I began my teaching career in 2001. I’m a non-traditional having spent 20 years self-employed in agriculture. In my first year of teaching I had an opportunity to participate in a Target Grant that provided a laptop, software, and training. It was great. I became very interested in using technology in the classroom as those resources improved my classroom.
In 2004 Coleman was chosen as a control school for the TIP program (Technology Immersion Pilot). Essentially, this grant marked the beginning of our transformation into a one to one school. Technology was supposed to redefine education and make a significant impact on the performance of our students. Well, it was not the silver bullet it was hoped it would be. The technology we received allowed for definite improvements in our school, but we were still very teacher centered. This is an example of a good hunch – we knew technology was going to be a key component in the future of education, but we were not sure how to use it for maximum effect with our students.
As we continued through TIP Cycle 2 in 2006-2007, we began to learn about effective ways to differentiate instruction. Differentiation is another “hunch”. It’s an idea that one knows is right, but you have to figure out how to make it a genuine reality for the students. We have interactive white boards and all sorts of lesson ideas that are a step toward differentiation, but it’s another case where deep in your gut you know it’s not working as you wanted it to. How can you differentiate instruction for a hundred different students and not go nuts?
From 2007-2010 we received other grants for technology and continued our quest to uncover the best way to improve student performance. It became clear that technology was an amplifier; it could make a good teacher better. There was also the hidden danger of masking poor pedagogy in flashy tech-savvy clothes. My students did well and technology made my life better, but I knew there were pieces missing from the puzzle.
In 2010 my campus received a College and Career Readiness Grant from SREB (Southern Regional Education Board). This grant focused on literacy and comprehension strategies and emphasized writing in the content areas – it was essentially a Common Core Standards initiative. The use of literacy and comprehension strategies transformed my classroom. I was finally learning ways to help students make sense of what they were being taught in class. The book “I Read It, But I Don’t Get It” by Cris Tovani also had a profound influence on my approach to lessons.
Our school adopted the use of CSCOPE along the way. I also became interested in the Understanding by Design approach to curriculum and lesson planning advocated by Grant Wiggins. I began to emphasize essential questions as well as intentionally making a distinction between what we learn (knowledge & skills) and what we understand as a result of that knowledge. All of these experiences were improvements in our educational system – steps, or “hunches” in the right direction. So the question was, “Why were our students not performing markedly better than schools without all the resources we have?”
I have two ways to answer that question. First, I have told my students many times, “If you do what you have always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got” (Excuse the grammar – that’s the way I say it). I also heard a quote recently from Sir Ken Robinson that struck a nerve – “Reform is nothing more than improving a broken model” – ouch, that hurt to hear. I’m not saying that our schools are terrible; I am saying that maybe in the new information paradigm we find ourselves in; we do in fact need a new model for education.
Enter the flipped classroom model. I am currently participating in a teacher quality grant through a local university. As a part of this experience we are discussing blended and online learning and I began to really consider the flipped classroom model and how it addresses the shortcomings of the current model of instruction.
The flipped classroom gives the student some autonomy in when and how they receive instruction (differentiation). It leverages technology for the student – they can watch video, read a .pdf file, watch a PowerPoint, or read the textbook. They can access the material on their own time with a laptop, smart phone, or tablet device. They will have to utilize a literacy strategy (common Core) as they view the lesson. Formative assessments are imbedded everywhere to monitor student mastery. When they come to class they will get to collaborate with others and apply their knowledge to build understanding (constructivism). In this model the students also create their own relevance – they define the reason the material is important to learn.
I have no illusion of duplicating a parting of the Red Sea – but I see this as a great way to actually revolutionize education. It’s a way to “do something different” in order to get a new result. The flipped classroom is not a “eureka!” moment; it is a collision of hunches that has been accumulating for almost ten years. I’m excited because instead of being a fad or just “the newest thing”, it is a logical evolution that combines solid theory about literacy, technology, and curriculum in a model designed to help students create understanding and prepare them for the unknown world in which they will live and work.