Computers – the worksheets of today?

One of the more recent terms in education is “flipped classroom”. The idea behind the “flipped classroom” is that instruction should be given on the students’ own time via video, and the teacher or teaching aide can float around the classroom after students have watched video lessons and supervise the students’ assignment work, making himself/herself available for small group or individual remediation on concepts that students may be struggling with. The key to this model is the availability of technology that allows for storage and unlimited access to instructional videos for viewing or re-viewing at any time. One of the great benefits is that students can work at their own pace, and learning can be individualized somewhat.

I attended a conference in Kelowna in which this “flipped classroom” model was presented by some very energetic, and obviously competent teachers. As the two days wore on, a thought intruded on me. The basis for instructing this way is the exact same basis on which the use of worksheets was founded. Well-formed worksheets were instructional, providing a sequential, scaffolded pedagogy that students could follow at their own pace while the teacher circulated or worked with small groups. Ah yes! The much maligned worksheet.

In recent years, I have attended a plethora of workshops on how to engage adolescents. In almost all of them, the worksheet assignment is poo-pooed as an un-engaging, tiresome, irrelevant waste of time that smacks of lazy teaching. In fact, in one workshop, a teacher (whether mythological or real I don’t know) was ridiculed in absentia for using GeoLabs (workbooks published 20 or so years ago that systematically instruct students on geological concepts). And no doubt, for some students, worksheets are not engaging. However, having taught a class that leaned heavily on students’ use of laptop computers, I can say that just as many kids are un-engaged with laptop technology, unless they can be playing video games.

I dug out some old GeoLabs this year, and for the most part, they were a success. They really helped me to present the material in a sequential and visual way. And the kicker? The kids were very much engaged. They struggled and conquered and LEARNED! Would these grade 8 students have reported that they enjoyed working on GeoLabs? Probably not. But there was a palpable buzz in the room – that good buzz that every teacher recognizes and tries to achieve. I think that part of the appeal of the GeoLab is that it is finite. A lab presents a concept that can’t be ignored, and the student has a target for success that is easily recognized and easily reached.

The point of this story is not that the model presented in Kelowna is wrong. In fact, I was truly inspired by the resourcefulness, and the incredible dedication of the presenters at the conference. They’ll go far, and they deserve to. I’ve seen the “flipped classroom” model’s success first hand, as the auto mechanics teacher at my high school has been a quiet pioneer of the model for the last couple of years. Indeed, the model has much to recommend it. My point is that if a lesson is well structured, the medium in which the concept is presented is not terribly important. If we jump on bandwagons about which medium is best, we risk becoming gimmicky. We must always keep our conceptual goals in sight and reflect on the best means of teaching them. Furthermore, we are arrogant fools if we think that new always equals better.

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One thought on “Computers – the worksheets of today?

  1. Change itself can help us keep us interested, so I think experiencing some flipped classes could be a like a breath of fresh air. For a while. If I were still a student, I wouldn’t do well with a steady diet of the flipped classroom, though, as I do my best work at home, where I can focus and get my creative juices going. A whole class devoted to “practise” would end up being too much wasted time for me. If students can watch lessons at home and can handle the concepts based on that lesson alone, will it be okay to miss class?

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