Tag Archives: curriculum

Flipping Without Flopping

Without question, the most talked-about educational innovation to go mainstream recently has been the “flipped” classroom. For the uninitiated, this term broadly refers to the practice of delivering content to students electronically for independent consumption, while the classroom becomes a place for completing assignments and getting help. The surging popularity of the Khan Academy has been the most notable examples of this method.

The benefits are clear – students get more opportunities for guidance and help during the class periods, and the videos they watch are typically more engaging than a textbook. Yet, there have been some problems identified with the approach as well – especially when the application has varied from classroom to classroom. One major criticism of the flipped classroom (also known as reverse instruction) is that it highlights the digital divide. [I’ve mentioned this topic in a previous post.]  Students without independent access to the Internet from home could find themselves at a severe disadvantage when a classroom completely flips. Additionally, many see the method as a way for teachers to avoid having to actually teach the whole class. The pros and cons of flipped teaching (taken from the pro side) are summarized nicely here.

There are many valid points on both sides of this debate, although I tend to take the conversation at-large as being a good thing. When was the last time we had educators this passionate about methodology? Surely this is net positive!

I recently conducted my first major experiment in flipping my classroom, to see for myself whether or not this method was worth trying on a larger scale. I had my opportunity because the technology in my school had finally caught up to providing me the necessary tools, and a week-long professional opportunity out-of-town gave me the excuse to implement the plan. I conducted my flipped classroom roll-out in two phases:

Phase One: Introduction

I think a CMS (course-management system) is a good idea for a flipped classroom. Having a communication hub to center everything around becomes pretty essential. Prensky was right in his assessment of Digital Natives – yes, today’s students process their thinking about technology differently than those of us from the print age do. However, many of us overlearned the lessons of Prensky and assume too much out of students today. Just because they are more wired when they get to us doesn’t mean that they automatically know how to operate every web tool that we throw at them! They still need to get introduced to new tool and be given time to work with it a bit before deploying it fully. A CMS provides an easy “sandbox” for students to get acclimated to the tech before accountability kicks in.

I settled on Edmodo as a CMS due to its pricetag (free!) and its design, which is stylistically similar to Facebook and therefore appealing to most students. The seamless integration with Google Docs is another huge bonus! I took my classes in the computer lab for a day and rolled them through the sign-up process and a tutorial on how to use the various features. Fortunately, we have been using a lot of Web 2.0 tools in class all year so it was not too laborious getting the students all signed up. I also made it a point to contact parents and send home a form letter with the parent Edmodo code included. Once I was done, I had created an instructional space outside of my classroom where content could be shared.

Phase Two: Implementation

Developing the habits of mind when it comes to sharing took a few weeks! I slowly started rolling out links and Google Docs through Edmodo, and encouraging students to use the digital dropbox feature for turning in assignments. Once we got Edmodo down, I started to experiment with YouTube. Now I recognize many schools block YouTube, but there are many other sites out there for sharing video content, so don’t fret! The bottom line is that by sharing an RSS feed through your CMS, it’s a snap to start podcasting your direct instruction content to students! I started creating “learning modules” for student consumption at home and it was a great success! Edmodo provides easy sharing of attachments, and combining a reading, a video of yours truly, and a written assignment as a package was beyond simple. Check out this example on William Blake where I blended a documentary film, a VoiceThread, and a YouTube clip. The writing assignment extended into the next day where I was able to provide help in person.

The final test came when I was absent from class for a week while conducting an evaluation of another school. I flipped my sub plans for the week and let the proctor run the learning modules in the class. After years of trying, I finally learned how to bi-locate! Pre-recording my lessons and flipping the sub plans was probably the most ambitious tech move I’ve ever attempted. There were a lot of bugs in the system, but the overall benefits to my students, and the impact that it had on my professional development were more than worth the effort it took to orchestrate the whole plan. I have never had a better return rate on my assignments, and the scores on those assessments showed a significant bump! Take it from someone who has been a skeptic – flipping your classroom doesn’t have to be a total flop! Give it a try!

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Bloom, Revisited: Towards a Digital Taxonomy

Once you gain support in your school/district for the development and promotion of 21st Century skills in your curriculum, you begin the real work in training the staff.  When you direct the PD, don’t forget to highlight the fact that there exists a spectrum of skills.  Far too often in the rush to share the advantages of 21st Century skills in a student’s development, we leave out the fact that we have effectively carved out a new domain in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  And not all 21st Century skills are created equal!  This new domain for a new age of pedagogy emphasizes the hierarchy of skills needed to be successful in the information economy:

  • Curate – Students need to show facility in navigating a vast array of resources and discerning which are valuable and which are irrelevant to the needs of the moment.
  • Share – Students need to demonstrate judgment in calibrating how much is shared with an audience and by what method.
  • Collaborate – Students need to show they can engage with their peers in a collective effort, and act as both leader and follower as appropriate.
  • Cull – Students refine their thinking by gleaning the best of the collaborative process to produce informed decision-making.
  • Publish – Students express themselves confidently and creatively in a manner that shows full participation in the cycle of learning.
  • Reflect – Students can effectively and thoroughly consider the process of learning on a metacognitive level.
How will you best prepare your students for the world they will inherit?

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Tradition vs. Innovation: New Year’s [Conflict] Resolution

20111225-204309.jpgHappy New Year! Having just finished with the holidays, tradition has been in the air, and nothing is more traditional in education than the time-honored three R’s – Reading, ‘Riting, and ‘Rithmetic.

But the old idea of the three R’s certainly has taken a beating these days, hasn’t it?

Mary Bart, writing for Faculty Focus, identified what is quickly becoming accepted as “best practice” for a new generation of learners:

Christy Price, EdD, a psychology professor at Dalton State College, became interested in Millennial learners when she noticed a gap between students’ expectation for success and the effort they put forth in the classroom (Price, 2009). Price then conducted a qualitative analysis of narratives provided by more than a hundred Millennial learners to get a more accurate picture of what makes them tick.

In the recent online seminar Five Strategies to Engage Today’s Students, Price shared some of what she’s learned regarding the characteristics of Millennials’ ideal learning environments, their preferences regarding assignments and assessment, and the characteristics of their ideal professor. She then outlined the instructional implications of her findings with these five R’s for engaging Millennial students:

  1. Research-based methods: Research suggests Millennials prefer a variety of active learning methods. When they are not interested in something, their attention quickly shifts elsewhere. Interestingly, many of the components of their ideal learning environment — less lecture, use of multimedia, collaborating with peers — are some of the same techniques research has shown to be effective, Price said.
  2. Relevance: Millennials have grown up being able to Google anything they want to know, therefore they do not typically value information for information’s sake. As a result, the professor’s role is shifting from disseminating information to helping students apply the information. One of the greatest challenges for teachers is to connect course content to the current culture and make learning outcomes and activities relevant, Price said.
  3. Rationale: Unlike Boomers who were raised in a more authoritarian manner in which they more readily accept the chain of command, Millennials were raised in a non-authoritarian manner and are more likely to comply with course policies when teachers provide them with a rationale for specific policies and assignments.
  4. Relaxed: Millennials prefer a less formal learning environment in which they can informally interact with the professor and one another. In interviews with students, the term “laid back” was used repeatedly.
  5. Rapport: Millennials are extremely relational. They are more central to their parents’ lives than previous generations and are used to having the adults in their lives show great interest in them. They appreciate it when professors show that same interest, and they seem to be more willing to pursue learning outcomes when instructors connect with them on a personal level.

Another take on reforming the three R’s can be found here by edublogger Mark Brumley:

Creating is not only at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy, it is a critical skill needed for the advancement of our society. The “Creative Class”, a term used by author Richard Florida in his book The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, is growing and manufacturing jobs are dwindling. We must teach students skills to engage in non-routine cognitive work.

Curating is a skill needed to sift through the mountains of new content created every day. Students need to know how to discover and discern what is truly meaningful and relevant and discard the rest. This includes “crap detection” (Howard Rheingold) but also “gem detection” to determine the truly remarkable content.

A key component of creative class jobs is collaboration. In almost all cases, these types of professions involve working with others and creating and curating within the groups. Of course this means not only collaborating with the people next to you but globally and even virtually.

So the Industrial Revolution gave us the 3 R’s and now the Digital Revolution has given us the 3 C’s. In my next series of posts, I plan to outline the relationship between the traditional methods of pedagogy and the rise of a new model appropriate for the 21st Century.

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Mathemagicians Unite!

I am not a math teacher.  However, I do believe strongly in the value of mathematics as part of our academic programs in schools.  I also think that there has to be a way to do it better than it is being done in so many places.  I remember being bored to tears by the repetitive nature of one problem after another.  Much like Donald Duck in this 1959 classic by Disney:

As we prepare to shift paradigms to a 21st Century pedagogy, how can we be certain that the math classes don’t fall by the wayside?  It seem to me that they are the most likely candidates to do so, if only because the rote nature of the instructional approaches taken for so long still proliferate, even as a new generation of amazing math educators arises.  What can be done to make math more aligned with the Cycle of Learning model that I have advocated (Discovery-Expression-Collaboration-Integration)?  How can we find a way to advocate 21st Century skills in a discipline where far too many think that calculators are evil?  Torie Bosch writes for Slate and takes a stab at it here:

Math education: How colleges and high schools can fix it..

One of the primary problems with math education today, according to Benjamin, is that the sequence of courses leads students in the wrong direction. “For the last 200 years, the mathematics that we’ve learned starts with arithmetic and algebra, and everything we do after that is taking us toward one subject, calculus. I think that is the wrong mathematical goal for 90 percent of our students,” he says. “We’re now living in an age of information and data, and the mathematics that will be most relevant to our daily lives is probability and statistics.” Only some professions require calculus. Everyone reads—and many misunderstand—media reports about health, science, and the environment that contain statistics. Better literacy in probability and stats would benefit everyone.

I think Bosch manages to identify our central fallacy very well – that one size fits all!  How can we realistically expect all students to fit into the same track?  Surely there must be a way to differentiate our experience of mathematics at the high school level.  Are probability and statistics part of the solution?  Is there an experiential model that work out there?  Math teachers – help me out!  How can we make the “language of technology” actually gel with the innovations that they helped create in the first place?

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Paradise Lost: Writing a Revolution’s Wrongs

Having spent most of my career  in the English classroom, the state of writing in today’s society is always in the forefront of my professional mind.  So it is distressing to me when I find that so many educators believe technology and writing to be at odds with each other.

It is true that many students today have developed poor habits from certain technologies.  Yet the story does not have to end at the doorstep of “u” vs. “you.”  When Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable type in the 15th Century, it revolutionized the written world predominantly through the democratization of information flow.  More authors came to share more ideas with more people.  The road to the information superhighway began with Gutenberg and continued through the Digital Revolution of the 1990s.

Today, as we prepare to shift from a Web 2.0 (sharing) to a Web 3.0 (collaboration) environment, educators need to harness the prevailing winds and use them to chart in course towards improved student achievement.  The collaborative nature of technologies such as Google Docs, SharePoint, and Moodle create a treasure trove of resources that can inspire an information flow unparalleled in human communications.  The Revolution is over – now is the time to build new ways of writing.  This generation of educators has a responsibility and an obligation to guide the formation of that paradigm.

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Automated Term Paper Grading

Idea Works: Using Automated Grading for Collaborative Learning | Education News.

I can see value in this concept, but I’m also very leery of turning over my decision-making authority on grades to an automated system.  I simply don’t know how trying to quantify the nuances of writing would work.  Or if it even should work!

I can totally see this as beneficial for a fundamentals of writing course where compositional mechanics are what is being assessed.  My technophilia only goes so far, however.  When the machines start making decisions for me [Are you listening, iPhone4S?] then I start to get the Skynet jitters.

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