How my flipped class’ need for a shelf, led to a desk, which led to a realization, and back to a desk.
On April 30, 1930 attorneys Banning & Banning filed a patent on behalf of George H. Abbott of Elgin, Illinois with a local foundry in Elgin, Woodruff and Edwards Inc as assignor. The patent was for an education invention with the following purpose:
“has for its object to provide a serviceable, ornamental and durable device of this character, which provides for plus and minus vertical adjustments of both seat and desk. Further objects of the invention are to provide improved adjustment connections and an improved swivel construction for the seat.” https://www.google.com/patents/US1883322
In short, the patent was for a combined seat and desk that could be adjusted to fit students for improved functionality and one can therefore assume improved student adaptability and improved learning. This patent by its nature claims innovation and exclusivity making it the cutting edge EdTech of its day.
I came across patent number 1883322 this week as I was solving a problem for my flipped classroom. I have a new principal this year and she and the administrative team decided that students should be allowed to carry book bags with them to class. This is certainly within their prerogative and they have shown themselves to be very good administrators that I trust, however, this is a problem for my classroom. A flipped classroom reflects a flexible physical environment that matches the flexible learning environment. Not only do I not have a seating chart, my desks do not have a fixed arrangement because they are in constant motion as students are grouped, regrouped, and engaged. So I have three issues with the bookbags: I can’t freely move around the room with extra clutter, students need clear paths in case of fire, and I need students to feel untethered to a location rather than nest there. The simple solution is a shelf for all of the non-essential detritus.
A quick trip to the “Perfectly Picked” antique store in town sent me home with a small table someone had added to a metal base that I thought could be made to look “Schooly” and only cost me a few bucks. It needed a new top that would fit my purpose and had been outside so it needed some paint. As I wire brushed the rust prior to painting I found the patent number and wrote it down just so I could tell the students what it used to be. With the addition of some old bedside boards that had been homeless a while, some distressing, overstaining, and spray paint I had a new home for student books and bags freeing my classroom of clutter and enhancing the learning space. It wasn’t until later that night before bed I found that the “Schooly” looking base was indeed the seat and desk base from Mr. Abbott’s invention.
The object lesson here is that innovative teaching is not the sole domain of the present. Bright people have been improving education in both the physical space and pedagogical practice since man was compelled to pass knowledge from one to another. Mr. Abbott implies by his inventions that fitting the desk to the student was better than fitting the student to the desk. The idea of a swivel seat implies improved interaction among students. I can personally testify that from the weight of the desk mobility is most definitively not implied.
Flipped learning itself is an innovation, but one built on the great ideas of many predecessors. The flipped classroom built on existing methods of at-home learning seen in video learning that I remember my father doing for his post masters work in the late 1980s. However, video learning was built on the shoulders of correspondence courses before them. The innovation was that through technology it could be personalized by the teacher for his or her learners. Flipped learning relies heavily on the work of Benjamin Bloom and others to move learning from basic and somewhat temporary to a learning that is deeper, more meaningful, and longer lasting. The innovation is utilizing technology to deliver the basic content on an individualized schedule for maximum effect and allowing time in the group space for discussion, critique, interaction, and creation that was not possible in a traditional industrial model of education. In fact, what might be considered the educational ideal of one on one teacher student interaction is also the oldest of all educational methods. In the 1960s mastery learning caved under the weight of data management required to mimic a one on one relationship within the confines of the industrial model. Today EdPuzzle, learning management systems, GAFE and other tech tools lighten the load of data management, while YouTube, Camtasia, Screencasify, and others bring the teacher into a one to one space through a student’s earbuds where differentiation, adaptation, and interaction can begin to take place.
Lest we think that flipped classroom equals tech added to old methods. Some of the most interesting developments in flipped learning are utilizing a version of education’s old villain, the worksheet. That’s right the dreaded page filled with strange words and strategic blanks is back as a new darling. Anakin Worksheet is now Darth Interactive Notebook. Now I understand that is a gross generalization for dramatic effect, but Cornell Notes, Guided notes, and the more innovative interactive notebook whether on paper or now even digital format relies on the same basic premise that students can and should glean useful and important information from various sources to provide a framework for learning. The goal of all of the methods above is for student to come to class prepared, or “primed”, to learn while providing a system of organization for future information reference. When the worksheet blanks are questions embedded in a video we call it EdPuzzle. When we gather information with GAFE or Pear Deck they become digital portfolios. Old ideas can and should be revitalized, reused, and re-purposed without shame or stigma provided it is done with reflective intent and meets the needs of the learner.
Anyone who has worked in education for any amount of time (and is not selling re-treaded ideas as new edu-whatever) will tell you that there is nothing new in education and that they have seen it before. I have said this myself and I can’t deny the large percentage of truth in the statement. However, times change and students change; ideas that were once effective, or even ineffective, can be effective now if educators are willing to look with fresh and innovative eyes at what might be reused, re-imagined, or even re-engineered to meet the needs of today’s learners. Yes, technology has provided the means for much of the innovation in education as of late from flipped videos, to 1:1 devices, SmartBoards, LCD projectors, etc. but the effectiveness of each of the preceding is dependent on the artful and innovative application by professional educators.
While going a little deeper down the wiki-rabbit hole chasing the patent for 188322 I found that no less than thirteen other patents reference Mr. Abbott’s patent. Some are very distant relatives of the 1930 application, but the most recent patent reference from 2009 was for a school desk. Patent US 7571959 B2 was granted to Dennis Griepentrog and assigned to Krueger International https://www.google.com/patents/US7571959. Krueger sells the 360 Classroom Furniture on its website and promotes them as follows:
“Designed to enhance creative teaching methods and trends, 360 classroom desks provide the ultimate in adaptability, configurability and comfort. 360 classroom desks roll, rotate, swivel and adjust, adapting to any teaching styles. Each desk rotates 360° quickly and easily, so students can face any direction… Seat heights also adjust to provide individual student comfort. “http://www.ki.com/products/name/360-classroom-furniture/
What Mr. Griepentrog and Krueger International are trying to do is provide an innovative product that is riding the current wave of educational design and practice in a marketplace that includes many other manufactures. Mobility, student interactions, flexible spacing, collaborative learning are all in vogue and all reasons to buy products from these manufacturers, but as Mr. Griepentrog’s patent shows he is as much indebted to Mr. Abbott as today’s classroom teachers are indebted to those educators and innovators who came before us. In the end, for Mr. Griepentrog, Mr. Abbott, and all of us as educators share a responsibility to innovate and improve learning for students not always with new ideas but with good ideas regardless of their age.