Maybe just a half-flip

As I prepare to start my experiment in flipping my classroom next week, I’m still grappling with the suitability of my model for the history classroom.

Here’s why I’m excited about flipping:

  • It is more engaging. I’m always looking for ways to make history more vivid, and showing videos at home will allow me to do this without sacrificing instructional time. I already do a lot of critical thinking and application in class, and students should be able to apply facts from the video to my existing activities.
  • It may be more useful than my existing homework assignments. Why? The homework I give right now isn’t terribly exciting, but it is valuable as a study tool and reinforcing mechanism. However, the students do a fairly middling job on it, and the threat of point deductions isn’t an incentive to complete it. So if I assess the students more on in-class assignments while having them absorb content at home, it may help them overall.
  • It’s something different. I do think that good teaching always has a bit of a “wow” factor – whether it’s a passionate lecturer or a nurturing facilitator, your classes need to stand out. This will accomplish that.

And here are my concerns:

  • Can videos really stand alone as direct instruction? I know my kids, and I think they will need reinforcement in the classroom; asking them to go directly into application and synthesis won’t work.
  • How do I ensure accountability? My kids are great, but they can also be lazy. If they aren’t willing to complete the homework I’m assigning now and grading, how will I verify that they’ve watched the videos? And how will I accommodate (do I need to accommodate) the kids who don’t watch the videos and thus aren’t able to participate effectively?
  • How do I maintain alignment when I’m supposed to be aligned with the other world history teacher? I can’t find videos that match exactly our existing pacing, and I need to use the same major assessments as him. This means that I’m going to have the supplement the videos I find with the content from our existing curriculum.

I’ve come to modify my plan to be a kind of “half-flip.” This means that I still assign videos for homework, but I’ll supplement them with direct instruction, which will be modeled after Presentation Zen principles. I’ll reserve most of the class for the higher-level thinking and feedback-heavy activities that reverse instruction demands, while adapting the model for my particular student body.

I’ll bring you more as this story develops.

Out of the Frying Pan…

I’m like the Jack Reacher of the educational world, except without the violence, sex, military background…well, pretty much everything except the moving around part.

Over the winter break, my dad introduced me to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series of novels. For those of you who aren’t familiar, these thrillers deal with a transient, ex-MP who drifts from city to city dealing with trouble that just happens to find him, like witnessing a kidnapping, or being falsely accused of a murder. I immediately saw the similarities to my own life – we’re both 6’5″, highly trained, deadly, averse to material possesions, and have a totally accurate internal clock.

Maybe not. But we do, in fact, share a somewhat transient lifestyle. I’ve never lived more than five years in a single place, and last year I had decided to move on from Kuwait (literally) greener pastures. But I met a girl who convinced me to stay on one more year with the plan to recruit together the next. So we stuck it out in the desert and revisited the issue in November, re-registering with ISS and beating the virtual pavement to find schools with openings for both of us (she’s HS English, and I wanted to leverage my COETAIL experience to transition into a tech job). My positions was the sticking point – a lot of schools seem to fill tech integrator positions internally, and I was coming from a classroom position so it seemed like schools overlooked me. But follow-up and peristence paid off, and the American International School in Bamako interviewed us over Skype in December and offered us both positions two days later. They needed a response before the ISS fair, which sent us into intense private deliberations. There were slim pickings through ISS, but our current school had offered me a tech integrator position if we stayed and I would have been working with a great administration and colleagues, so it was a tough decision. I’m a fairly analytical person, so I weighed up the pros and cons in my head:


Environment Hot. Dusty. Hot. Dusty in the north and more lush in the south.
Dietary considerations Dearth of certain malt- and meat-based products according to sharia law Refreshing beverages available
Level of development Caribou Coffee and Krispy Kreme. Two paved roads in capital.
Internet Pretty bad Pretty bad
Hazards Highest per-capita incidence of traffic deaths in the world Raging Islamist insurgency in north
Cultural opportunities Watch a Hollywood movie (censored to remove incendiary topics such as kissing) after strolling past designer boutiques through an air-conditioned mall  Phenomenal live music
Physical fitness Swim club near school Rock-climbing, mountain biking
Health concerns Obesity and heat stroke Malaria, mango worms

Ultimately, aided by the hilarious writing on a blog kept by a current AISB teacher, we decided that Mali would be more of a work-to-live lifestyle in contrast to the live-to-work existence that we had in Kuwait. I’ll have to give up competitive swimming and $7 mochas from Caribou Coffee, but I’m excited to be the new IT Coordinator and anticipate deriving a lot of satisfaction from a smaller teaching load and new management responsibilities. After thinking about how I’ll continue my strength training regimen, I’ve transitioned to a sandbag workout that gets my heartrate up to 170-180 for 45 minutes and should be sustainable even in the third world, and hope to condition aerobically through rock climbing and mountain biking.

So there you have it – I’m moving on to a new and very different placement. The funniest thing is, before we started looking for jobs, I stated unequivocally that I wouldn’t go to Africa. Funny how life turns out.