Thursday, August 18, 2011

It takes a teacher

Summer vacation is just about over, and as usual, I did not achieve my yearly ridiculous goal of having my entire school year mapped out, with all my lessons, assignments, assessments, etc. ready to go, by the first day back. I guess it's time to let that dream go, because life just isn't like that, which means school shouldn't be either, right?

But I did do a heck of a lot of reading, thinking, experimenting, and learning, thanks to my colleagues and the lovely folks at twitter. And I noticed that a bazillion other teachers spent their summer the same way. So many new ideas, so little time! Project based learning, google+, skype in the classroom, student blogs, alternate assessments, collaborative problem-solving....but some of what I've read has been aimed against the flipping model. Since I remain resolved to use the model this year, and since I have never before been as proud to be a teacher as I am now, I felt compelled to respond to those objections.

Here's what I've read:
  1. It really isn't that much different than the traditional model, since it is still the teacher delivering content rather than students discovering and collaborating.
  2. It could be used as an excuse for giving busy work during class.
  3. Getting students to watch videos, like those at Khan Academy, doesn't help them to solve real problems.
  4. And besides, those Khan academy videos are boring.
    Now here's what I THINK :

    1. Sure, I am still delivering content.

    I still feel compelled to, as I bet we all do, and maybe that will change one day, but for now I need to know that at least the minimum is out there for the kids to get.

    But that's just it! Now the content is just the minimum! 

    It's just the starting point. From there I can go wherever I or my students want! We get to have time to work on those collaborative projects, or blogs, or student-led discussions, or WCYDWT problems, or whatever we didn't have time to do when the entire class was taken up with content delivery.

    2. As for the busy work, well, two things:

    First, I found that the process of flipping forced me, even freed me, to come up with much better activities than I ever had before. And I think they are about as far away from busy work as possible, but you can check that out in this post. It freed my mind, and the rest followed! (Thanks for the inspiration, ladies of En Vogue!)

    Second, the whole busy work problem didn't start with flipping. Any teacher abusing class time that way was probably doing the same thing in the old system too. That's just not a good enough reason not to try something new. The vast majority of teachers are in the profession because they love to teach, not because of the light workload or the easy money, so please. And young Matt Damon agrees with me:

    Sigh. Matt Damon. What was I talking about? Oh yeah!

    3. True, but the videos aren't the whole story. And neither is flipping.

    Within the systems in which the vast majority of us find ourselves, where we're handed a rigid curriculum in which students are measured by their end-of-year exam results, flipping is, at the very least, a BIG step in the right direction. It gives us (and by us I mean kids, teachers, and parents) two things: some sense of security that we're covering the content, plus, and more importantly, a taste of what things COULD be like.

    I got to show a small group of keener beaners how to do a bunch of cool stuff on their TI calculators (see the post here) that I NEVER had time to do before, and that led to a discussion that was of their own interest. See? Flipping led to more student-centered, constructivist learning, so there!. I also got to help many students learn how to use tech tools, like Word and Geogebra, and in the process, cleared up some math issues they were having. Efficiency, technology, plus authenticity, so there!

    4. This blog claims that the Khan Academy videos are boring.

    Surely there is a nicer way to express that opinion? Talk about peripheral learning - is this good modelling for our students? I think it's great that that opinion has resulted in many teachers' creating their own high-quality videos, don't get me wrong. But we teachers are the harshest critics - of each other and ourselves. And besides, it's what the kids think that really counts, and I can say from last year's experience, in which all my students belonged to Khan Academy, that there are a lot of kids that love Sal Khan. They love his friendly, casual yet enthusiastic style. They also love having another teacher available to them if the one they've been tossed isn't cutting it. One student was honest enough to tell me that he understood way better from Sal than from me. I have no problem with that. Ahem.

    And my main point, finally...

    I see flipping as a natural response to a system that doesn't work. We needed to individiualize instruction, but couldn't with 30 kids in a class. We needed to encourage collaborative problem-solving but couldn't find the time in class. We needed to teach holisitically, because life isn't just one thing at a time, but we had to prepare them for single-subject exams. So someone came up with a work-around.

    It's a step, a big, brilliant one, and it just figures that teachers came up with it. I can't wait to see what we'll come up with next!