Mount St. Mary Academy flips for new education method

Tue, May 20th 2014 11:00 am

Things have gotten turned around at Mount St. Mary Academy in Kenmore. Students are doing homework in school and learning their lessons at home. It's all part of a new teaching technique known as the Flipped Classroom.

The Flipped Classroom is slowly being integrated into public and private classrooms throughout the area, aided by the growing technology trends of tablet usage in schools. Students use class time to do assignments and work out tough problems with their teacher, rather than by themselves at home.

Students of Rebecca Cefaratti's Latin classes now learn about reflexive pronouns and deponent verbs through YouTube videos Cefaratti made herself. Class time is spent asking questions and working one-on-one with the teacher.

Cefaratti was introduced to the idea at a technology seminar over the summer. "I saw the value of it immediately," she said.

The videos run between seven and 15 minutes, shorter than a lesson would be in class, because she doesn't have to slow down to allow students to catch up. They can just press pause. Cefaratti will make two videos a week. Students usually have homework as well. The classroom has a mix of questions and lessons.

The class will do activities or warm up exercises when tackling a new idea. As the students prepare to learn a new tense, they will come in, do the paradigm, and then Cefaratti will give them activities to do in class before they start translating. "I've never had time to do this before. Sometimes I say, 'Do this,' and wait to see if they have any questions," she explained.

In the past she has seen students stop studying at home because one word confused them. In class that word can be discussed and the roadblock removed.

"One of the dangers I see with Flipped Classrooms, with an overly protective teacher, would be not allowing (students) to be independent thinkers," Cefaratti said. "I don't want to hold their hands throughout the entire time. I want them to build confidence in the language, which is a big deal especially for Latin. They come in with the preconception that Latin is hard anyway, so they're just looking for reasons why it's hard."

During a busy schedule that includes choir practice and rehearsals for "The Importance of Being Earnest," Chloe Natecki pulls out her trusty iPod Touch to study Latin 1.

"I can learn this lesson virtually anywhere, whether I'm at a play practice or a choir practice. I have the ability to watch this video and get the deeper understanding," said the 14-year-old freshman, who takes written notes while viewing the video just as she would in the classroom.

In the classroom the students do many different activities.

"We'll do stuff we need for tests or future lessons; we'll translate English into Latin, which is helpful to do in the classroom as opposed to just at home. If you don't understand something, Miss Cefaratti is always there to help with questions," Natecki said.

This is Natecki's only flipped class, but she would like to see more classes do this.

"The videos were really helpful. If I don't understand it, I can go back and rewatch it," she said.  "Some of my other courses do have things that I would benefit from watching again, like geometry because math is hard. Sometimes I need to learn these lessons again or I need to be reminded of a certain formula and how to use it, or how to formulate different problems. It would be extremely helpful to have a video to show me how to do that."

Cefaratti thinks a Flipped Classroom can work for any class, especially foreign languages and math, as they both deal with rules and formulas.  She finds students sometimes forget key elements of their lesson by the time they get home.

"I feel as though it would be extremely beneficial for foreign language where we need more time with our students to work with them. We don't have time to have conversations or work with them one-on-one," she said.

The idea of learning at home is not as revolutionary as some might think. Literature students regularly read stories at home to discuss in class. Flipped Classrooms are just a bit more technologically advanced. A tech survey found all the students at Mount St. Mary's had home computers and most had their own mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. Students without computers can use the school's computer lab. The videos can also be burned to a DVD.

Cefaratti's flipped classroom videos have become very popular online, earning a following by people from all across the world, including one of the authors of her textbook. Richard LaFleur, Franklin Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Georgia, and author of the revised edition of Wheelock's Latin, has offered his praise for Cefaratti's lectures and even linked them to the Wheelock's website.

"I got a message from him on YouTube and I couldn't believe my eyes," she said. "It feels somewhat validating, but also other people can see enthusiasm."  

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