3 ways the flipped classroom leads to better subject mastery

[For the past five years I’ve worked with Aaron Sams and Justin Aglio, the authors of this article on eSchool News article. I’ve had a chance to present with Aaron at the FlipCon and I’ve collaborated with Justin in his roles as a principal and now Director of Innovation. I’ve always felt that Flipped Learning was a powerful tool to personalize learning. I started down this path close to ten years ago in my teaching at Carnegie Mellon University where I used Classroom Salon to flip my class. While the article talks about using video, I believe it’s really any digital resource – video, graphic, or text – that becomes the key for an extended conversation with the focus on the in-class experience to generate greater depth of learning through the Flipped Learning experience outside of class.]

August 15th, 2016
Aaron Sams at FlipCon

Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Flipping is more than a buzzword. It helps teachers personalize lessons, assessments, and reporting

Now that the buzz about flipped learning is calming and the novelty is wearing off, the time has come to dig a little deeper into the natural outcomes of flipping. Specifically, flipping can change the type of work students complete and the way in which class time will be used; it can modify the nature of assessment, and it can alter the way in which teachers will report student work.

First and foremost, we should define some terms. On the most basic level, flipped learning occurs when instructors make use of video lectures outside the class in order to bring what was being done in the homework space back into the classroom. In short: lecture at home, homework in class.

Much of the conversation about flipping has focused on using teacher-created video as an instructional tool, but the real benefit of flipping the classroom does not come from video. The true benefit comes from using videos as a teaching tool to deliver direct instruction at home so teachers are free to reinvent classroom time.

Truly personalized learning

Inevitably, a teacher who is new to flipping will use materials from previous years. In fact, beginning flippers often change only the time and space in which content is delivered and practice is completed. One main benefit of this basic form of a flipped classroom is that, instead of students completing homework assignments outside the observation of the teacher, they now complete all work under the direct supervision of the classroom teacher. Thus, in a flipped class, the time that a teacher once spent delivering new content can be used catching and correcting each student’s misconceptions.

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Flipping the Field Trip

Kelsey Hunt, left, and Harley Graham, right, students from Fairmont High School in Fairmont, North Carolina, pose with Joel Shapiro’s ‘Untitled’ as part of a virtual exhibit they created during a “flipped field trip” at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Photo: Ashley Berdeau

Kelsey Hunt, left, and Harley Graham, right, students from Fairmont High School in Fairmont, North Carolina, pose with Joel Shapiro’s ‘Untitled’ as part of a virtual exhibit they created during a “flipped field trip” at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Photo: Ashley Berdeau

Last spring, crowds of teenagers were let loose in Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art. No tour guides, no shushing teachers, just kids following their curiosity through the galleries. As they roamed, they used smartphones and tablets to upload images of the artworks into personalized, virtual exhibits they would later display to their fellow students.

It was a field trip with a tech-y twist: For weeks leading up to the museum visit, these same kids had explored these same works of art on a social-media website, where they also posted sketches, ideas and peer critiques in preparation for their own art projects.

Hoping to spark creativity and give students a real taste of the artistic process, art teachers from 16 high schools across the state had signed up their students for this pilot project, which museum staffers dubbed a “flipped field trip.” Called “Artists in Process,” it was loosely based on the model of the “flipped classroom,” in which teachers assign online reading, YouTube lectures and other digital resources as homework to cover facts, figures, dates and other basic information, then students spend class time in deeper discussions, analysis and collaborative projects.

“Our challenge was to make the museum experience active, engaging and personal for all students,” said Emily Kotecki, the museum’s distance-learning educator. “Art isn’t one size fits all.”

Working with a company called Odigia that designs online learning platforms, the museum created a social-media site stocked with images from its collections, video interviews with artists and discussion questions, all tied to one of three themes — identity, place, and storytelling.

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Learning EduWins for 2013


Photo by Norton Gusky

Edutopia recently published a list of top themes for 2013. It was gratifying to see how many of those themes reflect my work with schools, non-profits, and events in the Pittsburgh region. Here’s my own reflection based on the Edutopia article:

  • Game-based Learning – This year I began a formal relationship with Zulama, especially focusing on the Entertainment Technology Academy. Nikki Navta, the founder of Zulama, asked me to provide editorial level feedback for the development of professional development materials. I worked with an incredible team led by Bev Vaillencourt, the instructional designer for Zulama, Caroline Lippi,the all purpose administrative assistant, and Mary Wilson, one of the original Zulama teachers from the Elizabeth Forward School District. Together with Nikki Navta we drafted pre-training and training materials, trying to find ways to “flip” the training to better personalize the sessions. We also delivered a series of training workshops that included teachers, administrators, vendors, and other interested educators.
  • Technology for Learning – For the past few years I’ve been moving the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (tRETC) away from technology to become a learning conference. This year Richard Culatta provided an exciting keynote address for our theme: Using Technology to Remake Learning. I remixed the title based on the great work done by the Kids & Creativity Network in Pittsburgh. The presenters included an array of K-12 and out-of-school experts who outlined a variety of ways to make learning an anytime, anywhere endeavor.
  • Empowering Kids – In March I experienced the 2013 Digital Media Learning Conference (DML) in Chicago. The theme for 2013 focused on Participatory Learning, using digital media to develop civic engagement for youth. One of the speakers, Andrew Slack, really impacted me. I decided to bring Andrew to Pittsburgh as the keynote speaker for the pre-conference at TRETC. I’ve always believed in the power of student involvement. Many schools fail to realize that kids can be key elements in their capacity-building. I’m quite pleased to work with my colleague, Aileen Owens, the Director of Technology and Innovation at the South Fayette School District. Aileen has understood the power of student empowerment and now has an app development team at South Fayette. In 2013 I joined Aileen and her South Fayette team as a consultant. I now coordinate the outreach for a project on computational thinking. Students become game designers and computer scientists as they use tools like Scratch, 3D printers, and eTextiles.
  • Project-based Learning – During 2013 I worked with the Mars Area Middle School and Central Catholic High School on project-based learning training for staff members. At both sites I adapted materials developed by the Bucks Institute for Education. Teachers developed engaging lessons starting with Entry Activities and concluding with Authentic Assessments shared with real audiences. Along the way the teachers developed Driving Questions and used an inquiry-based process to engage the students in real questioning. I introduced two of the teachers from Mars at a session at TRETC. The response from the audience was quite enthusiastic.
  • New Sources of Funding – While I will never claim to be a grant-writer, I had a very successful year helping organizations like the Carnegie Library of Homestead, the Keystone Oaks School District, the South Fayette School District, and the Flipped Learning Network receive grants for programs and projects. I feel fortunate that I have learned over the years how to take an institution’s vision and match it to the goals for a particular granting source. In 2013 I tapped into funding opportunities from the Grable Foundation, the Sprout Fund, and the Center for Creativity at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit. The projects ranged from using Digital Media to sustainable gardening with hydroponics.
  • Student Agency – Wherever I’ve worked I’ve always tried to give students opportunities to share their talents. This year it’s been wonderful to see the growth of the Reading Warrior program at the Neighborhood Learning Alliance (NLA)  where I serve on the Board of Directors. The Reading Warriors is one of several programs that focuses on using high school students as tutors for younger learners. There are now Phys Ed Warriors and we hope soon “Tech Warriors.” Google has challenged NLA to come up with a program that will impact young people in the Pittsburgh community. I suggested a program based on digital story-telling where kids use code to tell their past, present, and future stories. If the grant comes through, NLA will have Tech Warriors at the four Pittsburgh Connects sites.
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