Before I describe how flipping has changed my classroom, I want to describe my circumstances. I teach science in a small, rural school in Texas. I taught 8th grade at the middle school for nine years. I am now into my second year teaching physics and IPC in high school. The technology is first class. I am in my eighth year in a one to one environment with laptops. Due to a list of circumstances, I am pretty sure I have more 1:1 experience in my district than anyone. I am not afraid of technology; my favorite advice is to be fearless in implementing technology. That doesn’t mean I’m a tech guru, it just means technology is not a limiting factor for me. I have all of the classroom equipment I need. My lab doesn’t rival Tony Stark’s, but I have what is needed to teach my content. This year students received brand new computers. I have robust wireless access, an IWB, document camera, digital camera, software, and helpful tech support. I respect and admire my principal and feel supported. Nearly every year I have participated in grants that have provided in-depth training and professional development. Don’t you want to come work in my school? Pretty sweet, huh? I have some recognition as a teacher. This is not said to brag, rather just to say people at least recognize I work hard and take my job seriously. I was self employed for 20 years before becoming a teacher – this is my passion.
And then along came flipped instruction. The allure was immediate. I instantly recognized the value of moving lower order Blooms instruction into the student’s personal space and freeing class time for more meaningful interaction. I am one of those teachers that bought in completely. I was making the transition to high school and saw it as an opportunity to reinvent my teaching.
And it has…
I didn’t realize just how much I have changed until I tried to participate in a recent twitter chat. The chat raised the question, “How do you use technology to innovate in your classroom?” That seemed an innocent question; there was a lot of discussion. I found I could not participate. Innovation means to do something new or do something in a new way. I no longer see technology as transformational – it’s just a tool.
Before flipping I already had a Weebly page; it had replaced my older wiki. I used an IWB. I had and used clickers. I used Wall Wisher, Padlet, and Socrative. I knew about QR codes. Thanks to a three year grant from SREB (Southern Region Educational Board) I became a believer in the importance of writing in content areas. I used literacy strategies regularly. My classroom modeled many practices folks considered to be best practice. I delivered instruction. Students received instruction. We assessed what they learned. The assessments showed “success,” therefore I was a successful, effective teacher.
To get to the point, flipping changed the game. It allowed more face to face time. I planned on using that time for exciting hands-on activities and labs. What really happened was I got to know my students. I came to know my students as people – as individuals. I came to know what they know – and don’t know. I came to know there is a huge gap between what we teach and what they understand.
I learned about growth mindset. I started to see just how judged most students feel. I came to see how their perception of school is very different from what I believed. I started to see how little value they get from a traditional education. I started asking them to write for me. I found out if you want to know one secret for finding out what’s in a student’s head, ask them to write for you – regularly. It’s like opening the top of their head and peering inside. Sometimes I don’t like what I see.
My lesson cycle is now quite simple. Here is a flowchart:
There is stuff I want them to understand. I provide information – often by video. I provide hands-on opportunities to mess with the stuff. I use technology to have them grapple and struggle with the stuff. Then I have them write to see if they learned anything – about the stuff or how the stuff informs their lives.
I removed the veneer of success created by multiple choice assessments. When students write, you find out what they know. You also find out how ineffective you are as an educator. Put stuff in their hands and ask them to demonstrate what they can do. You find out if any real learning is taking place.
So, was flipping an innovation? I would say not. If we reduce it to an algorithm of do this, then that – it will fail. If it’s just doing the same old thing in a new order, it’s a waste of time. The innovation – the new way of doing things – was to build relationships with my students. The innovation is to stand beside them, not in front of them. Technology is a tool that allows me to talk with them rather than at them. Through some alchemy I don’t yet understand - flipping, growth mindset training, and writing - I have changed. I am different, therefore my classroom is different.
When I broke school for my students, it broke it for me as well. If you decide to flip your classroom, be prepared – you may find there are unexpected consequences. I would add that they are worth the frustration. You will grow as much as your students.