Monday, April 13, 2015

Learning from PBL - Not the Expert, Not Even Close! (#flipclass flashblog)

This year I have taken on my first big project in a course that has been primarily short (3-4 week) physics based projects. Each of my classes is building a quad copter. Since the opportunity was a pleasant surprise, I was not able to plan out the project as it should be done in a project-based learning (PBL) course. It has tested my flexibility and my creativity as well as my ability to think on my feet. I am a strong proponent for trying new things and being willing to fail and try again. My students are the beneficiaries of some wonderful modeling opportunities this year.

I offer up a list of things I have learned so far in implementing PBL:

Plan, plan more than you think. You will need plan B and probably plan C.
                This may seem obvious, but so many things go differently than expected in a big project. There have been variables that I could not have anticipated as well as some I should have known about. (21st century buying on the internet is not compatible with 20th century purchasing procedures.) Students do not always have a good measure of their skills when it comes to real-world experiences. Laws change and so do the limitations of the project when you are pushing limits.

Students need lessons in technology, communication and collaboration.
                Even my seniors, yes seniors, need time to learn how to create a good presentation, how to use technology to collaborate and create and even how to work together to achieve a goal.

Students need practice being self-driven.
                They have spent so much time in class being told what to do, how to do it and what the answers are that they are baffled when presented with a challenge and the freedom to solve the problem. Patience is needed with this as you want them to learn to love the learning process. This is new for them and they really want you to provide the answers or assign a worksheet that has a start and finish that is well defined.

You, the teacher, will have to step back and let them learn.
                Be ready to coach, ask leading questions and help them discover a path. It is often tough, but honesty is good. You do not have to know everything. My students are used to the response “that is a great question, let’s go find the answer”. Coming up with a great question is something students are proud of now.
These would apply to any innovative technique for a student-centered classroom.  Most of all, be ready to have some fun. There is something amazing about students who choose to learn and achieve a goal that they have set for themselves.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Caution: Planning in Progress! (#flipclass flashblog)

So, this week I will start with some disclaimers:

                I am the type of teacher who can change plans at the last minute if I have a better idea. I am also the type who does better under time constraints.
                Even though I try my best, I am comfortable with making mistakes and fixing them as they are found by students.
                I want what is best for my students and I am willing to be honest about the work I design.
                I see planning as a continuous process and part of continuous improvement. (Can you tell I was an engineer in a previous life?)

Planning is the key to success for a classroom and I realize that without a plan, the lesson has little chance of being successful. On the other side, a lesson that cannot be changed to meet the needs of the students will also miss the mark. One of the pillars of flipped learning is to be a professional educator. An educator has a plan, with objectives, tasks, learning goals and assessment in mind before the lesson starts. A professional educator starts with those same things, but is capable of making adjustments as the class progresses.

It is impossible to anticipate all of the needs of the students in a class. Will they understand the instructions? Have all of them mastered the prerequisites and needed skills? Are they willing to give this a try or will they need extra motivation? How quickly will they grasp the concept? Each student will have different learning needs as the lesson progresses. They will change from the novice to the master and back again to novice. As time progress, you may notice that a well-executed flipped classroom has naturally differentiated, planning has to include flexibility, remediation and challenges to address all of the class needs.

In a flipped classroom, students have the opportunity to arrive in class with the framework of knowledge for the day. The planning comes into play when handling the wide variety of student ability, interest and level of mastery. For those who follow the plan exactly as it is written there is no challenge. They will do the work, get things done, learn, enjoy and be ready for more in the next class period. These students need some attention, periodic checks, and are willing to get your attention when they need it. For those who struggle, time to digest, practice and make mistakes with the content is as important as a plan for delivering the content. These students may need you to convince them to let you help them. They cannot feel like they are holding others back, so everyone must be working on something while you work with this group. It is also important that they have the opportunity to do the ‘cool things’ once they are ready. For those who master the content quickly, some nice tricks and ‘cool things’ up your sleeve are necessary so that you have time with the students who need extra help and attention.

                So, flipping your class requires planning. Lots of it, but it also gives you time to make adjustments to plans that might never happen in a traditional classroom. With lecture you may never know if students really understood the lesson. With flipped learning, you have the opportunity to help your students really learn the topic and watch your students work with the material. Plan, but do not be afraid to really teach!