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Philosophical Meanderings

5 ways to flip school

360 Flip by The Foot Down

360 Flip by The Foot Down

This is a companion piece to “5 ways to flip composition” on the Democratizing Composition blog, a new project meant to build a community around the idea of broadening what’s possible in schools through specific new media methods and materials.

I hope some of these suggestions strike a chord with you and that you’ll offer your own suggestions in the comments below. You are warmly invited to join the community at Democratizing Composition, as well!

  • Pop-up schools. Offer alternatives to the regular school day and credit-bearing courses through through pop-up neighborhood and/or storefront schools that function like intensives or coder dojos – brief, immersive experiences that count for credit and seat-time and graduate students who have mastered core literacies, competencies, and skills in interdisciplinary courses like “The history of science we will never teach you in school,” “Coding the classics: Bronte Bots,” or “Geo-rectifying fiction: where is Hogwarts?” Make alternative educational opportunities a routine part of the school year, provide access and transportation to all kids, and create demand for change in the status quo through student and parent demand for more educational opportunities like these at school. Sanction, sponsor, and staff the kinds of learning maker spaces, media centers, and museums currently do better than schools.

  • Pop-up classes. Alternately, put kids and teachers in charge of offering rotations of pop-classes in school classrooms. Start once a week. Invite students, as well as teachers, to pitch classes; create an equipment and materials pool. Analyze the foot traffic. Protect more and more time for co-learning with peer and adult teachers through nimble learning events.

  • Bring your own materials. Make per pupil materials allocations available to kids and families, perhaps by something like a subscription-by-media-or-tool strand. Group kids by the materials through which they want to learn. Perhaps some kids will put together their own multi-media non-fiction collections; maybe some will buy the textbooks; it’s possible others might lump together all their money from each class to buy a tablet or other mobile computing device to use throughout the day. Let kids’ media preferences drive scheduling and grouping, and work with kids to use what they bring to work through the remains of the standardization-era day.

  • Replace computer labs with learning labs (and maybe go outside). Stop buying new stuff that does old stuff. Use the old stuff for that. Start building rooms and/or transforming media centers into learning labs that recast digital learning as something more than a keyboard-and-screen affair. Invest in pieces of technology that encourage interaction and foster a sense of wonder in their users. Build technological playscapes instead of data-processing floors. Give kids and adults in your schools the opportunity to invent new ways to learn together. Check out soft circuitry, programmable interface hacks, 3D printers, modular instruments, and tactile-response screens. See if kids can hack together large scale haptic displays in ways we can’t imagine. (And maybe reserve a lab for coding to begin learning how to make all those things work.) Don’t neglect the material for the digital. Install a hydroponic farm using recycled plastic jars, a couple of tubes, rocks, wrapping, and plant-food solutions-and pop in an old computer for blogging observations and graphing data. Make a quantified-self room for PE, sign-out pedometers and mobile computing devices with cameras, and put QR codes on school lunches so kids can come to the room and track information about themselves, journal their sleep, moods, and feelings, chart their academic performance, and compare the quantitative and qualitative parts of their lives to see when they feel and learn best. Ask what it would look like to purpose an outdoor learning lab and how technology outside a computer lab could support its learning. Ask fewer questions about what to install in the lab; ask more questions about how it will help students discover new learning. What are the technologies and apps that lead to discovery instead of delivering content?

  • Deputize students to badge teachers. There’s no way around this: student feedback about schooling is entirely discounted by the adults who serve them. We should work with students to develop criteria regarding teacher behaviors, habits, competencies, literacies, and skills that help kids learn. Not every kid will want the same kind of teacher for every class or every year, but surely a diverse and sizable enough body of students could generate an additive teacher evaluation process that would award teachers badges based on, say, the number of students who think that he or she teaches this or that well or relates well to kids. Students’ test results are not indicative of their attitudes towards school and teachers. Badging is a concrete, concise, visual way to appraise teacher performance against the wants and needs of the kids in their classes. It would be powerful for teachers to see which badges kids award them and withhold from them. Principals could handle sharing the badges as part of teachers’ routine, confidential evaluation conferences. If we invite every kid in a school to badge all their teachers, over time we’ll have a reliable accounting of how our kids and teachers relate to one another and the shared work of learning. Grades, traditional discipline structures, and traditional instructional practices in schools create a de facto bullying relationship between teachers and students. Allowing kids guaranteed opportunities to evaluate teachers by assessing teachers against students’ needs might recalibrate the relationship between them, ameliorate heretofore hostile teacher-student relationships, and improve all kinds of results.

It’s difficult for us to let go of school, but we have a choice. We can hold tight and get flipped, or let go and participate in the flipping.


About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.


3 thoughts on “5 ways to flip school

  1. I’m not sure I agree with the last one. Maybe I am misinterpreting the concept of a badge. I’d rather we move away from evaluative, this-person-judges-you relationship between teachers and students, period. If a kid chooses a teacher, let that person be a mentor. Ideally, I would have a class full of students who could take what type of education I offer. No badges. No points. No deputies. I would know whether they wanted to be there based upon whether or not they showed up. The relationship would be build upon trust.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | August 21, 2012, 10:51 pm
  2. Instead of “deputization”, how about recognizing the agency of students and seeing if they “vote with their feet”?

    Posted by Brent Snavely | August 27, 2012, 8:16 am

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