Flipped Teaching As NEVER Intended

Teaching from beside the Pepsi machine is not what flip advocates envision but BOTH learning and teaching are not bound by the classroom walls.

Where’s Waldo?…err Mr. Moore

Today my teachers desk is a small side table tucked in the corner of a hospital waiting room wedged in beside the Pepsi machine because that’s where I found the power outlet. I am missing one of my favorite days of Pre-Calculus where students work on a large sinusoidal graphing application problem based on the Big Eli Ferris Wheel because my duty as a husband is to be with my wife during a minor surgery.

pepsi-machine-desk

The Big Eli

The Big Eli is a range of Ferris wheels made in Jacksonville, Illinois.  If you have ridden a Ferris wheel at a fair, amusement park, mall or other business you have likely ridden a Big Eli. If you have ridden a “Scrambler” you have also experienced an Eli Bridge Company product.   The students in my class are given a situation involving this classic amusement ride and are asked to go to the company website and gather the required information to complete a number of graphs and calculations.  We build on this with other amusement rides by the company and cloak otherwise tedious graphing concepts in memories of cotton candy and the smell of hot asphalt and second hand smoke. This is always a little challenging for some students as it is not a directly defined exercise with a straight forward solution and there are choices the students must make and information they must gather.  Students have already watched the intro/instructional video, and are working together in teams, but I am missing the fun of their discovery today. Keep in mind the benefit of flipped is what happens in the group space, and today I am not physically in the group space.

Take deep breath

I am not in the group space today in a physical way, but as I mentioned I have provided the video instruction and intro to the project.  Students have their peer present and I warned them yesterday to expect frustration and false starts regardless of whether I am there or not.  For some students this is their weakest part of learning and healthy frustration is a necessary component.  I have also established routines in my classroom to help carry students through frustration.

Establish flipped routines

Every classroom benefits from routines and the flipped classroom is only slightly different.  Whether your flipped class is flip 101 or flipped mastery students have a process that is a status quo for the classroom.  Where do I get information?  Where do I look for instruction? Where do I find practice or mastery components?  What are the assessments I must complete? How, and from whom, can I get help?  As creative as flip allows our group space to become these are key questions to which students must know the answers if we hope to limit frustration to healthy “learning frustration” rather than process frustration. Answers may vary from teacher to teacher but with your class students must know and feel confident in the answers for your class.

Routines carry a class when life is not routine

In all honesty, one of my primary reasons to do flip was selfish.  I was very very tired of having to go back and re-instruct students who were not in class to receive my golden knowledge the first time.  I had a certain amount of resentment about students who were absent because they were messing with my method and my routine. In hindsight this was both selfish and hypocritical.

My daughter, Emma, is seven years old and wonderful … and has Cerebral Palsy.  The details are not necessary but as any parent of a special needs child knows there are varied and numerous requirements on your time that come with a child with special needs. In our case Emma’s birth also came with long-term health challenges for my wife and indirectly myself.  As an employee who had missed on average one day a year for the first twelve years of my teaching career, I now value each sick and or personal day as golden.  God has blessed us with wonderful helpers in the form of family and friends for regular care for Emma but appointments and surgeries for her special needs take me out of the classroom on a somewhat regular basis. Cleaning up and repairing my wife’s health issues, which is why I am running class via a video and email from beside a Pepsi machine, is another required set of absences from the classroom. Following my own health scare, the routines and communication methods with my students have taken on far greater importance.

emma-sam-elephant

(Emma and her brother…the reason I need good classroom routines)

I told you I was a hypocrite

Life has a way of highlighting our own hypocrisy.  For me in the heart of my own absences I was most frustrated with the absences of my students. I found myself judging between “justified” absences like sickness and funerals and “unjustified” absences like field trips, parent excused, and extracurricular.  I found myself resenting both.  As with most resentment the problem was “me”.  My traditional routines in the classroom were not really sufficient to cover my absences and when compounded with student absences the failure of my classroom method and routines became more pronounced.

The flipped fix

As most flipped teachers will tell you, as good as the flipped method is at solving problems, the most beneficial aspect of moving to flipped is that you learn (are forced) to re-evaluate everything you do with your classroom.  (note that “in” your classroom becomes “with” your classroom as “in” loses its meaning”) .  Moving basic and introductory instruction to the personal space via video solved the bulk of the problem of re-instruction for absent students, while at the same time allowing class productivity during my own absences.  Establishing an online class presence and organized online resource repository meant absent students could make progress and continue learning regardless of physical presence in the classroom.  I now also have a single place to refer students with questions for additional instruction and assistance.  If I need to supplement or add resources a quick email to students and post on my part can solve a multitude of issues and alleviate piles of student frustration. In-class time can now be used to address student learning issues and deepen understanding rather than pushing though material.  In short, flipped method and self-reflection changed not just my classroom but my outlook and perception of my students.

Back to the lobby

Surgery is over and I am headed back to the recovery room shortly but in the mean time I have answered a handful of student emails, accessed my school computer remotely to load the next thing for the substitute teacher, and assigned some online AP practice for my Calculus class.  As a flipped teacher I need to be in the group space providing engaging, differentiated, and higher-order instruction but teachers, just like students, are people too and life gets in the way of our best laid plans.  Absences are no longer “justified” or “unjustified” they just are a part of life but the flipped classroom and solid routines means learning can happen both inside and outside the classroom.  I am not sure this is what flipped pioneers intended but it is definitely better than what I used to do. Okay, teacher duty done, I am off to do husband duty.

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