Shoving New Ideas Into the Old Box

This past week, I virtually attended #FlipCon15. I’d never been before and didn’t know much about it, but the idea of a virtual conference intrigued me. What isn’t to love about learning new stuff while sitting on the couch in your pajamas?

The idea of flipping your classroom isn’t exactly new (FlipCon15 is the 8th annual conference), but the idea is novel for many teachers. It was great to see so many teachers attending a professional development event dedicated to such a new way of teaching. I forget the exact number, but I know there were hundreds of teachers in attendance, live and virtually, from around the world.

Pretty cool, right? Yeah, mostly. Except I found myself getting frustrated as I was listening to many of the attendees’ questions during the sessions. Questions like:

  • “How do you do grading?”
  • “What about extra credit?”
  • “What about cell phones in class?”
  • “What about kids who are unmotivated?”

I actually overheard someone in a session at #ISTE2015 say, “Wait, so you just expect kids to learn stuff from your video?” Um, yep. That’s kind of the point. Did you read the session description?

Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these questions themselves, but I fear the teachers asking them are missing the boat. The idea of flipped learning forces teachers to think about teaching and learning in a whole new way.  Gone are the days of standing in front of the class lecturing for the entire period and expecting students to just “get it.”  To me, part of the point of flipped learning is to get the lecture part out of the way so you can work more in depth with your kids and really help them where they struggle.  Lecturing during class leaves little time for that.

I think flipped learning also raises the bar for teachers. They have to be much more intentional about how they use their class time if the “instruction” moves outside the classroom.  Let’s face it, just about anyone can stand in the front of the room and lecture for 30 minutes.  But think about your favorite teachers from your own school career: did any of them stand in the front and just lecture?  I doubt it.

One of my favorite college music professors had a demonstration involving a rubber chicken and in another lesson provided words for Mozart’s Symphony 40 (It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Mozart…).  I took this class over 10 years ago and I still remember those lessons like I was a college sophomore again (Thanks, Dr. O!).

The teachers asking those questions are trying to fit the new information about flipped learning into the structure they already have in their head.  But that’s exactly the problem.  This isn’t what they already know.  It’s a completely different way of managing student learning in your classroom.

But what about grading?  How many points will students get for watching your video?  What if they don’t do their homework?  How can they earn extra credit?  My answer: who cares?  Will the world end if students do an assignment that isn’t graded?  What if they’re given a choice about how they learn so they’re automatically motivated to do it instead of forced to or bribed with a grade?

So, what to do?  In the words of Frozen, “Let it go!”  Let go of the way you’ve always done things, even if it’s only for one lesson at first.  Every presenter I heard at FlipCon said the same thing: they learned by trial and error.  Even if they’d been to the conference before, they still made mistakes and improved along the way.  But first and foremost, they paid attention to what their students needed.

Get out of the box.  Kick it down the stairs and rip it to shreds.  Instead of trying to figure out how to incorporate flipped learning (or anything else) into the old structure of how we “do school,” maybe start thinking about how to best reach kids with the time you have and let the rest fall into place as you go.  Good luck!

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