This was my experience as I prepared to teach a revised computer science curriculum that would emphasize the skills and characteristics of a “Digital Citizen” and de-emphasize the push-button Microsoft curriculum. I decided that the best way to do this was a flipped classroom.
"The History of Computers" was often a lesson that I presented traditionally. While I created an excellent and engaging lesson (of course) about the history of computers I often found it to be a bore. It was built around "themes" which provided the students a framework other than the passage of time: “Smaller, Faster, but not all that different”; “Getting Connected”, etc. I incorporated activities like making each student a “member” of the original Arpanet so they could experience delivering messages in the early internet. It was about as good a lesson as I could manage given the subject.
As I began to evaluate activities that required live interaction between the teacher and student, I also distinguished between what was necessary content and skills that i would evaluate and what was “fluff” -- I began to re-think the entire lesson. The “themes” were the important content takeaway, not the dates or the terminology. This general ideal could be combined with an introduction to research-as-a-skill and making-effective-presentations-as-a-skill, two subjects on which high school students can always use practice. The lesson began to form and I made the flip:
|Introduction of the “themes”||Lecture||Video Homework|
|Examples of the themes in history||Lecture|
|Research for Presentation||Homework (or “extra” periods of classtime)||Classwork the day after the flip|
|How to make a Presentation||Lecture with Guided Demonstration||Video Homework with hands-on experiment module in class|
|Assessment||Make-a-presentation Homework||Make-a-presentation in class|
|In-Class Presentation||In Class||In Class|
Students watched the flipped video lesson that night with only a few hiccups. There were “did-you-watch” action steps so that students, after a brief Q&A, began their research in groups (each group given a different time period) on the Themes from the lecture.
It is important to note two things: First, students were not given a full-blown history lecture as video. They were given the themes, a few general “things to look for” and some getting-started keywords. Second, prior to this year, I had never watched students research -- that was the homework AFTER the lecture.
A Few Examples:
Student A: Begins research by opening up internet explorer and Microsoft PowerPoint. After typing in keywords, clicks on the Wikipedia link (first one) and copies the first paragraph into a PowerPoint slide.
Me: Why did you open PowerPoint? that is an odd note-taking vehicle
Student A: you said we were going to do a presentation on this.
Me: What information did you just paste over?
Student A: I don’t know, I just copied it. It’s about one of the keywords you gave us.
Student B: Types into Google: “History of Computers Getting Connected”. Student is frustrated that this does not yield a wikipedia article. When asked to refer to the keywords that she was given as part of the lecture or questions she had developed, she sighs over the difficulty of the assignment.
Student C: Can I use wikipedia?
Me: I don’t know. Is it a valid source?
Student C: Lot’s of teachers hate it. It’s OK, I can use something else (turns around).
Reflection: What a difference a FLIP makes.
My first reaction was just sheer amazement over their (lack of) research skills. But the more i thought about it (multiple sending schools, young students, a class that is not typically research oriented, etc.), this should have been expected. More importantly, it was likely what has always happened, but the traditional format did not afford me the opportunity to see research-in-action. In a flash, I was not frustrated with the poor quality of work from "these kids today...ugh". I was given a clear indication of learning deficiencies that could be illustrated and which could improve research for the long term.
I made a list of what I had noticed and what proper research techniques would be necessary to address the areas of concern. The next two days were set (they watched a FLIP video preparing for PowerPoint and spent the next day refining skills and learning the practicalities of codecs and embedding video). That night, I assigned another FLIP video.
Their assignment the next day was to try again, with a more focused topic (depth beats breadth on everything except standardized tests). The results were amazing: More focused research, Questions that came from research instead of from the teacher, collaboration in discovery and answering -- all from a ten minute video that addressed the common mistakes that were being made by the class as a whole.
|The flipped demo featured a split-screen browser and OneNote|
This is an extension of the form-follow-function in education argument. If I believe in the premise that reflection-on-experience is the place were learning occurs, than it is essential that the teacher be present during the experience for observation, guidance, etc. The passive part (lectures, videos, and to a lesser extent note-taking) is contextual foundation for the learning. The important part to watch is when the neurons are firing in the learner's brain. That is when teaching, even if it is just a nudge in the right direction, is fundamental.
If I were not a fan before, the ability that the #flipclass format affords the teacher in giving a window into the work habits and processes of the students is enough to justify the extra time and effort. The strange thing though, is there is not much more of either.
More on that later...