Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Flipping" from Teacher to Coach

Buzz words these days seem to get created overnight. In looking over my RSS feeds, I found an interesting article about the idea of “flipping” the classroom. After I read that article, I was off on a web search about the title which caused me to spend a good portion of my Sunday morning reading watching and gaining as much information about this new buzz word in education. For many of you educators out there, this may be just another fad but for me it seemed to formalize some small ideas that had been brewing around in my head for some time now. That’s what happens when a buzz word  has meaning to you. It is no longer just a buzz word and it becomes part of your every waking moment of thought. An idea to test.  A lab experiment that may just become a major component of your educational philosophy.  If it works for you…

Most articles that I read have mentioned that the idea of flipping your classroom has been around for a while but advancements in educational technology have made this even easier than before. Flipping a classroom means changing the traditional time usage of a class and making the class time more student centric and less content delivery. The content or lecture portion is done as homework and the class time is spent by the student completing exercises or by working on some project either collectively or individually with the help and guidance of the teacher. Most flipped classrooms are tied to the notion of digital delivery of content by many different means. Screencasts and lecture videos seem to be the common delivery method.

In essence an example would be in an Algebra class, the student would go home, fire up YouTube and watch the instructor or some other resource deliver the knowledge necessary to balance an equation. The student can stop and replay the video at any time and can choose to watch as much or as little as needed to understand the material. If they are using an outside source such as the ones found at Kahn Academy (, then they can take a quick quiz on their own as well to check for understanding. Once they enter the classroom the next day, the teacher will then provide a class work assignment or a project for the students to complete and the teacher would then help the students work through the assignment to check for learning.

Although this idea has many different concepts of merit, the change in role for the teacher is the one idea that I think is the most dramatic. In this new world, the role of the teacher being the “sage on the stage” is dead. Content delivery is best handled outside the classroom and now the classrooms of the new world are practice fields where students can learn by doing. Teachers are now coaches - Guiding the student through the motions of learning. Teachers observe students doing and then make small one to one adjustments based upon what the student is showing. This concept seems to work well in most athletic programs across the country, why wouldn’t it work in the classroom?

Could you imagine trying to teach an athlete how to play hockey just by giving a lecture on the finer points of edge control on skates? After the lecture, the athlete goes home and tries it on their own without the coach. They come back the next day,  placed in a game to test their progress. The game does not go well (they flunked their test because they couldn’t skate). OK – Let’s show them how to shoot a slapshot now in the same pattern. After weeks of content delivery, non-guided practice and assessments, the hockey player is ready for the big game right? After that process, the athlete is probably ready to go back to watching TV and quitting the sport. Reminds me of my Algebra I class in 8th grade…

I have the luxury of being able to test out this new flipping approach this year with my 18 and 19 year old students. It will take some adjustment on both of our parts but I am really excited to see what can happen when you make a switch of this nature with students who have been taught in a traditional manner for so long. Many things are working in my favor though. For one, many of my students are familiar with the coach-player relationship. I have an interesting sport (class) to coach and a wonderful arena / field (technology) to utilize. I feel confident in my coaching staff (computers) and I am looking forward to big success from my team.

To me, flipping makes sense because it puts the student first in the education process. Once content delivery is taken out of class time, the relationship between teacher and student becomes stronger because it is a one to one relationship now. Time is spent by truly helping the student to fill knowledge gaps they may have and coaching them to become better students. The role of the teacher in all of this becomes clear. Let’s make sure our students (athletes) can effectively execute the skills needed for success to win the big game of life (to become life-long learners).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Senioritis Redux

So here is a snapshot of my class last week. I needed to cover some items in Adobe Premiere for my Multimedia class. Mainly, how to do the cool transitions between video clips. You know the ones - the cool page turns or the cube rotation or the diamond dissolve or the most dramatic of all - the fade. I am getting fired up about this because when I made my last video of my daughter's first grade gymnastics meet (she is now 15), I used every one of those transitions. Once the video was complete - I sat back and marveled about how cool those effects were. Bottom line - I was fired up to teach this topic. What I didn't realize was that I was the only one in a class of 15 that was motivated to cover this topic.

I set out on an epic quest to show each and every student the wonders of including transitions in their video productions. I had a Prezi ready to go for the SMART board, I had all of my lesson files in order. I was going to introduce at the board, they would take notes and then we would work through the lesson files together as we perfected our Bike Race masterpiece. That was the beginning of the class. By the end of the class my hair looked like I stuck my finger in an electrical outlet. My face was as red as a tomato and my voice was quivering with anger as I found myself saying close your mouths and follow along for the hundredth time in a 50 - minute span. I was also half tempted to cut the wheels off of the entire classroom of chairs. Brilliant educational idea - Let's put wheels on the lab chairs so that our students can move around in the class whenever they want. Some days it looks like the Kentucky Derby in here and that day was no different.

After my description of the class, you might think that I teach young kids or even pre-school but the reality is that I am at a one year postgraduate institution for young men. A class full of 18 to 19-year-old males that are all (hopefully) going to college next year. I have been doing this for 15 years now and what I have realized is that our lucky young bucks are going through their second bout of senioritis. You see, we graduate in less than two weeks and no matter what content I wanted to teach, they were going to be uninspired. I could have been teaching them how to make millions of dollars and get any girl they wanted and all they would be thinking about is wondering how fast they can physically go in the chairs before they bruise.

So, in order to save my sanity I started thinking of ways that I could get the content over to them in a way that will allow me to stay calm and feel like I had some sense of classroom control. I decided to create screencasts of my lessons. Screencasts are recordings of a user's actions on a computer that can be posted to YouTube or Vimeo or any other streaming video site. Screencast programs like Camtasia Studio and Jing as well as Adobe Captivate allow the user to record either a program you are using or the entire screen and make a movie for training. I used Camtasia Studio because it also adds functionality such as captions, zooms, recording voice audio and picture-in-picture as well.

So there I sat at the computer on the first morning, ready to make my lesson with my coffee in hand. I methodically went through the lesson, cracking some jokes but being clear about the main points of the lesson. All recorded into one movie file. Some even with my image on the screen as well. That must have been a sight for my students. I then posted it to YouTube and voila - I am a published screencaster.

The plan in class was simple - hand out headphones, send them a link to all of the lessons and give them the questions that I wanted them to answer. Once I received the first question from a student that didn't get an answer (this took all of 10 seconds into class), I put on my stern face and said "If you missed it then rewind the video." I then sat on my desk in amazement as they were all fully engaged in the lessons. For those who don't believe I have posted a video of the class working on this project below:

Although most were not overly thrilled about the delivery, they all took part in the lesson. Most were relatively engaged and worked on their own quite successfully. I will post again with more of my ideas about why this worked and as to when and where to use this type of delivery but for now I am just going to bask in the quietness of the moment, take a breath and have another sip of my coffee while my calmer, better-groomed virtual self explains the finer points of burning a DVD to my students.

By the way - the students were capable of answering all of the questions correctly on their own. This never happened when I lectured.

I think I'm on to something.....