Monday, July 2, 2012

Explore-Flip-Apply in a history class

Thanks, Snagit!
On Saturday I happened upon a conversation between two people that I follow on Twitter, Tom Driscoll and Ramsey Musallam. Tom was curious about social studies teachers using Ramsey’s Explore-Flip-Apply (EFA) framework in a flipped classroom. I had begun outlining a blog post about how I planned to use EFA in my classroom next year, but this conversation put some urgency behind finishing this post.

As I understand it, EFA begins with students exploring, via inquiry, a problem posed to them by their teacher. Students build knowledge about this problem in the explore phase, and come to partial (or more than partial) answers to the problem posed by the teacher. In the flip phase, gaps in knowledge and student misconceptions are corrected with direct instruction around content knowledge, often in the form of teacher-created screencasts. To quote Ramsey, “…the most rewarding aspect of delaying direct instruction…is observing students construct, and in many instances even master, content before I take an active instructional role.” (source) After the flip, students are asked to apply their newly gained knowledge in a novel way. Again, this was a bare bones description; one of Ramsey’s more detailed write-ups of EFA can be found here. Ramsey’s write-up for using EFA in a chemistry (or other lab-based) class is a compelling one, but I am a history teacher.  I can see EFA playing out in two different ways in a history class.

EFA in H/SS, Version 1

I see the one possible way of using the EFA framework at the beginning of a unit. For the explore phase, which will occur on the first day of a unit, I will give students time to wrestle with the essential question for a unit. A brief note to differentiate essential questions from unit questions: unit questions are more specific in referencing, in my case, a historical time period, while essential questions are asked broadly about the big ideas of a unit. For instance, an essential question for a unit on imperialism might ask, “What is the best way for an oppressed people to try to gain their freedom?” while the unit question would ask, “What is the best way for an imperialized people to try to gain freedom?” By giving students time to work around these more general big ideas and questions from a unit through the unit’s essential question, and doing it collaboratively, I hope to have students both activating relevant schema they have regarding the big ideas from the essential question while also allowing time for kids to teach each other and build each other’s schema around the ideas a given unit is based around. This explore phase would start with individual brainstorming, followed by a group share-out. I can see students then moving on to create something more concrete to solidify the schema they activated or gained from the explore phase: concept maps, written pieces, or other ways they deem appropriate to share their knowledge. In the essential question above about an imperialism unit, a T-chart would be a natural way to compare possible ways people overcome oppression.
EFA Version 1 (excuse the rudimentary graphics...)

In this version, I see the flip and apply phases as a recursive process throughout the unit (see right). To further use the imperialism example, students would gain knowledge via video and primary and secondary source documents (the flip) about the reasons behind imperialism then apply that knowledge, perhaps in a critical paragraph. Next, the flip would happen again and expose students to different resistance methods used by imperialized nations. Students then apply their knowledge creating a recommendation for countries to most successfully resist or end oppression by looking into resistance movements – both successful and unsuccessful – in imperialized countries. So while this example is over generalized, but hopefully the point is clear: one initial explore session followed by a recursive flip-apply loop.

EFA in H/SS, Version 2

A way to beef this up, to try to give students an opportunity for think through the ideas of sections of a unit as opposed to only the overarching question of the unit, would be to chop up the recursive flip-apply process I described in the paragraph above. Students could still use the initial explore section based around the essential question for the unit I described above for the entire unit – it is never a bad idea to activate and build relevant schema – but then could jump into the truer EFA cycle. If the initial content in an imperialism unit is the causes of imperialism, students could spend time working through a question like ‘what causes people to prioritize their needs over the needs of others?’ These answers could come from life experiences, movies, books, or anywhere else students see answers to this question. Then students would gain knowledge via video and primary and secondary source documents (the flip) about the reasons behind imperialism then apply that knowledge, perhaps in a critical paragraph like I described above.

Next, a new EFA loop could begin about resistance to imperialism. Based on the simplified unit structure listed above, students could then go back and review their initial brainstorm around the essential question for the unit and add to their initial response – in whatever form it was in – with information about the motives behind imperialism that had been covered in class since the initial explore session around resistance to oppression. Then, the flip-apply section I described earlier could occur: students research resistance movements against imperialism and create advise for countries dealing with imperializers.

However, there are some problems here.
  • EFA makes so much sense for a lab-based class – the inquiry has real value and is so tangible: students are exploring and learning in such an engaging way. Could the explore sections I wrote about above be spiced up with something more visual than a simple question? Certainly a video or a short written piece could be used. To me, without having tried to teach using EFA in my classroom yet, there just seems to be just a bit less authenticity to the way I am currently conceptualizing the explore section.
  • How does EFA fit into a self-paced, mastery style of flipped class? My initial thought is that the explore section loses some of the intensity and authenticity if it is done in small groups (who are working through the unit at a similar pace) than if the explore section is done as an entire class.
  • If I use EFA version one from above – one giant whole group explore session followed by the recursive loop of flip-apply done self-paced – how do you keep that desire to know, which comes from the explore section of EFA, high? Refer often back to your initial work around the essential question? Update the product of that brainstorm day, whatever it is, often?

I’m left with a lot of questions. Clearly, getting back into my classroom in the middle of August and trying this out will answer some of them. I’d love feedback though – how are teachers using EFA in non-lab-based classes? How do you envision EFA fitting into a history classroom? What ways of applying EFA in a history (or non-lab-based) class did I not think of? Thanks in advance!