Teaching a Room of Nerds and Noobs

What was my most challenging classroom and how did I turn it around?

This story wont be new to everyone but it’s an important one all the same. A common discussion amongst teachers is differentiation and how to allow for faster and slower learners and/or catering for different styles of learning. This was a key problem for me in 2012 when I had to introduce an advanced Computer Science course to a class of students with very differing levels of experience.

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iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

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Some students had no experience of the terms or concepts, where as some were keen computer nerds chomping at the bit to discuss the most advanced computing technical aspects they could get their hands on. There were visible tensions in the room regarding advanced students being held up by the inexperienced. So how do you plan lessons for a class you know will be at vastly different levels of understanding after just 5 minutes? Answer: Flip it !

DifferentiationI started the year by announcing I would not be teaching the class once that year. That is, there would be no teaching of any concept to the class as a whole. Students then set about personal, subject-related project work, whilst I recorded 5 minute videos of the usual content I’d normally be covering in the following week. I found that before we got half way through the year, I’d already recorded all content, diagrams, animations and videos and arranged them into playlists. Some students had watched the videos as I made them and arrived at class with specific questions, some were confident enough to leave many of the videos unwatched until the exams drew closer. The personal projects I mentored in the classroom were also significantly more in-depth then we’d managed in previous years.

Important fact: When I did this for 6 senior high school courses, the total video delivery for any individual course never exceeded 4 hours! That’s right folks, no high school course’s entire year’s content takes more than 4 hours to deliver. If it’s condensed with clean, edited, uninterrupted delivery of all information all students need to know.

Grades that year were over 20% high than previous years and 2013 became a year of tweaking videos I’d already made allowing me to dedicate my time to full project based learning in class. I was able to focus on developing team skills and project management because the content delivery worked for all. Some students reported watching each video more than 10 times, some said they hadn’t bothered watching some topics. In  over 80% of cases, Computer Science was the top grade for any particular student in the class.

If you haven’t considered it, try flipping your content into videos, but NOT as fixed, timetabled homework.

 

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