In a recent engagement, I had the opportunity to speak with dozens of high school history teachers and students from across the county. These folks came from big urban schools, small religious schools, rural schools. The teachers were experienced and new. They did not consider themselves digitally savvy or cutting edge. They did not consider themselves tremendously innovative. But all of them had one thing in common—one thing that is usually attached to the words “savvy, cutting edge and innovative”; they had all had flipped their classrooms. Teachers didn’t lecture. Students didn’t open to page 432 of their books. Students took a first pass at the material at home (sometimes in their text and sometimes with just an outline sending them out to find their own learning), and then the next day, in class, they applied what they had learned in small group activities, debates, skits, songs, cartoons. Students asked questions, listened, debated. They collaborated with their peers. They tried and failed and tried again. They struggled to understand how to present evidence, how to form an opinion, and how to problem solve. They challenged each other. In these classes, students aren’t learning about history; they are learning to think and do history.
These teachers didn’t flip their classes so they could be known as “innovative.” They didn’t do it because of some big technological solution. They didn’t do it because of a state or district mandate. They didn’t even do it to make students responsible for their own learning (a great byproduct, by the way). They were simply problem solving. While most subject area teachers will remark about the tremendous amount of knowledge required in their discipline, history has always held a trump card. Dates, names, geography, chronology, social, political, environments, US, West, World….History requires we know lots of facts; learning means we can work with them. In this world of more rigorous standards and 21st century skills, facts are only the start of the learning. What has quietly happened in our history classes is this: technology has allowed for students to have access to hundreds of sources of information, not just their textbook, at home. Sites like Kahn or Gilder Lernman or Shmoop all have great information written by quality academics. Students are able to easily combine, enhance (or sometimes abandon) their textbook with these amazing resources. And if students can be engaged and learn the facts as homework, then classroom learning can be active and productive.
Is this all history classes? Nope. Is it all teachers? Nope. Are all students ready for this? Well, maybe more than you think.