Gilpin School Board hears teachers’ presentation; considers proposal for panic button system
by Patty Unruh
The Gilpin County School Board held a meeting February 4. Those present were President Craig Holmes and other members Brook Ramsey, Kersten Armstrong, and Rusty Hardy, as well as Interim Superintendent Morris Ververs. Member Charlotte Taylor was absent.
FLIP Classroom Presentation
Secondary science teacher Barb Bedwell addressed the board about her implementation of a new classroom technique called the FLIP classroom. The technique in effect “flips” the traditional order, where the teacher gives a classroom lecture while the students take notes and then do homework. Instead, Bedwell videotapes her ten-minute lectures and posts them on YouTube. The students watch the lectures as homework, then use time in the classroom to address questions, discuss the material, and do projects. Bedwell has begun using the method with her chemistry, biology, and honors biology classes. She explained that the method was invented by someone in Colorado and did not originate with her.
Today’s tech-savvy kids can pull out their phone, Kindle, computer, or i-pad to watch the lectures. They can watch the videos at home or on the bus as they travel to a sporting event. They can access the videos as many times as necessary to gain understanding and can work more at their own pace.
With the traditional classroom model, Bedwell said, “you’ll have some students who are very engaged and loving it, some who are lost, and some who are bored.” She added, “Homework is often a complete waste of time,” explaining that a student may get stuck on a concept and not complete the work, do all of the homework incorrectly, lack time to get it done because of other obligations, or forget to do it. “With FLIP, it’s the opposite. They go home and watch the lecture and do the homework at school.” She added that the videos are intended as a vehicle to aid what goes on in the classroom.
There are many advantages to this method, Bedwell asserted. “I can help a student who is lost. If someone works fast and is bored, they can move ahead. We can do discussions and projects in class.”
Bedwell, whose enthusiasm for the technique was infectious, said that her favorite advantage was that FLIP is self-paced. A student can rewind the lectures if they need to hear them again, or fast forward if they already understand the material. Another advantage is that it is flexible; it can be done at any time or any place. If a student is absent, they have access to the lecture at home so they don’t miss it.
Parents and kids can watch the videos and learn together. The parents can hear information about assignments. Fast learners, as well as learners with lower-end skills, can all benefit. Bedwell told the board that classroom management problems are gone. The young people are working together on science now, she advised, rather than visiting and passing notes.
She said that the method discourages students from copying others’ notes. Everyone is accountable for their own learning. The students have a responsibility to watch the lectures with understanding in mind. They are to bring questions to class, and she will address all questions.
Bedwell stated that the new method is “just one part of a culture change. It is a shift to a standards-based classroom. The student can’t move along until they demonstrate understanding.” The students have to articulate what they are supposed to be learning and use “I can” statements to tell what they know.
Bedwell admits it has been a huge amount of work to implement the FLIP method. “I’m about to shoot myself for going this big,” she said, “but I wanted all three classes to get the benefit.” She was pleased about the recent test scores for one chemistry class. She said the lowest score was 84 percent, where previously several of the students had failing grades. “Kids are now saying, ‘I know how to do this.’ Even kids who thought of themselves as failures are getting it. I get goose bumps because they are doing so well.” She has received mostly positive feedback from her students.
She added that math teacher Rachel White is also using the technique in her classroom.
Bedwell did say that most of the young people have access to the necessary technology. If they do not, they can learn the subject in a more traditional way.
Instructor Sunshine Vincent accompanied Bedwell, demonstrating smart board and clicker technology. She gave the board a demonstration quiz. The quiz was projected from her computer onto a smart board, with true-false, multiple choice, or similar questions. She gave board members some clickers, so they could respond as a student would. The clicker is a remote device on which students select an answer by pressing a corresponding button. The teacher does not know how each individual student answers, but he or she can see the overall results. The results can be displayed on a chart, or the chart can be hidden so the students don’t see the results. The students are also able to send text answers to certain questions.
Vincent is enthusiastic about the technology, because “it gives everybody a voice,” she said, “even the shy kids who don’t want to raise their hands.” The kids are trying to “one up” one another to see who can give the best answer.
The board members all agreed that it was an exciting presentation. When asked the cost of a smart board, Vincent estimated that it was about $2,700. She said a response receiver was about $400. Board member Hardy said the district should get more receivers and not wait until next year, but Holmes stated that the issue should be tabled until the next meeting, to have time to figure a cost and how many units to purchase.
Ververs brought up the fact that the school’s technical committee had met recently about what to work into next year’s budget. “We don’t have a plan or anything that ties into student outcomes,” he stated. We need to make sure that every dollar spent on technology affects student achievement, and we need to make sure that new technology is compatible with the rest of what we have.” His observation was that often school districts will go for the latest trend and do not consider how it will affect the students.
Since the Newtown, Connecticut school shootings in late 2012, the Gilpin school board has been working on a plan to beef up security by keeping a full-time deputy at the school. The board has also decided to cut down on emergency response time by installing panic buttons for several “front-line” staff members. An alarm would go directly into the sheriff’s department. Ververs presented a cost estimate for the installation of a panic button system, which he had obtained from SecureTech Systems, Inc. of Irving, Texas. The cost of a WAVE wireless instant notification system was quoted at $9,350, not including tax, and would include one control panel with an e-mail/texting module, four single button duress alarms, one repeater if needed, and on-site set-up and training. SecureTech’s proposal listed such features as a wireless receiver, the ability to add virtual buttons to computers within the network for transmittal of panic alarms, radios to transmit alarm notifications, and a backup battery that will keep the system functioning in case of power failure.
Ververs also met with County Commissioner Gail Watson about a full-time armed deputy and stated his intention to be at the Commissioners’ meeting on February 12 to discuss the issue. Ververs told the board that Watson suggested a Community Forum on Student Safety for February 20.
New Superintendent Search
At a special meeting of the board held January 28, member Hardy announced the four superintendent finalists. Board President Holmes stated he would notify each finalist. The next step in the search is training for the interview committees on February 13. Interviews will take place February 15 and 16, with final selection scheduled for February 19.
The board approved on second reading several policies that they had been carefully reviewing for the past few months, including some policies that the board had referred to legal counsel.
Among these was the District’s policy on Parking Lot Searches, which states, “The privilege of bringing a student-operated motor vehicle onto school premises is conditioned on consent by the student driver to allow search of the vehicle when there is reasonable suspicion that the search will yield evidence of contraband.” The policy also states that if a student, parent/guardian, or owner of the vehicle refuses to allow such a search, that refusal may result in the motor vehicle privilege being terminated, as well as disciplinary action and notification of law enforcement officials.
The board also approved the policy on Student Interrogations, Searches and Arrests. This policy states that if a school official has reasonable grounds to suspect a violation of school rules or federal, state, or local laws, or to suspect the presence of something harmful, the principal or designee may search a student or student’s property, while on school premises. The official may seize any property deemed detrimental to the safety of students and staff. A search of the student shall be limited to the student’s pockets and any object in the student’s possession, and a “pat down” of the exterior of the student’s clothing. The search shall be respectful of privacy considerations. Anything found which violates the law, school board policy, or school rules or which presents an immediate danger of physical harm may be seized and offered as evidence in any suspension or expulsion proceeding or returned to the student or the parent/guardian, as appropriate. The student is allowed to appeal the search decision to the superintendent, whose decision will be final. The policy also addresses circumstances when a law enforcement officer should be involved.
The board approved the policy on Staff Leave of Absences, which states that leave days will be granted according to the terms of the employees’ contracts and will be earned monthly. An important feature of the policy is that any individuals wishing to donate days to another staff member may do so at the administration’s discretion.
Also approved was the policy on extracurricular activity transportation. This policy provides that students participating in a school-sponsored activity that requires travel outside the school district must ride to the activity with the group on transportation provided by the school. Students may have this requirement waived, provided that prior arrangements have been made with the activity sponsor and the proper consent forms signed. In that case, they may ride to the activity with their parent or other responsible adult designated by the parent or guardian. Following an activity requiring outside travel, with the agreement of the activity sponsor, a student may be released to his parent or other responsible adult. The proper form must be signed, and the parent must show the sponsor that the student is in his or her custody before the school-provided transportation leaves the vicinity.
Summit for Innovative Education
Ververs attended a Summit for Innovative Education held this week and gave a brief report to the board. The Summit’s focus was on pathways followed by top-performing schools in order to rise rapidly from poor to good, good to great, and great to excellent. Ververs stated that the topic was timely for Gilpin staff, which is working hard this year on improving student learning outcomes.
He also said that one of the main messages of the summit was that legislators and governors are concerned about America losing its economic advantage, and that test scores and student achievement is tied into our gross national project. One speaker had told the summit attendees that businesses have made changes to adjust to the world, but many schools still have not done so.
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