Monday, July 25, 2011

How could we have been so foolish?

Parents used to smoke right next to their kids. Raw sewage used to be dumped straight into rivers and lakes. Gasoline used to be available with lead in it, as did paint. Doesn’t it make you gasp, and shake your head, and think, “How could they have been so foolish?”

When I hear things like this, I can’t help but wonder what we do, all of us, right now, about which one day, people will speak and shake their heads in disbelief. I’m pretty sure they’ll shudder at what cars did to the atmosphere, and how many trees were cut down to make room for more cows, destined to become burgers, and at how much water we wasted everyday.

What's this got to do with education?

Well, if we’re all lucky, they will also talk about the way we used to teach. With everyone doing the same thing at the same time, the teacher doing all the talking, learning only one subject at a time, and spending the year with a goal of writing down what you’ve learned during a three-hour exam. Yes, one day, I hope, they will shake their heads in profound disbelief at that. I hope they’re doing it now!

But the thing is, change is so tricky. Even those who want to change can be misguided about how to do it. Take me, for example. Being a technology enthusiast myself, I thought for a long time that the technology would change everything. Many times I would start by hearing about a certain tool and trying to force it into my class, just because it seemed cool or because someone else was all enthusiastic about it. Like voicethread – I first heard about it 3 years ago, and I had no idea how I could use it in my class, but I kept trying to make it fit. Googledocs, same thing, even though I had a better idea of how it would fit, like with online quizzes. I had a bit more success fitting the class blog in, but it still felt like I was forcing them to do it. And it was all very exciting, but it didn’t feel like a cohesive way of teaching or learning.

I was always starting with the tool or technology and trying to hammer it into the same old class model.

Then I tried the flipped class model, and that was the turning point.

My own breakthrough:

Once I adopted that model, the tools just lined up and marched into place to support it. I didn’t have to hammer anything in. Since the flipped class starts out based on ideas like: students need to move at their own pace, have some control over what they learn, and have access to a variety of people and resources, it just happens to work great with tools like voicethread, googledocs, and classblogs. It still seems an incredible coincidence how the flipped class opened everything up to make room for the exact tech I had been trying to fit in.

For example, I needed a way to record my lesson so that my students could listen and learn at their own speed. Aha – this is what I can use voicethread for! Then I needed a way to keep track of who did what when, and googledocs raised its hand and said “I can do that!”  It did it again when I needed self-assessments the kids can do to reassure themselves (and me) they’ve got the idea. And posting on the class blog became more of a natural consequence to the kids working at their own speed, rather than another forced assignment. They seemed to need to communicate with each other in the open forum that the blog provided, as you can see in this exchange:

I just listened to the Chasles Property voicethread. At first, I was a bit confused at where this was heading. But when I was at about half of the notes I got the hang of it! It’s pretty straightforward, like the rest of the unit.
Yesterday I also finished the EL activity C. I found it interesting that at the end, there was another connection to physics. These two subjects are decidedly very closely bonded!

Same here, I got confused at first, but then at the end it became clear. At first, I thought it had something to do with the magnitude. But then it wasn’t at all, just that the head(s) and tail(s) have to match! [=

Ya me too i was trying to figure out where this was going… i thought the law would be much more confusing then that! we already put it in practice without knowing it was a law!

Yeah, at first I thought they were going to give us an equation that we will need or a procedure leading to a law of physics, but instead it’s just a way to simply steps and expressions.

 It’s a law shown much more visually. I liked the four point theorem question, it showed me how Chasles Property is applied to find things that aren’t plainly shown.

Chasles Property is fun. It’s interesting when you have to think which way is the arrow and the tail should point. The four point theorem questions were also cool…

What's next:

The next thing I’m looking for is a tool for my online class that will facilitate the natural formation of workgroups during class, so that they can work together and be each others’ teachers. I don’t want to be the one always deciding who they will work with. It’s easy in the brick and mortar, not so easy online. I’m thinking maybe google+…we’ll see.

Just to be clear:

I’m not saying that anyone who wants to change has to use the flipped class model. I’m saying that you have to start with whatever model, or philosophy that suits you, and then let the technology support that. Chances are, there is something out there that does what you’re looking for. I think this is how real change will happen – start with ourselves, not the tools.

I’m also saying that “chalk and talk” will hopefully, one day, be spoken of with the same horror and incredulity as smoking around kids!


  1. Hey Audrey,

    Sorry about the unrelated comment, but I couldn't find any contact info for you on the blog, and I wanted to ask about a guest post. Please drop me an e-mail when you have a chance!