kitchen table math, the sequel: Vicky on video

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Vicky on video

A couple of months ago, I exchanged emails with Vicky on the subject of Khan Academy and the flipped classroom:
We are not wired to sit down and watch [instructional videos] instead of all the other things we do at home. When you encounter a youtube video (on something that you're interested in!) that's over 6-7 minutes long, do you watch it? I usually don't, too long, maybe later, maybe never.

People just aren't wired to do the passive lecture thing at home.

And really, a lecture (in person) is NOT passive, even if the lecturer doesn't ask for feedback once. I've been to a lot of CLEs where you have your choice, live or taped. Live, you have to pay attention--everyone else is. Taped, you get up, go to the bathroom, check your mail, pull out a magazine...
What the "Learning Cultures" people have right, I think, is that learning is (often) a highly social activity.

What they have wrong is that the "social" part of the activity isn't sitting in a small group of novices trying to figure out what it is you're supposed to be learning.

The 'social' part of learning is about imitation: you do what the other people around you are doing, and learn what they are learning.

I think Albert Bandura was the person who pointed out that stimulus-response theory had its limitations.

To wit: If a baby antelope has to learn about lions through direct, stimulus-response contact with a lion, there won't be many baby antelopes.

Baby antelopes learn about lions by watching how their parents act around lions. They imitate.

Same deal with CLEs on tape versus live. If you're sitting in a room with a lot of other people who are paying attention, you pay attention, too.

With whole-class, teacher-led instruction, you have 20 peers or more to imitate and learn from.

With small group self-teaching, you have 4 other people who are just as confused as you are. In fact, confusion is a "Learning Cultures" selling point: "[unison reading] is an exciting opportunity for [students] because they get to bring their confusions to the table." [video]

If the Big Idea behind unison reading is that students 'get to bring their confusions to the table,' what are students in unison reading groups going to be imitating?

They're going to be imitating other students' confusions, not other students' learning.


SteveH said...

An exactly flipped classroom means that you watch the video lecture at home and you work on the problem set (homework) in class. If you decide to do some other hands-on learning in class, that means that students will have to both watch the video at home and do their homework set. That's more than flipping.

Some might say that kids don't really pay attention to a lecture in class. Some lectures I've been in offer little time for Q and A. You take notes and hope to make sense of it later. Watching a video at home is likely to produce worse results. Kids won't watch it.

The upside of exact flipping is that you do your homework in class where you can get help immediately from the teacher or classmates. At home (even with an answer key), many will struggle and quickly give up. Even if the teacher later goes over the homework in class, she/he can't deal with individual issues.

Again, this doesn't work if you are doing other real-world, hands-on, engagement stuff in class. The question is whether the goal is just flipping or whether it's something else.

For math, my son's block (hour-and-a-half) math class allowed time for the teacher to introduce each new section and time to start work on the homework. Interestingly, one of the photos in my son's yearbook for math shows him working on his math homework in class - trying to get it done before he goes home. I rarely ever see him do math at home.

Clearly, real teachers are better than video; they can look in your eyes and adapt on the fly. It's also good to be able to provide quick feedback if homework is done or started in class.

What I would watch out for are examples of flipping where the goal is something else, like the gratuitous use of technology or as an excuse to do group work on real world projects.

I also think that textbooks get a bum rap. Looking at my son's math textbook, it points students to specific exercise problems after each new concept. Then, the exercise problems point back to the page with the appropriate explanations.

Teaching has to overcome sloth, indolence, apathy, and inertia. That's best done directly by the teacher in the classroom. If you offer time in class to do homework, this motivates students to get it done and not save it for home where you can't easily ask questions. If, however, you break into groups to do some sort of problem or experiment (but you still have homework to do), then kids might look "active", but what are they really learning?

For those who devalue direct instruction AND think homework is mostly drill and kill, then talk of flipping is just an excuse to make their pedagogy sound better.

Barry Garelick said...

Steve raises a good point about textbooks. Granted that many textbooks today are guilty of "page splatter" with lots of distracting things to look at, sidebars, pictures of Eskimo acrobats figuring out acute angles in real-world situations, etc. But, some textbooks give good examples and good explanations. Students need to learn how to read textbooks, not just to rely on the teacher for an explanation of everything.

In my pre-calc class way back when (1966-67), we had a textbook with good explanations and examples and we were required to read it and do some problems. The next day the teacher would go over it, and add additional examples and some problems for us to do in class. What we did at home is what people are now calling "flipping" but instead of reading a textbook, students watch a video and the responsibility is placed almost entirely on the student.

The older version of "flipping" was a collaboration of teacher and student, and also taught students how to read and use textbooks.

Allison said...

-- some textbooks give good examples and good explanations.


it helps to distinguish k-8 from 9-12. Which textbooks are decent in k-8? which in 6-8?

McGraw hill's new My Math spends 7 lessons introducing decimals, and on the 7th lesson, finally "explains" why .8 = .80 with ab laim of proof by picture "as you can see" and then states that adding zeroes on the right doesn't change anything. that's it. no equivalent fractions, no connection to fractions, no clarifying why .08 is different than .8, and no exercises pushing this point home at all.

their enrichment problem for those lessons were "here are 4 digits. order them to make the largest number."

when your textbook is that poor, sometimes reading it can make you dumber.

this came up in talking about flipping the classroom. but the teachers excited about flipping are k-8, not above, where the expectations are higher. saying and expecting kids to learn math from their k-8 texts on their own is about as sensible as expecting them to learn it from Khan.

Barry Garelick said...

Good point. I was thinking primarily of 9-12. The Holt McDougal series for lower grades is fairly good, as is SRA, and Sadlier Oxford.

Barry Garelick said...

Oops. Hit "send" too fast. To get to Steve's points, textbooks taking a bad rap, etc. Textbooks are viewed as the "enemy" (for good reasons in many cases as Allison points out). But if the edu-establishment suddenly thinks Khan's videos are the "next best thing", why not strive for well-explained and well-written textbooks, rather than relying on video?

Anonymous said...

"why not strive for well-explained and well-written textbooks, rather than relying on video?"

I think the assumption is that the kids are intractably illiterate, and not only won't read the textbook, but can't.

Allison said...

It's not just that kids don't read them. Their teachers don't read them. Really, very few K-8 teachers spend time reading the teachers guides. Nearly all of the teachers I've worked with seemed to hold the belief that they didn't need a book to know how to teach what they were teaching.

ClassicsMom said...

The primary reason flipping even interests me is that it may be a possible way to meet the needs of gifted students since many, if not most, schools do not meet their needs at all. Obviously, direct instruction with meaty content is preferable but many schools buy into "differentiation" which cannot possibly meet the needs of all students in a highly mixed ability groups. Hence, in my opinion, some form of tracking should be done again with the caveat that all students should be fully supported with appropriate curricula and instruction and be moved "up" to higher tracks as soon as they are ready.

As for Khan Academy and other instruction videos, in my experience live instruction is better but there are children like my son who love these sorts of videos and learns quite a bit from them like a sponge:)

SteveH said...

"but the teachers excited about flipping are k-8, not above, "

I was talking about high school textbooks. I've mentioned many times that I see a huge educational wall between K-8 and high school. It was also interesting to see the 7th and 8th grade transition years.

I remember looking at different math textbooks from the same publisher for those years. The ones that just had simple titles like Pre-Algebra and Algebra I were the more rigorous ones. The ones that had secondary titles like "Math for a Changing World" were the watered down.

In looking at my son's more traditional math textbooks, I'm impressed with how carefully they were written and the sequence of exercise problems.

You can have both good and bad textbooks and videos. Some of the Khan videos I've seen are stinking bad. As a video gets longer (than say 10 minutes), it's more difficult to rewind (so to speak) and go over particular material. With a textbook, I can flip back and forth very easily. I can stop and study a printed example. A video reminds me of my answering machine - sometimes I have to repeatedly replay the darn message to figure it out. If I really have to dig into new mathematics, a video might be fine for an introduction, but after that, give me a good textbook.

SteveH said...

Flipping won't help differentiation. The biggest need for differentiation is acceleration, and flipping doesn't help that. Given that a school is stuck with full inclusion, then a differentiated solution that might work is a good individual computer-based system that might contain a combination of videos and enforced practice. If individual students get their work done early, they can move on without waiting for the rest of the class. This may be more politically correct than grouping kids into separate tracks. Who would argue against letting individual kids move along at their own speeds? They can keep their teacher as the guide-on-the-side, but they have to give up on mixed ability groups.

Auntie Ann said...

Live lectures also have one benefit I haven't seen mentioned: the teacher is right there and can see the dazed and confused looks on students faces if an explanation isn't working, and can then reroute and try a different presentation.

Also, "differentiation" means different things to different people. In our school, it means kids who can accelerate, won't be allowed to, but the teachers will give them extra work. In other words, kids are punished by having to do more work than everyone else in a boring subject that they already know.

Anonymous said...

"An exactly flipped classroom means that you watch the video lecture at home and you work on the problem set (homework) in class. If you decide to do some other hands-on learning in class, that means that students will have to both watch the video at home and do their homework set. That's more than flipping."

I think in an ideal world, you'd do something like this:
(a) Watch lecture (or read book) at home.
(b) Do assigned homework at home.
(c) Arrive at class and check homework.
(d) Teacher can work with kids who had problems with the homework.

The point being that a *decent* video or textbook would free the teacher up to help with the stuff that kids weren't getting. This seems like it would leverage the live human better.

But ...

We know that most kids would not do (a) and (b) at home (heck, most college students won't).


-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

Math might require less lecture than other subjects before you dive into the problem set, and it might be easier to get to and clear up issues when homework is started in class. This is not necessarily true for other subjects.

In an hour and a half block in my son's math class (one unit in a textbook with 25-30 homework problems), the first 30 minutes of the class are used to review the homework from the previous class. The rest is used to introduce the new section. Many times, they have 15-20 minutes at the end to start the homework.

So how does one avoid sloth, indolence, and apathy? Is it better to cut down on the lecture (and the following class' homework review) to spend more time on doing more productive homework in class? Can you avoid the need for 30 minutes of homework review by offering supervised homework in class? Is this a more efficient process? Do you learn more getting help while doing the problems or after you've struggled with them without help? Of course, the teacher won't just tell students how to do a problem, but the teacher won't let students struggle too much. If you struggle with a homework set at night, but get a review in the next class, how much do you really pay attention to the review? How effective is it? You give a homework postmortem lecture when what the students need is better help during the homework process. You leverage the power of the teacher to specific student questions while other students continue with their own problems. The motivating factor is their desire to avoid or minimize homework. Once they've done the homework (for better or worse), many students don't pay as much attention to the review as they should.

For more motivated students, one could require that they watch a video lecture at home before class, and then just do the problems in class. For those not so motivated, one could spend part of the time in class on the lecture before starting the homework.

However, I see flipping being used not to do homework in class, but to do other, group-oriented real-world, hands-on learning. They mix up two different issues.