Flipping the Classroom
Flipping classrooms has been around for a few years and is slowly emerging in the elementary classroom but it presents a different set of problems at this level. First and most obvious is that it is unrealistic to expect young students to view coursework at home that they will need for the next day. Why? There are lots of reasons but a few that come to mind include after school activities, no access to a home computer, or daycare followed by dinner and an early bedtime. More common in an elementary school is flipping in school and having the students watch a video independently at their own pace while the teacher walks around providing support as students complete the worksheet associated with the video. Other teachers are taping their lessons and having absent students watch them upon their return to school. While attending a conference, I saw a new device that I think would be perfect for use in a flipped classroom: Swivl Robot.
The Swivl robot works with a tablet and a microphone on a lanyard. The robot turns and follows whoever is wearing the lanyard device and it records the audio of the person with the lanyard. Multiple lanyards can be used to record input from students. Although it isn’t cheap at $399, it is in line with other options that my school has considered like a wireless microphone, good quality video camera, and a tripod. The Swivl Robot would be a good place to start for a teacher that wants to begin flipping but doesn’t want to record all of the videos ahead of time. I am hoping to provide a demonstration of this device to my faculty in the fall and also hoping that my principal will find some money to buy one or two for my teachers to use. Fingers crossed!
I have been hearing about STEM for years with the increasing emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math instruction in school but recently I have been hearing more about STEAM which is adding in the arts so that our students are well rounded. As someone who loves technology and math (not science or engineering so much), I can appreciate that there are some students who aren’t interested in STEM but STEAM gives them something to look forward to. But as I was reading more about STEAM, it got me thinking — isn’t this really a different kind of way to say ‘Liberal Arts’? A Liberal Arts degree is a broad spectrum of classes including science, math, and the arts. Whether I’m right or not, I definitely agree with the need for students to have a well rounded base of learning that includes STEM and the Arts — otherwise known as STEAM.
This year I created a Makerspace in my library where students may visit after eating lunch or during the last period of the day. I have robots, legos, art supplies, electronics kits, and idea books for students to use. The robots and electronics are very popular with many of the students but there are other students that prefer to use the art supplies to create something for themselves. I will continue to expand the Makerspace to provide STEM activities but I also won’t forget the importance of arts to some of my student population. Many some musical instruments is where I should expand next!
Authentic Learning Opportunities
I don’t begin to pretend that I am an expert on this topic but I do know that it is something that my school is struggling to provide given the constraints of teaching using the New York State Modules which I feel take away a teacher’s creativity and flexibility. I believe that Project Based Learning (PBL) is a similar concept where students explore a topic and follow it wherever it leads even if it seems irrelevant to the original topic. As I only see most of my students one day a week, it is difficult to provide them with authentic learning opportunities.
The closest I have come to creating authentic learning opportunities is with my 5th grade classes using the Genius Hour or what I prefer to call it — ‘Passion Projects’. I have adapted the concept to fit my 40 minutes classes and the only limit I set is that they must provide written feedback on their progress before the end of each class. I told students to think of something they wanted to learn about and if they couldn’t think of anything then to learn about then they needed to think of something that makes them angry or upset.
I decided to do this project with these classes because they are unmotivated and tend to be lazy and I was hoping that research where they choose their own topic and when they were ready to present would provide them with the intrinsic motivation to actually do something. Boy have they surprised me. So far, every single student has found at least 2 facts about their topics and 3 students have already presented and are working on a new topic. Topics chosen by the students include the Yulin Dog Meat Festival, Dolphin Slaughter, Bullying, and Donald Trump.
Is this an authentic learning experience? Probably not in the true sense of the words but in the end because the students chose a topic they were passionate about, I think real learning has been accomplished. After students present we discuss the websites they used, bias, opinions vs. facts, and what other information that they might have missed. This is the first time all year that I have truly seen passion in these student’s eyes. To me, that makes it authentic.
I only picked a few of the topics that I felt were most relevant to my school and where I think we need the most work. Other trends included teaching complex thinking and adaptive learning technologies and these are areas that I think my school is on top of if not ahead of the ball game. We still have a long way to go and need to keep looking forward but I am optimistic that we are headed in the right direction.