- Flipped Classrooms
My New Year’s resolution is to be more careful about which discussions I engage regarding these two topics, mainly because sometimes the discussions need to be refocused. We sometimes argue about one thing when we are really interested in something else. Let me try to explain how I see it:
Back in June of 2012 I stumbled upon the idea of the flipped classroom. I purchased the book by Bergman & Sams and became excited about the possibilities. I also became active on twitter and found the #flipclass hashtag. I decided that flipping made sense and made plans to implement this model in my classroom for the fall of 2012.
I did flip my class, but I was surprised at how quickly my class evolved into something different than what Bergman & Sams had done. I think Bill Fitzgerald summed it up nicely with his post, Flipped Classrooms Are A Gateway Drug To Intentional Pedagogy.
He’s right. When I “flipped” my class, what I really did was make a deep commitment to forever changing my pedagogical approach to teaching. Sometimes I flip by asking to students to watch a video at home – but not always. Sometimes I try a modeling approach to learning a concept. Sometimes we engage in a project based unit. Sometimes we do inquiry labs. Some times – I give a good ‘ol fashioned lecture and have the kids take notes. The one thing that is forever changed is I DO NOT stand in front of the class every day and talk at the students while they sit bored in their seats.
Should I focus on one model of instruction and perfect it? Possibly, but I’m trying to figure out what works for me and my students. I also think “what works” is a moving target as I and my students grow and mature as learners and partners in education. At the end of the day that’s the point – I focus on my students and make decisions based on what they need to understand instead of what I want to teach. I consider my classroom flipped, but I’m not sure I can define what that means. I will no longer argue with anyone who opposes the model – I think we probably don’t have a common frame of reference to engage in the discussion.
Anytime you are bored and want to open up a can of worms, just start a discussion about homework; Holy moley! This topic seems to ignite more passion that most others. I believe it is because we all know what it looks like when it’s done wrong.
We all seem to agree that fill-in-the-blank worksheets and packets of endless problem sets are bad. Students hate them. Teachers know they don’t learn from them. Students and teachers both know that everyone cheats like a dog on them. We all know they foster a hatred of school and learning, plus we have to decide whether to grade them or not.
OK – we agree – WORKSHEETS ARE BAD.
But since when is all homework worksheets? This is where the discussion always seems to diverge into arguments that only reflect our biases and do little to develop new ideas. We also often fail to articulate the grade levels we are discussing when we discuss homework.
I taught 6th grade science on two different occasions. I no longer refer to them as 6th graders; I think Electric Chihuahuas is much more accurate. During the time I taught those electric Chihuahuas I very seldom assigned homework. When I did a science demo in class I would offer extra credit if they went home and replicated the activity for their parents or guardians. They had to bring a signed note from their parent that explained what the student had taught them. Kids loved it; parents loved it.
I taught 8th grade science for ten years. They are the uncivilized humans. It took me a few years to realize that I taught in puberty central – at any moment at least 1/3 of my students were attitudinal and hormonal. They had very little homework. The homework they did have was self-inflicted. I always gave them time to complete assignments in class. Remembering that they are uncivilized and hormonal, they did not always remain on task and use their time wisely and efficiently. If they did not complete the work in class I did expect them to complete the work before class the next day. Not a perfect solution I agree, but remember the age group we’re dealing with.
In high school I have freshmen for Integrated Physics and Chemistry. I have juniors for GT/Honors Physics. My freshmen have homework, but not a significant amount. Generally it’s in the form of a comprehension strategy that has the intent of having them reflect on their learning. I have a list of those strategies here.
Sometimes the students have a lab report that needs to be done outside of class. I try to be generous with the timeframe of the assignments so that students of all socioeconomic backgrounds have an opportunity to finish on time.
My physics students must work outside of class regularly. I feel it is the nature of the beast. My classes are 45 minutes long; that means maybe 40 minutes effectively. I tell my students that I see physics as a contact sport. You don’t learn to play a sport by listening to the coach or just watching someone else play; you learn by engaging in the sport. Not many high school coaches (or athletes) would be satisfied with 40 minutes a day for practice. Well guess what, I’m not either.
Coaches don’t hand out worksheets. Neither do I.
Not all workouts are fun. Tell students that running wind sprints or sets of lines is optional after practice and see how many stay and do it. I don’t think work outside of class has to be “fun”; I do believe students must see the reason and benefit in it. I always promise my students I will never assign them busy work. Does that mean that every assigned piece of work accomplishes what I intended? Of course not – I try many things that fail. I try to keep what works and modify or improve what doesn’t.
So what does homework look like in my physics class? Just like for my flipped class, it’s a moving target that depends on what we are doing. Sometimes it’s watching a video and write a reflection on Google Docs. Sometimes it’s working with online modules. Sometimes it’s finishing a PBL report or project. It’s difficult to describe what homework will look like. I can describe my criteria for assigning the work.
I ask, “Can they cheat?” If I think it’s an assignment that will be done by a few and copied by many, I view it as a bad assignment. I will modify it in a way that encourages collaboration and group effort so that everyone benefits.
Is it busy work? If I see it as busy work I won’t assign it. Now, my students may disagree – but that’s part of my learning process as well as theirs.
Does the work promote reflection and critical thinking? That’s my goal. I often miss; sometimes I miss the entire target. I’m not perfect but I try to learn from my mistakes.
Can the students recognize the value in the assignment? I definitely try to create assignments where the students recognize the value in doing the work. Sometimes we get frustrated with an assignment – it’s called cognitive dissonance. That’s ok. Cognitive dissonance and the frustration that causes is different from frustration with a meaningless assignment.
I remain convinced that work outside of class is necessary for my physics students – call it homework if you like. To achieve any depth of real understanding I don’t see any alternative so I will no longer engage in any debate about if homework is necessary for my class with the amount of material my students must learn. I will gladly engage in a debate in what it should look like, how to make it meaningful, and how to reduce it.
In summary, the homework debate and the flipclass debate are the same – how do we improve our pedagogy to replace the traditional model we all agree is broken? That is a debate I look forward to having. I want to understand how to improve as a teacher. I just am not going to argue about vocabulary any more.