Friday, December 19, 2014

Thinking about and exploring flipped learning

This is my fourth blog post about things that I’ve been thinking and writing about in 2014. My first 3 posts were about coaching, global trends that will impact education, and leadership. My final 3 posts are about flipped learning, professional learning and technology trends in schools and universities. This post is about flipped learning.

I got interested in flipped learning this year as I was asked to co-lead an IB workshop in Singapore on the subject. I’d heard about flipping the classroom, but this year a new term came to my attention: flipped learning. The idea behind this is a simple question: what is the best use of face-to-face time in class? The original idea behind the flipped classroom was making video lectures for students to watch at home, rather than listening to the teacher giving the lectures in class, and then using the class time for doing what was traditionally homework. Flipped learning goes a stage further and develops the time spent in class into richer and more meaningful learning experiences (not just “homework”). For me the big difference between the two is that flipping the classroom is more about the teaching, whereas flipped learning is definitely about a learner-centred classroom, with a focus on relationships, personalized learning, developing higher order thinking skills and having the time to allow students to pursue their own curiosities and passions.

During the IB Flipped Classrooms workshop, we were lucky enough to be able to skype with Jon Bergmann who gave us something else to think about. We talked about how in flipped learning students spend time at home watching videos - basically at the remembering and understanding levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, and that they spend their time in school working on the more higher order thinking skills, with the teacher’s assistance. However Jon talked with us about moving away from the idea of watching videos and moving towards the idea of interacting with them at home. He shared 2 tools that I had never heard of before, EduCanon and Zaption, that proved to be really useful to our workshop participants.

Teachers at the IB workshop on Flipping Classrooms found flipped learning to be a good way to get through the content that needs to be taught for the external exams - teachers appreciated that they could have the students cover this content at home and then use the in-class time to have students extend their knowledge by following their curiosities. One of our participants talked about how this would give her the time to do the really "exciting stuff" in science in class, without having to worry that she was taking time away from exam preparation.  The reason why many decided to give flipped learning a try was in response to the challenge of too much curriculum to cover, too little time to do it in, and too many students all with different learning paces, styles and needs. 

Flipping the classroom has all sorts of implications. On my return to school after the workshop I started to think about how flipped learning needs to take place in a different sort of learning space. Since it’s no longer necessary to have a classroom focused on one particular area (a whiteboard, TV, projector) because the traditional content that it would have been used for is now being delivered at home, classrooms should be more flexible and arranged so that students are encouraged to collaborate (or perhaps to work alone if that is a student’s preferred learning style).

Back in school again it was time to put flipped learning into practice. Last year our Grade 4s studied different biomes. They started looking at a threatened ecosystem in Mumbai - mangroves - and then did their own investigations on a different world biome of their choice. This year they decided to flip it around. The central idea of this unit is "Ecosystems are complex systems that can be impacted by a variety of factors". We discussed not starting with the ecosystems, but starting with the factors (for example climate change) and then looking at how this could impact ecosystems. I like this change: I think it focuses much more on the "so what" of learning. Of course this also means a broader focus to the unit and we talked about how some of the work on the biomes and ecosystems could be "flipped" to home, so that at school the teachers could focus on discussing and having students understand and explore the big ideas.

Finally towards the end of the year I started to think about flipped learning in relation to teacher professional learning. Our PD day last month did not follow a traditional “sit and get” (we had a PlayDate instead) which got me thinking about how we can flip PD so that it is more individual and self-directed. We already have a LMS at school that allows us to post many “how to” videos. These are about a variety of subjects such as entering exam grades into our student information system, and face-to-face staff meeting time no longer needs to be taken up by such matters. This year we added a “course” for our new tech integration coaches to give them the skills to start coaching teachers. As well as this we maintain a weekly Tech Connections blog where we post ideas for new tools - often with videos of how to use them - for teachers to explore at a time best suited to themselves. I have to say that one of our biggest successes this year is not using our faculty meetings to simply disseminate information, but instead to delve more deeply into best practice. It has also allowed us to make much greater use of the face to face time we have with our colleagues - it allows them to share their expertise and for us all to learn from it.

My thinking about flipped learning has been heavily influenced by this book:
Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams.

Photo Credit: milena mihaylova via Compfight cc

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