A little over a year ago I wrote a post about the flipped classroom, why I loved it, and how I used it. I have to admit, the flip wasn’t the same economic and political entity then that it is now. And in some ways, I think that matters.
Here’s the thing. When I recently re-read the post, I didn’t disagree with anything I’d said. Yet my brief love affair with the flip has ended. It simply didn’t produce the tranformative learning experience I knew I wanted for my students .
When I wrote that post, I imagined the flip as a stepping stone to a fully realized inquiry/PBL classroom. And the flip’s gradual disappearance from our learning space hasn’t been a conscious decision: it’s simply a casualty of our progression from a teacher-centred classroom to a student-centred one.
What is the flip?
The flipped classroom essentially reverses traditional teaching. Instead of lectures occurring in the classroom and assignments being done at home, the opposite occurs. Lectures are viewed at home by students, via videos or podcasts (found online or created by the teacher), and class time is devoted to assignments or projects based on this knowledge. In theory, this sounds terrific.
When I first encountered the flip, it seemed like a viable way to help deal with the large and sometimes burdensome amount of content included in my senior Biology & Chemistry curricula. So many times in the past I had thought what many science teachers must think: “I’d love to do more hands-on activities, but we have to get through the content first.” The flipped classroom might offer a solution.
My flipped experiments
I first encountered the flip in a blog post. At the time, it was a relatively new idea (at least in the K12 world). There weren’t any websites or books devoted to it. And while the particular post I read was actually expounding the virtues of traditional teaching vs. the flip, I thought, “Flipping could actually work.”
My students loved the idea of trying something that very few other students were doing. Some of my students even benefited from watching and re-watching videos. Even so, we used it sparingly. We never moved to an entirely flipped classroom that required my students to watch lecture after lecture, day after day, by video. Even so, when we did “flip,” it felt more like we were juggling the traditional lecture around than moving forward into a new learning paradigm.
We began to shift
As I shifted my classroom from teacher-centred to student-centred, my students began to do lots of their their own research. Sometimes this resulted in them teaching each other. Sometimes they created a project with the knowledge they were acquiring. But the bottom line was that their learning had a purpose that was apparent to them, beyond simply passing the unit exam.
What was my role? I helped them learn to learn. I prompted them to reflect on their thinking and learning, while at the same time I shared my own journey as a learner. I helped them develop skills such as using research tools, finding and evaluating sources, and collaborating with their peers. My goal as a teacher shifted from information-giver and gatekeeper to someone who was determined to work myself out of a job by the time my students graduated.
The flip faded away
As this new way of learning played out over time, my students found they didn’t need me to locate or create videos for them. Instead, they learned how to learn, and they were able to find their own resources. For me, this was a much more important skill than following my directions or using the resources I told them to use.
As this shift occurred, the flip simply disappeared from our classroom. It took almost a year for me to notice it was gone. Instead, our classroom had become a place where students discovered and shared their own resources, while engaging in projects with each other. There was no need for me to assign video homework or create portable lectures. It all happened during class.
Lest anyone think we were able to do this because we learn in a high-tech school, that’s not the case. We weren’t a 1:1 classroom. We used whatever devices my students had, which often was a couple of iPads, a few computers, and student cell phones. There were students who didn’t have a device, so other students shared. We made it work and everyone learned.