Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
Matt Skurnick about Sustaining the Teaching Life
Mon, 25.03.2013 14:05
Jon Goldman was both my
English Teacher in 9th
grade and Advisory Mentor
for my four years at
Karen Greenberg about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Tue, 14.08.2012 11:13
Perhaps a more apt term
would be "altering
physics - two objects in
Amethyst about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:51
I really appreciate this
blog entry. Our roles as
teachers require, at our
best, a deep [...]
Mark Ahlness about The Long Haul
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:33
Chris, thanks. Pete is my
hero, and has been for a
while, but now that I'm
retired, after 31 years
Gary Stager about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:15
No need to worry about
Others all around us are
debasing our [...]
Subscribe to Practical Theory
Sunday, July 19. 2009
I'm about 80% of the way through Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn. (Yeah, I know... I'm the last one to read it.) There's a lot that's very interesting about the book, and while we should critically examine the book, it is still a fascinating read.
If nothing else, it is continuing to make me think about how much more could happen in our classrooms if we created more opportunities for students to learn basic skills and content outside of class, rather than inside class. I've been thinking a lot about math class. How many students would learn math more efficiently if they could watch math videos, narrated by a teacher with problems done "on the board" as they watched with multiple examples of concepts (think geometry here, as an example) that speak to different learning modalities.
So what of class, then?
Then, class, rather than being a time when all kids sat and received the instruction, could be the time when they reinforce skills by doing problem sets, worked on real-world application projects, collaborated with teachers to reinforce concepts, etc... in some ways, it's an inversion of what we traditionally think of as a math class. Right now, in traditional classrooms, class is where the teacher demonstrates concepts (often with some time for individual reinforcement and work), but the bulk of application / practice / etc... is done at home where there isn't much chance for help.
If we use technology to invert that idea, so that kids could watch the teacher's demonstration of the skills and concepts at home (and with the ability to rewind when necessary,) we could allow kids the opportunity to apply and practice their knowledge in the space where they can get help, collaborate, etc... doesn't that make more sense?
(Interestingly, I was trying to imagine what that would look like in an English classroom, and I realized that is, in many respects, similar to what we do already when we ask kids to read the book at home, and then come in and interact with the community to uncover the deeper aspects of the text. Hm.)
Blogged with the Flock Browser
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
I think it's an awesome idea. I don't think one teacher would be very successful trying it by herself, with students who are used to the usual way of instruction in class and practice at home. How would you try to implement it as a principal? Would you mandate math teachers organize their courses this way? Would you be able to convince your middle schools to do it this way? I am pretty sure if I suggested it to my department, they would think it sounded cool, but wouldn't want to do all the work of restructuring their courses or learning a new way to conduct class.
We're going to roll it out small scale this year with several teachers working to create mini-lessons that are consumable for at least one class (probably Alg 2). We're fortunate in that our kids are very tech-savvy and adaptable. But yes, if we're going to move it forward, I'm going to find ways to make creating this content worthwhile for teachers. On a scary level, there are companies like K12 who have already created the mini-lesson content. Do I think it might be worthwhile to pay for that content, and then free up teachers to develop the real-world application-based curriculum that would allow for the deeper understanding and enrichment? I don't know. A big part of me says no, because I worry about the education-industrial complex. Another part of me says yes, because I don't need teachers to reinvent the wheel. (And because my teacher who worked with the K12 curriculum did say that the mini-lessons were very well-done.)
Thanks for explaining your plan. I hope you update about how it goes - whether you decide to use prepackaged videos or make your own homebrew ones, how the teachers like it, and how it works out for kids.
As a high school math teacher, I think this idea of 'inverting' the home and classroom time seems like a great idea in practice, but also with many reservations:
1) Quality instruction should include ongoing formative assessment. Any video-based instruction should incorporate opportunities for feedback and appropriate re-teaching resources when necessary. Ironically, I am doing some consulting work for a non-profit who is trying to create this type of multimedia. One of the difficulties we're running up against is creating multimedia presentations ahead of time for students whose pre-requisite knowledge (and misconceptions) we cannot be sure of. It can be done, but it is a daunting task. At a building or district level, educators would need a substantial time on a frequent basis to plan and create these videos to address the misconceptions of the students in their classrooms. There is of course the 'access' issue, too. Do/will all students have access (computers, internet, etc.) to these videos at home?
2) If math instruction is done well (and I can only speculate other disciplines, too), videos will not be the best approach to each day's learning objectives. For example, teaching students how to solve two-step linear equations is an algorithmic skill. It lends itself to direct-instruction (videos) with plenty of practice to identify and overcome misconceptions. On the flip side, teaching about the relationship between the number of sides of a regular polygon and the sum of its interior angles is not procedural knowledge at the core, but rather a conceptual relationship that is better taught through a more inquiry-based approach. Due to this change in pedagogy, I would question the effectiveness of teaching this objective with a video. A collaborative, inquiry-based approach would be difficult to simulate in a video and better lends itself to a different medium.
Does this all make sense? I'm only speaking from my experience with curriculum and instruction from a secondary math perspective, so I could be way off the mark...
I agree completely with your concerns. One of my thoughts with this idea was that if we take the time needed for some of the direct instruction of math concepts away from class time, we could better use class time to do more collaborative inquiry and meaningful assessment. My frustration with math teaching now is that the ratio of class time spent tilts too heavily toward direct instruction and not enough toward meaningful interaction with the material.
Also, to agree with Joe, I think you could create the scenario where, after mini-lessons, students did have some opportunity to prove understanding (online problem / "quiz: / etc) before moving to the next piece.
The goal of this is not to outsource math teachers, but rather to make it easier for them to teach in meaningful ways.
Good idea Chris, however the problem I see is that the video itself that demonstrates the concept would have to be broken up into various segments b/c often in math there are steps to follow that are sequential and you must understand each step before progressing. I think you would need an adaptive series of hyperlinked small videos that would allow for each step to be shown and then the student could choose to move to the next step if they understand the current step or to stop and have the current step retaught to them.
This assumes students are very motivated and willing to work at home. This is probably true for SLA since the selection process is extensive. But, my experience is in comprehensive Philly schools - getting students to work outside of class is difficult. You may argue they will watch a video but that assumes they have a computer, high speed internet access, etc. In other words, how do you transfer this idea beyond a very select environment like SLA?
I'm not sure it does assume kids are any more motivated than current students are. In fact, I actually think this may make it easier on less motivated students. Why do kids who struggle in math not do homework? Is all of it motivation? Or do some students go home and just not get it and give up? This model flips traditional work structures around, so that a) there is the ability to re-visit instruction at any time, and b) the bulk of the work is done in class with teachers and peers around for help.
Issues of digital equity are a bigger one, although, it seems that gap is shrinking quickly. And virtual charter schools are providing models for getting computers and internet access to the home that perhaps could provide models for brick and mortar schools.
Are there issues with this idea? Of course. But are these issues insurmountable? I don't think so. And are the issues with this idea worse than the issues we currently face in math instruction? Again, I'm not sure they are.
While I can not comment on high school (my kids are not there yet), this format would have saved me in my statistics class in grad school...working the problems was where I bogged down.
Interesting post. I remember reading an article somewhere about two chemistry teachers who recorded their introductory lectures as pod casts so they could spend the class time helping students solve problems. Seemed to work well as I recall.
@Charlie, I remember hearing about those Chemistry teachers as well. I searched around and found this post (http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/2008/08/ahs-chemistry-podcasts.html) by Karl Fisch on some similar work that one of the Chemistry teachers at his school was doing--posting mini lessons on YouTube so that his students could learn the content, and revisit it, outside of class, so that class time could be used more effectively. Some good arguments for this approach are outlined in the post.
@Chris, what you are suggesting is very similar to what Darren Kuropatwa advocates in this post (http://adifference.blogspot.com/2009/03/whats-value-added.html). I think that what you (and Darren) are proposing makes sense, taking into account the digital divide as mentioned by @DLS. In 'Disrupting Class' Christenson et al take it one step further by suggesting that our students shouldn't have to learn in lock step. Is there a way within our current school system that students can receive high quality classes, where each student can learn at their own pace? We certainly try this with alternative programs for at risk students, but often times the material they are given is not very rich. I'm keen to hear how your experiment goes; best of luck!
I'm sure you've done your legwork here, Chris, and reached out to this pair out in Colorado. (Charlie also referenced them: http://tinyurl.com/mhjbtn)
I don't want to throw too much water on this fire. I want to see what happens when an entire department takes this on and (nudge) blogs about it.
I just want to point out that while once I felt as you do, that all the infrastructure-laying of Geometry was something to hustle through en route to the interesting applications and group projects, I have found that creating that infrastructure from scratch with students is its own kind of awesome, and that it makes a lot of those applications and projects a lot easier and a lot more satisfying.
I blogged about this recently: http://tinyurl.com/ndx5fy
Summarized: 2006 Dan would have taken to the idea of explaining what an angle is, how we talk about angles, how we write them down, all on a vodcast so we could get to pool table problems the next day in class.
This is all I want to point out: building those conventions from scratch (I illustrated this process in the post) made for some seriously satisfying conversations with students this summer. Those conversations knit us together and went a long way to create a culture of inquiry that carried us through a lot more than just pool table problems, a culture where we were always justifying our assumptions.
I don't know what the best of both worlds is here. But at least we're both stumbling simultaneously away from the worst of those worlds where a live, un-interactive teacher vodcasts from the front of the classroom.
While you recognize the digital divide, you have not recognized what it will takes to make math, in particular, accessible to all students - not the extremely selective students (interview, grades, attendance, test scores, etc.) who attend SLA. How will your ideas fly in a comprehensive high school who admits everyone and anyone at any time during a school year.
Granted, your proposal may be useful for differentiation. This year I had an Algebra I with 34% of the students had an IEP for math which indicated they were to be reviewing counting money to multiplication facts to fractions, etc. \ while, simultaneously, students were to be prepared to take SDP benchmark tests in Algebra I. So, yes, maybe viewing video online at home will help "bridge the gap" but motivation, access, etc. is still a huge factor.
DLS -- let's not set up the straw man that this is an SLA-only / magnet-only proposal. This is also the kind of work that Dan Meyer was doing in his comprehensive urban school last year. This is also the kind of work that cyber-schools are doing with kids who have been incredibly resistant to schooling are doing with some degree of success.
This also is more complex than viewing video -- it's about creating systems for more personalized learning by allowing students to work at pace, using technology to a) deliver the content that can be better delivered than in lecture format, b) tracked using a course-management system such as Moodle, c) doing these things to allow class time to be much closer to a tutoring-style / work-session style experience than it is in most classes.
Now, does this work with a scheduling timeline and benchmark tests that must be given on a certain day? Probably not. One of the fundamental tenets of Disrupting Class that I agree with is that we have to create ways to personalize learning so that more kids can have success. That probably means that we shouldn't care as much if everyone takes the Alg 1 benchmark on Nov. 12th as much as we care about everyone mastering the skills on the Alg 1 benchmark when they can.
Would more kids be motivated to learn math if we created better structures for them to learn it? Would more kids be motivated if they felt that the curriculum allowed them to learn at their pace as opposed to forcing them to work in the same way as every other kid in the classroom?
There are underlying assumptions we make about kids' motivation that may have as much to do with the structures we have created as much as it does about the intrinsic motivations of kids. If we change the structure to be more student-centered, we may be able to change motivation.
Great idea, i've never thought about that possibility. We must help the kids and encourage them to keep good goals on classes.
OK. Let's recognize what you are doing.
1) You are recognizing that learning time happens both in school/class, and out out of school/class.
2) You are recognizing that some things are more likely, easier or just flat out possible in one of those settings, and some are not.
3) You are trying to shift how the time in each setting is used so that the student work that best suited for one is done there, and the student work that is best suited for the other is done there.
4) You are trying to use technology -- and assuming that it is present in the home -- to bring a type of student work home that has traditionally been confined to the school/class setting.
5) You are shifting some of the earlier steps of a learning process to the home -- making work done at home even more criticial for classroom success than it has been.
What are the problems with this approach (sticking to your math example)?
Obviously, assumptions about the presence of technology in the home can be problematic, depending on the population and community served.
Assuming that students are all willing to do work at home can be problematic -- again, partially a product of the communities served. (Some parents model taking work home from the workplace, and some do not even have that kind of opportunity.) What happens if 1/3 of the class didn't watch the lecture at home? Would the teacher simply do it again, live? Would you send them to the computers to watch it in school, while others took advantage of the opportunity for interaction in school? What would that do to achivement/poverty gaps?
There is a degree to which certain kinds of homework is practice. In many cases, this is necessary practice. But would not this system worsten the problem of forcing kids to practice skills they have already mastered, on a leve they are already far beyond? (Yes, this problem already exists, especially in math class.)
I actually like this proposal. However, I think that we should really face up to what it is, what assumes, what it requires and what its impacts might be.
You have advantages at SLA in particular and magnet schools in general because you are not restricted by the School District's planning and scheduling time line and benchmark testing. Philosophically, I agree with your premise re: student centered, teacher as facilitator, project based learning, etc. but you have the luxury of not having to give quarterly, and now weekly in Philadelphia for English and math, benchmark assessments. That is because the School District knows you have a very selective group of students who have already demonstrated they are entering high school on grade level and/or able to "succeed" on a standardized test. If you want your model to be transferable, you have to go to a comprehensive/neighborhood high school and convince the "powers that be" that your model will work. It also means there has to be all the supports that SLA has - from the Franklin Institute, one lap top per student, the Glaxo Endowment, and other institutional and individual supports. It isn't a level playing field - SLA has many more advantages. That said, BCC (Before Core Curriculum), I had more freedom to do extensive project based learning that, I'm sure, in the long run led to greater student learning and did increase motivation. Now, I'm left with shorter projects that I have to squeeze into a ridiculous planning and scheduling time line that does not consider students enter at very different places and do not move along an assembly line in the pursuit of "student (testing) achievement). Your response may be, then leave, but most students, at least in Philadelphia and I assume many urban systems, are learning in comprehensive high schools, not select magnet schools
DLS -- I think the next ten years are going to see a radical shift in the ways we teach and learn. There's no question this idea is disruptive to current ways of school - that's actually the point. The point of this entry was to challenge how we do it now. I'm not suggesting that the individual teacher in a larger system could easily implement it, but I'm asking people to imagine what is possible... and what would be best for kids. The only way we're going to ever change the status quo is to imagine better ways to do it. More and more kids are in charter schools. More and more kids are in virtual schooling. Even our big comprehensive schools are going to have to innovate or they will over the next few decades, simply either go away or become the schools of last resort.... and given the rich and powerful and meaningful history of places like Roxborough, Overbrook, West, etc... that'd be a real shame.
I like this idea and have dabbled in it with high school science and math, but not with great success yet. The biggest constraint has been students doing the pre work. Just like a decade ago when we said "please read section 5 before you come to class tomorrow" students took the easy way and did not do the work. They feel they can "get by" without doing it. Getting a "D" or just passing is okay with them. They feel they have to learn for 7 hours at school, so they should not have to do anything "on their own time". I agree that the structure of education needs a major change for this century, but the value of learning needs to come back to our society. Without both (and many other "little" things) we are fighting a long hard battle.
@Chris, “One of my thoughts with this idea was that if we take the time needed for some of the direct instruction of math concepts away from class time, we could better use class time to do more collaborative inquiry and meaningful assessment. My frustration with math teaching now is that the ratio of class time spent tilts too heavily toward direct instruction and not enough toward meaningful interaction with the material.” By direct instruction, did you mean the definition of terms and the demonstration of procedures? That is consistent with the idea of doing videos. It reminds me of what Stigler and Hiebert wrote about in The Teaching Gap. Maybe inversion isn’t the answer. Maybe it is better to take a serious look at the difference between conceptual understanding and procedural knowledge. In the original post you said, “class is where the teacher demonstrates concepts.” Did you mean “the teacher demonstrates procedures?” I would like to give one result from the TIMSS video analysis reported in The Teaching Gap. In the category of Overall Quality of Content, the United Stated had the poorest results, with 89% of lessons of Low quality, 11% Medium, and none of High quality. Japan had the best results, with only 11% of Low quality, 51% Medium, and 39% High. Germany had a more even distribution, with 34% Low, 38% Medium, and 28% High.
We need to raise the quality of the content in class. I think what Matt and Dan were getting at is that our initial teaching of concepts should be just that—teaching of concepts. We also need to teach procedures, but how much better it would be if procedures were a summary and refinement of what the students did in solving problems by using the concepts in ways that made sense to them.
In a class where the teacher is constantly assessing the student-task interaction, and making adjustments so the students are challenged but can make meaningful attempts at a solution, and can judge for themselves whether their solution is workable or not, because the purpose is clear and the criteria of success are clear, then the students are engaged and focused. They might be able to practice at home, because they understood the lesson in class.
They might even want to watch videos at home, so they can succeed in class the next day.
I think it is a nice idea but i want you to brief on how you are going to implement this plan.
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
The Quote File
"Establishing lasting peace is the work of education, all politics can do is keep us out of war"