On February 19, 1968, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted on PBS Television. During that first episode, Mr. Rogers taught us that change leads to new ideas. Fast-forward 50 years later. In education, we would do well to heed this lesson. We need to continue changing because we need to generate new ideas. Why is this important? Students across the U.S. have so much untapped potential to develop new ideas and those ideas could lead to a cure for cancer, unlimited clean water, or innovative approaches to celebrate diversity. Yet, I have found that resistance to changing our traditional formal educational classrooms is deeply ingrained. My own transformation into an administrator who has learned to embrace change is the story I would like to share here.
Where do we get new ideas?
Innovation starts and ends with people. People are the generators of new ideas. In 2012, during my tenure as a high school principal, a group of teachers in my building had a new idea to enhance their instruction. This group of teachers had learned about a new approach to teaching math called Flipped Learning. As a principal, I had come across the term, but had never seen it in action. The teachers raved about the academic success of their students in their newly flipped classrooms, and about how much they enjoyed the individual and small group time that they were now able to engage in with their students. In fact, the math classrooms were so successful that a nearby university wanted to place its student teachers in these classrooms to observe and learn this approach.
However, an unanticipated backlash ensued due to resistance to change. University evaluation tools for pre-service teachers focused on teacher accountable talk and the analysis of classroom interaction based on the traditional teacher content delivery through direct instruction interspersed with the Initiate-Respond-Evaluate (IRE) pattern. In a flipped learning context, such teacher talk and IRE interaction was necessarily less frequent because students were engaged with digital content and were experiencing collaborative learning with their peers. When the university educators asked us to switch our classes back to traditional pedagogy, we refused. At the time, while they were concerned that their students observe traditional learning techniques, we were only concerned about student learning. Ironically, the next semester the same university asked us to assist them with flipped learning workshops.
What are the next steps in Flipped Learning?
Fast-forward to 2018, and I find myself in a totally different learning context. The Montour Elementary School opened as a state-of-the-art elementary school on September 6, 2017, housing over 1,100 K-4 students. The school, located in the Greater Pittsburgh region, is part of the Montour School District, a Student-Centered and Future-Focused district that values putting children first, supporting a growth mindset, and creating a learning culture. In this school, we have decided to find new ways to incorporate flipped learning techniques and blend them with more new ideas for educators, such as maker spaces and gaming.
The new elementary school embraces innovative learning spaces including eight Human-Centered Design spaces, Google Labs, Upcycle Makerspace, alternative furniture options in every classroom, and more. The school also features a Minecraft Lab featuring Minecraft Education Edition. After the lab opened in the fall of 2017, students were lining up to use the room, but the adults in the building were hesitant, including myself. Again, resistance to the unfamiliar threatened to impede innovation. Even though my own children play Minecraft, it was not something that I was comfortable using as a learning tool. But, undaunted, we pushed through our resistance, and we turned to the students for help. In the spirit of flipped learning, several students created a YouTube channel to help assist other students and the adults as well. As is often the case with flipped learning, the videos in this channel included everything from sign-in instructions to how-to demos to playing tips. The same applied for Montour’s new Brick Makerspace powered by LEGO Education. Stations around the classroom were videotaped by experts, teachers, and students to help classrooms interact with the learning stations. The idea of creating the flipped videos was to help any learner feel comfortable while embracing the YouTube learning generation.
What is the future of Flipped Learning?
Flipped Learning is prevalent in schools now more than ever before. New kindergarten students are now entering schools today with a mobile device learning tool that they likely mastered before learning how to walk! Well, early, anyway. The brains of children are now wired so differently from past generations because of the “need to know” era and the availability of technology. Also, the likes of YouTube Kids have leveled the playing field from kids merely watching videos to kids now being YouTube stars themselves. Therefore, as students are entering our schools, what are we doing to keep up with this change? The answer we have found at Montour – years after those first efforts in my high school’s math classrooms – is Flipped Learning with a twist! Give students the power to become not only YouTube Kids stars, but Flipped Learning stars.
I invite you to visit our school’s website and, if you are in the neighborhood, drop by and visit our school. I would be delighted to have our kids show you around.