Tag Archives: reverseinstruction

#COETAIL Course 5 Project: The Flipped Classroom for History

The final project for the COETAIL program is a <10 minute video documenting your experiences implementing technology in practice. Rather than opting for a screencast or digital story foramt, I chose to make an infomercial as a kind of tribute to Billy Mays:

I probably put too much work into it, and a lot of that was a function of my inexperience and lack of equipment. Here are a few lessons I learned:

  1. Proper planning will save you editing time. I didn’t have a separate mic for my camcorder (and the built-in mic was too noisy), so I recorded sound separately using an iPhone headset mic with my Galaxy Note 2 phone. This resulted in a separate audio and video track that I had to sync up manually in Final Cut Pro X. It was time-consuming and a PITA. Had I planned ahead and borrowed a mic with fully charged batteries from Sound and Lights Club, I would have saved myself a lot of editing time.
  2. Hardware counts. Entry-level hardware is fine for simple videos, but my Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro from 2009 struggled to keep up with scrolling and moving clips once I had multiple pictures, videos, and titles in the project – even with 8GB of RAM and an SSD. The 13″ screen wasn’t big enough for the FCPX interface, either. Consider reserving space in a lab with iMacs or other workstations.
  3. Acting is hard. This should be apparent enough from my awkward performance. When people think of making a video they often think of shooting your own footage, but I would try to shy away from this. Without training (which I indeed lack) it results in lackluster results.
  4. Clear your schedule. It took me hours and hours to do this – probably between 1.5 and 2 hours of work for every minute of video you see.

You Can’t Make Everyone Happy, But You Can Try

We try to make all of our students happy, even if they all want different things. Photo Credit: Espen Faugstad via Compfight cc

My COETAIL Course 5 project proceeds apace, as I use the course principles to reorganize the process of my classes, if not the product.

To recap my initiative: I decided to incorporate some elements of the flipped classroom, with goals of 1) making history more vivid for the students, and 2) bringing in more critical thinking and processing activities into the course, especially the in-class time. However, I tempered the model of flipping by retaining about 20 minutes of direct instruction in my 85-minute blocks to highlight critical concepts and interesting stories, and to make connection that my documentaries didn’t. The homework I’ve assigned has been 15-30 minutes’ worth of videos and documentaries, often times incorporating the Crash Course World History series. To ensure accountability, these videos are paired with Moodle forum discussions where students are expected to respond to an open-ended question that I’ve posted, respond to another student’s comments, or pose a question of their own. Previously, students were expected to use Google Docs to complete collaborative study notes inspired by the “lit circle” model in English.

My observations serve to illustrate the human, democratic character of modern education. Some students have taken the opportunity to explore the topics in a way that just isn’t possible in a class, or even a small group, discussion. Take the threads below:

The first one shows a student posing her own evaluative question. The second one shows a student conducting outside research to support her points, making modern connections to historical concepts. The third is an evaluative, analytical discussion that cites evidence to back up the participants’ claims – it illustrates the core skills we want to develop in history class. Furthermore, I’ve had students bring in examples from the videos during our class discussions and direct instruction time. These all point to how the new format fulfills the rationale for the flipped classroom: leading to more time for meaningful, student-driven learning and teacher feedback.

At the same time, I’ve had students complain that I’m moving away from my former, very traditional homework assignments. These don’t really require much thinking, but they’re an example of the very concrete assignments and activities that many of the students find helpful (along with direct instruction, which is why I haven’t completely abandoned it in my current integration initiative). So with at least two competing blocs in my classes, it begs the question:

How do we as teachers find the right balance?

This is one of the qualities that make a master teacher, and why I call education a human endeavor. Reading the mix of personalities and balancing your pedagogy is really the hard part – not learning how to do discussion activity X or design technology assignment Y. So I learned that the flipped classroom can work for some students, but frankly, that realization isn’t very useful, because it doesn’t tell me whether I’ve maximized my students’ learning. I think I need to accept that I’m just not going to make everyone happy all of the time, but wouldn’t it be nice if I could?

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.