Focus- A New Concept Saving Education?

It has been almost 3 years since I personally left my classroom. In that time, I have learned that the disconnect between the educational classroom and the real world is much bigger than I ever thought possible. The influential experts in the real-world, most who have little to no experience in the classroom itself, are truly on their own agenda and have lost complete focus. Between the political government and the educational agenda influencers, there exists a public relations nightmare for each and every one of our classrooms and each and every one of our students. The propaganda of failing schools and the decline of the American Educational System has spread like the plague from sea to shining sea. Our focus has been diverted to testing and data that is irrelevant and skewed rather than solving and providing the proper solutions for the needs of our teachers and students.  Below are just a few thoughts I have had in the past 3 years:

1. International Comparisons- China has ranked #1 for the last two PISA reports, so shouldn’t we then copy what they do to be successful? Well, if you understood that China selects a targeted group who are then taught simply to be successful test takers of the PISA- then you would understand how idiotic that would be. I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay attention to PISA testing, but to use it to say we are failing because we are not #1 is ludicrous. We never were #1, and as a matter of fact, we have fluctuated around the same number every year on average: Math=30th, Reading=19th, Science=23rd. It is a measuring stick for us to use, but what we should be doing is learning from other successful nations and look to incorporate ideas that help to make them successful into our system. Hmmm, simply allowing COLLABORATION of different but successful educational systems?

2. Common Core- If you knew that students in New Jersey were given an advantage for post secondary acceptance that would lead to better job opportunities over the students from say Alabama, what would you say? What if you lived in Alabama and learned that your adopted State Standards simply weren’t as rigorous as those in NJ? This inequality exists today. The Common Core State Standards have been blurred by negative propaganda that clouds what the initial goal was to be: National Standards for every student across the board to level the playing field. It also brought a better system of less standards for deeper mastery, or in learning terms, spending more time in areas of need to allow true knowledge, thinking, and understanding rather than memorization. Hmmm, provide students the opportunity to not just learn, but truly understand concepts with multiple ways of thinking- while leveling the playing field for all students in the US?

3. Technology- Today’s students are “Digital Natives” who must learn on technology in order to be successful for future jobs that will be created, right? If this statement is true, then how is it the my generation is able to be successful in a technology infused world when we did not learn on technology? The main objective for any teacher is to best support their students to be self thinkers who are motivated to be successful and think outside the box. From the textbook to the TV, there have been many examples of innovations that were going to provide a better education to our students, yet many fail to realize that these are simply tools to support education, not the answer to. Technology, whether tablets, laptops, or data analytics, should also be looked at in the same fashion. They will support learning in the classroom for both the teacher and the student. However, it has more potential and possibilities in supporting our teachers and students. One that can supply individualized learning with adaptive software that can meet each student with work that will challenge and support exactly where and when the student needs. It is not the use of technology in the classroom that can provide a better education, but rather the data from the use that can be collected and analyzed on a student and teacher that can help. Hmmm, use technology to collect data, analyze, and report correlations to standards and learning per individual student and teacher to provide both with relevant information and path to improve from?

4. Focus- International Comparisons, Common Core, and Technology seems to be the focus of everyone to improve the American Education System, and were the first three concerns here. If our focus to improve our system are on these “outside factors”, then we will never be successful through any lens. The media and politicians have allowed the focus to be drawn to data that truly has no bearing on student success or failure.  The focus should be on the students. This truly is a simple concept of which the research has backed up consistently. Students who come from stable homes with good socio-economic environments are more likely to be successful in school. Students attending properly funded schools who feel supported by teachers, staff, administration, parents, and surrounding community are more likely to be successful in school. Students who are properly cared for with three nutritious meals a day, proper grooming, appropriate physical activities, and a safe home to sleep in are more likely to be successful in school. Students who feel safe in their school environment, especially in their classroom are more likely to be successful in school. Hmmm, focusing on supplying supportive environments at home and a safe environment where students feel supported in schools can help student achievement?

Education has always been about the Student. Education needs to focus on what counts and what truly matters. If we lose focus on the student, it is they who become lost! While the PISA scores are important to track for comparison, focusing on raising the scores will not result in positive gains. While the implementation of Common Core State Standards can provide better guidelines and a better baseline for comparisons, focusing on standards will not raise scores either. While technology has the potential to change the classroom as we know it with exciting and engaging possibilities, it is worthless without a student who is inspired and supported to use it.  Should we focus on developing the best educational environments, both inside and outside the brick walls, focus on providing the supportive environments at home, and focus on supporting the student mind to think freely and engage in learning- We will deliver students who are successful in life! Hmmm, focusing on students so that they can be successful in life……….Is this a new concept?


Flipping over the Flipped Classroom?

So the new rage in education has a label- The Flipped Classroom! There is a movement that believes that it is the perfect mix use of technology that has and will continue to transform the education of America’s students. The flipped classroom is based upon the use of technology to help deliver lessons outside of the classroom (the lesson is watched at home for homework), thus allowing students to spend class time fully focused on subject matter and the expanse of it.  No class time is wasted on the lesson, thus is fully maximized on the development of the understanding by the students. In the words of Wikipedia: Flip teaching (or flipped classroom) is a form of blended learning in which students learn new content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class with teacher offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing.

I sure hope that we are NOT all so short sighted as to believe that this is educationally transforming.  The development of the textbook was in turn the first form of the “flipped classroom”. Teachers were able to assign students the task of reading the next lesson for homework so that they may concentrate class time on developing a better understanding. Was this revolutionary? I would argue that the introduction of using textbooks as homework reading simply increased the school day hours.  It no longer limited the time to read and study to the availability of the text in the classroom, but allowed the access to reading the text to 24/7.  Students today are so very thankful for this development.

The Flipped Classroom simply takes the concept of the textbook (reading/learning 24/7), and expands it with the introduction of technology. The ability of teachers to create video and audio lessons allows them to reach students while they are outside of the classroom walls. It may be created by someone else, with the objective to better prepare the students for the activities/ discussions of the classroom. So while many in America demand longer school days, there is already a movement that is providing just that. At what cost?

If we are to truly take advantage of technology, why do we simply have students watch a lesson at home? I would argue our students are provided LESS support: Lessons are stagnant, lifeless, with no ability to “Connect”. If a student has a question or comment to make during the lesson, he or she is then required to keep their thought process for 12-16 hours until they are back in class? It is easy to say students can write down those questions and thoughts, but what about the ability to capitalize on the opportunity to inspire and empower as it happens?

To be a proponent of the Flipped Classroom, one would have to use technology in a more prevalent capacity.  Combine social media/ discussion boards with the video lessons.  Allow the students to collaborate and share ideas in real time as they are watching the lessons.  How about having a video conference with students, or even with teacher as the lessons are watched.  This will provide a platform for real, meaningful learning to happen, and provide a platform for the following days activities to be truly based on feedback from the students. Instead of simply increasing the “learning” time by extending lessons to be learned for homework, teachers can increase learning by teaching a lesson, collecting information on lesson mastery, and thus developing the next days activities around what the students need.

The flipped classroom has a place in education, as it has been around for decades.  However, it is not revolutionary, and we should not treat it as such.  The education revolution will not be based around the use of technology, but rather on what technology can provide us. We must remember that true educational transformation will come when the revolution is based upon the needs of the learner. We must get back to caring for the students, to truly inspire and empower an individual is most powerful and the results (data, testing) will take care of themselves.