Friday, August 28, 2015

Think Before You Flip Your Classroom This Year

For a while now I've been saying something provocative about Flipped Learning.

"It's the worst idea in the history of teaching."

I own that.

I've said it.

I say it that way to get educators attention. Because I like to have a conversation about it. While I am not going to walk that statement back like a disgraced politician I am going to do a little explaining (finally) why we need to think before we "flip" learning.

First a little knowledge leveling.

When I am talking about Flipped Learning in this post I am referring to the method by which teachers create videos (or find other videos online) and assign students to watch them at home, thereby freeing up time in the classroom to go deeper with the content because the students have the content knowledge from the videos. I am sure there are multiple different variations of Flipped Learning but for this post, this is the definition I am working off of.  It's an idea thats been around for a while and some teachers have said they've found success with it.

So what's my problem with Flipped Learning? Seems like, on the surface, it could be great. Kids get the basic understanding of topics outside the classroom and when they come back they can go deeper and do something with it.

But if we look a little deeper Flipped Learning may need some serious considerations before implemented.

Too Much Focus On The Videos-In most (not all, but most) of what I have read and seen on flipped learning there are always way too many conversations on the videos. How to make them. How long they should be. Where to store them. How to ensure kids can access them.

I was in a small group discussion at a conference early this year where the conversation revolved around how to ensure kids could access the videos at home if they didn't have the technology. Eventually they talked about taking the time to make the video and then pass them out on flash drives or burn them to DVDs to all students. While the conversations around equity are important seems to me its the wrong conversation to have. If you are spending hours, bending over backwards to record, distribute and track the videos kids are required to watch at home, are you really gaining anything?

Not Enough Conversations About Pedagogy-In all that I have seen and heard, there are very little conversations about pedagogy when it comes to Flipped Learning. In order for educators to be effective in their content they have to understand pedagogy and how to ensure students are best understanding that content. The truth is, many are content experts but pedagogy needs work. Now we are going to video weak pedagogy those weaknesses just get amplified. Maybe they are using others' content. Are we effectively analyzing the videos first to ensure they are effectively communicating the content in the best way? Are we looking at them with a critical eye?

Or perhaps the direct instruction pedagogy is strong (which these videos are just that, direct instruction, which we know isn't the most effective way to gain content knowledge) but the pedagogy or understanding how to formatively assess that students understanding of the content delivered in the videos is lacking. Now there's all this free time what do you do?

We have to have serious conversations about pedagogy first before we flip. If we look at moving from direct instruction to more student-owned classrooms, where students navigate through content by their own means, we might find that the effort put into Flipped Classrooms, creating videos, and tracking views isn't really needed or necessary.

When Are Kids Supposed To Be Kids? Record yourself in your classroom for the 6-8 hours you are there teaching. Now go home and watch yourself for an additional 30 mins to 3 hours. Do you want to spend that much time listening to yourself? Maybe not. And I would bet your students, while they like you a whole, whole lot, most don't want to listen to you more than they have to.

A student's job is school. Thats what they do for those 6-8 hours. Think about our jobs. No one really looks forward to working all day then going home and working more. Why, then, should students be forced to go home and do more of work by watching these videos? We talk about wanting students to innovate, make, tinker and be creative. And there is mounds of research to suggest homework doesn't help students be better students, so why not let kids be kids when they go home.

Those are my concerns. Yet, I will admit, there might be teachers who have flipped their classrooms and who have addressed these 3 concerns I have. I wish their voices were louder because I think we could all do with those examples.

So while I am provocative when I talk about it, I do that to have a conversation. If you have flipped or are thinking about it, don't just take it at face value. Think critically about what effects it will have on you, your students and your classroom.

photo credit: dora dora 2 via photopin (license)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rediscovering @CK12Foundation Flexbooks And More!

A while back there was a push to move away from traditional textbooks and move to something more flexible and nimble. (Still true today!) Something that could adapt with the ever changing knowledge base educators and students could pull from along with being more personal. Digital devices ushered in an era where all this (and more) is possible.

I can remember many an afternoon spent in high school science and math classrooms talking about CK-12 Flexbooks. These were online, high-quality, completely customizable textbooks that, in addition to having some really great content were completely free to use and change. Teachers jumped at the chance to integrate them because they could supplement other content into their text and take advantage of them being digital by adapting them on the fly.

I'll admit. I had forgotten about them...

That is until recently when I had the chance to rediscover the awesome that is Flexbooks and found there is so much more!

Flexbooks-There are the tried and true Flexbooks I came to love with my high school teachers but their offering has expanded to include many more science and math areas, english and history too. You'll also find Engineering, SAT Prep, and much, much more. And it's not just high school. There are Flexbooks for middle school and even some for Elementary Math. They are still fully editable and you can use different concepts from different sections to create your own customized text. All the content is Common Core aligned so you can be sure its high-quality and timely.

Simulations-A new feature are some pretty sweet physics simulations. Sometimes it can be difficult for students to understand physics concepts or impossible to replicate them (like an actual rocket launch). With the simulations students are introduced to the concepts and then can test various aspects of them. And these can be included in a Flexbook too!

More Instructional Materials-In additional to all this there are flashcards, lesson plans, assessments and other materials that can truly make your digital learning a complete experience. There are also apps for Apple and Android devices that can provide an even more rich experience. Using Google Classroom? You can create your materials and share them instantly to your Google Classroom classes. And check out the Blog there to see how other districts and classrooms are reaping the rewards of CK12 materials.

Are you new to CK12 or, like me, are you needing to rediscover the awesome? Check out their Back To School Promotion where you can build your own, personalized box of CK12 materials to get started this year. Science and Math job posters, sample Flexbooks and a B2S checklist are just a small amount of what you can get there. And remember it's free!

If you doing BYOD, 1:1, or some other digital initiative, CK12 can be a great addition to your classroom. Check it out!

Monday, August 3, 2015

A More Holistic Approach To Technology Planning

When I was a Director of Instructional Technology I was deeply involved in the technology planning process from one end to the other. Regularly I had to sit through presentations of new products, listening with a skeptical ear while instructional promises were made. I'd also council administrators who felt that the next flashy thing they saw walk through their door, their school had to have. And often I would evaluate our programs and purchases to ensure we were headed on the desired course or if we needed to make a u-turn.

Typically the technology planning process can go wry in many ways:

Lack of True Planning: Sometimes a rush to make things happen can cause the entire planning process to come off the rails. For whatever reason (funding running out, keeping up with the district next door, or a general sense of urgency) the normal, rational process that many would take when it comes to undertaking major technology initiatives is lost in the desire to get things done and make them happen as quick as possible.

No Measurable Outcomes of Goals: When spending the amount of money that normal technology initiatives take it is critical to the success that there are MEASURABLE goals and outcomes. It's all well and good to have those goals that make us feel good but we have to have something measurable that we can judge our successes and our failures against. And these are not test scores. These are not behavior intervention reports or referrals. We have to look at the type of technology we are integrating and decided what outcomes do we want to see? Instructional? A change in pedagogy? Something else?

Focus On The Stuff: Stuff is fun. Stuff is flashy. Stuff is what we are sometimes judged against. If the focus off our initiative is on the stuff it will be easy to loose focus on what really matters; the learning. Often the beginning of the planning process starts with the question "What stuff do we/can we/want to buy?" rather than looking at what needs to change and how technology can support that change?

What is needed is a plan and a more holistic approach.

So what would that look like? What's involved in a more holistic approach to technology planning?

Form A Team: One of the most important aspects of the technology planning process is having many voices represented. Technology and technology systems touch so many different people, it's important to ensure they all are consulted and have a voice in the initiative. It's not just your technology staff or school or district administrators. It's looking at the Special Education department, or the Transportation department, or the Food Services department. But it's also students, parents and the community as well. Consider who the technology could touch and invite representatives to the table for conversations.

Examination Of Current Landscape: Before even thinking about a new initiative it's important to look at where your class/school/district is currently. You have to get a sense of what is out there now before deciding to do anything new or different. Some questions to consider:
  • What aspects of the current technology program work really well?
  • How is pedagogy keeping up with technology integration? Is there a need for more technology or is all that is needed is a deeper focus on pedagogy?
  • Is the technology that is currently in classrooms being used as well as it could be or even at all? 
  • Taking that all into account, what really needs to happen? 
Putting In Place Measurable Goals And Outcomes: Remember, we talked about the need to look at measurable outcomes. I am a big fan of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based) Goals. This method helps to hone your focus and decide on what really matters. Some may not like the SMART approach and have one of their own. Great! Whatever method you use it's important to consider the desired outcomes. Some examples:
  • Number of Classrooms with High-Speed Internet Access
  • Equitable access to devices for students and teachers
  • Equitable access to high-quality instructional resources
  • Development of Next Generation Professional Development
Professional Development: When considering anything to do with technology, most often the PD is much, much more important than the stuff. Large amounts of dollars are spent on the stuff, but I argue an equal amount should be spent on the PD needed to integrate this stuff successfully. Consider the current PD landscape and how it can be leveraged or changed to meet these new needs. This is an area that needs a lot of time, attention and input.

Reflect and Examine: Through out this process, from visioning, planing and implementation there has to be time set aside to reflect and examine how things are going. Where are you as you progress towards your goals? What's missing? Think of it like formative assessment for the planning process. It's easier to catch things that could derail the project as they happen rather than waiting until the end and then looking back.

These are just a handful of things to consider. The technology planning process can most often be complex and challenging. However, it can be more effective and meet more desired outcomes if we step back and consider what we are doing, why we are doing, how we will get there and how will we know we've arrived. 

Photo credit: ORDCampers at MSI Fab Lab 20.jpg via photopin (license)