Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Homework or not

You know, as I watch the Olympics and see athletes getting in trouble for saying dumb stuff on Twitter, I'm like, seriously, don't go on Twitter, or at least maybe not during the pinnacle moment of your career.

Then as I'm waiting for #flipclass chat to start up, I see a lot of folks that I follow and respect on Twitter commenting on homework.  Really, I started to get a little heated and really wanted to comment, but since it was specifically in #sschat and I don't teach ss (though I do have a degree in History, maybe that counts) I hesitated.

After a few minutes the benefits of age and experience kicked in for me and I recognized what I always do, which is that if I feel that sort of visceral reaction, I should back up and examine my own thought processes and convictions.

You see, one of my great beliefs in life is that we diminish things when we make everything a solely two sided issue, a false dichotomy.  I will grant you that there are a few things where you are on one side or the other, and that one can make the argument that one side is plainly evil.  But let's be honest, most things are a bit more nuanced than that.

I think that is especially true in education.  I don't think I'm ever a worse teacher than when I get some philosophical idea lodged somewhere and believe that I must act it out in every class every day.  I'm a fan of PBL, of flipped classrooms, of inquiry based learning and am beginning to do some tentative explorations of modeling for my classroom.  But the second you tell me that I have to pick one of those teams and stick with them no matter what, every day or I'm a heretic, then I tune it out.  In fact, it generally makes me want to go the other way (it did with PBL for a while).

There was a comment about the hubris of a teacher assuming that they control a kid's time outside of school. I think there is no small amount of hubris in one teacher telling another what is best for his kids in his classroom.

Example: I've taught AP for the past 4 years, and will teach a different AP class this year.  If I assign my students no homework, I am actively doing them a disservice, their chance to do well on the test is pretty minimal then.

This obviously is an extreme example, but the idea that all homework is evil is rather extreme also.  Let me lay my cards on the table.  I essentially agree that I want my kids to have lives outside of school.  The assignments that I give to be done outside of my classroom are pretty minimal.  In fact, for the past 5 years, most of my students did very little work outside of class, maybe on the order of an hour a week (excepting my AP students).

So at heart, I agree that we shouldn't have students up til 1am every night doing work for me.

What I don't agree with though is that by assigning 10 pages of reading or a 15 minute video that I am draining the souls of my students.  I don't say this blithely or without thinking.  I have 3 young boys myself, and I want them to enjoy themselves when we are home at night together, so I hope they don't get overloaded with homework.

Another comment said that teachers doing work at home isn't the same thing, that we do it because we want to excel and improve.

Yes...complete the analogy...

True, one could argue that the work teachers do isn't required, but I've been at schools where your plan period was called a duty period, and so the only time you ever had to grade anything was outside of school, essentially required.

To sum it up since I'm taking my wife to work in her room in the middle of the summer two weeks before school starts, I can get behind the idea that we shouldn't burden students with boring, meaningless homework assignments just to get grades or whatever.  I agree that assignments should be relevant and that in many cases can be made optional.

But I don't believe that assigning homework makes you a bad teacher or a dementor of student spirits.  My best teachers were ones that gave tough, challenging assignments, to be completed at home usually.  Under the new regime I guess they'd be behind the times and maybe even evil...I refuse to buy into that.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Bridge

So it was probably around this time last summer that I decided I was going to flip my class for last school year. To any prospective flippers that read this, it wasn't easy, partially due to my own quirks.

When I decided to follow the Sams/Bergmann model of flip and prerecord my lectures (the pre-vodcasting model) I spent two-3 days researching the proper program to record with, eventually landing on Camtasia. I bought a flip cam and lots of stuff specifically for the videos.  I spent probably 200 hours or so making videos last fall, all for my Chem I classes. To be honest, they aren't very great videos, though I think they helped a lot of kids, especially as I was at a school with some attendance issues last year.

Still, my jumping into the flipped classroom and the movement has been probably the most beneficial thing I've done in my career as an educator, far more so than any class I took, any PD I've ever been to, or any meeting I've endured.

I was listening to the podcasts for the Flipped Learning Network last week and heard Aaron Sams very accurately depict just why that is.  He described the flipped classroom as a bridge between standard teacher centered models of the classroom and the student centered model.  That might seem like a bad thing for the "movement" that one of the progenitors of the idea says that it is not really the end goal.  But it was such a revelation for me, really hit me.

A couple of years ago at my old school we implemented a program where every single teacher in the school had to do a PBL project, preferably a week or more in length.  There was panic, frustration and I can pretty safely say as one of the people who checked up on them, that the projects and the idea didn't work as well as it could have.  Wasn't really the administration's fault, we had several days of PD on it, so it wasn't like they just threw it at us and said do it.

Here's the thing though, PBL is a very student centered model (or can be) and it is a giant leap for teachers to go from teacher centered to student centered.  I'm getting pretty interested in the modeling movement for teaching science, but it is a big leap too, as were my ill fated attempts at inquiry stuff in the past few years.

This then is what flipclass has done for me, it has allowed me to try out something that was at once radical and very different, but at the same time still had enough of the old elements to keep me comfortable while I make the transition to a student centered classroom.  I felt like I still had "covered" all of the material while having much more time to do a lot more things in class, to sit down with students and help them through everything, to experiment with standards based grading and google forms submission of work, things that I probably wouldn't have tried without flipclass.

I'm not done with flipclass by any means, I'm pretty sure it will be the main paradigm of my class for a long time.  But that is because it is the foundation for so many other things that are about the kids, about finding ways to help them learn, not just record, to prepare them, not for a test, but to be thinkers and doers.  Ultimately that is the point, not to have videos or do homework in class or whatever the critics think flip is about, but it is about getting to the point where I can spend time with every kid every day, where I can make sure they are truly learning, not through some stock assessment or some fist to five 2 second thing, but through conversing and relationships.

Happy to be on the bridge!