Everybody has a “space”
Flipped classroom practitioners talk about the “individual space” and the “group space” as a framework for planning and learning. Normally we seek to move instruction to the student’s individual space so they can come prepared for deeper learning the group space. This series seeks to give a few examples of bringing students into the teacher’s individual space. More specifically for this entry, bringing the teacher’s individual space digitally to the whole class.
My non-classroom space
I have a number of hobbies, and like many teachers, I also have a number of jobs. I teach high school math full-time, and I teach part time at the local community college. I also work residential construction when I am not doing either of those things. There are few things as instructive as manual labor, as there are very few core life lessons that cant be learned at the dumb end of a shovel, especially if working with others of more experience. Humility, patience, perseverance, importance of quality work, and the reward of a job well done may in fact best be learned through sweat and strain. Today’s lesson comes from the world of Mr. Moore the electrician (honorary title only).
Bringing my space to class
My Pre-Calculus students were given a “take-home” test component that required them to “Create an equation that satisfies the following criteria”. They dislike these problems as it requires greater understanding of the material than a simple “Just show me how to do it” problem. I like the creation problems because much like real world problems there are a variety of approaches and a variety of pitfalls. If a student creates an equation with weird coefficients or complicated operations then they will reap what they have sown throughout the test as they are to perform various operations and tests on their equation. This type of problem also means that they need to understand the conditions and vocabulary for a variety of situations. I give it as a take home, usually over a weekend, to provide plenty of time. The late Sunday night emails and Monday morning pleas for mercy centered on frustration as the reason for not completing the work. This opened the door for a teachable moment about problem solving in life.
Before showing the video to the class in the group space, I clarified that I had made this video a month earlier and it was not a direct response to their current frustrations, but that problem solving skills are universally necessary irregardless of context or age. I filmed the video on my job site when I was wrestling a particularly nasty little switch box that I had roughed in a month prior to my attempts to do the finish wiring.
My hope and goal for bringing this little slice of my daily life to my classroom was to show a real problem with real stakes. In this situation I don’t need to explain that quitting isn’t an option as live wires hanging out of a box and no power in the garage is simply not an option. I attempted to bring the students into my situation and walk them through my plan to solve my problem. As we all know life is the best teacher and the only true law is Murphy’s Law…requiring me to film a followup video.
Lessons from Mr. Murphy
Murphy’s Law worked in my favor in this instance as it demonstrated the biggest tool of learning, failure. I failed in my first attempt and it required me to undo all of my previous work and start from scratch. I find starting from scratch is something that students do only as a last resort. I see students when they fail either quit, grind away to keep alive a hopeless attempt, or erase their mistake all together as they seem afraid to have anyone see that they failed. By recording my failure and frustration I hope that at least a few students understand that initial failure is not a mark of shame, provided that failure does not become terminal. I want students to see that frustration is a necessary part of the process. I can preach this from the front of the classroom, but if video me can teach them about frustration and failure in the moment it is happening I believe it can resonate more clearly.
Keep your eyes open
When we begin looking at our own lives outside the classroom, we find experiences and lessons that would benefit our students. They might be content based, or they may be more universal lessons, but both are beneficial to the classroom. What it requires is keeping our “teacher’s eyes” open and taking just a few minutes to record a picture or video on our cell phone. By bringing our lives into the classroom, or just allowing students to see a small portion of our individual space, the goal is to breakdown barriers to learning.
P.S. Also applies to teachers
This idea of sharing snipets of our experiences also applies to ourselves and our colleagues. I was reminded of this while crawling under my project house installing plumbing this summer and blogged about the lesson I learned about teaching. Check it out at flippedlearning.org