Flipping the Classroom: Western MA Teacher Offers Support Through Online Videos

Education Reform, One Video at a Time

Hollington Lee of Hatfield, MA writes:

You never know what crazy thing listening to someone else’s ideas will inspire. In my case, as a public high school teacher, it inspired me to produce close to 60 short videos (yes, 60!) of MCAS math practice questions for 3rd and 4th graders.

A fellow teacher and friend asked me what could have possessed me, a science teacher, to do this. The short answer is not what but who. Salman Khan, founder of the nonprofit online Khan Academy “school” inspired me. It all started with his presentation on TED.com.

If you’re not a subscriber to TED.com’s weekly email newsletter, you should be. TED.com is a site that features video presentations – mostly less than 20 minutes long – from original thinkers around the world on subjects ranging from education, nutrition, science and technology to music, poetry, art and social activism. It’s a place to expand your thinking about… well, everything.

I received my weekly email from TED announcing newly posted presentations, and one talk by a guy named Salman Khan was entitled: “Let’s use video to reinvent education.” As a 14-year science teacher who’s been thinking a lot lately about how I teach – and whether it’s really the best way to reach my students – I was intrigued.

I watched the video, then I went to khanacademy.org and all I could say was WOW! Here’s his story in brief: After earning degrees from MIT and Harvard, Sal was working as a hedge fund manager. He began tutoring his cousins in math, first in person and then long distance. To make his efforts easier, he ended up putting his lessons on YouTube, after which he received two surprises. The first was that his cousins preferred interacting with the YouTube version of him because they could stop him, replay or fast-forward him, without Sal looking over their shoulders to ask if they “got it.” The second surprise was that other people around the world were finding his lessons and sending him thank you notes.

Khan Academy is truly impressive – the scope of lessons, the exercise and progress tracking software (for math), and the fact that it’s all FREE! At this point you should watch the talk. It’s just 20 minutes long and I think you’ll see what the excitement is all about:

The whole thing really made sense to me. His delivery, his method, his vision. I came away from his lecture inspired – to the point of action. Here was something I could do to make my teaching not just different, but BETTER and my students’ understanding GREATER.

I wanted to change the teaching in my Biology and Human Anatomy classes to a more Khan-style approach and use Khan-style videos (he calls it “flipping the classroom” and it’s a subject in itself). What I needed to start with, though, as a practice, was something more concrete, with specific correct answers, and a finite set of questions… I then recalled conversations I’d had with a good friend, a new 4th grade teacher who was anxious about her students taking the math MCAS test. There it was. I had my starting point. I would create short videos, one for each problem of the annual “Release Items” from past MCAS tests, review the answers to each and try to explain the thinking behind those solutions – just like Salman Khan does. I met with my friend to confirm what approach to take with the problems, and started with 2010 Grade 4 Math, followed by 2009. Her plan was to work with her students on the MCAS Math and use the videos as a confirmation or clarification for the problems. I then posted all the videos on YouTube so she or the school’s tech director could download what they wanted and the students could access them from home (Many schools restrict student access to YouTube at school.).

It soon occurred to me, though, that I could hardly do this for our friend’s students without doing a similar set of lessons for our own daughter who will be taking the Grade 3 MCAS math test in a few weeks. So next I did Grade 3 Math Release Items (for 2009 and 2010).

My intent with this project was to develop and practice some skills to create lessons for my own classes, while hopefully helping our friend and her students along the way. But having done them, I realized that the five dozen videos might be useful to others as well.

So if you’re the parent or teacher of Massachusetts 3rd or 4th graders who’d like to help your children prepare for the upcoming MCAS (or a 3rd or 4th grader yourself!), I offer these lessons for free on YouTube for you to check out – inspired by Salman Khan and Khan Academy. And if you want to see more of Sal and his vision, here’s another great interview and Q&A session with him at LinkedIn.

If you try out my practice questions and are so inclined, I’d love to get some feedback.


Hollington Lee

Hollington Lee has been teaching high school science for 14 years (currently at Ludlow HS), following 13 years as an anatomy & physiology lab instructor at Northeastern University, where he received his BS in Biology. He also has an EdM from Harvard University School of Education. For 12 years, he was a curriculum consultant for WGBH’s NOVA Teacher’s Guide and for the past several summers has taught science workshops at The Care Center in Holyoke, MA. In his pre-teaching life, Holly also ran a graphic design studio and worked as a computer consultant in the Boston area. This summer he will be enjoying his family, his vegetable garden, and revising his curriculum for next year.

3 Comments on “Flipping the Classroom: Western MA Teacher Offers Support Through Online Videos

  1. Julie and Sarah – Thanks so much for your comments and encouragement. I’m really looking forward to piloting this next year. Seems like a much more efficient way of running my classes and we (teachers) are always looking for ways to be more efficient since there never seems to be enough time.
    I will be posting on my YouTube channel as I finish each lesson.

    Julie- seems like Khan Academy could be a perfect fit with MVA, esp. for math instruction given the math exercise software and progress tracking.

  2. Congrats for doing this. We just started “homeschooling” in the beginning of March via the Massachusetts Virtual Academy. (I put homeschooling in quotes, because it is actually considered a Massachusetts public school, but you do it at home via the internet and classroom materials sent to you)
    My father-in-law told me about Kahn Academy. I think it is great what he (and you) are doing.
    I love the philosophy of doing the lecture online and going to to teacher during your homework time, when you actually need the one-on-one and the direct help to answer questions that you didn’t understand during the lecture.
    My 10yo is an advanced learner, loves science and thinks he wants to be a microbiologist. I would LOVE for him to watch your classroom materials when they are up. If you need a guinea pig to try out your videos before you post them just let me know.

  3. Amazingly inspiring way to use technology to humanize the classroom. I wish I were a kid now and could take advantage of it! Congratulations on taking your inspiration and turning it into action in your own classroom!

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