Friday, August 31, 2012

Creativity and Innovation in the Flipped Classroom

I recently attended the Flipped Learning Summit hosted by NYSCATE at Buffalo State College.  The keynote speaker was Aaron Sams, author of the book Flip Your Classroom: Reach every student in every class every day (also available in the iTunes bookstore).  While his presentation focused on the challenges, benefits, and structure of the flipped classroom, his underlying message was his true passion.  To Aaron, using the flipped classroom approach to instruction is a tool, a way of reaching his true goal: to engage every student at a level they can work and to tap into their individual learning style to ensure understanding and ultimately mastery of the learning goals set forth at the beginning of the course.  

Today, during our final day of teacher orientation before the official start of the school year, I shared with the staff the flipped classroom approach.  I chose to flip the PD by emailing a video about flipped classrooms to all the teachers prior to the session.  I decided to select a video that showed a flipped classroom in action, instead of one that spelled out every step of the process.  This proved to be critical to the success of the session.

After teachers arrived for the professional development and I confirmed that everyone had watched the video, I asked them to share with the person next to them what they thought flipping the classroom meant and what were some of the possible benefits to the approach.  For two minutes, the teachers were engaged in excellent conversations about the video, what it told them about flipped classrooms, and why they were considering using it during the new school year.  I then asked a few of the teachers to share with the rest of the group.  The discussion that followed could have continued for the remaining 55 minutes of the session.  

Each teacher that spoke shared a unique perspective on the flipped classroom model, and expressed the perceived benefits as well as a few concerns.  While I won't go into every step of the professional development session that followed, I shared this opening activity in order to show the value of a flipped approach to learning.  The teachers were incredibly engaged in the discussion of something that was introduced to them in a three minute YouTube video viewed before the PD session began.  By experiencing first hand the opportunities for communication and collaboration flipping allows, they began to understand the power of this approach.

I'd like to take the flipped classroom conversation one step further and start the conversation about infusing creativity and innovation into the learning experiences of students in a flipped model.  As many who are familiar with the flipped classroom model already know, the activities you have the students complete are as important to the learning and understanding as the videos.  So the question I hope to explore is: how do you give the students the opportunity to learn through innovation in a flipped classroom?

The answer is quite simple, and yet requires a leap of faith on the part of the teacher.  According to Tony Wagner in his book Creating Innovators, "more and more students are saying that education which is merely content delivery doesn't work, doesn't stick... It's about applying what they know, in order to connect the dots." This is where opportunities for students to make, do, build, shape, and invent things in response to problems posed by the teacher can encourage curiosity, engagement, and innovation in all students.  This can occur regardless of a student's abilities and academic standing.  

In a flipped classroom that is focused on developing skills in creativity and innovation, we would see students collaborating on projects and using all available resources (including networks, online resources, and the videos provided by the teacher in the flipped model) to solve often complex, multidisciplinary problems.  Students would feel empowered to take ownership of their learning and feel a sense of intrinsic motivation to learn and grow.  

The last, and often most critical component necessary for the success of a flipped classroom focused on innovation is the support of students when they take risks.  Our current educational model discourages risk and punishes failure, and yet innovation requires failure as a path towards success.  In the words of Tony Wagner, we need to nurture students who are "unafraid to try new things, to explore the world, and to face unexpected problems." They do not view failure as something to avoid, but instead a "step in the process of learning."

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