The principle of the flipped classroom — that kids learn the content at home and discuss and work with it in school — is something that many teachers would probably agree with. But there are problems with the “pure” model of flipping the classroom, and so we need to be able to compromise.
The problems of the “pure” model of the flipped classroom
The problems can be summed up by referring to the term “ecological validity”. According to Yolander Williams in Ecological Validity in Psychology: Definition & Explanation,
"Ecological validity refers to the extent to which the findings of a research study are able to be generalized to real-life settings."
In a sense, the flipped classroom isn't constrained by the timetable
When I read about schools that have embraced the flipped classroom model, they don’t sound much like any school I’ve worked in, or even visited. Consider the “pure” model entails:
- Teachers record their “lectures”, or source videos that cover the same subject matter.
- Pupils then watch these videos at home.
- Classroom time is thus freed up for discussion and group work around the subject.
This is all well and good, but in most schools (in the UK at any rate) teachers don’t lecture, and even if they did they don’t get 20 hours of free time each week in which to record a lecture.
As for using 3rd party sources, you still need time to check that they are any good for your scheme of work and your pupils. This is not as simple as doing a quick search. I was once commissioned to find great video content for a variety of subjects, and it took ages.
There is also the uncomfortable fact that even in this day and age, many families do not have internet access at home, or even a quiet place in which they can watch a video in peace, and these issues are exacerbated by the closing of public libraries and even of school libraries.
I can think of ways in which a school could overcome many if not all of these issues, but that takes a lot of commitment and a great deal of time. Is there a way in which the “ordinary” teacher of Computing can implement a flipped classroom model and make it work? Here are my thoughts on the matter.
What’s the purpose?
A good starting point is to consider what the main purpose of the flipped classroom is. It’s to free up classroom time for rich learning experiences rather than the delivery of content. Well, you can do that through good time management. My favoured approach, working with children of 8 years of age or older, was project-based learning. With younger pupils, you can’t make it as open-ended and teacher-free as you can with older pupils, but you can still create a vibrant learning environment that isn’t dominated by the teacher.
There is an implicit assumption in the articles that advocate the flipped classroom that having the teacher “lecture" the kids is a bad thing. In fact, when I was teaching, using a project-based learning approach, I would devote a lesson every 6 weeks to introduce the topic and the concepts the pupils would need. Sometimes during the course of a six week project I’d call the class to attention to explain something that had cropped up, a process which took perhaps 5 minutes.
In my opinion, a project-based learning approach combined with good time management enabled me to meet the aims of the flipped classroom movement without doing much flipping.
Interviews, not lectures
Rather than record or find a video containing your entire lesson content, consider filming an interview with an expert. In 1989 I took a video of myself interviewing a businesswoman, in which I asked questions that were related to the scheme of work. It was easy to set up because she happened to be my girlfriend! Even if you don’t have a partner you can interview, there are experts all over the place.
The good news too is that I don’t think the video has to be “artistic”. Mine broke a fundamental rule of film-making by having the camera in one position throughout the whole interview. The kids ribbed me about it, but the content itself was good, and provided a different way of learning the subject matter.
One of the good things about projects like the Flat Classrooms project (now Flat Connections) is that the pupils have to do research outside the classroom — and then make a video explaining or illustrating what they’ve found out. You can buy quite inexpensive cameras these days, which means that you could buy two or three and lend them to pupils who don’t have a phone they can use.
Most households have a TV. Why not keep an eye out for relevant-looking programs? Had I still been teaching, I’d have asked my pupils to watch the recent series called “Humans” for their weekly homework, so we could discuss the issues in class.
I’m fairly certain that these “compromises” won’t appeal to the purists among us, but I’m not that interested in appealing to them. If you have all the resources you need to make the “pure” model work, and if you believe that lectures in any form are a good thing educationally speaking, then fine: go for it. But if you don’t enjoy perfect conditions, and if you doubt the efficacy of lectures in any case, then I hope you will find some of these suggestions useful.
I have written this article as part of the 30 Day Blogging Challenge created by Sarah Arrow. This is the post for Day 3.
I've always been a great advocate of what I call "authentic" learning, ie giving pupils a reason to actually do something. (I think that stems from my time at school, when I was forced to do mathematical exercises ad nauseum with no perceptible point to them!)
A couple of years ago I wrote a short series of articles called "7 ways to make IT real". As it happens, there were 8 articles in that series, thereby proving that all those years of my being made to do maths exercises were a complete waste of time....
I think the articles are still relevant, so here is the link to them. Enjoy!
7 ways to make IT real
In my last post I suggested 6 reasons to have an e-learning committee in a school. But not everything in the garden is rosy. Based on my experience as ICT co-ordinator in several secondary (high) schools, here are what I see as the downsides.
This committee is a bit too big for a school! Photo by Matthias Ripp https://www.flickr.com/photos/56218409@N03/
Maybe I have been rather unlucky, but I have found that some subjects want to be represented on the e-learning committee purely in the hope of getting extra money to spend. I even experienced one meeting in which one of the teachers said that if I wasn’t earning such a high salary there would be more money to spend on technology. I have no idea how he knew, or thought he knew, what I was earning, but I told him that as I hadn’t determined my own salary level he should take his complaint to the headteacher. I can deal with such crass statements, but spending an hour a week (or whatever) in the company of such people is not exactly pleasant. Fortunately, not everyone on the committee was so bold in stating what they were really there for; if they had been, I’d have probably disbanded the committee on the grounds that its members had lost the plot, as we say in England. The purpose of the committee was to discuss whole school issues, not to try and grab resources or take pot shots at the Chair!
It may not be prioritised
I found in one school (the same school I cited above, in fact) that heads of subjects appointed their most junior member of staff to sit on the committee. These people were often new teachers as well, so they had very little influence with their immediate colleagues, and didn’t necessarily know the priorities of their own subject area let alone those of the school. It would be much better to have subject leaders on the committee.
Lack of time
That last wish, of having subject leaders on the committee, is more of a dream than a real possibility. Subject leaders tend to be extremely busy, and none more so than in primary schools, where the subject leader for e-learning is also likely to be the special educational needs co-ordinator. And probably the literacy co-ordinator, just for good measure! Indeed, in a primary school, it may simply not be feasible to have a committee at all because of the unlikelihood of people having the time to attend meetings.
Horses and camels
Finally, the old saying, that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, is very apposite. I would very much suggest making the committee an advisory body rather than a decision-making one. An advisory body advises, and you can either act on its suggestions or decide that it is wrong, and be prepared to argue your case. But if the committee is a decision-making one, you are very likely to end up with outcomes that satisfy nobody.
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In my past roles as ICT Co-ordinator or e-learning co-ordinator, I have formed and chaired an ICT or e-learning committee. What are the pros and cons of having such a body?
The terms used differ from country to country and even from school to school. Just so we’re all on the same page here, by "e-learning co-ordinator” I mean someone in the school who has the responsibility for encouraging other teachers to use technology in their subjects. I think the “co-ordinator” part of the title is an expression of hope, except perhaps in the sense that the e-learning co-ordinator will try to ensure that all the facilities are not in demand all at once. In my experience, though things are changing slowly I think, that is a problem it would be wonderful to have. The co-ordinator is likely to spend a great deal of time encouraging, cajoling or bribing teachers to try it out rather than juggling excessive demand!
One of the things that can assist the co-ordinator is an e-learning committee. Here are 6 good reasons to have one:
Probably not an e-learning committee.... Photo by Library and Archives Canada https://www.flickr.com/photos/lac-bac/
Find out what subjects’ needs are
Rather than undertaking surveys, seeing teachers individually or just plain guessing, by having a committee you can find out very quickly what the technology needs are in each area. You can also discover what the frustrations are, such as the laptop trolleys always being booked out.
This follows on from the first point. To follow through with the example given there, it may become obvious that money needs to be spent on a new set of laptops or tablets.
Avoid double buying
In one school I worked in, I discovered soon after arriving that the heads of both the science and the languages departments had bought the same software. Worse than that, they had both had it installed on the (same) school network. Had someone co-ordinated such purchases, they could each have contributed half the cost instead of all of it.
One of the problems with making decisions on behalf of the whole school is that there is bound to be at least one person who complains that they were not consulted. Having a committee, on which every subject area is represented, means that the onus is on the representatives on the committee to sound out their colleagues rather than on you. It is much easier to talk to one or two colleagues than everyone on the staff.
Find out common technical problems
If your school is too small to have its own technical support team on site (a lot of primary (elementary) schools are in this position, the e-learning co-ordinator can keep track of the techie problems that arise so that they can all be dealt with when a technician is called in. Also, the co-ordinator will be in a position to spot any patterns, and deal with them, or have them dealt with, accordingly.
Keep up with developments
I asked members of my committees to report back on areas in which they had a particular interest. Thus in every meeting we would have a few minutes in which someone would tell us about some interesting developments, whether in hardware, software or educational initiatives. It meant that we were all a lot more informed than we otherwise would have been.
With all these great reasons to have a committee, what could possibly be wrong with having one?
4 Reasons NOT to have an e-learning committee in a school
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(Link goes live at 7am UK time on 14th August 2015)
“OK, then. What do you think about this?”
I was talking to the delegates on a course I was running entitled Assessing Computing. We were discussing sources of evidence of pupils having learnt stuff.
“What if you took the view: I’m a professional, and I’ll know it when I see it?”
The reactions of the class were very interesting.
That lightbulb momentSome delegates looked as though a lightbulb had just gone off in their heads. Others looked aghast. The teachers in the latter group were worried about whether their professional judgement, ie opinion, would be good enough for Ofsted. It’s a good question, and here my thoughts on the matter.
First, I think professional judgement is a much under-valued resource by many teachers. My opinion is that having suffered for years and years from a combination of being provided with schemes of work that were the equivalent of painting by numbers, and politicians telling schools that they are no good, many teachers have lost self-confidence. But I think it’s important to hold on to the fact that teachers are experts. Even if you’re not (yet) an expert in teaching Computing, you are an expert in teaching.
That means that you can tell when a pupil understands or does not understand something. You know how to ask further, more probing questions. You have a range of techniques available in your teaching toolkit (see 5 Assessment for Learning techniques for ICT or Computing for example).
Second, one of things Ofsted inspectors look for is evidence of subject expertise. In my opinion, if you know your subject, then you can tell when somebody else knows it, and when they don’t.
Third, Ofsted inspectors themselves use professional judgement. Look at these excerpts from the new Ofsted school inspection handbook (2015) about how inspectors will reach their judgements:
Inspectors will use a considerable amount of first-hand evidence gained from observing pupils in lessons, talking to them about their work, scrutinising their work and assessing how well leaders are securing continual improvements in teaching.
information from discussions about teaching, learning and assessment with teachers, teaching assistants and other staff.
[the extent to which] teachers make consistent judgements about pupils’ progress and attainment, for example within a subject, across a year group and between year groups.
(That last one clearly implies that the inspectors are going to be expecting teachers to make professional judgements – unless you don’t need professional judgement to make consistent judgements about pupils’ progress.)
Each of those three aspects of the inspectors’ approach involves their making professional judgements. If it’s good enough for inspectors….
Now, I am not suggesting for one minute that professional judgement is enough. You will need to have a range of evidence, and types of evidence. But professional judgement enables you to look at “objective” data and say to yourself things like:
“I am pretty sure, from that answer/piece of work that this pupil really understands this concept. But I need to confirm whether or not that’s the case.”
“Hmm. I am not convinced that this is an accurate reflection of this pupil’s ability or understanding. I need to investigate further.”
“I think this pupil doesn’t really get this. I need to look into that.”
In other words, it’s professional judgment that tells you whether a pupil probably understands something or not, and then guides what you do to follow up your feeling. Indeed, I’d say that professional judgement is so important, I honestly don’t see how you can accurately assess pupils’ knowledge, understanding or skills in Computing (or any other subject come to that) without it.
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