Now, it's slightly stolen from Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann, but what isn't in my classroom these days? In their excellent plenary session at the recent Flipped Conference in Chicago (henceforth FlipCon12) they ended with this:
A blank slide.
The point? In the flipped model, no one has the answers. It's about making our classrooms student-centred and inquiry driven. It's about using technology to do what we couldn't do before - get customised content to our students, no matter where they are. It's about collaboration - regardless of boundaries...California, Canada, Australia, South Africa, rural, urban, suburban, rich, poor, middle-class, whatever, wherever, whenever. It's about engaging our students' curiosity, or reigniting what curiosity traditional education has beaten out of them.
Think for a minute what it's like to be a teenager entering high school in today's educational climate. Right now, the students about to be freshmen were in first grade when I started my career. So that means that their ENTIRE LIFE has been in the wake of high-stakes testing, NCLB "accountability," textbooks, pacing guides, direct instruction, double-math/double-english/no science or history, rote learning. Little kids ask more questions than even the most patient parent can answer. Yet ask a high schooler to come up with a question, and most of them will write "idk" (I don't know, for those who don't codeswitch into teenager).
What I learned in credential school (and spent most of my career propagating) was that there was an ideal lesson structure, and that needed to start and end with assessment. The structure, although not inherently evil, is rigid: diagnose, direct instruction, guided practice, independent practice, assessment, reteach, reassess. That's it. Rarely does that include any inquiry, projects, creativity, or most importantly, release of responsibility for content. It is a highly teacher-centred model. And you know what? I'm pretty freaking good at it. I can get my students to comprehend something and show that knowledge on a test.
But that is no longer good enough. For my students, or for me.
When I started flipping in January, I had no idea that my model would change so much. I am firmly in the "classroom community" camp of classroom management. I build relationships with my students, show interest in them as people, and try to teach them to get along with me and other students. But when it came to the work, I used highly structured lessons and activities, with opportunity for student interaction, but on my terms. There were few group or partner activities of substance. I talked. A lot. Like, to the point that I regularly lose my voice several times during the year...but I keep talking anyway, because class doesn't work without me in the middle of it.
So the flip started as a way of getting some of my lectures on video, and using class time to practice those skills - etymology, grammar, writing, etc. - albiet still in a very structured, teacher-centred way.
But then two things happened simultaneously: I got invited to be on a Twitter advisory panel for KQED's Do Now curriculum, and I found Edmodo. So between encouragement from Edmodo teachers who are on Twitter (like @Mr_Driscoll and @CrystalKirch) and the impending advisory panel, I figured that I needed to get more involved in my Twitter account. To be honest, I was in the "I don't get this Twitter thing, and I'm pretty sure it's stupid...who wants to know what I ate for breakfast or where I am currently waiting in line?!?!" camp, and swore that I'd never get on Twitter...until our AWESOME district Ed Tech coordinator, Jessica Lucio (@jessietechie) showed us some educational uses of Twitter. So I created an account, and didn't use it at all for about six weeks.
But so many people were talking about the #flipclass chat on Monday nights that I decided it was time to figure Twitter out.
That was when I realised that I was doing it all wrong. One of the first #flipclass chats was about how to make our students more accountable for learning. I started to realise that even though I was technically "flipped" I hadn't done the most important thing: flipping the responsibility for learning happening from me to my students.
So I stopped talking so much. I stopped answering their questions immediately, and even stopped presenting myself as having the answers to everything (as hard as I find that!). I started to try and engage their natural curiosity that had been beaten out of them for so many years of "traditional" education.
I only got one quarter to flip my students. But it was enough for most. Now the real challenge became apparent: if I started when they walked in my classroom for the first time, how long would it take to "de-program" them?
So I ran an experiment on curiosity. I asked my June School students to write a question each day as part of their exit ticket. For the first week, I got a few questions about assignments or grades (How do I do x assignment? What does y mean? What can I do to raise my grade?), a few random questions (Do you teach 11th grade? How does flex time work? How old are you? When is summer school over?), and a few genuinely interesting questions that were about the content of the course, amoung them:
--Why did Hitler hate the Jews?
--Were women treated differently during the Holocaust?
--Why did Otto Frank survive, when no one else from the Secret Annexe did?
--Why do we need to know how to research information?
--How can I make my writing more showing and less telling?
Those questions make me excited to be their teacher. The first three became options for their research inquiry (which is part of their final assignments/exams for the term). Even though the work is sequential, I had a few students ask to skip forward so they could start that one right away. How cool is that?!
Okay, when I started writing this it was to share my idea for the first day of school at my new high school.
I'm going to give them a blank piece of paper.
Okay, hear me out. I am not going to give them my syllabus. I'm not going to talk too much. I'm going to ask them to fill the page - one side with information about themselves. Whatever they think is relevant and important for me to know. The other side I'm asking them to fill with questions. It doesn't matter what questions they come up with - any question on any topic. They can work with someone else - hell, they can steal someone else's question if they want. The only rule is that they genuinely have to be interested in finding the answer.
Now, of course I'm not going 100% constructivist and refusing to give them any information. I'll have to do the whole dog-and-pony show explaining the flip, both to students and parents. And I'll have rules, obviously. But if my entire philosophy is about student-centred education and the flipped model, can I really spend the first few days lecturing at them and telling them about me?
I'd like to hear from some of you about how you start the year in an inquiry/PBL/student-centred/flipped class. Any brilliant ideas? I'm sure my idea isn't revolutionary, and it may not even be a good idea. Feel free to tell me that.
Parts of this post were also inspired by the brilliant Shelley Wright, and the equally brilliant Mumford and Sons (from whom I stole the title of this post). Thanks to both for their inspiration.
David Fouch (@davidfouch) on Twitter gave me an idea! What if a ton of us using #flipclass had out students do this, and we compiled them? We could Wordle them, have students make videos, blog...and then interact with other classes! Interested? Find me on Twitter or comment here!
I also see the irony in using a mostly-paperless classroom using a piece of paper on the first day. -__-