Thursday, October 31, 2013

Technology and The Classroom: To Flip or Not To Flip

This past week I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation given by Jon Palmer (Website) on "flipping a classroom." What is involved in this model? In a "flipped classroom," students are given video lessons to watch at home that pretty much take the place of traditional lectures, and when they are in class they work on worksheets, projects, and other activities based on the lesson they learned at home. So in this kind of model the student gets the information at home, and the student does work in class. The logic behind this is based on the idea that traditional style lectures are uninteresting and disengaging so a lot of students have difficulty paying attention to it. Also in traditional classrooms, students are given homework, usually on a regular basis, where they are expected to do it at home on their own even if the homework assignment is difficult. In a "flipped classroom," students are just expected to watch a video at home instead of having to work on difficult homework, and when they are in school they can work on activities or problem sets like the ones they would originally do for homework but this time, they would have the teacher with them to provide any help or support they need. So in short, lecture at home, homework in class.

The idea of it sounds really appealing. Making students only responsible for watching a video at home on a lesson, which isn't too bad considering students probably spend countless hours watching television or YouTube. Students also get more support while working on problems in class, and have access to immediate help and feedback from the teacher. Now instead of students trying to figure out difficult problems or activities at home, they have the teacher there with them. The model sounds really interesting after hearing about, and I can see the potential it presents as it addresses several prominent issues in schools such as getting students to be engaged in lectures and also encouraging students to complete their homework. However, I know from my own experience that there are a lot of possible problems that need to be addressed before this model will produce any results.

First, I'd like you to watch one of the presenter's created lesson videos.

Pretty amazing stuff. As one of his hobbies has been video editing, he above average skills when it comes to producing videos such as these. He created a video where he is able to have three people (all played by him) in the video at the same time interacting with each other. Here's where one of the problems exist. In order for the "flipped classroom" model to work, you have to create these lesson videos that are as engaging to students as the ones Mr. Palmer has created here. He informed us during his presentation that he spends over 200 minutes of planning, recording, and processing for every one minute of the finished video. How many of us has the motivation, skills, and time to put into creating these types of videos for each lesson in a curriculum? Is this really feasible for an average teacher? This also made me wonder about something else. If I were to invest 200 minutes of my time in planning each minute of a lesson, I think it would exponentially increases the quality of my lesson to begin with and students might be more engaged as well as learn more in a traditional lecture.

Another problem that arose during the presentation was the context in which this "flipped classroom" was used. Yes, Mr. Palmer mentioned that he saw improvement in attitudes and engagement of the students as well as quiz grades. However, he used this model to teach an AP physics class. The problem with this context is that most students who elect to take AP courses tend to be highly motivated students who have more than not proven themselves to know the basics of what is takes to be a successful student. In other words, the student for the most part knows how to be responsible for his or her own learning. This translates to these students having a higher likelihood of actually going home and watching the videos on their own. Now consider using this model in an urban "high need" school where students are lower achieving students to begin with who are not motivated in the first place. You really can't assume that the majority of these students will actually watch these videos at home on their own. Even for many who do watch the video, they won't have the necessary knowledge or skills to process that information. How do I know this? Well at my current placement at the Detroit School of Arts (DSA), we are currently using a "flipped classroom" model and these are the problems that have arose during the course of this semester. There are other issues such as students not having the proper technology such as computers or internet access at home.

Mr. Palmer taught at a suburban school which was probably comprised of mostly students from middle class to upper class families. He also said that when he started this model, there was no technology issues either such as students not having access to a computer or internet. In this kind of context, I can see how a "flipped classroom" could produce inspiring results. However, in a context like the one I mentioned previously, I'm just not sure if it's working. I did learn some things I could try in regards to activities, tests, and how to make better and more engaging videos, but I'm not convinced that a "flipped classroom" is the model I want to use in my future practice.

Adding to My Web 2.0 Toolbox

Over the past several weeks in my Technology in Education course, I have been learning about several Web 2.0 tools that could be useful in improving instruction, and they also provide opportunities for innovative activities and methods to engage students. What is a Web 2.0 tool you might ask? According to, it is defined as: "a second generation in the development of the World Wide Web, conceived as a combination of concepts, trends, and technologies that focus on user collaboration, sharing of user-generated content, and social networking."

Web 2.0 tools come in many forms (Blogger is one for example) and it goes beyond static web pages and more towards user interaction and collaboration. I want to talk about one of the tools that I had the opportunity to learn about, and share my thoughts and reflections about its uses in a classroom, and how it might benefit my future practice. The Web 2.0 tool I will be sharing in this post is a popular and widely used tool that goes by the name of Prezi.

So Prezi is essentially a website that creates presentations with pretty cool animations (Link). In other words, it's PowerPoint on steroids. The most distinguishing feature of Prezi that differentiates it with PowerPoint is the implementation of the transitions between slides or "frames" as it's called in Prezi. You upload your images, videos, text, etc. into these frames, and you can select what kind of transition you want to have. The most interesting transition to me was the ability to set a small image in a frame within a large image in a frame. So say you choose your preset background as a giant world map, you can set smaller frames with information within different countries or locations, and when you click on that location the Prezi will zoom in on your image or information. The transitions can also rotate or move along a set path, thus making the transitions with Prezi much more animated and cooler to look at than the ones with PowerPoint.

As I was listening to a presentation about this Web 2.0 tool along with how it can be used for different disciplines, I began to think about how this tool might be more useful for me than using just regular slides from a PowerPoint. One specific thing that I thought about using it for was using the world map background, and then setting frames in different countries that when clicked on it would show videos of mathematical practices or instruction that are unique and specific to those countries. For example, I could put the following YouTube video of children in China learning multiplication and addition of very large numbers using an abacus, an ancient tool that was used for computations like a calculator.

I have always been interested in the different ways math is being taught around the world, and I feel that using Prezi to show these things to students could be a really engaging way to introduce or teach math. Overall, I really like the tool. Even though it's based off a website, you can also download it and create Prezi's offline. The Prezi's you create will also save online for you to have access to at any time. Although I still have some confusion on how exactly to create one as I haven't played around with it yet myself, I can see the potential it has in making my presentations more engaging.