Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Four Essentials of a Flipped Classroom

Four Essential Elements of a Flipped Classroom

”I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.”

 This proverb dates back to Confucius 500 BC.  The meaning and expectations of this ancient idea rings true in the transition to the flipped classroom. 

The traditional “teacher directed” classroom of the industrial age was absolutely dependent upon the teacher delivering content in a streamlined manner by lecturing to groups of students.  This was at one time the most efficient way to get information to the masses in a timely manner.  However, this method is wrought with deficiencies.  First and foremost, it is entirely dependent upon the teacher and favors the auditory learner who absorbs everything they hear.  Second it demands that the students maintain a passive posture, even if they are busy taking notes. And, third, it leaves out any student who misses the lecture, due to illness, a meeting with an advisor, or early dismissal for sports. The list is endless.

Even when students pay attention and take good notes, they are then subject to the homework wasteland upon arriving home later that day.  With three, five or seven classes of homework to attack and three, five or seven lectures to revive in their minds students are faced with the completion of assignments that in most cases are primarily composed of busy work and repetition.  Typically there might be fifty math problems from two sections of their math text, or balancing twenty equations in chemistry.  If they can do the first five, why do they want to do the rest, or if they can’t do the first five, they definitely will not do the rest.

The flipped classroom turns that scenario upside down.  What was once done in the classroom is now done at home and what was once a frustration at home becomes classroom work with a purpose.  Utilizing the technology and connectivity of today the content can now be delivered by a variety of means.  Using the plethora of resources that are now available at the swipe of a fingertip, students can both see and hear the content through online texts, videos and audio texts.  Students can listen to their book online, they can read articles from around the world, they can see lectures from colleges through iTunes U or they can watch the millions of videos available from YouTube, Kahn Academy, Vimeo or Learnzillion, the list is as endless as the possibilities.      

But simply having the content available does not equate to learning.  This is where the classroom comes in.  While the teacher no longer is the keeper and distributor of the knowledge, it is the master teacher who becomes the docent for the learning experience.   It is the educator who turns the content into viable and meaningful threads upon which the students can weave their knowledge and understanding.  It is the process of transferring what has been seen and heard into a process that can solidify understanding.

The Flipped classroom is a platform that can allow students to synthesize their understanding of the content into a product that is real and the knowledge is authentic.

There are four main components necessary to execute the flipped learning model:
                Student Centered Environment
                Teacher as Learning Facilitator
                Content Delivery Resources
                Higher-Order Questions

The Student Centered Classroom

Above all else the flipped classroom demands that the learning environment is student centered.  Simply asking students to watch recorded lectures at home only to complete the worksheets in class that would have been assigned for homework in the past does not make the classroom student centered. Nor is this a flipped classroom.  The student centered classroom focuses on the student’s ability to demonstrate their knowledge.  Therefore, this learning environment demands options to synthesize the knowledge and demonstrate understanding.  Students who have a choice in the delivery for their understanding are less likely to opt out of demonstrating what they have learned. 

It then becomes paramount that the teacher relinquishes the role of “sage on the stage” and embraces the role of “guide on the side”.  The educator becomes the mentor/coach whose interactions with students are to assist and guide the student’s own self-actualization.  The educator is still a valuable resource of knowledge and skill.  It is the experience of the educator whose questions and prompts are absolutely necessary as students navigate their own course for understanding. 

The Teacher as Facilitator

It is the educator who guides this process through the development of content libraries and options for learning.  Who constructs pathways of project based and inquiry based learning opportunities that solidify the students understanding and format raw content and basic understanding into mastery of the objectives and standards that will be the measures of success for their students.    

The teacher facilitator model provides a framework whereby any student at any level of ability can feel successful.  To some this environment may seem less structured but in actuality the good facilitator has created a learning structure that is comfortable and safe for all to learn.  It is in this role as teacher facilitator that avenues for interaction with students to provide formative assessment opportunities and the teachable moments that often appear in much more relaxed and comfortable settings.

The teacher facilitator must mentor students offering opportunities for students to reflect on their own understanding and self assess their progress toward completion of a unit, project or goal. Students must sense that they are in control of their own learning and that the knowledge gained as come value for their life.  It is in this role that the educator has a greater opportunity to aid students in the acquisition of knowledge.  

Content Delivery Resources

Although the term “flipped classroom” has come to mean developing or using video content online, simply recording lectures and posting them online does not meet the needs of all students.  The content must be engaging and must support a variety of learning styles.  Teachers can develop content on their own or may team up with other teachers to create lessons.  In some cases creating conversational style presentations that allow for questions and answers as well as reactions to the content.  Students can be also be involved in developing content through creating their own videos or as part of teacher developed video.

There are many ways to provide engaging content for students.  Educators can develop simulations and educational games that can model content.  Students can be asked to perform web searches, read online articles, listen to excerpts from audio books, hear online lectures, or interact with online simulation tools. Teachers can assign surveys via social media, or require basic research tasks for the collection of data.

The key to content delivery is to use digital content to provide students with threads of knowledge that will help them to build a framework that both supports and connects them to the content. 

Higher Order Questions

The flipped learning environment requires a shift from the current model of training students to answer lower order questions and raise the expectations by demanding Higher Order questioning.   No longer is it acceptable to simply be able to list, define, and order.  The content threads that can be developed through the varieties of content available require that students become problem solvers. Students should be encouraged to question the possibilities.  To think outside the box and search for additional means to utilize the information.  Their future employment will be more dependent upon the big picture reasoning of the right brain than the repetitive task based thinking of the left brain. 

Give them opportunities to hear the information in a variety of ways.  Let them witness visual formats that provide content that is engaging and authentic.  But most importantly let them do what they can to make their knowledge real, the information clear and their understanding complete.  It is in this type of synthesis that students become critical thinkers, communicators and collaborators who can maximize their own potential.

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