Flipped Classroom: A Flipping Update

Image labelled for reuse by Edudemic

Image labelled for reuse by Edudemic

As his Flipped Classroom project reaches it’s half-way point, Mark Ostler, Faculty Lead for Humanities at St Paul’s Catholic School, provides us with another update on his progress:

The frustration sets in

The purpose of this post is to reflect on my flipped classroom project as I reach the half-way point, but what I’d really like to do is start with an angry rant.  As you read on, please see this as a warning of the pitfalls and hurdles that may confront you.  You’ll be better placed to deal with the issues that I have faced.  Try to avoid seeing this as the words of a furious teacher venting their frustration.  In reality, it’s probably both.

Time.  Lots of it.  I have a full time job.  I have management responsibilities.  I have a family, and just the slightest hint of a life out of school.  All I need to do is make videos that the pupils can watch at home to introduce the next lesson, but the last video I made took about 5 hours, despite the end product being about 3 minutes long.  I do not have enough time to work in this way.  If the head gave me a timetable with only 4 hours of teaching a week I could do it, but that’s not going to happen.

Then there’s the network and internet issues.  Any old images won’t do.  I need to find images that are labelled for reuse, and music that kind musicians have released under creative commons licenses.  I don’t want the FBI kicking my door down for copyright breach, even in the name of education.  YouTube is filtered for good reason in school, but that means I can’t upload anything when I’m here.

Next it’s the apps.  The ones I want to use need to save to the hard drive.  Our school network saves to the network by default.  I can’t change the settings.  I get a perfect take for a voiceover, and the app then crashes because it can’t save to where it wants to.  I’m at work, but being here actually prevents me working!

Nowhere is quiet.  I’ve tried my classroom, I’ve tried my office.  When you’re sitting at home watching a documentary, like me you may have reflected on how easy the job of the voiceover person is.  I imagine Attenborough or Fry, sitting down, reading out loud while someone records them in a soundproof room, laughing all the way to the bank.  My colleagues are laughing at me, as I sit in front of the computer, shouting at it because I’ve fumbled my words again.  How is it that I can speak easily to a large group, but I can’t read out loud to myself without making frequent mistakes?

The flip side

If one thing has saved me, it’s the reaction of the students.  I was sure they would mock the low quality of my video, the boring drone of my voice, and if they didn’t it would be because they hadn’t watched it in the first place.  Regardless, I had prepared the tasks for the lesson with a strong emphasis on independent, collaborative work.  As the students entered, they each took a task sheet and started to work without me saying anything.  Some started to help others, and within a few minutes groups of students were involved in high quality discussion.  All I had to do was monitor and guide, and we were 20 minutes into the lesson before I had to speak to the whole class, and that was to praise them for what they had done so far.  I’ve taught the class for over a year, and with the flipped classroom approach I’ve seen a remarkable development in the quality of their independent work, their success in enquiry based tasks, and in the value of their collaboration with each other.  Despite all the time consuming difficulties I’ve faced, the lessons this week have made it all worthwhile.

Student evaluations of the project so far suggest they have enjoyed working in a flipped classroom, and some have even taken it upon themselves to make notes on the videos they watch at home in addition to any other tasks set.  They like getting down to something productive immediately in the lesson, and appreciate working at a pace and complexity appropriate to themselves.  They have suggested improvements for me to work on, setting background music in the videos at a lower volume, and talking at a slower pace for them to follow what I’m saying.

Developments over the final few weeks will include trying a wider variety of software and apps to produce the video element of my flipped lessons in different ways.  The students will also complete a formative and summative assessment so that their progress and attainment can be compared with their pre-flipped classroom data.  I will also formalise feedback from students and parents at the end of the project to see what they think of the overall experience.  Finally, I hope to get them involved in resource production, making their own revision videos to share with each other.

Has it all been worth it so far?

Yes, but its hard work to begin with.  I’ve found that I am becoming faster as my familiarity with video production increases.  While I may never flip my classroom on a permanent basis, I’m certainly seeing the value of doing it from time to time on a more regular basis, and I’m sure that it will become one of a range of strategies I use for teaching and learning.  The response from students this week has also captured the interest of other staff in the faculty, so in the near future, I might not be the only one.

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