It was just over a year ago when I first heard the term “flipped classroom,” and I recall wondering what part of the classroom was flipped. I saw pictures of desks and books upside down, but never thought much about the concept. I never thought this theory would lead to a new approach to the classroom and quite possibly revolutionize education, especially in the digital age. I remember my high school days, 1998—2001, when we, the students, walked into the classrooms, took out our notebooks, and rigorously recorded every single word the teacher said from 8:40—3:40 five days a week. We never had contact with our teachers outside of school, class websites did not exist, and that was the nature of the game for every student across the country. There were days when I felt it was impossible to keep up with lecture, and then there were days I was dying to get ahead of the game, because I felt I understood the material. I went on to get a B.A. in History and then my M.A.T. in Social Studies Education. In my first few years teaching, I thought direct instruction and class discussion were the most effective ways to engage my students and teach American history. It was not until four years ago that my iTunes and the Internet gave me some ideas of how to change my teaching style; and they continue to change more each day.
I created a class blog for my students to follow what was going on in class. That worked wonders, and I thought for sure I did something magical in the world of education. Not long after, I found that my blog was just one small mean to deliver information about the content and the class to my students. I remember having a long drive to Virginia ahead of me a few years ago when I downloaded a few podcasts from Yale University to listen to on the road. There it hit me; why not make my own audio podcasts for my students to listen to on their own time. They download the podcast from my website, and listen to it at their time. Again, I thought for sure I had conquered the education world. My administration thought it was brilliant, and I found the students actually enjoyed listening to my corny music introductions, jokes in the middle of the podcast, and the ending questions. The students would come to class and give me a hard time for playing Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” as my introduction to the American Revolution podcast. Deep down, I knew I was on to something, but there was still so much more. In education, you never have the ability to settle with “what works this year”, because things can change in a heartbeat over those summer months – especially with technology.
After creating a handful of audio podcasts over that first year, saving them to my class blog, and assigning them as homework assignments to prepare the students for class discussion the next day, I then invested in an iPad. I thought, why not try and create videos for my students? With audio podcasts, kids could listen and learn on their own time, but I was still requiring them to listen and learn at the same pace. I also thought these audio podcasts came in handy when students were absent, or could not get the information in class and needed some extra “audio time with Mr. Barry”. With these new video podcasts on the Educreations app, I was recording lessons using pictures and terms from class, but making them 10-15 minutes and assigning them for homework so we could get further in class discussion. Kids would go to my blog, see the video, watch it when they wanted/needed, and then came to class ready for discussion questions. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of kinks in this wonderful idea. Some students were not able to find time to watch the videos, others stated they could not access them, while others were not only ready for discussion, but were practically ready for the next unit! I had to find a common ground, and even today, I still struggle to make things just right.
This year I have introduced Google Docs to the equation. I have the students watch the video podcasts, edit the Google Docs, and come to class ready to discuss questions asked in the videos and we answer those the students were unable to get to. To be honest, it’s fun! The kids love filling in the Google Doc questions/answers and other students have my audio podcasts saved in their iTunes in a separate playlist – which is kind of creepy to be in the car and hear your teacher talk about Andrew Jackson and the Indian Removal Act, but if they like it then great! I feel like my classroom is beginning to live in the cloud – on Google Drive. Over the summer, I plan on creating dozens of video podcasts on Educreations for all units. I will make a Google Doc for every unit with essential questions for students to answer, and I will have all videos and websites used in class uploaded to my class blog for easy access.
After reading Jason Bretzmann’s Flipping 2.0 and a handful of other articles from Twitterchats #flipclass (which I highly suggest you get on board!), I have decided to go close to 100% flipped this next school year. It seems every evening when I get home from school I am connecting with teachers across the country on Twitter who flip their classes. We share the perks and the difficulties of the flipped model. We talk about the direction of the lessons, education in general, and the new tools that are out there to make our field stronger! With students accessing the Internet, and getting faster connections to the Internet both at home and in public places such as libraries and Starbucks, the digital classroom is moving as fast as you can connect.
Every student learns differently and at their own pace. Some students need to watch a video from Educreations with my voice, read an article from the History Channel website, and then a video from YouTube to understand concepts of history, while others need only to do one or two of the above. The students’ ability to answer essential questions are critical in a social studies classroom, and I want class time spent discussing these questions rather than introducing material. Will there be challenges? Certainly. But that is the same world our students will face. They will face technological challenges in high school and college. Their world will drastically change, so why not adapt to these changes and challenge ourselves as well as our students by trying to flip our classrooms in some way. In the flipped classroom, the students listen and watch the audio/video podcasts at their own pace, and come to class ready to dive into discussion and answer the tough questions; some of these questions could be revolutionary! One of those questions that a social studies class offers, and in a flipped model can certainly open up for discussion, is one of the most difficult of them all: What have we learned from our past to best predict and shape the future?