Imagine a class…

Imagine a class engaged in an authentic problem*.  Let’s say they are trying to understand how to wire a ceiling fan (or some other thing, doesn’t matter).  One student says, “Hey, I have a room in my house where I can turn the fan on in two different places.”  The teacher then asks the class, “Why might this be valuable?”  Students give some answers and the teacher says, “ok, how would you do it?”  At this point the teacher might have students talk with partners, draw some pictures or mess around with some simple electrical circuits that mimic the room wiring.  Students might “discover” ways to do this, and if they don’t, the teacher can show them a way to do it (after students have mentally wrestled with the task a bit).  The key instructional piece comes next when the teacher can discuss parallel circuits and the flow of electrons through a circuit.

Notice how the teacher was able to leverage student experiences and interest to introduce a new concept in a way that encourages active mental engagement.  Notice how the problem led to introduction of content.  Yes, the content would be explained by the teacher, but only when students need the new information or to label something they have already mentally constructed.

A video (such as Khan Academy’s) cannot lead a group of learners like this.  The flipped classroom does not encourage the organic flow of learning like this.  I believe only a teacher who deeply understands their content and how people learn can create a learning experience like this.



*Please forgive the simplicity of of the example.


This entry was posted in Class Activities, Education Reform, Learning, Teacher Actions. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Imagine a class…

  1. I actually think the flipped class would work really well for a situation like this. Before class, the students could be introduced to vocabulary and reminded of some connections that are useful. In class, they can do exactly what you recommend. I teach classes like this all the time and the flipped class nature of it has enabled me to help students get beyond simple vocabulary problems and really create a vibrant learning classroom.


    • jerridkruse says:

      I’m sorry, but I disagree. If students watch a video about this stuff first, the organic nature of the learning is gone, they are simply applying what they watched. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but not nearly as engaging in my opinion. Also, rather than having to try to come up with a novel (to them) solution, they simply have to think back to what they watched. If anything, I would have the students watch the video AFTER they have an experience like this, but I don’t think that’s what the flipped class is advocating for. If the video comes after, it serves to reinforce. If the video comes first, it serves to undermine the authenticity and problem-solving nature of the situation.

      However, if the learning experience is truly organic, how can one possibly have a video planned at all?


      • I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing when we’re referring to what would be in the videos. We run this in our labs most years and its interesting to watch how the students approach it. They’ve typically had a day or two of lecture about circuits and then they’re told to make a 2-switch version of what you describe here. Often they start to apply some of the fundamentals learned in the lecture/homework/book and they stumble and try to work together to figure out what’s needed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a group raise their hand and show me a circuit that needs both switches to be in the same orientation. I laugh, switch both, and say “try again.” Sometimes that infuriates them and sometimes it gets them to dig deeper.

        So how would flipping help this? For one, a time saver. They’d be able to discuss it in class since the lecture/hw/book stuff would be done already. What would be in the videos? If it’s something I made it would typically be a breakdown of the important concepts and an example of an application or two. If we came to class and I simply redid those applications, I would agree with your criticism about this approach. However, since I know what’s in my own videos, I would make sure that the applications wouldn’t fully cover each other and I would seek out that moment when the students realize that just re-doing what was in the video wouldn’t work.

        Of course, before all that we’d deal with all the questions that have been generated and discussed by the videos. For me, that’s a crucial part to flipping my class. Of course it’s not as interactive as the classroom, but letting the class interact with me and each other asynchronously usually sets the table well for the classroom.


        • jerridkruse says:

          I see what you’re saying and recognize it as a huge leap forward, but still see more value in having the instruction come as the students need it rather than before hand. While the students might be able to discuss what they watched, I’d much rather have students discuss *their* ideas rather than trying to figure out which of the ideas in the video to apply. I think what you are talking about is very practical. What I am talking about is very idealistic. I can accept the value of both.


  2. jerridkruse says:

    After some talk on twitter, David Cox proposed that perhaps the example in this post should be the flipped classroom because we start with the problem first, then the teacher figures out what kids don’t know and provide support along the way. I see this as flipped because the students are leading the way instead of the teachers. Maybe we should just give credit where credit is due and call it the Dewey school. :)

    What is so very infuriating about educational change, is what we all hope for in education are not new ideas…we just have to figure out how to DO it.


    • jerridkruse says:

      After even further talk, Frank Noschese chimed in and noted that Exploration and Explanation were flipped. This is simply the Learning Cycle. A pretty old teaching model with three parts, Exploration, Concept Development, and Application. So much coherence in good teaching, yet we can’t get most teachers to do it – probably because good teaching is so damn hard. Then, to make matters worse, something like Khan Academy comes along claiming to be teaching and provides a brand new path of least resistance.


  3. Brian says:

    Overall, I believe my educational philosophy and images of productive classrooms align very closely with Jerrid’s. My ideal science teaching situation is certainly one with a highly responsive curriculum embedded within a community-of-learners atmosphere. I believe that student ideas and interests can (and should) comprise a significant amount of the substance of coursework, across K-20 and across the disciplines. That said, I am weary of crusades, be them KA or otherwise. My job as an educator (and education researcher) can’t be to lament or poopoo those who don’t think my ideal teaching situation is ideal (or feasible or whatever).

    I think my life began to gradually change as a teacher, when I started listening to student ideas on their own terms and not through the lens of what was wrong with them. It changed even further when I began to learn that I actually learned (science) by engaging with students’ ideas. I realized I still had a lot to learn and that learning can happen in interaction with anyone of any age and background. In that way, the classroom has become more dialogic–we were all there to learn despite our different positions in life.

    I feel that same sentiment has to apply to other educators and their ideas and thinking about teaching. I want my interactions with educators–no matter their position–to be symbiotic and dialectic. I’m not for or against KA, but I haven’t seen much productivity in the crusade against it. I can choose to tell people they have it all wrong (as someone might lament student misconceptions); or I can choose to try to meet them where they are at and hope they will reciprocate. The question for me is, “How do we all go about making progress in our own understanding of teaching?”

    If we believe that students are better off discussing their own science ideas, then I have to believe that educators are better off discussing their own teaching ideas. If I believe that students have the beginning of productive science ideas that can blossom through engagement, then I have to believe the same is true for education. How we choose to engage with people and their ideas is perhaps to most important thing we can think about and act to improve. It’s the only way I know that change can happen.


    • Jerrid kruse says:

      I agree with what you’re saying as this is how I try to approach my teaching of teachers – to an extent. I think you night be good a bit far. When we have kids discuss science, we are trying to help them understand particular ideas. We don’t let our students just go on thinking the moon phases are caused by the shadow of the moon, we use questions & observations & demos to help them modify their thinking.

      When I am teaching teachers, I use questions, modeling, videos of teaching, etc to help the preservice teachers come to more research-based views of teaching & learning. Just having a dialogue does not lead to much learning if an expert teacher is not guiding along the way.

      Now, when we have dialogue as professionals there is not a “teacher” so we I believe we ought to use research as our guide. Of course this is problematic as individuals will interpret research differently & having the dialogue you mention is important, I think “poopooing” ideas is an ok part of this dialogue. Also, I have tried to dialogue with people at khan, so have others. They are not interested in discussing how they could improve their videos using research, they are only interested in talking about numbers of hits. So, I think helping other teachers understand (because some are being duped) the problems with KA is worthwhile. But that’s just my opinion.


      • Jerrid kruse says:

        1) sorry for typos above, on phone
        2) the main point of this post is not to rip on khan, but to articulate what I am shooting for, & that while KA might be a step in the right direction, the journey is far from over.


  4. Brian says:

    So yeah, I wholeheartedly agree that good dialogue is not simply enough in teaching. We have a responsibility to help students make progress in disciplinary understandings, not just any understanding. Doing that is a lot of hard work and requires many skill sets and tools. But I also wouldn’t want my students to come away from my science course saying that people who don’t yet understand the moon phases are stupid, or for them to be like Richard Dawkins and bash on people who believe in God.

    I’m not saying that you are saying those things like that. You are very clearly just trying to articulate your vision, and that’s a good thing. But some of the anti-KA rhetoric rubs me worse than KA ever could; just as Richard Dawkins rubs me worse than people who say they don’t believe in evolution ever could. If a teacher told me they used KA, I wouldn’t try to convince them not to or say that’s stupid. I’d likely say, “Cool. Tell me about it… How are you using it? Why made you make the switch? Is it going the way you want it to?” It’s the starting point of a conversation. If there are people who don’t want to engage in the conversation, there’s nothing we can do.

    Also, I just saw someone tweeted today the question, “How can students best spend their time away from class? What do we want them doing at home?” That, to me, sounds like a productive way to talk about the Kahn Academy.


  5. I think part of the struggle and confusion around the “flipped classroom” is that too many people see it as a linear model. Do the tutorial, skill based stuff at home then apply and problem solve at school. As you allude to a few times, it’s not always practical or in context to learn a skill first then apply. I envision many trying to flip their classroom by having students do a number of prescribed, skill based tutorials then coming to school to do the problem section of the text book. I’m sure in some instances that works but it hardly seems like authentic and applicable for everything.

    For me the idea of a Kahn Academy simply allows us to leverage our time together more effectively, in the same way a calculator allows us to focus more on the problem than the skill. My question remains “how do we best utilize our time together as a class?” For me it’s as much about social learning as an instructional model than anything else. If it’s not, then we could simply shift everything to online courses.


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