Tag Archives: Education

Flipping the Classroom is a Safe-to-Fail Experiment

Teaching in a classroom is a complex issue. Some teachers try to maintain a stable, predictable environment – train by rote, test, retest, pass anyway to keep in the age category. Sir Ken Robinson calls this teaching using the factory model. What are the alternatives? One that’s catching on is Flipping the Classroom.

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As shown above, universities like Penn State are trying it out. More and more teachers at the high school level are giving it a go.

On YouTube, an 8th grade math and Algebra 1 teacher at a public school explains why she flipped her classroom in 2011.

Recently the Vancouver Sun newspaper carried the heading “Flipped classrooms create magic and controversy in schools.” Carolyn Durley “flipped” her Biology 12 class at Okanagan Mission secondary in Kelowna. On the other hand, David Wees, a math and science teacher at Stratford Hall in Vancouver, isn’t a fan of the flipped classroom because of the potential for homework overload but said he supports any strategy that reduces teacher-led instruction.

This blog isn’t about the pros and cons, why you should and why you shouldn’t. It’s not about lambasting lazy teachers, lazy students, lazy administrators, lazy parents, lazy school trustees. Or perhaps, it’s not laziness but a matter of just too busy working on other life priorities; it’s easier to stay conditioned with the factory model.

This blog is about how do make change in a system steeped in tradition and culture. It starts with somebody not happy. In Durley’s case, she began to wonder if she was serving her pupils well as “the sage on the stage,” given the wealth of information available online and the growing expectation that schools in the 21st century will do more than deliver content and help students prepare for standardized tests. It might be educational leaders desiring a better solution to achieve the real goal: putting students in the centre. Or it could be a school trustee frustrated with the present money-sucking black hole and wanting more bang for the buck. In Change Management terminology, we call this the “emotional need for change”. Without it, the status quo will continue.

So our heart is now pumping and our head is demanding something needs to be done. Where do we start? Sadly, we often start off on the wrong foot. How many times have we seen this: A splashy announcement is broadcasted stating the formation of an astute task force mandated to launch a study. In 6 months they will report back, confident that the “problem” will be fixed. Alas, with the passing of time more urgent problems have arisen so the report is shelved indefinitely. The problem hasn’t gone away, it’s just been put on the back burner.

If the preceding was the wrong foot, what’s the right foot? It begins with the correct approach, recognizing that the teaching is a Complex Domain issue. The aim is to try to make sense of what’s happening and searching for behavioural patterns that can lead us to new solutions. We are on the Unordered Side of the Cynefin Framework where we observe to understand and learn, not the Ordered Side where we fix, repair, or get back on track.

Flipping the classroom is Safe-Fail Experiment
Conducting a Safe-Fail Experiment involves probing the system, sensing the behaviour changes, responding by either accelerating the positives or dampening the negatives. We will even shut it down if it is becoming dangerous to health and wellness.

What Southridge school in Surrey did last year is a great example. They gave the flipped classroom a test run and invited three experts to the school in late August to train all of the senior school teachers.

Be aware that Safe-Fail Experiment is different than a pilot project in the Complicated domain. Pilots are typically the second step in a larger implementation. The first step was developing a business case prepared by an expert analyst. In some circumstances, money may have been spent on a feasibility study prior to the more detailed business case. A decision is made and approval to proceed granted. The pilot project’s role to pick a test area, find oversights and make refinements before rolling it out to the masses. Once launched, very rarely are implementations stopped. After all, who wants to look bad and confess they made a mistake. Nope, once the track is put down and the train leaves the station, the project manager’s goal is to stay on track and get there on time, on budget.

This isn’t to say a Safe-Fail Experiment or Probe is an off-the-cuff effort. On the contrary, the discipline of project management is just as important. There is a leader and a team who follow a prescribed method to put the experiment into motion, monitor the impact on a regular basis, assess whether positive outcomes should be increased and negatives should be reduced. Like a project, it has a start and an end point. The Safe-Fail Experiment usually run 3 to 6 months, ample time to sense how the system behaved and what patterns emerged. And herein lies the big difference. It’s the patterns that potentially lead us to new solutions. It may or may not be the actual probe put into motion. You may discover serendipitously something else significantly better. In fact, a radical, provocative, crazy probe is a more effective simulate to jolt the system.

Flipping the Classroom is a radical probe and is gaining traction. But it may not be the final destination. “This is an exciting time in education because technology is finally pushing people and organizations to change the way they do things,” said Cameron Seib, Southridge school’s math curriculum leader.

U.S. Public School: If it’s not working, just repeat the same mistakes

I recently read about the state of the U.S. public educational school system. What struck me was how powerful old school paradigms are and how people in power are unable to see what is happening. As expert analysts, they are in the Cynefin Framework’s Complicated Domain and suffer from perceptual blindness. Unfortunately they cannot see that existing methods and solutions (i.e., student testing) are not working. However, instead of finding another solution, the direction is to do more testing.

The article was written by Lisa Guisbond, a policy analyst for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a Boston-based organization that aims to improve standardized testing practices and evaluations of students, teachers and schools. Excerpts from her article:

  • As children head back to school after a decade of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), will they benefit from lessons learned from this sweeping and expensive failure? Will schools do anything differently to avoid NCLB’s narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test and stagnant achievement? Sadly, instead of learning from the beastly NCLB, the Obama administration is doubling down on a failed policy.
  • NCLB’s mistakes and coming “reforms” will continue or intensify the damage, not correct it. One reform will increase time and other resources spent on testing instead of unleashing teachers’ and students’ creative potential.
  • NCLB demonstrated many ways that high-stakes standardized testing damages and corrupts education. In addition to narrowing curriculum and encouraging teaching to the test, the NCLB era has produced waves of cheating.
  • Struggling students have been pushed out of school to raise the test score bottom line, with far too many youth entering the prison pipeline. School climate has suffered as fear of failure is passed down from administrators to teachers to students. Many good teachers have chosen to leave rather than comply with drill-and-kill requirements and corrupt their students’ education.
  • Author and lecturer Sir Ken Robinson often speaks about the importance of making mistakes, to learn from them and try again. He says educational standardization and pressure for conformity stunt our children’s growth by teaching them to fear and avoid mistakes. “Conformity and standardization and sitting still and doing multiple-choice questions and being tested at the end — these features of education are inimical to the kind of original thinking and confident imaginations that underpin real innovation,” Robinson says. What we need, he adds, is not “reform” but “revolution.”
  • Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt credited his teammate, Jamaican runner Yohan “The Beast,” Blake, with helping him improve by beating him in earlier races. The defeats forced Bolt to reflect on what he needed to do differently to improve. Bolt’s victory modeled a powerful lesson: Always try to learn from your mistakes, rather than repeat them.
  • To unleash our children’s potential, we need to unleash the full capacity of teachers and schools. That means acknowledging the mistakes of NCLB, learning from them and fundamentally changing course.

To read Lisa’s article in full, click here.

Intractable Problem: The Public School Factory

“The World has changed. The way we educate our children should too.”

That’s the opening page of BC’s Education plan.

“We need to make education more relevant to reflect the world students now live in, and the world of the future. One of the keys to do that is to personalize learning by putting students at the centre of learning so they can follow their own interests and passions within the topic matter. Teachers must be supported. And families must be involved.”
“Our challenge is clear. We need to make sure education in B.C. meets the needs of B.C. families today and in the future, keeping our young people achieving and thriving in a dynamic, rapidly evolving technological world.”

These are nice words to launch a plan. But as we know, Planning is easy; Execution is the tough part.

The school system is a perfect example of an intractable problem. We typically like to tinker on the surface by making changes to class sizes, budgets, teacher & staff compensation, breaks, and so on. Since the school system is political, much of the debate and noise is about getting votes from taxpayers. But if we really want to make significant improvements, we must go deeper and change the culture and the paradigms.

Some paradigms are so engrained – we don’t even know they are there. What are the Education paradigms we must challenge? For some time I thought I had a fairly good level of awareness. Then I was blown away and sent back to Square 1 by author and lecturer Sir Ken Robinson:

Wow. I never thought about the public school system being based on the Factory model. Now with this paradigm in mind, I can easily think of production line characteristics that apply to schools: date of manufacture, Monday to Friday schedule, testing, standards, extended breaks, for plant maintenance, failure and reject handling. I always wondered when the entire school met in the auditorium it was called “assembly”. Now I understand. I have a recurring dream (nightmare?) about a school bell ringing and being late for class. Now I understand. I was just being prepared for the working world.
One more characteristic to think about: the 9 to 5 working day. One would think if the goal is to be student-centric, we should be matching learning when the student peaks. That might be anytime, like 3 AM in the morning. It’s a belief that the Khan Academy holds by being available 24/7/365. But it’s not a view that is shared by all. As Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault says, having secondary schools operate on a 9-to-5 basis better reflects the schedule of today’s families.
In summary, here are 3 education paradigms and the shifts we need to make:

  1. Separate for efficiency –> End the myth of academic/vocational streaming
  2. Cheating is bad –> Most great learning happens in groups. Collaboration is the stuff of growth
  3. Treat students as products on a factory line –> Reshape the habits of education institutions and the habitats they occupy

My  friend and educator Paul Gagnon told me: “We are on the verge of a major change in the way in which we conceive of and deliver learning. Technology is maturing to the point that individual and customized learning is now a reality- with peak learning periods factored under the umbrella of self-directed, learning just in time and place a major feature. Truly and exciting time to be in education, I can tell you.”

I couldn’t agree with Paul more. Education like healthcare, electric utilities, and safety is undergoing a paradigm shift that technology has enabled. I enjoy reading about pioneers and innovators who have jumped to the new S-curve. I do feel sorry for the Education traditionalists who cling to the factory model not because they want to but because they don’t know they are.