Copyright © 2013 Mark H. Nichols
The flipped challenge – “make school as exciting as real life”
It always amazes me how some ideas go from 0 to 100 mph so quickly in education. Two years ago the only flipping going on in schools involved sports or getting sent to the office and Salman Khan was just a helpful uncle. Now flipping teaching, the classroom and learning are part of almost every education discussion. For educational technologists it has provided a reason for students to have personal devices, for teachers the hope of reclaiming time, and for many students a new name for more homework. Flipping has been hailed as a revolutionary way to extend the school day and derided as a dressed up way of doing the same old boring thing. One thing is for certain flipping is hot and we already have districts knee deep in implementing the model.
How about we slow down a bit and make sure we are all in agreement with what we are trying to accomplish before we flip another classroom. In my journeys through schools I find a wide variety of definitions of flipping, even within the same institution. We need to step back and redefine the challenge from “flip the classroom” to “challenge learners” or “make learning meaningful” or “put learners in charge of their learning.”
When we start with the challenge of “flip the classroom” the entire discussion becomes tactical – where can we find videos (film teachers, Khan Academy, etc), how do we get devices into the hands of students, etc. It immediately narrows the conversation and misses the opportunity to delve into deeper questions about how students learn, what motivates them, what we are teaching and why, etc. Because the challenge is narrow and tactical it results in simple solutions like assigning students 30 minutes of video to watch every night and then we are surprised that this solution does not result in more motivated students. As one student told me “school is as boring on video as it is in real life.”
If we start with the challenge “put learners in charge of their learning” it will be a much deeper conversation and result in a more diverse and thorough set of solutions. What we really want is for students to own their learning. We want to reverse the sit and get process that some students master and others rebel against, to change a system that values the memorization and regurgitation of information more than it does creativity. When learners (and we are all learners) take responsibility for their learning the walls of the school come down. We see examples of this in schools where students spend evenings and weekends working on challenges and causes that are meaningful to them. Outside of the walls of schools we see learners spending hours teaching themselves skills and learning about things that match their interests (video games, sports, music, art, people). Mobile technology, video and interactive resources may be part of this equation, but we also need to take a hard look at what, when and how we are teaching, student motivation, the role of parents, etc.
Maybe the challenge should be “make school as exciting as life.” What would our guiding questions be to develop solutions to this challenge? I would hazard a guess that the questions would not be limited to where do we locate informational videos and the solution be students sitting at home watching videos of math problems being explained.
Mark H. Nichols