Return To The (Flipped) Classroom #edcmooc

Today sees the start of my E-Learning and Digital Cultures Mooc and I’m really looking forward to the adventure. The topic for Block One is an exploration of ‘Utopias and Dystopias’ – more of that later – but this morning I have been watching some introductory video clips about the course and about the nature of Moocs themselves, which is one of my main motivations for enrolling on the course, to explore what the future of ‘formal’ education looks like, and whether it has  a future at all! The concept of the ‘flipped classroom’ is one which I have discussed before on the blog (see Flipping Socrates), so my curiosity was aroused again by this Ted talk from Anant Agarwal of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the growth of online courses.

A few key questions remain unanswered for me in relation to blended learning, and I would like to explore these issues further in the next few weeks. They could be summarised as follows:

Most of the references i have seen to the flipped classroom appear to relate to aspects of mathematics and science. Do the principles apply equally to the arts and humanities?

Agarwal talks about ‘instant feedback’ and computer-generated assessments. Is that possible, or even desirable, in relation to non-mathematical subjects?

This kind of ‘blend’ – combination of online and face-to face interaction – seems to work well for post-compulsory education, but can it work equally well for 12-16 year-olds, or even younger?

Will e-learning ultimately sound the death knell of compulsory schooling?

The Sad Story of Kid B

Mary Berry, CBE , is an English food writer who has become quite a national celebrity recently as co-presenter of the unexpectedly popular BBC television programme, The Great British Bake-Off. However, unlike many of today’s media celebrities, Random_House_Mary_Berryrather than being famous simply for being a television presenter, she is celebrated for having considerable other talents – among them the ability to turn out near-perfect baking at the drop of the proverbial hat, and with apparent ease. The apparent ease comes after many years of dedication to her chosen profession, having moved to France at the age of 27 to study at Le Cordon Bleu school, before working in a number of cooking-related jobs. She has published over 70 cookery books and hosted several television series. How fitting then, that her own life story would be the subject of a BBC documentary this week, and how sadly predictable that the story of her time at school would be such an unhappy one – “I can never remember, in all my life, having any praise from Miss Blackburn (the Headmistress)”. At the age of 14, she had the opportunity to study what was then called ‘domestic science’ and the rest, as they say, is history, but listen to the language she uses to describe herself, over sixty years later, despite the accumulated weight of evidence pointing to a hugely successful life and career:-

“When you reached 14, there were two options; you either took Latin and maths – that was for the clever ones – or if you were a pupil like me – it was domestic science.”

As long ago as November 2007 I wrote an article for TESS arguing that if Scotland’s new Curriculum for Excellence was to succeed, there would need to be a major shift in attitudes to what I called the ‘hierarchy of subjects’, a kind of intellectual elitism which prevailed in the last century and which led, among other things, to the false dichotomy between ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’ pathways in schools. Scotland as a nation had always taken pride in the concept of the ‘lad o’ pairts’ which developed in the 19th Century, the ideal that a boy should strive to be an all-rounder, a pioneer, broad in knowledge but at the same time practical (Note: girls had not yet been invented in 19th Century Scotland). In the TESS article I set readers a challenge – to stop the first ten people over the age of sixteen that they met in the street, and ask them to write down – in order of importance – the subjects they studied at school. They knew, as well as I did, what the results would be; maths and English at the top, science and languages somewhere in the middle, the arts and ‘practical’ subjects towards the bottom. As I said at the time, the origins of this emphasis on a particular set of skills in preference to all others are not too difficult to trace. In Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century Howard Gardner puts it like this:

“Having a blend of linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence is no doubt a blessing for students and for anyone who must take tests regularly. Indeed, the fact that most psychologists and most other academics exhibit a reasonable amalgam of linguistic and logical intelligence made it almost inevitable that those faculties would dominate tests of intelligence. I often wonder whether a different set of faculties would have been isolated if the test developers had been business people, politicians, entertainers, or military personnel.”

“I have no objection if one speaks about eight or nine talents or abilities but I do object when an analyst calls some abilities (like languages) intelligences, and others (like music) “mere” talents. All should be called either intelligences or talents: an unwarranted hierarchy among the capacities must be avoided.”

Howard Gardner, Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century

The debate about the very purposes of a broad education continue to rage of course – and rightly so – and nowhere more so than in England at the present moment, where Education Secretary Michael Gove‘s plans for an English Baccalaureate have not met with universal acclaim. One London teacher decided to respond by making this short but powerful video, which tells the story of Kidb, and of all the kids we write off if our definition of education, or intelligence, or literacy, becomes too narrow to fit everyone in, and if the pursuit of better test scores takes precedence over the development of better people.

Kidb from darren bartholomew on Vimeo.

Related Posts:-

Testing Times

No More Curriculum for Excellence

Multiple Intelligence Revisited

The Tyranny of the Test

Physics IS Fun. Honest.

I cultivated an extreme aversion to science at school. Or should I say, the way I was taught science at school left me completely cold. My memory of physics for example – and I know I am as capable of hyperbole in the interests of a good story as the next man – is of being set endless homework problems, along the lines of working out how long it would take a stone to reach the bottom of  a cliff if thrown from a great height. Call me an unwilling participant, but I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to care, far less see the relevance of the problem. The fact that our textbook was called, without a hint of irony as far as I’m aware, Physics is Fun, only served to bolster my resistance.

Fast forward several decades, and along with a great many of the population, I have been transfixed recently with the apparent ‘discovery’ by Italian scientists of tiny particles called ‘neutrinos’ moving faster than the speed of light, and in the process upsetting everything we thought we knew about the universe since Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was – er, ‘universally’ accepted. Numerous eminent scientists have subsequently weighed in with huge doses of scepticism of course, which all adds to the fun (Best related joke so far: Barman says ‘we don’t serve neutrinos in here. A neutrino walks into a bar.)

My interest in the story was already primed, having recently finished reading Free Radicals – The Secret Anarchy of Science by Michael Brooks, in which the author argues that science has suffered over the years from a very safe and conservative image, with scientists portrayed through the mass media as dependable, rational and almost always correct, an image which Brooks claims is inaccurate and which has done science and science teaching little favour. Here is how he describes the situation in his own words:-

Then there is the issue of science education. How do we inspire the next generation of scientists? Since the 1950s, the public face of science has been dull, spiritless and cautious. Scientists have taken a back seat in society and culture, allowing rock stars, sportsmen – and women, and fame-hungry TV celebrities to win the attention of our children….If the high school students of today were permitted to learn – perhaps through scientists taking a more honest approach with the media – what science and scientists are really like, the days of a career in science being the dull, dismal road less travelled would be behind us.

There is also the problem of methodology: science teaching methods and curricula have also been the victim of the cover-up. Children have, by and large, been taught the letter but not the spirit of science. As the philosopher Rousseau suggested, we should not teach children the sciences, but give them the appetite for them.

It is open to question, for instance, whether students really need to learn all of the scientific information on the science curriculum. For most, it is an experience that seems to destroy any interest in science. And anyone who has done a school science practical will know how hard it can be to get results that the textbooks say they should. Why is this seen as a failing? Imagine if teachers were then allowed to use this experience to explain the challenges and rewards involved in making breakthroughs and discoveries, rather than having to press on to the point where the student’s notebook contains the ‘right’ answer. Science teachers have been unwittingly co-opted into the effort to conceal the true nature and spirit of science.

It strikes me that the new Scottish science curriculum provides teachers with the opportunities to do exactly as Michael Brooks suggests here. But then again, I’m not a science teacher, so what would I know. Any science teachers out there care to comment?

STOP PRESS

Since writing this post I have been directed to two exciting new, free, science teaching resources from the BP Educational Service.

 

There is a teaching resource for Primary called Young Science Investigators: Project Kit www.bp.com/bpes/ysiprojectkit,  which is a new interactive resource for pupils aged 7–11 that focuses on science at work in the real world and scientific enquiry skills through practical hands-on activities, animations, lesson plans, worksheets and teacher guidance.

How Science Works – Clip Bank www.bp.com/bpes/howscienceworks is the secondary resource which provides students aged 11-16 with great examples of real-life science in action. The materials include video clips, animations, interactive activities, photo slideshows, teacher guidance and curriculum links.


 

Sam, The Spaceship and Me

For the past few days I have been playing games, or one game to be precise, to explore some of the possibilities for using it in the context of improving literacy in the classroom. Samorost is a free online adventure/puzzle game created by Jakub Dvorsky while he was a student at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague; it is produced by his freelance Flash and web design agency Amanita Design. I first heard of the game from Andrew Brown at Learning and Teaching Scotland, who are doing some really interesting development work on Games-Based Learning.  I am also indebted to Dave Terron at Elgin Academy who has used the game in his English classes to very good effect, and to Kim Pericles, a primary teacher in Sydney, Australia who has used the game with her students for some time now – you can see some of their creative writing by clicking here.Samo_1

The object of the game is to direct the main character, a small white gnome-like humanoid (let’s call him Sam), through a series of visually stunning landscapes, by clicking the mouse on various objects in the correct sequence, and to help him avert a collision between his home planet and another planet/spaceship which is hurtling towards it. In the sequel, Samorost 2,  the gnome goes on a longer quest to save his kidnapped dog and return home safely.

Both games are played out against a uniquely atmospheric soundtrack, which is another of the game’s attractions, and against a backdrop of surreal worlds which combine natural beauty, spooky underground caves and a kind of post-apocalyptic industrial wasteland. Another positive is you can have endless attempts to solve the many puzzles which are put in front of you, and no matter what you do you can’t be killed. The problem-solving element of the game is difficult, at least for me, which probably means it is suitable for 12 or 13-year olds, and I could imagine it being used in a variety of contexts within the curriculum to develop listening and talking, writing, collaborative working and problem solving skills. Here are just a few ideas for discussion and other activities which immediately come to mind:-

Samo_2English/Literacy

Group Discussion-Who is this character? What is happening here? What is going to happen? What should we do next? What would happen if….? What would happen in real life if…..?

Writing – freeze the frame at almost any point in the game and ask students to describe what they see. Ask them to create and describe their own “world” to include as an extra level in the game. Tell the story from the point of view of another “character”. Write detailed instructions for someone else to play the game. Write instructions to play a game they are familiar with, including board games and street games. Write another adventure for Sam and/or his dog.

Art and Design

Discuss the design of the game in terms of colour, form, detail, tones, texture and pattern. Describe what it is that makes the game visually appealling. Design and draw a new character/landscape/object/ planet  for the game. Design a new game. Make a board game version of Samorost. Make a short animation of one of the levels of the game.Samo_5

Music

Play the soundtrack without the visuals and ask students to describe what they think is happening (music tracks are available from iTunes). Identify instruments used on the soundtrack. Explore music relating to outer space/the planets/other worlds and to suggest alternative soundtracks (Space Oddity? Lost in Space? The Planets? Star Wars Theme? War of the Worlds?). Compose and play an alternative soundtrack.

Science/Planet Earth

How many animal and plant species can you identify? Find out as much as you can about them and find out how they depend on each other for survival. How many different ways are there of creating energy in the game? Examine any of the means of transport that the gnome uses in the game and explain how it works. There are numerous opportunities at various points in the game to examine and discuss the concepts of ecology,evaporation, distillation, gravity, flow, substance, compound, circulation, motion, suction, current, voltage and quite a few others.

Technologies

Sam_3There are a number of “machines” in the game, most of them in the Heath Robinson style of design. However, they provide excellent opportunities to discuss such things as valves, pulleys, thermostats, pressure and combustion. You could ask students to build a simple version of the ski lift or the metal ball which lowers Sam into the underworld in Samorost 2 or to design and build a new rocket for Sam.

Social Studies

How much do we know about Sam’s planet? How does it differ from the other planets he travels to? Are there any clues as to what era we might be in? What kind of society does this seem to be? What can we tell about the creatures who kidnap the dog?   Is there life on other planets? Debate the merits and demerits of space travel in the 21st century.

These are just a few ideas but if you have any more, or indeed if you are already using the game I would be delighted to hear from you.