Wednesday 16 July 2014

My Flipped Classroom Experience

When I entered my Graduate Program that looked at Integrating Technology in the Digital Age Classroom, I wanted to focus on The Flipped Classroom Model.  I had started hearing about it on Twitter and one of my educating Mentors (Darren Yung or @penpoe) suggested it would be a great model to study.  I spent almost two years integrating this model in my classroom, and saw a lot of success and failures along the way.  The one thing that stood out for me was the overall assumption that what I was doing in my class was better for my students, even though for my most vulnerable students it was not.  

My teacher colleague and I had done all the preset work in showing our students our model, having them work with it for the first couple weeks of our school start up and having all our videos, assignments, web-links and other curricular modules and units online and ready to go.  We had coached them through our practice and expectations and they were ready and motivated to try our new challenges.  It even worked well for the first couple of weeks at the start of the school year.  But as the semester continued, my most vulnerable students began to fall of the charts.  I started to notice this when they came to class ill prepared to work on the in-class, hand's on, teacher-facilitated  or student guided projects.  Though some of my most vulnerable students are amazing with technology and their social media skills are something to envy, they felt even more dis-advantaged when they came to class.  Their problems did not lie with access to technology, their struggles were in their learning processes.

I thought by integrating technology in the classroom they would feel more engaged, but asking them to be engaged listening to a lecture or video at home was not working for them.  Within my face to face classroom interactions, I have informal brain breaks!  Sometimes they are discussions about something that is happening in the world, a story, something to do with sports, but it is a break that gives my most vulnerable students a chance to relax and ease their anxiety to all the content-loaded information I shoveled into their brains. The other thing I assumed is that they had the skills to listen to the lecture at home, gain the knowledge and be able to come to class and somewhat apply, analyze and synthesize it.  I gave my students every possibility to contact me whether through my website, email or twitter if they did not understand a definition, concept or section in the video, but many of them just went through the process of watching the lectures.

Now the students who became disengaged because they did not watch the lectures/videos for whatever reason came to school with the anxiety and fear that I could tell they did not watch the video and that would affect their overall mark.  The were also behind the students that watched the videos and that was obvious when after a short recap at the beginning of the class, they went into their groups and started working on their project based learning assignments and they did not know what to do.  What was even worst, my passion for this new style of learning scared these vulnerable children into expressing any concerns they were having with their learning experiences and my teaching practice.  It wasn't until about a month into a semester, a student came to me and said "Mr. Headley, I know most of the class likes this new style, but I don't and I don't feel like I am learning anything.  Through my passion and  excitement, I had forgot that there were a lot of diverse learners who don't learn like the status quo.  Somewhere in my mind I thought the technology might have bridged the gap, but it made it even worse.  I also did not realize that the student felt even more insecure and ashamed every-time the came to class unprepared.

I still use technology a lot in my classrooms, but and my website is more of an accessory or supplement to keep students up to date if they have missed classes or are out of town and want to state current with what we are doing in class.  If I was to implement a flipped classroom model again these are things I would be concerned with:

  1. Making sure students have access to technology.  Talk to librarians, homework club teachers, and Learning support teachers and share with them your model.  Beyond this, explain to them that their students may need to use the computer in the classroom during scheduled times to get up to date.
  2. Make sure you teach students to learn with technology.  I know many can do it on their own, but most of our vulnerable students use it as a recreational tool, and we need to create the mindshift of technology being a learning tool.
  3. Be careful how much they have to do at home.  When students, especially at the high-school, level are going home and having to complete hours of homework, you adding more lectures to their homework time does not help.
  4. Make sure all students are comfortable with learning using this new format.  Just because you want to try something new does not mean your students have to be guinea pigs.  There learning comes first and foremost.
  5. Be fair, know that technology does not work all the time, so students may not be able to access it all time, so do not hold it against them.
  6. Understand that in most of their other classes they will be taught in a more traditional method, so they may resist your model, and that is OK!
  7. Make sure you have people you can collaborate with, and people who are implementing it at the same time so you can share, challenge, question and adapt your flipped classroom practices to meet your students needs.

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