03 November 2011

Strike one, you're out.

Imagine if sports were really like this?  You get one mistake, one chance to succeed and if you don't, you're done, go sit back down.  It would be ridiculous.  In fact, most sports are designed to give you dozens of chances to make changes and try again.  But, for some reason, in education we too often take the strike on, you're out philosophy.  Let me tell you what happened this week:

I found out that 2 AP Calc teachers in my school decided to try out an aspect of the flipped classroom for a previous unit.  I was ecstatic because I have been told that many of my colleagues are behind the times and that the flipped classroom is just too radical in this school.  So, I practically ran down to the teachers to introduce myself and hear how it went.  It turned out they didn't do it for an entire unit, but for one lesson.  The teachers assigned a series of 5 short videos of college professors teaching several concepts for their students to watch over the weekend and then discuss as a class on Monday.  The teacher I talked to had 3 students not watch the video and the other teacher had nearly half the class.  There were many excuses as to why they didn't watch it, most of them completely lame (like the link didn't work when they should have copied and pasted it into the address bar).  The teacher said that she is not doing this again because it was too unreliable to get the students to watch the videos and be prepared for class.

My heart sank.  She tried it one day, it didn't work, so she is done.  No tweaking, no asking for suggestions.  Just done.  I talked with her about it asking the questions like I always do:  what do you do with kids who don't do the homework?  Are all your lessons only a single day?  What do you do if students are absent?  Just trying to get the teacher open to doing this one more time.  What turned out to be the problem was who was doing the videos.  While the teacher really liked the professor's teaching, she felt the students couldn't connect with him as well as they do her.  She figured that if she did the video herself it would have been more successful.  I gave her suggestions on how to incorporate her SMART board into the videos, to make them short (5-10 minutes) and to get the students to work in small groups rather than following up with a whole class discussion.  By the end of our conversation, she was open to the idea of doing it again, but wants to wait a few months to get things ready.

So, here is my message to those thinking about flipping:
  1. This is a constantly evolving process.  You need to put aside time to constantly tweak what you are doing to make it better.  It is not like a normal teaching unit that you can wait until the summer to improve.  You must make the changes immediately.
  2. Students need to be transitioned.  Start to bring in the videos as added instruction or for those who are absent.  Start doing more collaborative work in the weeks preceding the full flip.  Then they won't be as reluctant to work so much on their own.
  3. Remember that the flipped classroom is about increasing the 1:1 time with the students.  Having them watch videos to then do a full class discussion doesn't really accomplish that goal.  You need to redesign your lessons to get the conversation happening between the students in small groups to allow you to circulate the room.
  4. Plan lots of activities for the varied learners in the room.  You want variety and choice.  Letting them choose what to work on every day will make the class time more meaningful.
  5. Don't look at the Flipped Classroom as a way to get more material covered.  Yes, you will have more time so you could get in more topics, but it would be better if you covered things more in depth.
  6. Don't give up!!  What works for one teacher may not work for another.  The flipped classroom needs to be tailored for your students and your style.  Don't use other's videos unless you know it is exactly, word for word, what you would say.  The kids will tune it out if they feel you are wasting their time.
Give it and yourself a chance and you will see how successful it can be.