Flipped classrooms and videogames

flip1I’ve always had the feeling that school is just like a huge, everlasting video game. Think about it, every year there is a new level to pass and if you achieve a good score, you may even get a prize eventually. Step after step you see the finish line coming closer, till one day you manage to grab your diploma. At that point, you realize you’ve left your adolescence behind and you should be ready to enter your name in a new game: the game of adulthood. If you want to play this game successfully, you should be fully aware about what to do with all the “boosters” you have collected in those happy years: going to college, university or looking for a job, but do you really know it?

The fact is, that it happens more and more often to ask my students, who are about to leave the high school, about their plans for their incoming future and receive as an answer: “well, I don’t know yet”, even those who are highly proficient. Their confusion often doesn’t seem to fade even when they eventually go to university, as I am told that many of them slouch from one university course to another one for many months of years before finding something it might suit them, or quitting. Hence, what really matters is not the finish line, but how you get there and the kind of person you have become and good grades cannot be the only proof of your future success in life, for sure.

flip3The main goal of teaching should be the development of the personality and skills of students, first of all, helping them develop successful learning strategies, otherwise they could not be autonomous and fully able to grasp material without the support of somebody. Such a student will never be able to develop any enthusiasm for any subject, as his main concern will be only to pull through in any possible way. For example, he will study for the imminent test, employing himself in storing as much data as possible, data that will be  quickly forgotten as soon as the school day is over. A useless, frustrating effort. After all, if you are playing, a game of Farm Heroes Saga, for example, what makes you go to the next level, the strategy you have learnt after failing sometimes for days and days, or the exact knowledge of the number of apples, onions, carrots etc which were on that level? Good game, however.

flip5Internet provides us teachers with incredible opportunities for learning and one of our major task should be that of guiding them to the most advantageous use of such a powerful tool. Seven years ago, for example, I decided to create a website (tinkerbell.xooom.it), in which I stored all the material I found useful and attractive for my classes: information, links, on-line dictionaries and grammars, language platforms, dictations, games etc. It was just like my own virtual book, where they could find whatever they needed, but what I found particularly challenging was the fact that they were free to do the amount of work necessary for tests, exams etc. For some students 10 minute effort could be enough to understand a rule, for example, whereas others need hours.  I wanted them to learn how to manage their time and be responsible for their choices and I guess it has worked. I also wanted them to discuss about the things they learnt and on this purpose I needed something more “alive” and creative, that’s why I started this blog experience: to offer different perspectives and provoke discussions.

flip4I was a kind of surprised when I learnt that what I was actually experimenting was normally defined a “flipped classroom”, that is “ a form of blended learning in which students learn content online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and homework is done in class with teachers and students discussing and solving questions. Teacher interaction with students is more personalized – guidance instead of lecturing”. I became fully aware of that, after reading an enthusiastic article on “La Repubblica” few days ago, which praised a book  ” La classe capovolta” ( the flipped classroom), written by Maurizio Maglione a teacher of Chemistry at high school. Oh my Gosh,  I was a revolutionist and I didn’t know it.

I’m not a revolutionist and they are not revolutionist as well. This modern “flipped” vision of the role of teachers dates back at least to the eighteenth century when Jean Jacque Rousseau in his book Emile wrote that education does not mean merely imparting information or storing knowledge. It is not accretion from without, but the development of the child’s natural powers and abilities from within. He only couldn’t have Internet as didactic weapon. I’m sure he would have enjoyed it.

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22 thoughts on “Flipped classrooms and videogames

  1. I’ve been observing for some time that in the NYC school system (the one where my daughter received her formal education) has been placing a great emphasis on acquisition of information and testing just how much information has been acquired. Neither our children, nor our teachers, receive the support and tools they need in order for learning, and teaching, to actually happen. The flipped classroom seems to offer that: support and tools for learning and teaching. What a concept! xoxoM

  2. I’ve never taught it myself, but I have been impressed by reports of primary schools teaching philosophy to 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds, reports that suggest that student engagement and motivation and mental wellbeing is more pronounced than in schools where it is not, to the betterment of both students and the school itself. When I had to teach Study Skills to 13- and 14-year-olds it seemed far too late and a real uphill struggle — most of them had no idea of why let alone how, focusing merely on the who, what, when and where.

    • The key word is motivation, Chris. A motivated student is indipendent and will study far more than you expect, because he enjoys it and he doesn’t have the feeling of studying at all.

  3. Stefy: Congrats on using many different ways to reach students. As a founder of one of California’s most successful high-performing charter schools, we have found that presenting information in highly innovative ways increases interest and retention in many subjects. We are one of the few K-8 programs that offer extra-curricular classes where teachers teach whatever they are passionate about. Over the past 11 years, we have students absolutely thrive when teachers are passionate and present engaging material (via web, real life demonstrations, going to plays, etc) in compelling ways. Part of education is understanding a new generation that is more visual and tactile than previous generations. Keep up the great work — you are an inspiration to so many teachers and students and proof positive that learning can be fun and intrinsically rewarding. Cheers. Alex

  4. Stefy I have read this post a couple of times and thought I did not have anything to add. However i would like to say again that I think your students having a teacher who embraces creativity in teaching methods they are so very lucky.

    • I think nobody can teach you to be a teacher. I agree with those who say that teaching is a calling and remember the best teacher is the one who is able to communicate better, rather than the one who knows a lot, but can’t find the way to reach the hearts or minds of his students. That “way” cannot be taught. 🙂

  5. children learn before the culture, the foundation, from the family then are sent to school. In Italy the school to 90% is pure shit, professors who do not speak a good Italian, dilapidated buildings, very few educational activities outside subject (little music, gymnastics, computer science, art, and no little creative stimulus). I think if the kings and generally rich people who in the past choose between genes masters for their children i would say that that is one thing to follow. I think that mediocrity is more widespread than we think and that is further decreasing, inside there are families and both students and professors, and the result is society.Family is the great problem in italy always with sons and never with teachers …. too easy i think …. but nothing is by chance, no bad rulers would like to have intelligent people and here and the rulers are not only bad but also linked to mafia and they invest for destrying education each year, more money to private schools, and the priests schools and cuts to public education. Italy is in the hands of Catholics and none of them did well in school. I like Plato’s Academy where children stay away from family and live with teachers but i know this is not mostly appreciated they teach and prefer comfort but they do not understand nothing …. namaste …. i know a bad eng but i got a bad teachers as usual ….. fortunately a great mind ….

    • There are pros and cons in the Italian system, just like in any other country. However, in your comment there is the reason why I teach: if the whole educational system worked, whoever ruled wouldn’t have an easy life, as his country would be made of cultivated, intelligent, responsible and sensible people. It is utopian,I know, but I want to do my best to make it work, at least in my small circle. Your English is not that bad 😉
      Cheers
      Stefy

  6. Dear Mrs. Gioffrè,

    I honestly think that the real problem isn’t the homework,it’s the school.Italian schools are structured terribly,during class time the teachers talk and talk though nobody actually listens,and all the studying is done at home.That’s the most ineffective way of working,you learn stuff by heart at home,you go to school and take whatever test you were studying for, and then you forget everything within the next day or so.Having studied at both an Italian and an English school I can assure you the English system works way better,kids get most of the work done in school and just consolidate with a few exercises at home.That’s how it should be but it is the way it is and nothing’s going to change unless we do something about it.Sad but true.

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