and interactive software like the iProjection app, allows for a huge shift in the way teachers can approach presenting material to students, and also helped the district build their flipped classroom model.

Another indication that a 1:1 environment was right for their students was the way they interacted with the devices. “The students were very, very engaged with the devices and seemed to have a high level of motivation utilizing devices,” Moczygemba observes. “We have a pretty high percentage of economically disadvantaged students in our district, and a lot of those students don’t have access to technology except at school. What we realized was that our typical lab environments did not give those kids the amount of time and technology that we needed to have them seeing.”

The big flip

Moving their focus to a 1:1 environment meant rethinking how space would be used. An upcoming bond election included a ninth-grade center for temporary relief of overcrowding at the high school. Moczygemba explains his vision: “Within that I saw an opportunity with that ninth-grade center — one grade level at one campus being able to implement 1:1 so that, number one, we could learn about what works and what doesn’t work. And so we implemented the 1:1 initiative at the ninth-grade center this year.” If anything is an indication of the success with this trial, already the district has purchased iPads and has them on hold to roll out the initiative for 10th through 12th grades next year.

The change to a flipped model was not without some bumps in the road. He adds, “One of the things we realized very early in this … is that during the first six weeks, students and teachers both became very frustrated because it is such a drastic change.” The model they used goes from substituting technology for the whiteboards and chalkboards all the way to students designing the curriculum. Of course, that huge shift in how the classroom works will probably take many teachers several years to get there.

Despite the fact that teachers often will take some time to get to a fully flipped classroom, Moczygemba saw many of their teachers embrace the flipped model right away. These teachers are creating lessons in iTunes University (New Braunfels ISD was the second school in the state of Texas to have an iTunes U site) or creating content and uploading it to YouTube channels for their students. “With the flipped classroom model, you’re really moving away from a textbook as we know it and really into the multimedia lessons that the teachers can create,” Moczygemba adds.

The real thrill of seeing the flipped model working is in seeing students make connections outside of the classroom. “We know that there’s probably at least 40 percent of our kids who don’t have Internet access at home,” Moczygemba says. Whether or not they have Internet access or the technology the need, their iPads fill that gap. At school, students can download a lesson from iTunes U to view it at home. When they are having trouble, they can re-watch lectures and other content without needing to connect to the Internet. Downloading the lessons and previewing them before class also allows the homework to become the introduction and reinforcement and class time to be used for application of the material and for critical thinking and problem solving.

Planning for progress

“We probably took longer than other school districts do in planning the 1:1 initiatives,” Moczygemba explained. “One of our school districts in Austin, they came down to talk to us in our planning phase, and took what they got from us along with the rest of their planning and implemented a year before we did. We had the ability to go to their high school and walk through and observe what was going on there and ask questions — what worked well for you and what didn’t work and to try to utilize that information from the start with us.”

Moczygemba feels that collaboration with other districts in key to creating an effective flipped classroom model that will make the most use out of multimedia technology tools. “We were fortunate to visit a couple of districts, Ames ISD in Austin and McAllen ISD in the valley, and actually go through some classrooms and listen to some teachers and administrators. And, of course, you can’t leave out the technology folks who make the system work.”

In the end, Moczygemba emphasizes that the flipped classroom model and using multimedia technology in the classroom is important because districts need to work to move all students forward with 21st century technology. “The whole thing with me is, you know, we shouldn’t as schools be reinventing all the wheels. I think we always have to be looking for ways to refine our wheels.”