Star Pedron is the upbeat and energetic 5th grade teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Patterson, CA. Her passion for teaching shows in her creative lesson plans, her willingness to try something new, and her ever present enthusiasm for her kids. Star was a winner in our Holly Jolly Contest last year because of her outstanding use of technology, including FastDirect’s school management software. Her nomination by Principal Oliveira says it all!

Star operates a ‘flipped’ classroom and uses FastDirect daily to send messages and reminders about daily assignments, quizzes, study guides and classroom updates. By embracing the FastDirect program she has expanded her classroom and strengthened the connection between school and home, and the parents of the students she teachers are very appreciative.

What’s your favorite part of teaching?

Oh I don’t know how to explain it. They keep me young, they keep me on my toes, they make me laugh. We have a good time… Its fun to watch them when they have that, “oh, I finally get it” moment. Its amazing to see that happen and I can’t live without it.

That’s fun! What’s your favorite part of the school day?

That’s a really good question. It depends on what we’re doing that day. Some days I’ve created great little videos on things like Kahn Academy, Weird Al Yankovic and The Grammar Song. For science class we’ve made burgers as an example of a chemical reaction. We like to eat a lot in science because it’s a fun way to catch their attention.  I’ve also assigned state reports where they bring in a favorite food from that state. History is my favorite subject overall, but I have a great time with all of them.

So, I understand that you run a flipped classroom. How would you describe what that is?

I try to keep Science as hands-on as possible, so I don’t have them watch a lecture video first. It’s easier to show lessons so I don’t run the flipped classroom for Science.

Specifically, for English and History, I’ve made videos on different subjects we cover and I have them watch a video the night before class. Kids can then start answering questions on their own if they want or they can wait to go over it in class. Then they come in class and we have a discussion and go over the work.

It allows me to pinpoint specifically what is going to be a problem for them in this topic and where they might need extra help. It helps me differentiate without needing a lot of support staff.

What obstacles are there to running a flipped classroom?

First of all, you have to have access to the technology. We’re in a small town and not everyone in our school has a computer so that can be a big challenge. There are some people who are uncomfortable with giving students that type of responsibility. Sometimes if technology is a challenge for parents then it’s hard for them to see it being used this way in education.

How do you overcome the issue where a family might not have a computer at home?

At the beginning of the year, I give out a survey and ask, “Do you have technology at home? What kind?” My videos can be watched on a smart phone or a tablet and most families will have one of those even if they don’t have a computer. The videos are usually 4 minutes or less and that works for everyone. If at some point a student doesn’t have access to technology then I will excuse them from the lesson at home and work with them separately in class.

How long have you run a flipped classroom?

Three years.

Based on our conversation, it seems like the biggest benefit is being able to pinpoint areas of concern and tailoring your lessons to the different learning speeds of your students. Does that sound right?

That’s my biggest thing. In a small town, as you can imagine, there are many different levels in one classroom. We have a classroom of around 23 students and some might not speak English very well and their parents are not educated in English. They may not be very well educated in Spanish. They might have very different needs than students with English as their first language.

With a flipped classroom I can give each student what they need. Without a flipped classroom I would end up spending much more time with some students over others. I don’t want to deny my more advanced students if they have the ability to excel. I also want to help the students who need my attention.

What program do you use to record your videos?

I use Screencast-O-Matic which I like. It’s free which helps my budget and it does what I need it to do. It records whatever is on my screen and I can also plug in my microphone headphone set so it records my voice. It’s pretty good quality.

When students are absent or are struggling with something they can go back and watch my lessons. They are hearing the lessons again and again and again or however often they want. And, it’s being taught by me! They even show their mom and dad which was a surprising benefit.

How do you use FastDirect to help your process?

FastDirect is my communication with parents. I send out reminders about field trips, but I also make sure that I let them know if I add something new like a video lesson to my classroom website. I’ll just “FastDirect”

[email] them.

I remind the kids about library books too — I actually have an extensive library which is for my homeroom and the 6th, 7th,and 8th graders too. I’ll also let them know if I have a book that I think they would like. I know what they like to read so I’ll let them know when I’ve read a book that I think they would like too. I think that helps them feel like, “she’s really looking out for me.”

Did you have a favorite teaching moment from this year?

We just went on our field trip! Field trips for 5th grade have been a real challenge because of budget. It’s too expensive to rent a bus for just our class so we were trying to find a trip close enough to go by car. The trip I had been planning since October fell through! So we were scrambling to find something we could do. I was really scrambling!

We ended up going to the historic mansion in Modesto and we had planned on stopping at a park for lunch on our way there. As we were getting ready to go, one of our parents told me that the Modesto Police Force was having a fundraising benefit for the Special Olympics at the Texas Road House. They were offering pulled pork sandwiches with fries and a drink and your money would go towards Special Olympics. I ran it by the kids and they said they would love to do that so we ended up supporting this great cause.

I had never been there before and here’s my favorite moment for the whole year… Apparently, at Texas Road House they have a song of the day and every time that song starts playing the whole staff dances. My kids got into this. The whole class started joining the wait staff in the line dance and got the whole restaurant involved too; the Modesto police force and the Special Olympics athletes and representatives. I just loved the whole interaction!

This is a group of kids that have no fear, that are willing to put themselves out there and have a good time no matter who they’re with. They participated with everybody. The wait staff was so excited that they were thanking us. We took a picture with the police force and some of the kids from Special Olympics. It wasn’t a teaching moment but it was a this-is-the-heart-of-my-class moment. What they were learning was about being human and accepting people with all of their differences. It was truly wonderful!

That may not have been a classic teaching moment but it embodies your teaching style. Thank you so much for sharing!