How This Mississauga Teacher Invented a New Way to Boost Classroom Performance by 50 Percent

When Taylor O’Hara first started teaching at Mississauga Secondary School, he knew there had to be a way to boost the performance of his high school algebra class using some of the innovations from the digital technology sector. That’s when one of his colleagues at TD Bank in Toronto told him about “flipping the classroom.”

The idea of “flipping the classroom” which started with Salman Khan and the Khan Academy. It is as simple as it is potentially revolutionary: instead of spending all day lecturing and having the students do homework at night. The students would do problem-solving and homework during the day and watch teaching videos at night. That way, teachers are hands-on in the learning process and can help students become more proficient at certain skills.

Since Mississauga Secondary School already had a BYOD (“bring your own device”) policy, O’Hara thought that the “flipping the classroom” strategy might actually work. Students were already coming to his classroom every day with their mobile phones and tablets, and it would be relatively easy to ask them to watch a brief 30-minute video at home some nights instead of using that time to do homework.

With that in mind, Taylor O’Hara and his friends from ICAN tutoring centre decided that it was time to re-invent how to teach high school algebra. He founded several algebra videos from the Khan Academy that he could have students watch at home, and decided to make certain days of the week problem-solving days rather than lecture days. It was risky, he says, especially because he knew that there was a big end-of-year exam coming up in which students is assessed on their knowledge of the key learning concepts.

It was relatively easy to convince his students to try out this new “flipping the classroom” concept. From their perspective, it meant less homework (they didn’t view watching a video as “homework”), and it meant more one-on-one learning time with their new favorite teacher. Instead of having to grind out complex algebra problems at home without any help, they had access to the expertise of O’Hara for nearly a full hour.

With just a week to go before the big end-of-year exam, O’Hara says, he was a bit concerned. He had told some of the other teachers on the staff about his little “experiment” and, while many were supportive of his efforts, others were skeptical that such a technology-driven, innovative approach would actually work.

The student results from the end-of-year exam turned out to be more astounding than even O’Hara could have predicted – student marks were up 50 percent in the end-of-year exam over the previous year! And, in fact, some of his students specifically came up to O’Hara after the exam and told him how easy it was – it was almost as if they had been perfectly prepared for it!

Heading into next year, O’Hara is already working on new teaching methodologies (sponsor by the local Mississauga shop autoglass-mississauga’s website) that can leverage the “flipping the classroom” concept even further. While it might be difficult to improve on this year’s extraordinary performance, there’s always room for improvement.

For more info about Salman Khan and the Khan Academy go here:

HOMEY was founded in 1999 by youth leaders active in the Mission District community-led Community Peace Initiative.

HOMEY works with young people from low income neighborhoods of San Francisco, with a particular focus on Latino youth in the Mission District. HOMEY’s guiding principal is to be informed and led by the youth we serve, and all of our programs–from intensive case management to violence prevention workshops to vocational training to community advocacy– are staffed by bilingual and bicultural leaders who have deep ties to the communities we serve.

Out of this effort, community youth began to take leadership for a number of activities, eventually organizing themselves into HOMEY. They found a fiscal home with the Berkeley-based ICRI, the International Child Resource Institute.

Over the last ten years, youth (and adults) inspired by the vision of HOMEY volunteered their time and money to make HOMEY what it is today, with an operating budget of nearly half-a-million dollars and eight staff who have all had first-hand experience with the similar challenges our youth are facing.

HOMEYs growth has allowed each new generation of young people to experience the power of affecting change and making the organization their own, but the mission of developing leadership and organizing youth remain the same.