The best thinkers about change in schools (Lieberman, Joyce, Loucks-Horsley, Fullan and Deal) emphasize the importance of informal support structures and the cultivation of a learning culture. (McKenzie 1998) One of the ways teachers can work smarter by utilising technology is to flip the classroom. By arranging research projects around inquiry-based learning an online workspace can be arranged so that the entire course can be accessed both from school and home by the students, and family as well as tutors. Students have the entire task as well as all relevant information and the capacity to research at their fingertips anywhere at any time.
Learning How To Learn
Project based learning clusters meaningful learning experiences around ‘doing personal research’ rather than learning packaged content. Teachers can be sure that content is covered and that students will have solid if not higher grades at assessment time because the projects are uploaded centrally and able to be shared by all. Through processes of critique, the content is assured of being covered, as each student will teach about the work they have researched. This student tutoring process further consolidates student’s working knowledge and understanding of assessable content. (Corcoran 2011)
A Working Example
Anne is a second year teacher who manages an inquiry based learning project. This is the second time the course has been implemented into grade three as a flipped classroom project. The previous teacher has left behind a well-planned unit abundant with ready-made resources supported by a good deal of modern technology.
The project called Our Local Flora is to locate five plants in the immediate locale and to digitally photograph these plants for identification purposes. The student is to find out the names of the plants by researching local flora on the Internet. The students are to be provided with a list of suggested databases. The students are to draw three of these plants with watercolor pencils in detail. They are to be sure to capture color, relative size and shape accurately and when finished, they are to scan these drawings and then upload them to the Botanical section of the gallery on the class Blog.
When this section of the assignment is finished, the students will be asked to write three Haiku Poems one for each flower. They will then read their poem aloud capturing their voice recording on computer and in this way the poem will be uploaded to the Blog to accompany the imagery.
Those students who finish first can either help other students or create flower collages in Photoshop and upload them to the class gallery by turning them into jigsaws so that there are puzzles for the class to do as a reward when the unit is over.
Working Smarter NOT Harder with Technology
On a superficial reading this project might seem a big ask for a second year teacher! Fortunately this classroom is well equipped and Anne has a good mentor. The previous teacher was well organized and the project is all set up ready to run.
Anne will run through the overview of the inquiry-based project with the students who will then be expected to watch instructional videos for homework.
These videos are set to run in the order listed below but may be viewed by the students again and again and in any order they choose. They are expected to view them at home but can if they are behind the rest of the class view them during class time. The term for this loose arrangement is asynchronous learning. The instructional videos are set out in this order
- An Overview. This is both a document and a video describing the project explicitly. It will outline exactly what the students are to DO over the two-week period. A materials list and an organizational chart will accompany the overview so that the students can tick off each task as they go.
- Staged Instructional Videos. Each successive night, the students will have an instructional video explicitly showing them how to do each aspect of the project. They can watch these videos alone, as a group or with their family. It will show how to
- find the plants and to photograph them
- successfully manage close up photography
- upload the images to the computer
- cut and crop them in Photoshop
The next night they will be watch a video showing how to upload the image to the Blog and how to embed html code using screen shots.
They will have access to drawing instructionals, which they can watch over and over. Or they can do an Internet search for other videos, which teach them how to design and how to draw.
Building a Resource Library
Every year at the school where Anne teaches, the staff have an informal get together where they share instructionals they have made. There is a central storage of “in-house’ videos made available to everyone. They also showcase useful instructionals they have found on YouTube and TeacherTube. From this reservoir Anne has selected videos that will show students how to research the Internet and then to label and describe their flowers. They will now add their material to the classroom Botanical Glossary.
From this centrally located resource library, Anne was able to select videos to show the students the mechanics of Haiku and a small movie showing the students how to Tweet their Haiku. They will now add the Poetry to the anthology section of the Blog and as well combine poetry and imagery to send out as a FRASB.
Pacing a Just in Time Classroom
The practicality of this “Flipped Design” classroom is that the students can work at their own pace. They can work alone or in groups and because they have been able to watch the instructional movies the night before class, Anne can take the students outside so that they can roam in the garden snapping photos and drawing the flora. They can sit in the shade and upload their images to their laptops working on them as the case may be.
Although Anne is free to roam about and help students, she is careful to teach them how to access the Just In Time Support pages that she has been building with her class, and to Google for more instructionals rather than actually help them, as she would have been inclined to do in a more traditional classroom.
Extension Work For Fast Finishers
Once students are finished their projects they may want to walk about helping and working with others, or they may prefer to make jigsaws for the online jigsaw gallery. They are free to choose from a cache of games and there are activities they can be doing as well as draw if they would like.
List of 10 Ways Anne Taught “Smarter” Using Technology
1 Anne flipped the classroom. She set instructional videos for homework so that students would come to school with a plan of action. Their class time will be spent constructively.
2 She accessed tiers of cataloged videos intended for class and whole school use. Lesson preparation time and effort was reduced and she was encouraged by the way this functional library is set to grow on a yearly basis.
3 Anne was counseled to keep a raw, clean (not resampled) file of the original of any instructional movies that she has made so that she can easily update them as the need arises. She will not need to remake her movies if some aspect of the process changes.
4 Anne inherited a functioning classroom Blog to use on a daily basis. This Blog acts as a chronological assessment tool for gathering evidence. The gallery and journal (in effect this is what a Blog is) keeps work in a chronological order for assessment and acts as a journal for reflection and critique purposes. (It is like a central storage pool).
5 Because the assessment items require the students to peer teach the class in a situation of cooperative learning with the resources they have made, Anne can be sure that the students will do well in their assessment. Not only will this consolidate the knowledge for the student teaching but the class will learn and internalise the content as well. (Cochran 2011)
6 Make ‘gamification’ a constructive part of learning by having the students turn their work into puzzles. Anne looks for every opportunity to create and use games in the classroom as this makes learning natural and fun.
7 Anne can be sure that the students are receiving the best of both words. She has combined real world activities with technology so that students are making connections between product and presentation. For example, students digitally photographed flowers as well as drew them. They then cut, finished and polished them to be presented as jigsaws.
8 Anne recognized that by teaching the students to access Just In Time Support she was teaching them to be independent learners. This type of support is the easiest to internalize and remember. A student might not remember how to crop an image but they will remember where to find out how. It is this kind of functional knowledge and strategizing that will become more and more important in the new information age.
9 Involve parents, school IT experts and others from outside the classroom by making resources available and accessible any place, any where and setting the context for interaction with trusted others by using the email and card sending function of the jigsaw cutting software. In this way students will receive affirmation and feedback from a wider variety of sources. During the lessons the students also use social media such as Twitter and FRASB to enhance communication through and about their artwork.
10 Students were able to take the technology outside. By capitalizing on mobile technology. They could access a central pool of knowledge through laptop or iPad and use the camera and recording functions of the devices enhanced by Photoshop or Photoshop App wherever they chose to work or communicate.
This article describes a versatile learning culture wherein teachers have been able to work together so that they can work smarter as they take advantage of the latest technologies. As the pool of resources grow and the teachers and students who work together with their families become more familiar with the system their ability to make use of and benefit from technology can only get better.