Flipping: The Gateway to Bigger and Better Things

Our most recent #ohedchat topic was flipping the classroom (archive here).

The chat extended into several days as a small group of us continued chatting about education reform and big picture overhauls for the future of education.

Jeremy Brueck (@brueckj23 on Twitter) made some fantastic points about how we’re getting lost in trivial conversations when we should be talking about major changes by….tomorrow (which I equated in the chat to “blowing up the system and starting from scratch”). He (and others like Sean Wheeler–@MrWheeler) think change is too slow to occur, that educators have been using the “baby steps” argument for too long, that we have been having the same conversations for years and going nowhere.

I agree with everything they said:

Change in education is too slow to occur: we live in a reality where the app I use today may be replaced tomorrow by a completely revised and/or new app, and yet, substantial change in classrooms can take years to happen. The classroom I see today is probably the same classroom I will see tomorrow, and next month, and next semester, and next year.

We do use the baby steps argument: In defense of this one, we’re talking about cultural, traditional, systemic changes that require a clear vision by a team of leaders and the process by which to reach that vision. But I think baby steps become problematic when our timelines start to resemble those of glaciers moving or rock formation.

We have been having the same conversations for too long: At some point, we have to take leaps and risks and dive into new territory. We can’t keep making excuses for educators who still “aren’t getting it,” because the world is changing too quickly for us to allow that to happen. What is happening to our kids, in the meantime, while we keep talking about change rather than doing it?

So what is this change we’re talking about? What is education supposed to be like? What is the possible vision we can reach?

I think this video (via @brueckj23) sums it up perfectly. A New Design for Education

As an educator, I watch that video and think, “Yes! This is it! This is what I want for my child, for everyone’s children. This is what education can and should be. Break the mold of factory-based education; blow up the bell schedule; make it new!!” I get excited about the potential. Imagine classrooms designed as supportive environments that allow teachers to teach kids how to think like historians, scientists, mathematicians, artists, musicians, writers, readers, rather than classrooms that force teachers to teach history, science, math, art, music, writing, and reading. Imagine being able to provide every student with the world at his/her fingertips and guiding him/her down a learning path instead of stamping them with a seal of approval in June and “advancing” them to subsequent grades. The fact that we can envision that kind of system is, to me, an awesome feat of time and understanding of teaching and learning—I doubt many (if any!) in the early 20th and 19th centuries could envision it!

But the teacher in me says, “whoa, whoa, whoa….That’s all well and good, but how do I get there? I have so many things on my plate; you cannot expect me to throw all my lesson plans, my tried and true worksheets/projects/quizzes/tests/rubrics/group discussions out the window and do something totally new. I don’t have the time to figure this out!” Besides, as I’m sure some teachers would tell you….this is just another fad. This vision of education can’t ever happen because of high-stakes standardized tests, politics, and cultural/traditional expectations of schools.

How, then, do we bridge the two mindsets? How do we go from where we’ve been and what we know to where we could be and what we envision?

To me, the flipped classroom can start bridging the gap. But flipping, as we worked to define in the #ohedchat, does not mean putting some videos online and doing worksheets in class. I know there are different models for flipping, but I need to keep it simple for myself. Flipping, to me, is when teachers provide access to content (through videos, links, resources, etc) online that allow students to access, review, and learn the content in their own way.

For the very beginner: A feasible starting point for a teacher is to try taping a lecture and posting it online. Then try it again. And again. It’s a little like toeing the water. To get comfortable with it, start by reviewing and highlighting main points, but scaffold away from that and hold students responsible for their learning. Remember, if you asked any of them, “Hey, how do you think wind is made?” They’d hope on their devices and figure it out–they just have to learn how to apply that same concept to your classroom content.

Try these tips:

Use data to support your efforts. Flipping becomes a gateway to those big shifts in education when we (teachers, administrators, parents, students) buy into what we’re doing. When the data shows that we’re doing something beneficial, we want to keep doing it, and we’re more willing to do more. As a beginner in flipping, try running some surveys with students. Ask them what they like, don’t like, what’s working, what’s not. Get communication feedback from them. But also look at scores–how are they doing in your formative/summative assessments? Are scores higher than typical at this time of year? Do they seem to retain more?

Getting there…: Once a teacher has toed the water a bit with videos or collections of links to resources, s/he could branch into differentiated tasks online–post a few different resources that allow students with varying strengths and weaknesses to access the content in different ways. In class, now that you’re freeing up all that awful lecture time, try incorporating more formative assessments, having students work in pre-planned groups on different tasks.

Use data to support your efforts. Remember, flipping only leads to more reform when the teacher/admin/parent/student feels like it’s doing something! Here’s a good data point to consider as the teacher: How do YOU feel about what you’re doing? Given your first efforts at trying this style will take a lot of work, do YOU feel like you are a better teacher? Do YOU feel like your students are learning more? What’s the qualitative data that supports you and keeps you motivated?

I think flipping can lead to the vision of education depicted in the video because it provides teachers with a somewhat unobtrusive, time saving means of learning how to individualize education. It allows students to learn in ways that are more relevant to them, but it also can provide teachers with data that will help them buy in to the shifting paradigms.

Yes, flipping is a “baby step,” but I think it’s a quality step forward that moves us away from that traditional model and toward something more significant.

Additional Stuff:

There are a lot of teachers flipping and blogging about it. Follow them and learn from their learning, unlearning, and relearning:

Medina’s Blended Learning Team

Todd Nesloney’s Flipped Blog: Todd and his 5th graders are flipping this year.

Stacy’s Pearltree: Medina’s tech integration coordinator curates TONS of resources.

A couple years ago, I think I was on the path to flipping when I decided to run my American Literature class differently. Feel free to browse around the old, outdated, but still standing website. I set up a blog and provided links to quality resources. As a class, we would talk about the standards for each of our units and what “evidence” of learning the standards could look like. Then, the students went off in their own directions exploring areas of interest within the context of the topic at hand. Maybe that was some sort of modified “flipping,” I don’t know. But what I do know is I was giving them access to the content, providing them with a framework for learning outcomes (by discussing the standards), and then guiding them while they explored their own interests. I, consequently, learned SO MUCH MORE about my own interest by doing this.


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