Posts Tagged flipped classroom

Raise your hand if you love great librarians

I’m raising my hand.

It’s remarkable how much of an impact a great librarian can have on the teaching and learning that happens in a school. I have no idea who the librarian was at the high school I went to, and it was a very good high school. I don’t know if that person worked behind the scenes with my teachers, if the roles of librarians have changed, or if I just happen to be especially lucky right now to have one who works so closely with us and provides so much practical support.

At the beginning of the school year, I bring all my students down to our library to give them a chance to browse for a book for SSR (sustained silent reading). Our librarian, Kristin McKeown, has a library classroom stocked with her own “staff picks” of the library’s most appealing (and provocative) books, arranged into a few broad categories. She then conducts a short mini-lesson during which she generates a ton of student interest and buy-in for independent reading.

But it’s the research project that prompted this post right now. All 9th grade teachers in my department embark on a collaboratively planned research assignment around now, and Kristin is instrumental in it. I won’t go into the instruction she provides for students when they’re down in the library, but I just wanted to share something new she has done this year: a series of Jing videos outlining the many steps of the research process that she has posted on the library’s website.

Here’s one of the four videos that make up Day 1 of research in the library: “Developing Basic Knowledge: Using a double-bubble map.”

She used Jing to make the videos (and Inspiration for the drawing of the thinking maps – a district-wide focus for us this year). I haven’t used that myself yet, but she says it’s very easy, and so does Nik Peachy. Due to the number of anticipated views, she had to pay a monthly fee to Screencast to host them. (Youtube is free, of course, but, as Kristin put it, “we have obvious access issues there.”)

I’m so excited that these videos are there for my students. One of the most surefire headaches for both students and teachers when it comes to these projects is when a student is absent for one of the library research days. This has always been one of those problems that seems insurmountably complicated. And it always happens, of course. And to many, many students. Every year. And still, each time a student returns to class and asks “What’d I miss?” I end up scratching my head in futility, wondering how I’m possibly ever going to catch them up.

Some analogies:

  • I know that my morning commute always take me around 35 minutes to get to work, and I know where the typical slowdowns are. But I still feel surprised and frustrated when I get to them.
  • Or when there’s an ongoing construction project that I should have anticipated, but when I get to it, the detour still throws me for a loop.
  • Or when I’m surprised by how many calories are in a milkshake or a cheeseburger.

Anyway, problem solved.

Go to this site, watch the videos. Come see me if you have any questions. Done.

Then there are the students who are so excited that they are in the library instead of in the classroom, sitting next to a friend instead of a non-friend, and in front of a computer instead of a row of desks, that there’s no way they’ll be able to pay attention to the live instruction.

And, of course, there are all those students with different learning needs for whom a video that they can stop and start at their leisure will allow them to go at a pace that ensures they can more fully understand all the steps in the process.

These are all points that are argued in the flipped classroom debate, but in this context it seems like a no-brainer. We’re still doing class time the way we’ve always done it, but if you missed it, in any sense of the word “missed,” here it is again, all spelled out for you.

Why don’t we do this for kids all the time? Because we don’t all have great librarians.

Okay, you can put your hand down now.

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Rationalizing (a lot of) computer lab time

Audrey Waters wrote what she calls “an explainer” piece this summer on her Hack Education blog in which she pulls together some of the arguments against Khan Academy brewing in the education world. It’s very interesting, and right here.

Aside from the distrust of Bill Gates’s corporate involvement, the pedagogical argument identifies Khan’s videos as merely a different form of an old-fashioned lecture. And that’s not so innovative or interesting. That makes sense.

But the backlash against the entire idea of “flipping the classroom” seems like it might be creating a false dichotomy between Khan and Dianne Ravitch-esque progressive educators. I think we all agree that teachers shouldn’t be lecturing at the front of the classroom for an entire period. We decided on that a long time ago, didn’t we?

Here’s why I’m thinking about this tonight (besides the fact that I just read that post on Hack Education). After school today I checked my agenda for tomorrow’s senior classes and noticed that my plans were a little thin. I realized I only had about half a class period’s worth of activities (that’s 49.5 minutes at my school, by the way).

My seniors are working on a personal narrative essay, so I checked the computer lab calendar, noticed it was miraculously free during both 1st and 4th period, and signed up to take my kids down for the second half of each class.

On my drive home (stuck in traffic on the interstate that passes a noxious dog food factory) I thought, “Well that is some lazy lesson planning, Mr. Fine. You didn’t have enough instruction planned so you’re just going to plop them in front of computers?”

Now I do have somewhat of a point there, but I (the other me) may also be standing on some sound pedagogical footing. Math and science teachers, in Khan’s model – and, not so differently, in a Constructivist model – should be guiding students as they discover the content knowledge. In an English or writing class, that discovery happens through…writing, of course. So I need to let them write. And since I’m sick of seeing kids scribble on a sheet of binder paper and then shove it to the bottom of their backpacks never to be seen again, they should be typing.

My summer experience corroborates this.

I taught summer school this year, and I was blessed with a class of only seven wonderful kids. And there weren’t even any non-wonderful kids – there were only seven kids in the class.

This is obviously a complete Utopia for me, and it shouldn’t be surprising to any teacher (or former student) that we were able to get a lot of learning done and that we actually enjoyed each other’s company in the process (as much as possible, I would think, given that it was summer school).

In short, it ended up exactly like this:

I’m sorry. No, it didn’t. But what was interesting for me as an English teacher was how valuable my students found having large chunks of time in the computer lab to write their essays.

Again, maybe it’s not that surprising. Most of these students were quite bright but chose not to do homework (or not to go to class – more on that some other time…it was fascinating). So if I had sent them home to write an essay, as most English teachers are wont to do, they just wouldn’t do it. Ever.

The computer lab at the summer school site was not heavily used, so, on consecutive days, I was able to give my students 2-3 hour chunks of time to write. Since there were only seven of them (I’m sorry, I know), I was able to sit down with each of them for 15-20 mintes at a time and go over what they had written so far to steer them back on track when necessary. To me, it felt like the most effective writing instruction I’ve ever done as a teacher.

My students responded to it, too. There were days when I had reserved the lab for the morning (8-10 a.m.) so they could write, and they all practically begged to be allowed to come back for the second “period” (10:20-12:20) and continue writing. And they were working the whole time (trust me, I was there). They said things like, “I’ve never worked this hard on an essay before” and “This is the best essay I’ve ever written by far.” And it was on Oedipus Rex!

So was this the English class’s version of Sal Khan’s flipped classroom? Not exactly, since I was not assigning any homework in this case. But the huge blocks of class time allowed for some whole-class instruction followed by hours of valuable “guide on the side” time.

And, most importantly, this all makes me feel better about my brilliant lesson plan for tomorrow – which had absolutely nothing to do with my being underprepared.

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Knewton sponsored this infographic, which I found through edsurge. I’ll comment below the graphic. Ok, hello again. So I love this idea. When a close friend first showed me Sal Khan’s TED talk on flipping classrooms, I was seriously inspired and hopeful. My experience has done little (if anything) to convince me that homework, in the traditional model, works at all (although that didn’t keep me from giving my students a boring speech today on why they need to do their homework so they can develop their skills. Why do I say that if I don’t even believe it?)

But there is a HUGE problem with this, isn’t there? I can’t possibly be the only one who sees it. The idea is that every student will watch videos or lectures at home, online, right? But, no. I teach in a suburb of Denver, not East Timor, but even here I have a handful of students in each class who don’t have consistent internet access at home. So doesn’t the digital divide simply tear this whole system then fall apart?

I run into this problem when I assign homework on Edmodo, so I just try to have a paper option available for those kids. If that’s not possible, I tell them they could have extra time to get online assignments done, since they would have to do them in the library on their own time (and 9th graders at my school do not have any study periods during their first semester). But that creates a logistical headache for me. In fact, most parts of teaching create logistical headaches for me.

While the digital divide might not be the crisis it was ten years ago, there is still a correlation between household income and internet usage.  So while I’d love to flip my classroom around and be a “guide on the side,” I’m afraid I can’t do that entirely just yet. This all makes me all the more thankful for my 99 minute blocks, though, so I can be that “sage on the stage” for 20 minutes or so, and then make my way to the sidelines (sorry – football is back!).

Also, I’m sorry if I offended anyone from East Timor, or Timor-Leste, but I actually looked up the countries with the lowest rates of internet penetration before throwing that out there. I first wrote Tajikistan, because I though it sounded funnier, but it turns out there’s even less internet in Timor Leste.

And if you haven’t seen Khan’s TED talk (and missed the link above):

And anytime someone says “flip,” I can’t help but think of this:

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