Every teacher is familiar with the following conversation:
Teacher: Can you please pay attention?
Student: I was paying attention.
Teacher: No you weren't. Please put your _____ away.
Student: I was so--I have all the notes.
This infuriates me.
It wasn't until a month ago that it dawned on me:
This is what the public thinks I do for a living...
People think my job is to ensure students get the notes. Why else would parents excuse their children from school to go shopping? or make dentist appointments during school hours? or extend Christmas break by two weeks in the Bahamas? Why else would students gauge their "learning" by the amount of times they visit a pencil sharpener? or the number of pages of scribble they manage? Why do they ask,
"What did I miss yesterday?"and expect to be immediatley back on the class pace. Students have spent enough time in classrooms to get this notion. Those students become parents... etc.
What do we as (math) teachers do to combat this mentality? Mostly--a whole lot of nothing. Our classes remain predictable in nature. Some students even complain when they should be getting the homework but the activity or lecture goes long. We have literally programmed our students. It is in this light that teachers get so offended when websites like the Khan Academy claim to revolutionize education. Teachers hate to think that they are replaceable by a set of videos when, in actuality, many of our lessons are.
Maybe the videos lack the personal nature and opportunity for diversification. But (school) math is very impersonal, and diversification can be achieved through more videos. They also add convenience to the equation. Anytime, anywhere, and at any pace.
The term "flipped classroom" is slowly percolating into the current educational lexicon. The process involves students accessing video lectures to free up class time for different activities. At first I hated the idea. This wasn't changing teaching; it was switching the medium through which the transmission was performed. I pictured class as a time to test examples and do homework sets.
My perception changed a month ago when I had the following conversation with a student:
Me: Where were you yesterday? You missed my class.
Student: I was sick; I didn't skip.
Me: The motive was different but the results are the same. You need to catch up.
Student: I'll just get the notes.
Me: It is more than notes. You need to understand why and how we do the math. You need to be in class to learn.
Student: Why? I don't miss anything if I get the notes.
This student is right a lot of the time. I do my best to infuse meaningful mathematical tasks and activities into my room. Many of them are scattered throughout this blog. The burdens of time and curriculum force me into corners, and many classes could be easily captured through a video and a set of notes. I realized that if I wanted students to value the class time, it had to be in a classroom that was "unflippable".
I now gauge my lesson success with a simple question:
Was that lesson unflippable?
Could the students learned the same amount through a video and a set of notes?
These types of questions guide my personal growth as a teacher. They allow me to catch myself when planning gets lazy and when the days get long. Naturally, I have begun to look for ways to free up more time and curricular space for unflippable exploits. Ironically, that has led me toward a flipped classroom model.
Ryan Banow (@rbanow) provides a great starting point here.
Students have responded very well to my Project Based Learning courses over the last couple years. I think the appeal comes in the structure of the class time. Small activities and tasks lead into larger projects; the collegial atmosphere and complexity of the tasks make the process unreplicable through a series of videos and solitary projects. The course is--in essence--unflippable. I am still struggling with the higher-level and increasingly abstract courses. As always, time is at a premium. At least for now it seems like flipping a unit or two may be an effective way to create class time that becomes unflippable.