I have blogged earlier about the need for classrooms to keep up with the tech and the times. Collaboration, among teachers, and among students, is on a cutting edge. But the former arrangement of the classroom I am in, 6 rows of 6 desks each, like an Illinois corn field, and like most Illinois and American classrooms since the 19th Century and the era of the industrial revolution, doesn’t work well for collaboration…It is designed for a magisterial set up, with a single teacher doing the delivery and 36 individual students lined up for factory work.
So I talked with my assistant principal and got permission for the 4th quarter to move the desks out and to move in some tables and chairs. These can be moved around into different configurations, and movable chairs give students a bit more sense of freedom than being tethered to a single desk-seat unity. The students have been assigned a group project with the groups being the 4 students sitting around each table.
Today was kind of a first in this flipped classroom. I have been trying to get my district to unblock YouTube in this classroom, since all my podcasts are on YouTube by way of Hawkclub, my class website. The only way the students can watch the podcasts is in their own home. So today I just passed out about 10 jumpdrives that had podcasts on them and had students simply pass the jumpdrives around and upload today’s podcast to their computers. I use YouTube because its videos always work, on all operating systems, with all browsers. I won a set of classroom laptops in my district’s mini-grant program, so all students have a computer while they are this classroom. So today as they all watched the podcast I was marveling….They had to take notes on the podcast, the notes are due when we return to school on Monday. So since I don’t like to give homework over the weekend, I was letting them get the notes now. The podcast was 10 minutes long, but almost every student took most of the period to watch it. Because they stopped it to take notes, they relistened to parts that were unclear. So I was marvelling at how quiet it was. At how much engagement there was. I was marveling how there is never this much engagement when I lecture live! At how I felt more learning was taking place than through traditional lecture. So this was a flipped flip. I thought you were supposed to watch the podcasts at home? I was lecturing in class – without lecturing! — and it seemed like most of them were getting it!
Students like to learn with computers. When I first issued these computers I had the students take a survey and 77% of them thought the computers would significantly improve their grades and ability to learn. They could have picked the choice that said they thought the computers would improve their ability to learn “a little”, or negatively, or not at all. But the bulk of them chose the choice which indicated they expected great gains. Today’s class showed me there could be something to that. There is something about putting a student in the “cockpit” or the “driver’s seat”, to change the metaphor, that empowers them. They put their hands on the keyboard, they put their headphones on, they make choices about where they navigate, what they will work on, and how they will attack it. Even though I had given everyone the same assignment today, to take notes on and watch the podcast they will be quizzed on Monday, they all did it in different ways. So there is something empowering about giving a student a computer and giving them the opportunity to direct their own learning.
I have experienced before the awe I felt today, the power of unleashing students instead of closely tethering them to my lecture schedule. It still requires my full engagement as a teacher for its success, but in a different way than the traditional method. Flipping the classroom for me has come to mean something like flipping preconceptions and flipping tradition to decide each day, each unit the best way to engage and interest my students, using technology to my advantage (and theirs!).
More on that in my next blog…