Saturday, May 26, 2012

Flipping History Q & A

Since I started flipping my world history class this year, many educators have asked questions about the model and its implementation.  Chase Moore (@moore2cw), a fellow world history teacher interested in the flipped model, recently posed the following questions.  He had recently read my post about the flipped mastery model in our history class (which has since changed a bit, more below).

I thought posting this brief conversation could further the discussion online with others interested in the ways that the flipped model can be applied to the social studies classroom. 

“How do you develop your Standards?”  

After a few units of flipping, I started applying a standards-based-grading approach.  In sum, their grade was not going to be based upon a combination of homework, classwork, and summative assessments.  Instead, I would assess them based on their proficiency of three particular standards over a 2-3 week period (further discussed below). 

I have since changed the terminology to “learning goals,” since this resonates with the students more than “standards.”    I have also started using Connecticut’s Social Studies Framework to choose particular learning goals for each topic.

For example, one learning goal will be from Standard 1: Content Knowledge.  The second, more challenging learning goal is from Standard 2: History / Social Studies Literacy.  The third, and most challenging learning goal, is from Standard 3: Civic Engagement.    I chose learning goals that aligned with the topic we covered in the last unit, which was “conflict in the middle east.” 

Here is a link to the document I provided the students:

Learning Goals

“Do you break your curriculum into Units, then into Standards? Or do you simply break up your class by each standard?”

I break each unit into three topics.  Each topic (ex. Cold War Era) runs for approximately 2-3 weeks.    For each topic, I choose three learning goals (mentioned above).  I am going to revise the curriculum once school is out, but this basic format seems to work for the students. 

“Roughly how long would it take the average student to complete a standard / how long do you give?”

I assign the entire 2-3 week topic at the start, and the students progress through the three learning goals over that time period at their own pace.  If students do not demonstrate proficiency in all three by the end, they can still do so, but on their own time.  The class moves on to the next topic.

“Do you collaborate with colleagues to develop assignments for components 1 - 3 or are you working on this alone?”

I work in a very small school, so I am actually the only World History teacher in the district.  However, next year we will work on department (and interdepartmental) screencasts that focus on skill development.  For example, all department members will create screencasts on evaluating historical significance, detecting bias in a source, etc.  

We are also going to make “guest appearances” in other screencasts.  For instance, I will work with our civicc teacher to create an end of year recap screencast.  As Jon Bergmann (@jonbergmann) and Aaron Sams (@chemicalsams) suggest, conversational screencasts seem more interesting to students.

“Roughly how many different assignment choices do you plan on offering to students for components 2 - 3?”

I usually offer 2 – 3 assignment choices, but they are allowed to develop their own assessments as long as they can clearly demonstrate proficiency in the learning goal.  For instance, one student asked if they could just be interviewed by me during class.  In the end, it was clear to me that the student was proficient, so they simply moved on to the next goal.  I first heard of this approach from Brian Bennett (@bennettscience).

As with all of us, this is a work in progress and continuously evolving.  If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions, please do not hesitate to comment below or email at

Friday, May 25, 2012

Digital Natives & 21st Century Learning

As relatively young teacher (26) and one whose formative years included widespread use of computers and the internet, I would be considered what many today term a "digital native."  Although I have only been a classroom teacher for five years, I have already seen a wide variety of educators who fit every mold.  For instance, I have worked with “digital immigrants” who speak of rizzo graphs? (whatever that is) yet work extremely hard to learn every new technology out there.  I have also worked with those who scoff at the idea of abandoning their dusty overhead projector that has worked “perfectly fine” for all these decades.  Most digital native teachers that I have worked with are fluent in most modern technologies, but sometimes you would not know it by seeing their classroom in action.  Even the most tech-savvy young educators can be seen applying the same chalk-and-talk strategies that have been around since blackboards were invented. 

These observations tell me that as educators, we truly are all over the map.   The district I am working in is working hard to get everyone on the same page regarding technology use in the classroom and its role instruction.  However, there is one major issue that I am sure plagues many districts:  there needs to be a clear framework or set of guidelines regarding what technology to use, how to use it, or why it should be used in the first place.  At the end of the day, very few would be able to clearly articulate how these new technologies improve student learning. 

Beyond this, the very nature of how students think and learn is fundamentally different from how they used to.   I suppose I am part of this group who have actually acquired this changing set of skills.  However, I was, for the most part, trained to teach students of a different era, one that no longer exists.   I am only now taking a clearly divergent path by applying what is increasingly termed the “flipped classroom” model.  

Is flipping the class the answer to bridging this gap between the old factory-model of education with 21st century learners?  If not entirely, it is at least a start.  Hopefully we as educators, both digital native and immigrant alike, can address this issue in a productive, creative, and innovative way.   In reality, we do not have a choice in the matter, we just have to do it. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Goal of Flipped Class Videos: Content Delivery or Skill Development?

It recently occurred to me that since I began flipping my world history course in January, each of my screencast lectures have had one overarching goal:  content delivery.    This has proven tremendously useful and the early results, considering both assessment scores and student feedback, are encouraging.     Transitioning some of my direct instruction (content delivery through lecture)  to video has helped students understand some of the major events and themes from world history, but I realized what I should shift my focus towards:  building social studies skills!

Since most of our class time is now spent working on such skills, I now have a better understanding of their ability to engage in such learning experiences.   In sum, I overestimated many of their abilities.   For example, we recently worked on evaluating the historical significance of cold war events.   Many students had little trouble telling me what happened, but few could clearly articulate the importance and global implications of these events and historical developments.  

Then, it dawned on me.   Why not model these social studies skills through screencasts in a similar way that I have been delivering content?   When I mentioned this idea to colleagues in my district, they agreed that modeling of these skills is essential before we expect them to develop them in class.     We quickly brainstormed some skills that we could begin developing screencasts for: 
  •         Historical Significance
  •         Evaluating Validity / Bias in Sources
  •         Developing a Research Paper
  •         Writing (we could go on an on here…)

We also realized that there were several other benefits to creating skills based screencasts…
  1.  If each department member uses the same screencast to introduce a skill, there will be a clear expectation for students across subjects and grade levels within you department.    (For example, students will no longer be frustrated with situations where one teacher has vastly different expectations regarding writing a research paper. ) 
  2. This will be a great way for teachers to start working together making screencasts. 
  3.  Different departments could collaborate on screencasts.   For instance, the English and Social Studies departments could develop a common research format and show students through a model screencast.
Of course, flipping your class is not simply about the videos.  I do believe, however, that modeling skills through screencasts will improve the performance of students as they engage in often challenging in-class learning experiences.