Five Best Practices for the Flipped Classroom


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Ok, I’ll be honest. I get very nervous when I hear education reformists and politicians tout how “incredible” the flipped classroom model, or how it will “solve” many of the problems of education. It doesn’t solve anything. It is a great first step in reframing the role of the teacher in the classroom. It fosters the “guide on the side” mentality and role, rather than that of the “sage of the stage.” It helps move a classroom culture towards student construction of knowledge rather than the teacher having to tell the knowledge to students. Even Salman Khan says that the teacher is now “liberated to communicate with [their students].”

It also creates the opportunity for differentiated roles to meet the needs of students through a variety of instructional activities. But again, just because I “free” someone, doesn’t mean that he/she will know what to do next, nor how to do it effectively. This is where the work must occur as the conversation of the flipped classroom moves forward and becomes more mainstream in public and private education. We must first focus on creating the engagement and then look at structures, like the flipped classroom, that can support. So educators, here are some things to think about and consider if you are thinking about or already using the flipped classroom model.

1) Need to Know
How are you creating a need to know the content that is recorded? Just because I record something, or use a recorded material, does not mean that my students will want to watch, nor see the relevance in watching it. I mean, it is still a lecture. Also, this “need to know” is not “because it is on the test,” or “because it will help you when you graduate.” While that may be a reality, these reasons do not engage the students who are already struggling to find meaning and relevance in school. If the flipped classroom is truly to become innovative, then it must be paired with transparent and/or embedded reason to know the content.

2) Engaging Models
One of the best way to create the “need to know” is to use a pedagogical model that demands this. Whether project-based learning (PBL), game-based learning (GBL), Understanding by Design (UbD), or authentic literacy, find an effective model to institute in your classroom. Become a master of those models first, and then use the flipped classroom to support the learning. Example: Master design, assessment, and management of PBL; and then look at how you can use the flipped classroom to support the process. Perhaps it is a great way to differentiate instruction, or support students who need another lesson in a different mode. Perhaps students present you with a “need to know,” and you answer with a recorded piece to support them. This will help you master your role as “guide on the side.”

3) Technology
What technology do you have to support the flipped classroom? What technology gaps exist that might hinder it? Since the flipped classroom is about recorded video, then obviously students would need the technology to do this. There are many things to consider here. Will you demand that all students watch the video, or is it a way to differentiate and allow choice? Will you allow or rely on mobile learning for students to watch it? Again, these are just some of the questions to consider in terms of technology. Lack of technology doesn’t necessarily close the door to the flipped classroom model, but it might require some intentional planning and differentiation.

4) Reflection
Every time you have students watch a video, just like you would with any instructional activity, you must build in reflective activities to have students think about what they learned, how it will help them, its relevance, and more. If reflection is not a regular part of your classroom culture, then implementing the flipped classroom will not be as effective. Students need metacognition to connect content to objectives, whether that is progress in a GBL unit, or work towards an authentic product in at PBL project.

5) Time and Place
Do you have structures to support this? When and where will the learning occur? I believe it unfair to demand that students watch the video outside of the class time for various reasons. If you have a blended learning environment, that of course provides a natural time and place to watch the videos, but it will be difficult to ensure all students watch a video as homework. In addition, do not make epic videos that last hours. Keep the learning within the videos manageable for students. This will help you formatively assess to ensure learning, and it will feel doable to students.

I know I may have “upset the apple cart” for those who love the flipped classroom. My intent is not to say that the flipped classroom is bad. Rather, it is only a start. The focus should be on teacher practice, then tools and structures. The flipped classroom is one way to help move teachers toward better teaching but does not ensure it. Like the ideas above, focus on ways to improve your instruction before choosing to use the “flipped classroom.”

Ensuring Critical Thinking in Project-Based Learning


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


PBL can create engaging learning for all students, but that depth of learning requires careful, specific design. Part of this engagement is the element of critical thinking. Complex problem solving and higher-order thinking skills, coupled with other elements such as authenticity, voice, and choice, create an engaging context for learning.

One of the essential elements of a PBL project is the teaching and assessing of 21st century skills, including collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. The key takeaway here is teaching AND assessing. You cannot assess something you do not teach. How do we teach critical thinking? Through intentional instruction and intentional experiences. Therefore we need to make sure that the overall PBL journey is one that has both. Here are some elements of a PBL project that you can double- and triple-check to make sure your students are critically thinking

Driving Question: Through repeated practice, you can create a rigorous driving question that is open-ended, complex, and at the same time kid-friendly. A driving question is not “Google-able” but may contain many “on-the-surface” questions. By creating a driving question that requires higher-order thinking skills, the overall project will be infused with critical thinking, as it is present and used throughout the entire project. If you need help with a driving question, please check out these posts in which I go into more detail.

Audience and Purpose: One of the pitfalls that teachers can run into when designing their projects is picking a mediocre purpose and audience. When that happens, the product often becomes a regurgitation of knowledge. If the audience of the project is just the teacher, then the product may or may not have a rigorous purpose that requires critical thinking. If the project is for an outside audience, the purpose may become more complex, because that audience’s lens and needs are unique and challenging. If you pick an audience outside of the classroom and a purpose that is rigorous and challenging, then the project will require some critical thinking.

In-Depth Inquiry: Inquiry is a process that requires investigation, questioning, interpreting, and creating. This process is repeated over and over, because the inquiry itself cannot be finished in cycle. When creating a project, ask yourself if the project will require repeated cycles through the inquiry process. In-depth inquiry leads to repeated moments of critical thinking

Don’t forget that when you demand critical thinking skills, then you must scaffold these thinking skills with lessons, modeling, etc. If you are demanding that students evaluate, you must teach them how. This ensures success on the project and, more importantly, that students are learning how to critically think. The Buck Institute for Education has a great project design rubric that can help you refine your PBL projects to ensure the highest quality learning environment and includes the elements above. This rubric, coupled with the lens of critical thinking as part of the design, can ensure both engagement and deeper learning.

4 Ways To Use Massively Multiplayer Online Games In The Classroom


Edudemic This post originally appeared at Edudemic, a group committed to using social media to change and improve education through a variety of resources and materials. View Original >


Recently, MIT Education Arcade announced commission of a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMORPG) that would teach students content aligned to Common Core Math Standards and Next Generation Science Standards. In addition, World of Warcraft in the Classroom is a popular curriculum that teachers have used to engage students in learning critical, standards-based content.

There is a trend in education to utilize games for learning, whether pairing a game with classroom instruction or creating a whole new “serious game.” As a regular MMORPG player myself, I have found myself spell-bounded by story lines, incessantly questing to improve my character. In full the spirit of full disclosure, I have a Jedi Shadow currently on Star Wars the Old Republic, but have played numerous MMORPGs in my life as a gamer.

While MMOs are being created to demand learning of content within the game, teachers can still strategize the use of MMOs in pairing with classroom instruction and assessment. Here are some strategies and considerations to consider if you decide to venture into the game-based learning approach.

1) Pair the Game with English/ Language Arts content

In MMOs, students write. Yes, headsets are employed, but often the primary mode of communication within the game is through written conversations in the chat channel. Practice problem solving in game elements with students using expository and persuasive writing. In addition, MMOs have rich story lines. Pair the MMOs avatar/character the student is playing with character in the novel. Focus on story elements and the higher order thinking skill of compare contract. Look at these types of ELA standards and find the right in game fit.

2) Feasible Time and Structures

Let’s face it, you may or may have technology, space or instructional time to devote to this approach, as it demands not only formal instruction, but time in the game to play and experience. However, if you know students are playing in their free time, it is a great opportunity to differentiate instruction to engage your “gamer” kids. In addition, if you have a blended learning model, time becomes less of an obstacle, and the focus is more on competency. If students can find time to play the game and meet the milestones for learning, then it is completely feasible and worthy to use this approach. Perhaps the In Game activities are extra practice or extensions to enrich learning.

3) Meet In the Game Itself

Related to the previous point around time and structure, you can leverage the game itself to meet with students and discuss learnings at actual in-game points, whether that is the local tavern in WOW, or the Cantina in SWTOR. Perhaps you utilize the Literature Circle instructional strategies to build reading skills of the novel, but have the actual Literatures Circles in the game. Or, you hold office hours to help students with their classwork.

4) Teach and Assess Collaboration

21st Century Skills are being leveraged in schools internationally as just as critical to content knowledge. Collaboration is no exception. Perhaps one of the most striking and exciting learnings that occur in MMOs is collaboration. Whether teaming for an instance, fighting a boss, chatting on public channels for help, or utilizing in game crafting, students on constantly collaborating to solve problems. Have students record evidence or reflect on game play to properly assess them in collaboration. Model collaboration in the game using your character. Translate these in-game experiences to the real world through discussion and reflection.

These are just some strategies to use as you consider how you might pair an MMO with classroom learning. Rather than look at the obstacles and barriers, look for the opportunities. Just because we as teachers might not be able to create a full scale classroom implementation doesn’t mean I can’t leverage a MMO to engage a student in meeting learning targets. In addition, as conversations around time, competency and structures for school move forward, some of these walls will become more flexible allowing for further implementation of MMOs in the classroom. You may a “noob” and not get MMOs, but you can learn about them from your students and utilize their resiliencies and knowledge to create a personalized learning environment.

Top Questions About Online Education Answered


This post originally appeared on Yahoo Education, which reports on a variety of education topics and issues.

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Are you thinking about pursuing an online degree? If you answered “yes,” don’t let your curiosity stop there.
By considering an online education, you could be on your way to joining the many people who are trying out virtual classrooms. After all, more than 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall of 2010, according to a 2011 study titled “Going the Distance” by the Babson Survey Research Group. And that total number represented an increase of 560,000 students over the previous year. But in spite of expanding enrollment numbers, questions still abound regarding the merit, acceptance, and credibility of an online education. At the core of this topic, people may wonder whether an online education is on par with a traditional, face-to-face education. To sort through all the information about an online education, we answer some of the more common questions to help you make a more informed decision.

Q: Is an Online Education Easier?
When determining whether going to school online is easier than traditional schooling, it generally depends on the individual student. In other words, what might be easier to learn online for one person could prove to be more difficult for another. Andrew K. Miller, an online teacher and consultant with the Buck Institute for Education says an online education might be more suitable for self-starters or self-disciplined types who can work better on their own.
“It’s not easier,” says Miller. “It’s a more independent way of learning.”
But the flexibility factor might help ease the learning process of an online education, according to Miller.
“We all learn differently,” he says. “It might take a different amount of time going through the material for different people. The good thing is that if you need more time, you can take more time, but the onus is on you.”

Q: Are Online Degrees Reputable?
How do employers feel about the credibility of online degrees? It is probably best determined on a case by case basis, according to the Miller.
“Depending on the employer, they understand that some people can’t go back to (traditional) school full time,” Miller says. “If they understand that, it helps eliminate some of the stigma of an online degree.”
But if two similar candidates – one with a traditional degree and one with an online degree – were vying for the same position, would the traditional degree holder have an advantage?That might not necessarily be true, according to Miller. Factors such as the school’s overall reputation and history might play more important roles in an employer’s decision than the type of degree.
“There may be some online degree programs that aren’t reputable, just like traditional schools,” Miller says. “It’s hard to measure that, but people are embracing online education as a valued way of learning. It’s changing the way people are looking at degrees.”

Q: Is it Cost Effective to Take Online Classes?
When determining tuition costs, Miller acknowledges that online degree programs could cost about the same or, in some cases, more than traditional degree programs.
“A lot depends on the program,” Miller says. “You might pay by the credit as opposed to one lump sum of tuition.”
The savings associated with taking an online program generally involve secondary costs and expenses. “Saving on commuting, food, and lodging are big, cost-effective things for the online learner,” says Miller. But those savings aren’t guaranteed. Some online programs could still require students to travel for tests, class assignments, clinical exercises, or lab work. The most significant cost-saving aspect might be the flexibility factor. Online students could have better opportunities to maintain “day” jobs – keeping a 9-to-5 position while studying at other times of the day could offer cost-saving potential.

Q: Can Anything Be Studied Online?
Some online degree programs are clearly more popular than others. According to the annual research programs “Continuing and Professional Education Learning Collaborative” and “Online Higher Education Learning Collaborative” by Eduventures – a Boston-based educational research and consulting firm – here were the top fields for online bachelor’s degree programs in 2010: business, computer and information technologies, criminal justice, nursing, and health care. But what if you want to study something a bit off the beaten path? Miller says advancements in technology and online teaching methods are making almost every subject available to virtual classrooms. Anyone interested in taking an online tennis class?
“I have seen successful online courses that teach P.E. (physical education),” Miller says. “Students do projects together on their own, show their work, and turn the work in. The technology and content is out there nowadays, and it doesn’t have to be in a building.”

Q: What’s the Biggest Drawback of Taking Online Classes?
The beauty of online degree programs might be the opportunity for students to take classes in the comfort of their own homes. But it could also be considered a curse. When students feel like they’re studying on a virtual island, they could lose focus or take too many “study breaks” due to a lack of engagement.
“Some people want to do their thing on their own,” Miller says, “but I would argue that collaboration needs to happen.” When students feel connected to an interactive learning environment, online programs work better, according to Miller. Having access to fellow students and teachers can help online students stay more engaged in the material.
“Online learning has discussion boards and live meetings, but some schools are demanding collaborative work,” Miller says. “I think group projects and group learning must occur for online learning to be effective.”

Q: Can Online Programs Prep Students for Real-World Experiences?
Similar to traditional degree curriculums, online programs are intended to help prepare students for careers after graduation. According to the “Going the Distance” study, most chief academic officers (67 percent) believe the learning outcomes of online programs are comparable or better than traditional programs.
But do online degrees prepare students for the working world?
“Well-designed online courses or degrees should be applicable to what’s going on in the real world,” Miller says. “Online learning should mirror the real world.”
For example, Miller says online business programs have the ability to connect students from different countries and teach them about multinational corporations through class projects.
“I think online learning allows you to break down walls and allows for a variety of learning that has no boundaries,” Miller adds.

Q: How Much Tech Know-How is Needed to Study Online?
For people who lack computer skills, an online degree program might seem intimidating. But Miller says online programs generally provide technical support to students.
“Some universities offer an intro to online learning course,” Miller explains. “Schools understand that some students may need more time to get up to speed on online learning.” What other online support is available to help online students succeed? Before starting your online education, find out if a program has access to online academic support tools.
“Students need to make sure the schools they’re interested in have ways to help them,” Miller says. “You should ask, ‘What sort of help are you going to provide me if my computer blows up, or if I’m struggling to manage my time?”

Six Strategies for Differentiated Instruction in Project-Based Learning


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Project-Based Learning (PBL) naturally lends itself to differentiated instruction. By design, it is student-centered, student-driven and gives space for teachers to meet the needs of students in a variety of ways. PBL can allow for effective differentiation in assessment as well as daily management and instruction. PBL experts will tell you this, but I often hear teachers ask for real examples, specifics to help them contextualize what it “looks like” in the classroom. In fact, the inspiration for this blog came specifically from requests on Twitter! We all need to try out specific ideas and strategies to get our brains working in a different context. Here are some specific differentiation strategies to use during a PBL project.

1) Differentiate Through Teams
We all know that heterogeneous grouping works, but sometimes homogenous grouping can be an effective way to differentiate in a project. Sometimes in a novel- or literature-based PBL project, it might be appropriate to differentiate by grouping into reading level. That way, I can take groups that need intensive work and ensure they are getting the instruction they need. Pick appropriate times to break your class into teams to create a structure for differentiated instruction.

2) Reflection and Goal Setting
Reflection is an essential component of PBL. Throughout the project, students should be reflecting on their work and setting goals for further learning. This is a great opportunity for them to set personalized learning goals and for you to target instruction specific to the goals they set.

3) Mini-Lessons
This is probably one of my favorites. In addition to being a great management strategy to prevent “time sucks” in class, mini-lessons are a great way to differentiate instruction. Perhaps you “offer” mini-lessons to support your students’ learning. After reflection and goal setting, this is a great way to have them connect their goals to specific mini-lessons. Not all students may need the mini-lesson, so you can offer or demand it for the students who will really benefit.

4) Voice and Choice in Products
Another essential component of PBL is student voice and choice, both in terms of what students produce and how they use their time. Specifically to products, you can utilize multiple intelligences to create summative assessments or products that allow students to show what they know in a variety of ways. From written components to artistic or theatrical, you can differentiate the way students are summatively assessed. Again, it all depends on the standards you are assessing, but don’t let standards confine your thinking. Yes, you may have a written component if you’re assessing writing, but ask yourself, “How can I allow for voice and choice here?” Embrace possibilities for differentiated student summative products.

5) Differentiate Through Formative Assessments
Formative assessments can look the same for all students. They can also look different. We know that students can show what they’ve learned in different ways, as mentioned above in terms of products produced as summative assessment. In addition, as you check for understanding along the way, you can formatively assess in different ways when appropriate. Perhaps you are targeting collaboration as your 21st century skill in the project. You can differentiate a formative assessment of this through a variety of ways. Perhaps it’s an oral conference. Perhaps it’s a series of written responses. Perhaps it is a graphic organizer or collage.

6) Balance Teamwork and Individual Work
Teamwork and collaboration occurs regularly in a PBL project. We want to leverage collaboration as much as content. However, there are times when individual instruction and practice may be needed. Students learn in teams, and they learn on their own. Make sure to balance both, so that you are demanding a 21st century collaborative environment while allowing time to meet students on an individual basis. Often you can read the room during collaborative work time and work with students individually, but sometimes it is necessary to “take a break” from teamwork. You need to differentiate the learning environment because some students learn better on their own, and others learn better in a team.

As you master the PBL process in your classroom, you will intuitively find ways to differentiate instruction for your students. You will design the project to scaffold content and skills in a variety of ways. You will create formative and summative assessments to allow for multiple intelligences, and you will manage the process so that it allows you meet students where they are and move them forward.

Please share some of your successful strategies with us!