Saturday, September 8, 2012

Drive-Thru Window Education

I cannot believe that we are already three weeks into the grading period!!  Things started a little rough but that is to be expected.  Students had to not only figure out a different way of doing school, but also grasp the idea that there were two files on the website they needed.  Yes a practice sheet is different than a notes sheet.  Any way, our school is switching LMS' and I am using the new one, so there is that as well.  On top of that I am using Moodle for testing because I have a large set of questions there that I cannot export.  So to say the least things were bumpy

At Open House I received a lift.  All parents that had talked with their student about class felt like the method had merit.  Others that had not heard about the new system had similar feeling after I explained what was happening and my reasoning behind the change.  I had nearly forty parents stop by that night and a large percentage were from chemistry.  Very nice.

Lately however, things have slowed somewhat.  I have already hit the motivational wall with some students.  I guess for some anything that makes them put forth some effort causes them to shut down.  I have no proof, but I believe that many classes and maybe even many years of education have not pushed many students to think creatively or taught them how to tackle difficult situations.  I find students want class to be like a drive thru window.  They walk in the door, you hand them the assignment, they sit a do it for fifteen minutes and then socialize the rest of the time before walking out the door never to think about the topic again.  

The flipped classroom puts more responsibility back on the student.  Yes the teacher is still ultimately responsible for the end result, but students have become too dependent on the teacher.  We have controlled them and tested them to death.  They need some freedom to explore and to find their stengths and weaknesses.  The flipped classroom stimulates the need to be organized and self motivated.

There it is.  The M word.  The threat of poor grades no longer drives students to achieve.  Many do not care any more, even in the middle third of spectrum.  So the question is how do we structure a class that causes students want to learn.  I guess another part of the issue is one size does not fit all.  But that is a whole other ball of wax.

Student Motivation

I guess this topic is what has driven me to make such drastic changes to my classroom more than any other factor. I have been reading a book called Drive by Daniel Pink about what motivates humans to do what we do. He says the industrial age method of producing motivated workers was to give them incentives to pull them to a goal and then if that did not work, give them punishments to push them there. Most of the world is still in this mode of operations and I bet if you took a moment to reflect on your educational career and/or your business career you would find this method at work. He goes on to say that this method does work for a narrow set of parameters, such as repetitive, non-cognitive, menial tasks. This is unfortunately how the educational world of today still operates.  Teachers should be trying to create a student that can think, question, analyze, debate, ... In a recent editorial that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey Selingo, the publication's editorial director, said ' It's been widely reported that many of the best jobs of tomorrow don't even exist today, so the successful schools of the future will be those that graduate students who have the imagination to figure things out'.  Yet we (teachers) are under increasing pressure to prepare our students for high stakes tests that are still formatted in the old system.  We drill and kill the students to death and squeeze all imagination out of them at an astonishing young age with test after test after test.

I was seeing this in the eyes of my students years ago and did not really get it yet.  I knew something wasn't working the way it should but I could not figure it out.  I still do not have the answer.  All I know is the way I was doing things was not working.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012


In the traditional classrooms that I was taught in and many classrooms still are, the teacher is at the center of learning.  They are the fountain of knowledge that they are trying to pass on to the student.  In today's digital era, the wealth knowledge goes beyond what any one person can possibly manage.  As a result, students need to be able to manage not only data gathering but also collaboration and communication with peers, practice creativity and problem solving, and most importantly self-direction, motivation, and organization.  The teachers role as repository of knowledge is lessened and becomes more like a coach.  We know the master plan, the plays to run and the skills that need mastering

Enter the Flipped Classroom.  On the most basic level the flipped classroom is a model that turns the methodology upside-down (hence the flipped name).  It removes the teacher as the "sage on the stages" and creates an atmosphere for them to be the "guide on the side".

After a quarter and a half pilot last year, we are going to venture into a year long expedition into the Flipped Classroom.  Many things were learned from that experience.  I was very pleased with the results and student feedback was also very positive.  As with any effort, there are numerous ideas and improvements that I am looking forward to this year.