Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Weekend of #EduAwesome

Last weekend was a weekend of semi-organic awesomeness. Extended discussions about classroom practice ensued, to the tune of an 11,000 word, 25 page Google document edited by people all over the US and Canada. Google Hangouts happened. To get to hear the thoughts of so many smart people over the weekend was incredibly revitalizing.

Much of the conversation that occurred dealt with the recent more strident criticism of flipped classrooms. Others have written about this more eloquently than I can - see here, here, and here - and while I echo their sentiments, I won’t repeat their arguments.

I will say this: my conversations, with six amazing, inspiring educators, would not have occurred without my involvement in the flipclass movement, particularly my active engagement with that community on Twitter - I wouldn’t have met these great, thoughtful educators without conversations around the flipclass hashtag.

So say what you will about flipped classrooms. Define flipped classrooms narrowly. Demonize them. If a movement that teachers come to of their own volition that pushes a mindset of organizing a classroom around student ownership of learning is the antithesis of good teaching to you, that is fine.

But know this: I will continue to be involved in the discussion of flipclass. Troll the hashtag and the people involved in it. Attack and demonize flipclass. Attack and demonize teachers who make the choice to flip their classrooms. If the best target of your (in my mind misplaced) vitriol is reflective teachers who are looking to improve their practice and are willing to take great risks to do so, well, there is not much I can do about that other than be supportive of those teachers who are willing to take these risks.

But I will continue to be involved. I will continue to share with flipclass teachers around the world. Say what you will about flipclass rooms, or flipclass teachers creating PLNs that are echo chambers. I know when I hear the stories from Carolyn Durley or Cheryl Morris of how they are placing student interest and authentic learning at the center of their classroom, I am embarrassed at how far I still have to go.

But I also know that by continuing the conversations with the amazing educators involved in flipclass I will be driven to be a better teacher. I will be forced to continue to innovate in my classroom, to continue to push on what a history classroom is and can be.

So say what you will. I’ll be here, looking to do the best for my students that I humanly can. And to continue to try to help other teachers do the same.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Realization

Friday was a rare day in my class where my students were all working on the same thing. There are always several days in each unit where, regardless of where students are in terms of working through a given unit, they come together as a class and we work through a bigger question that is at the core of the unit. Sometimes it is through a Socratic seminar, other times a Humanities paper. This Friday it was a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC).

At this point in the semester, my freshmen are finishing up their second self-paced world history unit, a unit that covers the Industrial Revolution. Given the freedom and lack of daily structure in my class - like I mentioned previously, students work through units at their own pace - students are making strides at owning their learning. As the semester winds down, I have seen flickers of hope from students who had spent their time in my class less wisely than perhaps they should have.

But Friday was an eye opener. Students were familiar with the structure of a SAC - they had done one earlier in the semester. They are used to looking through primary and secondary sources to find evidence to back up a thesis. As I wandered class Friday, because there were so few questions, I just got to listen to a lot of conversations about what the best evidence was to defend whether or not the Industrial Revolution was good for the people of England.

Students were on task. Though not the most engaging task, the ability to work in groups to learn collaboratively as well as the contextualization I did of the task - how the question they were wrestling with for the SAC tied into the unit question as well as their in-class written final exam, a Humanities essay - seemed to engage students enough. And with no (or far fewer) hurdles than in a normal class period, the level of discussion among groups was very impressive.

As I stepped back and thought back to other years I have had freshmen, I believe that a part of the reason that the conversations around evidence were so advanced Friday was due to the level of independence and control I have given my students this semester. They have become more used to managing their time with less structure than in other classrooms. This ‘used-to-ness’ showed itself in my class Friday.

I’m excited for the thinking that I’ll get to see in class tomorrow. And I’m excited for what my students will do with their second semester of self-paced, mastery-based learning.