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Teacher Brings New Style to St. Louis Park

Jamie Schnack's "flipped" classes have drawn praise.

Jamie Schnack calls his math classes “flipped,” but the St. Louis Park teacher hopes that one day his style is seen as the norm, rather than something out of the ordinary.

Schnack teaches math at , and last month he was recognized for his innovative use of technology at a statewide teachers conference. So what’s his innovation? Schnack records most of his lectures and has students watch them outside of class time—allowing them to learn at their own pace. In class, he tries to work with students one-on-one.

“It was really a revelation that, gosh, we could use our class time so much more productively,” Schnack said. “Instead of catering to the slowest student in the class, they’re able to go at the speed they need.”

Schnack has been teaching his higher-level math classes this way since last year. It’s part of what he calls his “technology progression.”

When he started in the district seven years ago, Schnack was making some use of PDFs and video, but typically only as a supplemental tool. Today, technology is a major component of his classroom—six iPads are available to students who want to catch up on a recorded lecture. The class also uses Mobi tablets, which function as “interactive whiteboards,” to collaboratively work on problems.

“We’re not wasting students’ time,” Schnack said. “It puts a lot more emphasis on taking ownership in learning.”

Making students take more ownership is something often reserved for college, but that’s exactly the point. Schnack wants them to be more prepared for what’s ahead.

After some expected early blowback, Schnack said students have been generally happy with his flipped classes.

“I have a lot of students very concerned about next semester not having me,” he said. “They like it.”

Schnack started teaching this way without telling his higher-ups—“I kind of just did it on my own. If someone had said ‘no,’ I’d have been OK with that,” he noted—so there was never any guarantee that he’d be supported. But Principal Rob Metz is firmly behind Schnack.

“I give Jamie a lot of credit,” Metz said. “It takes a lot of extra time to put his ideas into practice and put in that time.”

The next step, Schnack said, is to slowly get more teachers comfortable with the technology that allows him to teach the way he does. He said he is always willing to work with and mentor his colleagues to get there.

“Teachers have to take baby steps,” Schnack said. “There’s always going to be people on the front end leading the way. It’s just going to be a progression.”

While nothing formal is in the works to make St. Louis Park Senior High an entirely “flipped” school, Metz will be keeping an eye on Schnack’s classroom.

“We will keep data and see how this new approach works,” the principal said. “If it works, we'll probably expand the idea.”

Lucas Bohn January 23, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Have to mention the Khan Academy in an article like this!
Michael Rose January 23, 2012 at 09:20 PM
I'm sorry, Lucas, I'm not familiar with the Khan Academy. Enlighten me?
Lucas Bohn January 23, 2012 at 09:27 PM
I would imagine that this teacher got his idea from he Khan Academy (not a bad thing!). Salman Khan started creating videos for (I believe) his nephews who lived out of state, he wanted to help them out with their studies and figured this was the best way. He started seeing his videos watched by a lot of people on youtube and they were thanking him for sharing the lesson plans. He started making more and more videos and now there are entire schools based on the philosophy that Mr. Schnack employs. You should check him out, tons of videos (2,700+)! http://www.khanacademy.org/ I think its awesome! Any new ways that we can help learners is great!
Michael Rose January 23, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Thanks for the link, Lucas. Really neat stuff!
David Haines January 31, 2012 at 11:48 PM
My daughter just told me they all got Kahn Academy accounts in math class at Wayzata East Middle School! I had never heard of it!

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