Earlier this year I had heard about the “flipped classroom” idea but was a bit unsure how I could do the same in my classroom (middle school humanities). The original premise of the ‘flipped classroom’, pioneered by Colorado science teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, was providing students with content (via teacher-produced videos of lectures) outside the school hours. The intention was for students to be able to become familiar with the content on their own and then time in class could be used for discussions, hands on activities and differentiated instruction. I was intrigued, but as a teacher in China my first thought went to the Great Firewall of China and how challenging it could be for many of my students to access any videos I made or recommended. Then in October I attended the Learning 2.012 conference in Beijing and participated in Jeff Utecht’s “Flipping Your Classroom” extended session and with a better understanding of what a ‘flipped classroom’ could look like, I had a renewed interest in the possibilities for my own classroom.
A Twist on the Flipped Classroom Model
I walked away from Jeff’s session with an idea of how the ‘flipped classroom’ could be expanded to address more of the skills our students need as 21st century learners. With all the content available on the internet and beyond the classroom, why not give the students the practice and responsibility of gathering relevant information themselves?
Why do we, in the status quo, replicate in person in our classrooms what is easily available elsewhere, the content delivery/skill modeling, and then have kids apply their learning to difficult problems at home, without us there to help?
In my case, teaching middle school humanities, I had been spending a lot of time presenting content during class time and sometimes struggling to find the time for the discussions and activities that provide the opportunity for students to demonstrate and solidify their understanding and application of the concepts. And with many of my students with English as their second (or third) language, I also had challenges with finding ways to differentiate the content.
Jeff proposed putting the responsibility of gathering the content on the students themselves. In doing this, students gain the practice and experience of a very important skill that they will need to have to be successful in the 21st century in school and beyond: accessing and evaluating information. But in asking our students to do this will mean that we will need to provide them support and guidance in finding relevant and reliable information. A significant section of Jeff’s session focused on the search and evaluation skills our students will need to do what we ask of them. This means that class time will be needed to teach and/or review search skills with students. (see Jeff’s Flipped Class page for helpful links. I also recommend various lessons from Common Sense media regarding online search) But the payoff is by putting the responsibility of finding content on the students, we are having them use these skills in a relevant context.
The other skill students will need to employ when gathering information is evaluating its reliability. Jeff recommended Chris Betcher’s “5 Factors for Evaluating Websites” which analyzes as source based on authority, currency, content/purpose, audience and structure/workability. This is very similar to the process we had already introduced to our middle school students with the acronym CAPOW-U (currency, authority, purpose, objectivity, writing style and URL source). Giving the students an evaluation tool, especially if it used school-wide, will be useful as they gather information and also to support their reasons for choosing a particular source.
Starting out with some Basic Flips
Now, with a new perspective on what a “flipped” classroom could look like, I’ve been trying some ‘mini-flips’ out in my grade 7 classroom over the last few months. (Of course I would love feedback on these activities if they are legitimate ‘flips’ or not!)
Modern Identity Issues Project:
*As part of a culminating project for our grade 7 unit on Identity, students chose a category related to identity (i.e. age, gender, socio-economic status, language) and, for homework, located an article related to that issue and then create an inquiry question based on the article. The link to the article and their question was put into a Google Doc shared with the whole class.
Then, class time was used for students to give feedback on the articles chosen (and they were tough on each other about reliability!) and have discussions with me and each other about the topics and how they could proceed with their project. I could also work with students who seemed to be struggling one on one or with small groups.
The Silk Road: Economic Concept:
*In our last unit this semester about the Silk Road, I presented four benchmarks related to economics to my students. I put each benchmark on a large piece of paper and had students do a “Chalk Walk”. Students went around to each benchmark poster and wrote down questions and statements about the benchmarks. My purpose in doing this was to get a sense of what they understood and what they had questions about. After students were done with the “Chalk Walk” I took a few minutes to quickly see what they had written. I realized, as a group, they had a good general idea of the concepts but needed clarification on some terms. So, for homework, they had to find out more about three terms/concepts: opportunity cost, cultural diffusion and sustainable development.
The next day, students shared their findings in pairs and small groups and then as a class we discussed the concepts and came up with a definition for each so students could add to their notes if needed. I was pleased with the outcome. Students came prepared with information and we could use class time for sharing and clarification.
I am now more eager to find ways to ‘flip’ my classroom. It is a strategy that addresses the 21st century skills my students need to develop and become proficient with. I am already seeing the potential benefits of using this method with my students.
*improve their research skills and evaluating sources
*be more engaged, less passive
*learn to differentiate for themselves (i.e. finding information in their first language or at their reading level)
*take more responsibility for their learning
It will continue to be a lot of trial and error to get the ‘flipping’ right and I know my students and I will all continue to need guidance and practice with this model. Many of my students come from an educational background where they are accustom to ‘set and get’ not ‘go get it’ but I think shift in our roles in the classroom will benefit us all in the long run.
Jonathan Martin summarizes how the ‘flipped’ classroom model transforms a classroom…
Increasingly, education’s value-add is and will be in the coaching and troubleshooting when students are applying their learning, and in challenging students to apply their thinking to hands-on learning by doing and teaming: so let’s have them do these things in class, not sit and listen. We know that collaboration is a critical skill set which can’t be developed easily either on-line or at home alone– let’s have students learn it with us in our classrooms. Let every classroom be a collaborative problem solving laboratory or studio.
I’ve never been really comfortable with being the ‘sage on the stage’ in the classroom but the idea of flipping my classroom will really allow me to be a better ‘guide on the side’ for my students.