Friday, June 28, 2013

Miyagi and Me

Before watching Jon, Aaron, and Ramsey give their keynote speeches for FlipCon13, I was entering this summer with the goal that I would improve the videos I have created so that students would be more motivated to watch them.  I flipped all of my classes (Biology, Ecology, College Biology) for the first time last year, and although the students were initially excited about and appreciative of the the new learning format, by the end of the year the novelty had worn off and some stopped watching the videos all together.  I had this idea in my mind that if I could make really exciting, funny, engaging videos, all of my students would be glued to my lessons and learn everything they needed to know.  I guess I was channeling Field of Dreams...

My thoughts were, "If you make those videos really, really awesome, those students will WANT to sit down at their computer, iPad, or phone and watch them every night."  But I couldn't fit that on my picture above.

Then I watched Keynote #1 of FlipCon13 (via the archive), and I started to get an inkling that flipping my classroom wasn't all about the quality of my videos.  Jon and Aaron's presentation focused mostly on their evolution of thought through their years of flipping.  They too simply started with videos, which then became more professional, which gave them more flexible time in class and started them thinking about mastery learning, and now their focus is tying differentiated learning into the flipped mastery classroom.  I am starting to realize that videos are simply a tool to open more time in your classroom, at which point you can really start making headway with your students' learning by incorporating various learner-centered strategies.  The videos themselves aren't meant to get your students excited about your class content - your class time can now be used to get your students excited about your class content.  Imagine that!  

During the presentation, Aaron did a short demonstration that really resonated with me.  He pulled out his phone and asked Siri (or something similar) to find the electron configuration of oxygen.  In seconds, he had it available on his phone.  He explained that once this would have been a question he'd ask students on a test, but questioned if this type of information should be the focus of education anymore since "facts" are now so widely accessible.  My own classes have already been slowly evolving away from the memorization of facts to an emphasis on the process of science.  However, this part of the presentation brought things back into focus for me.  How can I balance the expectations of standardized testing, which are predominantly based on discrete facts, with a need for my students to be problem-solvers in the unknown future in which they will find themselves?  As Jon and Aaron stressed, we are giving our students tools that can be applied to a variety of situations - not training them for a specific job.

More foreign to me was Jon and Aaron's discussion of mastery learning.  I've tried to incorporate mastery learning into my classes in the past, but it hasn't been very successful.  Mostly this has been due to low student motivation.  Jon and Aaron reminded me of the power that these strategies can have if implemented successfully.  They described how their classrooms revolve around standards-based objectives, and students show their mastery of these objectives according to a rubric.  I think I'm only a few steps away from a mastery approach for my classes.  I already rely heavily on formative assessment in my classroom.  Also, students don't get a grade on a science notebook assignment until they have reached 100% correct, and all students are required to make corrections on their quizzes and tests.  Finally, all the teachers in my district (including me!) have created learning objectives for each of the units that they teach.  I order to fully implement a mastery classroom, however, I just need a little more help with the organization of the process.  I remembered that I own Jon and Aaron's book and should probably reread it this summer to help with this!

Because I have been "attending" FlipCon13 by watching the archived sessions, I was able to watch Ramsey Musallam's presentation immediately after Jon and Aaron's.  This is when my thoughts on flipped learning were transformed the most.  Ramsey delved into the murky world of student motivation, which I realized has been the missing piece from my classes over the years.  He challenged teachers to think of our content as a "mystery box" that has the potential to excite our students as they uncover its secrets.  Ramsey played a TED clip of J.J. Abrams describing how all great movies hold back secrets at the very beginning and slowly reveal them to the audience as the movie progresses.  Ramsey suggested that this is should be a model for student learning.  At that moment, everything clicked in my mind.  I don't need to make amazing videos to engage my students in the content; rather, I need to facilitate student access of the content as they develop their own questions in regard to these "mysteries."  I am fortunate as a science teacher to work with content that naturally lends itself to "discovery learning."

I especially connected with the example that Ramsey gave from The Karate Kid.  Mr. Miyagi allowed Daniel to  flounder for awhile before jumping to his aid.  He provided Daniel with some instruction in karate after the need had become apparent to Daniel, and then Daniel took those tools and transformed them into something all his own.  Ramsey described this cycle of learning in his own classroom as "Explore, Flip, Apply."  I need to be a Mr. Miyagi in my classroom, instead of a Kevin Costner (another reference to Field of Dreams...just in case I lost you there).  I'm going to put a lot of thought this summer into what "Explore, Flip, Apply" is going to look like in my classroom.  Maybe I'll even tape a copy of this photo by my desk to remind me where my focus needs to be...



  1. I need to get that clip of Aaron talking to his phone. That was the turning point for me as well. So profound! I tried it with my iPhone and Siri found the answer using Wolfram Alpha but did not speak it to me. I think Aaron said he had an Android. It's funny that of all of the great moments and conversations I had at FlipCon, the 3 second demo by Aaron had the greatest impact on me. Everyone needs to see that moment.

  2. "How can I balance the expectations of standardized testing, which are predominantly based on discrete facts, with a need for my students to be problem-solvers in the unknown future in which they will find themselves?"

    I too find this problematic, especially when other classes employ more traditional instruction/assessment practices. Unfortunately, I often find myself stuck between the need to maintain consistency with the rest of my department and the need to inspire students to engage deeper in their thinking.

    Both of these keynotes were powerful, and as the type of person who learns best through metaphors, the video analogies were particularly memorable and profound. I am very new to flipping and fear that I am more of a Kevin Costner than a Mr. Miyagi . . . but I suppose it's a starting point.

  3. Because the phone demo and movie references were the most powerful in helping me understand these speakers' intent, I began thinking about how I could provide these same concrete metaphors for my own classes. I know my students love movies, and I'm pondering how to use clips from main-stream movies as hooks/mystery boxes for them.