History on its Head: My First “Flipped” History Lesson

The hot trend that all educators seem to be talking about these days is the “flipped classroom” model of education.  In a nutshell, the “flipped classroom” attempts to harness the growing influence of technology in students’ lives by moving the traditional classroom lecture outside the school walls and into digital space (through social media platforms like YouTube, Twitter, Skype, etc.) that students can access anywhere at anytime.  This means that students get content information at home , while the teacher uses class time for comprehension and critical thinking exercises, as well as one-on-one support.

More class time for support? More creative ways to teach content? Harnessing kids’ constant personal use of social media for school assignments?  Sign me up!

I decided on a whim one night to give this thing a try.  I had been sick for a week and had to find a creative way to get all of my 6th grade history classes back on the same page without overwhelming them in class with information or outside of class with too much reading.  Additionally, I was teaching about the Spread of Islam, which necessitates discussion of some difficult new Arabic terms.  I would have felt guilty making my students struggle through pages and pages of a chapter with difficult foreign terms, all within a challenging textbook.  My struggling readers would have revolted!  It seemed like the best possible time for me to finally do this thing and make my first “flipped” video.  Here are the final results, which I posted as unlisted videos on my school YouTube channel (unlisted means that only those who have the direct link can access it; I felt this was best for privacy reasons):

Here is how I made it:

  1. I created a Keynote (any presentation app works) with the text and pictures I wanted to discuss.
  2. I ran over the Keynote several times and “presented” it as if there was an audience so that I knew what I wanted to say.  Some may choose to actually write a script, since it can be a little intimidating to actually record your own voice for the first time!
  3. The Keynote was then uploaded into ExplainEverything (Click for AppStore link), one of THE BEST iPAD APPS EVER!  (Check it out here on a desktop: http://www.explaineverything.com/) ExplainEverything allows the user to record audio and video over a presentation, as well as record an array of annotations and pointers.  It has everything you could possibly want!  Of course, it did require me to play around quite a bit before I got the hang of recording and annotating at the same time, but it definitely got much easier.
  4. I uploaded the presentation to my BZMissVP YouTube Channel.  (Note: The upload can be done straight from the ExplainEverything App, or you can load the videos through YouTube itself.) Because I was a fairly new user, I had to upload the video in two parts, but you can verify your account so that you can upload larger files.
  5. Once the videos were uploaded, I made sure that they were set to “unlisted,” so that only those with direct links could access them.
  6. I also decided to play around with some of YouTube’s amazing editing features. I added a sepia effect that made the videos a little easier on the eyes.  I also trimmed the videos and spliced them together more seamlessly.
  7. The finishing touch was adding YouTube annotations, which gave me the ability to write some funny and/or informational comments over my existing presentation to make it even more understandable and relatable to a 6th grade audience.  Additionally, it allowed me to add in two external links, one to a cool interactive map and another at the end linked to the second video.  At the end of the video, I also posted an annotation with instructions for homework.
  8. Last but not least, I posted the video links on our class’ Moodle site so that all kids had access.

All in all, this process took about two hours for my first go-round.  I suspect that next time will be MUCH faster now that I understand the programs better.

Of course, the process doesn’t end here.  I also had to prepare the students for their newfangled homework assignment.

Here is how I addressed this with students:

(Note that our school has a GoogleApps for Education account.  It has been an invaluable resource in collaborating with kids and is highly recommended for any school looking to increase technology usage!)

    1. I pulled up the video on my projector to show the kids the first 30 seconds, which are an introduction and explanation of the “flipped video” from me.  You should have heard the commotion! Ms. V, is that YOU?!  AHHHH!!  You’re on YOUTUBE?!  Just the shock value alone was priceless.
    2. I explained that they would be watching the rest for homework instead of reading from the book (a resounding applause!) but first they would need to set up their accounts through their school Gmail.  It was very important for me to stress that this is a school YouTube account and CANNOT be used for any personal purposes.
    3. Here were my directions to them on how to set up their YouTube usernames through Gmail:
  • Click “sign in now to post a comment!” at the bottom of the video page.
  • Sign in to your school e-mail
  • [I then asked each student to use his or her initials and other identifying acronyms so that they were not identifiable by name in their comments.]
  • Post a comment telling me:   1) At least two things you learned  2) Ask any questions you may have/things that are confusing/things you want to know more about!

I could not possibly capture how excited they were that their teacher was, as one student put it, “A YouTube Sensation!”  They were bursting with excitement….about homework.

The Aftermath

Even though I was proud of my work and was excited to see the kids’ enthusiasm, I was still so nervous that something would go wrong.

Minus a few tech glitches and home computer malfunctions/access issues, it went off without a hitch!  The kids’ comments on the content were well-crafted; I believe that seeing their peers’ somewhat anonymous comments helped them to formulate and rework their own comments to say something truly unique.  They also seemed unafraid to ask questions, which I was then able to immediately reply to with a comment of my own and give personalized feedback.

As for the video itself, here are a few comments that I think really capture the students’ feelings about it (note that I left in their spelling and grammar errors! ;):

  • “Heyyyyy! wow, I am impressed. You have to show me how to make a video like this one time. It was much much much better that reading from a textbook.”
  • “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make more videos like this its so much easier”
  • “PS- This was a really cool way to do homework and I hope you do it again!!!!!!!!!!!!”
  • “Thanks for making that video! It helped me learn better visually so I didn’t get distracted! :)…Oh yeah, and you should make more videos like this but not just to us, TO THE WORLD!!!!! (Thanks for the knowledge) :)”
  • “Wow, thanks so much for sharing this with me! I am very happy with how much I learned from watching these videos.”

But hands down, this was my favorite comment.  It comes from a very bright student who also happens to be dyslexic (I left her original wording with spelling and grammar uncorrected, but I put in parenthesis what she meant to say).  She cannot read the text and mostly listens to audio recordings that I make for her.  Though she always listens, she often feels like she is missing something.  Clearly, this wasn’t the case with the video:

  • “this was really ejection (exciting; engaging) and i sometimes love to learn like right now so thanks for doing this”

Short.  Sweet.  This comment makes the whole process worthwhile.

A few other worthwhile observations from kids that came from our in-class discussion the day after:

  • The video allowed them to “go at their own pace” and not feel bad if they were moving ahead/behind of everyone else.
  • They had the ability to rewind and turn on captions so that they could really understand what I was saying.  You can’t rewind a live presentation without feeling disruptive!
  • They loved seeing other students’ comments; it helped them find their own words and try to add something unique to the conversation.
  • There’s no way anyone could cheat on an assignment like this, since we can see everyone’s comments!
  • They can go back and re-watch the video if they need to study for a quiz or test.
  • It was a nice change of pace from the textbook (though most commented that they still wanted to read as well–I agree!)
  • It was funny and engaging to see me, their goofy teacher, narrate a YouTube video–it kept them actively watching for 14 minutes!
  • Some even watched further “recommended videos” on Islam that came up on the side.  Awesome!

After it was all said and done, I realized what potential this buzzword, “flipped classroom” truly has.  Though I take issue with the inherent assumption in the name “flipped” that all teachers do is lecture in class and have kids do mindless problems at home (future post on this topic coming soon!), I see that the real buzz behind it is really about today’s students having unprecedented access to learning through technology.  Sometimes, the sheer speed of changes in technology and education are intimidating, but as educators, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and push our craft to new levels of innovation.  We owe it to our students to link their learning with the increasingly technological lives that they lead—the flipped classroom is just one of many ways we can do so.

I know this classroom will be doing “flips” again very soon.

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Here’s Hoping They’ll Be Better Than Us…

50s Classroom

National Library of Australia on  Flickr through The Commons

Hello there, you crazy world, you!

Let’s be honest here, when reading someone’s introductory blog post, you care very, very little about that person’s credentials, experiences, etc. I could tell you where I’m from, where and what I teach, my educational philosophy, or heck, even my star sign.

But that would all be boring. Look in the “About” section if that is what you want.

What I will tell you about are better explanations for why I teach than any “About” section ever could be.

Throughout my career, I have come to see more and more that my educational philosophy and the decisions I make on a daily basis are driven by my own experiences as a student. I was a kid that heard and felt every comment from every teacher and internalized it deeply—for better or for worse. Those memories from my own education are marked with a range of emotions–from wonderment, engagement, mind-blowing euphoria, and raw emotional expression, to boredom, frustration, anxiety, and downright sadness. I am driven as an educator to repeat the wonderful decisions of my past educators that brought forth such powerful feelings in me; even more so, I want to never repeat the mistakes of those educators who brought out the negative emotions and shut down my interest in certain subjects forever.

The following is a list of ways that I wish my own education was different; the things I hope to vindicate from my own past by doing them differently in my own classroom. I also want to honor those who stood out and inspire me to this day. These are the reasons why I teach.

If my education had been different…

…there would have been an adult advocate for me at school so that my teachers would have realized that when my dad lost his job in 5th grade, it didn’t really help me emotionally to get yelled at for not doing my homework. I couldn’t. I couldn’t focus at all. I was 11 and didn’t understand.

…an adult would have realized that I was a very sad kid who desperately needed to talk to someone about being the new kid in school and how hard it was to deal with bullying.

…”College Bound Reading” wouldn’t have been an OPTIONAL course in high school. To this day, I am ashamed by how many classics I missed out on. Of course, my stressed out high school self took the easy way out. No one told me to challenge myself; that it would be worth it later on. My class read a textbook instead of the classics. Sad.

…my writing classes would have allowed for creativity that wasn’t simply expository. Never once did we write poems, or analyze song lyrics, or heck, even write good short stories!

…my history teachers (save for one EXCELLENT and LIFE-CHANGING US History and Government teacher) would have asked us deep and thought-provoking questions,rather than turning on a documentary or asking us to fill-in-the-blanks on a worksheet while reading from the textbook.

…my humanities teachers would have recognized that we were more than capable of understanding complex philosophies, and political and social theories. I found myself embarrassed many times by my own ignorance in both college and grad school just because I hadn’t been exposed to what was apparently “required reading” elsewhere.

…my math and science teachers would have shown me all the incredible “magic” humans can achieve through these disciplines…how people use math and science to save the world and help others. These subjects were lost to me through methodical and dry teaching that lacked purpose.

…my school would have offered computer science classes that actually showed me what an incredible future we were heading toward and how essential skills like coding HTML would become.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention the incredible ones. I teach because of Mr. Busse and his ability to get even the most disinterested of students engaged in historical conversations, as well as his attempts to get to know who his students were on a personal level (thanks for always seeing my plays!) Most importantly, he was the only one who pushed me (and so many others) to challenge myself and see my own potential as a historian.

I teach because of Mrs. Bassler and Mrs. Dipple-Shackelford and their recognition that many of us needed the arts in our lives to be whole.

And from long ago…I teach because of Mrs. Parker, my 2nd grade teacher, who was so “cool,” she inspired me to set up a classroom in my parents’ basement at the age of 8, not to be taken down for years. (Did I ever take it down?)

We learn best from our own experiences and can’t help but be shaped by them in our own careers as educators.

That is the spirit of this blog: PROGRESS from the education we teachers received as children.

Let us correct the mistakes of the not-so-great teachers and be even better than our best teachers…

…so that our students can be even better than us.

A teacher can only hope.