Sunday, October 7, 2012

Insanity and the Flipped Classroom

Albert Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I kind of feel this way about my intentions for blogging and writing. I intend to blog and read and write for myself, but it is always what falls by the wayside. I want to do set aside time, but never seem to be able to do it.

It seems like this year is even crazier than the last. We are now half way through the first marking quarter and I am so incredibly behind in my correcting that I don't think I can possibly get caught up in one weekend. It's Columbus Day weekend, when I usually get caught up for mid-quarter. However, I am spending this weekend recovering from a nasty cold (thank you, students, for sharing) and trying to revamp my classes, especially my 11th grade US History class. I am not at all happy with the way that class is going.

All of my classes (9th grade English Comp & Lit, 10th grade English, 11th grade English, 9th &10th grade World History, 11th US History, SAT Prep) have felt like a big flop. Let's just take a minute to look at that work load. Yes, I am teaching 5 core classes and a SAT Prep class, as well as monitoring study hall 3 afternoons a week, and supervising an advisory group 4 days a week. I am writing the curriculum for all of my classes. I don't have textbooks for either of my history classes, and we have limited technology available.

I spent this past summer doing some ground work, but as we've gotten into the school year, it has become increasingly clear to me that I did not do nearly enough planning. I am at this point, all around dissatisfied with my classes. It's not the kids and it's not the subject matter. I love my students, I love English and the literature I've selected, and I love history. I am just not being a good, effective teacher. I'm not implementing into my classes the aspects of reading & writing that I want; things like read aloud, independent reading, and quick writes. I am convinced that this is because I have too much on my plate. Unfortunately, that is not going to change. The school has no money for personnel or resources.

Last week, after a month of school and being frustrated with how my history classes are going, I was again presented, through Twitter, with the idea of flipping my class. When I first heard about flipping class last year, I didn't take the time to learn about it. It seemed like it involved using technology in a way for which I did not have the time or resources. Last week I decided it was time for me to learn more.

Monday night I spent some time on Twitter, participating in #flipclass chat and connecting with other teachers who are flipping their classes. I asked lots of questions and begged for resources. I got many links to blogs and websites. I started reading. Tuesday I tried explaining what I had read to my colleagues and didn't do a very good job. It became obvious to me that I still didn't understand enough myself (another lesson in of itself!). So I spent more time reading and Tweeting.

I realized that I needed to do a better job of identifying what I want the students to learn, how I want them to learn it, and how I want them to demonstrate that learning. Really it is the same principles behind Understanding by Design (Grant Wiggins). I like how Kate Baker explains it on her blog, which is actually from Cheryl Morris' Blog:

Flipping English is about two things:
1) helping students take responsibility for their own learning by understanding them and their unique skills, abilities, and needs, and
2) leveraging technology to build a student-centered environment that meaningfully engages the cultural context in which our students live.

The flip is the process of how the students learn, not what they learn from.

This makes so much sense to me. And it relieves the pressure of technology. Because it's not really about the technology.  I think many people make the mistake of thinking that flipping your class is about using technology.

Is was only a few days after this that I landed upon the Civilization Project idea for my World History class. I was thinking on a small scale based on a project that I'd done in the past with Paul Fleishman's book Weslandia. My middle school Social Studies students had read the book and created their own civilization similar to Wesley's in the story. I was planning to do that again with my high school students. I was searching the internet for ideas for the project when I stumbled upon the Teacher Quality Collaborative website. There was the idea project! I've done some editing and will continue to morph the project into my own. The energy in the room when I presented the project to my 9th & 10th graders was amazing! Without realizing they were doing it, the kids were implementing information that I had already given them on foundational characteristics and factors of civilization! It was so much fun to listen to them!

I'm feeling really good about my World History class now, but still have much work to do for US History and my English classes. I've spent much of this weekend so far wrestling with the question of what to focus on with US History. I think I'm narrowing down my focus for US History. The Big Question (thank you Jim Burke) that I want to use is "What does it mean to be American?" The question is broad enough that I can use it for basically each era that I want to study from Colonial to 19th Century. I still need to figure out what exactly our class will look like. I love the idea of Problem Based Learning and I've got the problem. I need to decide how to engage my students in discovering the answer. What project/task do they do to explore the idea of American Identity and how do they demonstrate what they are learning?