Special Report: Class is... Game On!

It's a new movement in the world of education -- a concept known as the "flipped classroom" -- and one local teacher in the Coastal Bend is using technology to embrace that concept.

In a flipped classroom, a teacher records a lecture on video for students to watch at home. In turn, the students do their "homework" in class. Debbie Evans, a math teacher at Harold T. Branch Academy, uses technology to blend the flipped classroom teaching style with other models to create a modern-day classroom.

"It really does look like a zoo," Evans said. "Very infrequently am I at the board. I reserve the boards for the students, and they're free to get up."

Evans builds on a principle that is student-centered rather than teacher-centered.

"We learn from students just as much as they learn from us, and so with their experiences, what's current, what's hot." said Dr. Tracie Rodriguez, principal of Harold T. Branch Academy.

From a makeshift studio in her dining room, Evans typically introduces a new lesson on her private You Tube channel. Students then go to "class" for a more hands-on experience. She then takes the flipped classroom one step further by blending the concept with a game framework.

"Any game, when you're in a level and you do poorly, you just redo the level," Evans said. "Nothing happens, and then you're not punished when you finally succeed and move onto the next level. There's nothing that says it took you six tries to get here, so we're starting off negative. It just starts fresh."

In 2013, the national education group Project Tomorrow polled over 7,000 Texas classroom teachers. The research found that 10-percent of those teachers are doing some form of a flipped classroom. 18-percent of the group said they were interested in trying this method of teaching.

Instead of a lesson, students sign up for a "quest."

"They have to achieve 85-percent in order to earn the experience for that quest," Evans said. "If they don't, it just comes back. Just do it again."

Students then collect badges and points for completing a quest, all the while learning algebra. Final grades are weighted with the game making up 40-percent. Tests, quizzes and projects are scored for the remainder.

Aside from using less paper, another benefit is receiving immediate feedback.

"It's important because I'm eager for how I did and what I got wrong, and what I need to learn," Branch Academy junior Ashanti Kearney said.

"I think it helps us more understand it better, and if we don't learn it through the video, through the quest, the teacher is always there for us to help us," Branch Academy junior Daniela Pastrana said.

"This, for me, is a lot easier because before, teachers would just try and keep up with everybody, and for me I would just be ahead and it would take longer to get further," Branch Academy sophomore Brandon Rodriguez said.

"Not everyone learns at the same pace, so I would be teaching to the average wouldn't I? The advanced kids would be bored. The ones slower would be frustrated," Evans said. "I don't want to teach to the average. I want everyone to be superior."


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