“Mrs. Daubert, did Daniel Keyes write anything besides Flowers for Algernon?” a student asks me one day while we’re working in a small group.
“I dunno,” I shrug, “Get out your internet machine and check.”
The kids roll their eyes and chuckle–they’ve stopped indignantly telling me, “IT’S AN IPAD, MRS. DAUBERT!” long ago–and the student who initially asked the question quietly takes out his iPad while I keep working with the group. A minute or two later the student politely breaks in, “Yeah, he did! Here’s some of his other stuff…” The group nods and makes a comment or two about how interesting that is and we continue on with the task at hand.
This is something that happens in my room at least once a day. Every time it does, I’m reminded how my role in my classroom has changed. The kids don’t need me to be an information delivery system anymore–if they ever did at all. They carry one of those with them at all times. My role in their education has become far more personal.
Well, Mrs. Daubert, that’s very nice for you–you’re so comfortable with all of this crazy modern learning stuff, but I just can’t do it…
Before you travel too far down that line, let me tell you about the teacher I was just three short years ago. I had ten years of experience under my belt and I was burnt out. Year ten was filled to the brim with challenging students–I had an entire class that year so rowdy there were days they were unteachable. None of my old standards that had seemed to work passably well were working anymore. I still had great relationships and rapport with the kids–that’s been my strong suit from year one–and sometimes that was the only thing that kept a class from imploding and being sucked into a black hole on any given day. I was ready to quit. I didn’t have a private sector job lined up, but I sure thought I wanted one.
Then they dropped The Big Bomb on us: all of 8th grade would be going 1:1 with iPads and following a blended learning model the next school year. AND the entire 8th grade staff would be required to attend SIX DAYS worth of crash course blended learning professional development starting immediately after the last day of school, while the rest of the staff would only need to attend the usual two days of PD.
I’ve always thought that sounded like a disease, PD.
“Hey Becky, a bunch of us are going out after work. Wanna come?”
“Ugh, I can’t. I have PD.”
“Aw man, that sucks. Feel better!”
Sounds gross, doesn’t it? Anyway, I put on my big girl pants and muscled through those six days. I would love to tell you that by the end of the sixth day I was completely sold on blended learning and well on my way to becoming the energetic, effervescent educator you know and love today. The hard truth? I ugly cried in the car on my way home every day.
So I took a few steps back. Carved out a few weeks over the summer to pretend I was just another worker bee with a whole lot of vacation days to burn. In late July, I reluctantly dragged myself back into school. I knew this thing I had to do was going to require major changes in the way my classroom was set up. I had my doubts; I thought I had tried every possible set up–groups, rows, pairs, a horseshoe, a circle–and nothing had ever quite worked the way I wanted it to. I got my room into something that resembled one of the configurations they showed us in those grueling six days and that’s when it finally happened. I could see it. I could see the way things were going to work. I could see where the independent work would happen, where student groups would collaborate, and where I would lead small groups. I was ready to at least give it a try.
Still I hung on to some of the things that made me feel comfortable–giving notes and mini lectures to small groups in the direct station, worksheets and book work for the other two stations. I was barely putting a toe on the “S” rung of the SAMR. But something had started to happen naturally before I was fully aware of it. By total default and happenstance, the students and I had been thrown into this thing. It was a completely new way of doing things for all of us and we were learning it together. I loved learning along with the kids, investigating, and figuring things out. I let go of always having to have the answer and instead of losing my expert status in the eyes of my class, I was shocked to find that it increased. The kids still needed me but in a different way–a deeper and more challenging way. My classroom management locked into place in a way it never had before. I rarely, if ever, had behavior problems in class (and that is still the case three years later). That’s when I knew I was ready to try flipping some of my content.
Just an itty bitty flip
Here is a version of the first lesson I ever flipped. In its original incarnation the kids had a guided reading sheet and an audio recording of my voice. For you, dear readers, I got all fancy, mashed it together in iMovie, processed it, and posted it for your viewing enjoyment on The YouTube:
As you can see, it’s a straight up flip. No frills. Just my voice, a video, and some simple instructions. It’s something I would have done with the entire class before I started blended learning. Now? The kids could do it without me. I had it assigned as group work in the collaborative station so that the kids would receive the content before coming up to work with me in the direct station. And now that I didn’t have to deliver content in the direct station, I was free to have an actual discussion about the meat of the literature. We could sit in our small group and really dive in deep to talk about the writing and make connections. I had never been able to teach on that level before.
If you are completely new to the idea of flipped learning, here is a great video to give you the quick and dirty run-down:
Why I don’t totally flip out
I use flipped lessons when I think they really work and add value for my students, but I never have and don’t think I ever will completely flip my class in the classic sense of the concept. I found two poignant articles that express my concerns with a pure flip–and by that I mean, students consume the content via video/media outside of class and do “homework” during class time. In his post “The Dangers of Letting Kids ‘Go at Their Own Pace,'” Paul Emerich expresses his concern regarding bright students working too quickly–while a fifth grader might be able to click the right buttons to seemingly have mastered an eighth grade concept, he or she doesn’t yet have the maturity to understand its nuances and complexities.
Jerry Brodkey expresses his concern at the other end of the spectrum in his post, “A Math Teacher and Dad Comments on Kahn Academy.”
He explains his daughter’s struggle with flipped content because the material was over her head and she wasn’t getting enough face to face instructor support. I see both authors’ points and while I recognize the value in flipped content, I won’t make it my exclusive mode of instruction.
So does that make me a flip flopper?
No. Since its earliest inception, flipping has taken on a far broader definition than the “purist” flipping 101. In my own context, I find that flipped learning is really about not simply the ability to access learning outside the brick and mortar, but more about the drive and desire to do so. The feature of blended and flipped learning that appeals most to me is that my students and I can still connect and learn even when we’re not together. In 2016, I attended my first ever PETE & C conference. I was so excited about what I was learning that I started using course updates on Schoology (my school’s LMS of choice) like a social media feed so that students could share the experience with me:
This prompted something I hadn’t expected–the kids began bombarding me on Schoology messenger excited to hear what I was bringing back to them. I remember sitting at lunch with two colleagues during the conference. I scrolled through my Schoology messages and smiled.
“What’s so funny?” one of them asked.
“Oh, it’s just the kids. They’re asking what I did in the last session.”
“What?” the other said in disbelief, “My students are glad that I’m gone for the day. How did you get yours to care like that?”
Clearly blended learning works in my classroom–even if I’m not flipping every lesson. Learning, collaborating, and chatting even when we’re not face to face is just a normal part of what we do.
But Mrs. Daubert, I’m worried about losing my personal touch in my classroom if I go too high tech
I’ve found that the more I dive into blended learning and flipped content, the more powerful and personal my voice becomes. I’m about to finish up here with a horrifically embarrassing story about myself. In school year ’16-’17, I suffered a very serious concussion. How did I sustain this injury? Well, you see, I have a thin tack strip above my blackboard at the front of my room. I was brainstorming with a class one crisp fall day and had tacked up several large pieces of chart paper so that we could map out our ideas. I’m not a tall woman by any stretch of the imagination and in order to reach the paper, I was standing on a chair. The kids were cranking out some fabulous ideas and I was very excited–I was turning and writing and turning and talking and gesturing with large sweeping arm motions. Yeah, I lost my balance. Crashed to the floor in epic proportions. Whacked the back of my head on a table on the way down. Swept a massive stack of paper off my desk with one of my legs. Somehow ended laying face up, staring at the florescents with one foot in the recycling bin. I am absolutely not joking when I say that at the hospital, I forgot how to spell my own name. I missed a week and a half of school and was on half days for another week and a half after that. This meant that my last class of the day didn’t see me for THREE WEEKS. And it’s not like they had a long term sub either–this was a day to day thing, so they had a different teacher every day. I peeked at my grade book during the very limited tech time I was permitted as I recovered and saw how badly all their grades had plummeted. They were my tough class that year–the class in which, inevitably, the scheduling gods in their mightiness decided to place all of the behavior issues EVER. But I could work with them. I actually loved them–they had so much personality! And they loved me. I knew their grades were suffering because they missed me (and boy did I miss them too). One day I used my flipping skills to make them a little gift which I posted to their Schoology landing page:
When I checked the grade book again the next day, I saw nearly all of them had turned in their missing work. If that doesn’t speak volumes to how powerful we are in our classrooms, I don’t know what does!
What are your experiences with flipping? Is anyone out there totally flipping out? Or did you get to the end of this post and feel like flipping me off?