29 Sep 2016
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STEM learning flourishes in world of flipped learning

The idea of flipped learning has been around for almost 10 years, however the skills and technology challenges were always too great to make it a practical proposition for most schools. But this is no longer the case! Today, teachers all around the world are using tools like Office Mix to deliver flipped learning as part of a STEM approach.

Flipped + STEM = Too Hard

In theory, the flipped approach is a great way to facilitate STEM learning. If a student can absorb the vital facts of a topic via digital content outside the classroom, then teaching time becomes much more powerful. Teachers have much more scope to try out fresh learning techniques and creativity can flourish in the STEM space.

Until recently, however, the practical challenges to flipped strategies have proved too great for most schools.

Students didn’t have reliable online access. The ideal of flipped learning only really works if students have reliable connectivity outside school, and ready access to school and external resources. Historically, too many students encountered bandwidth problems, which was a problem because video is a key part of blended approach. In any case, most schools inevitably confront issues around equity, since the approach depends on all students having internet access. Teachers didn’t have the technical skill to create digital content. Creating digital content like videos for flipped learning is an advanced skill. It takes time to learn those skills — and some of these skills are new to the teaching profession. For example, creating a 6–7 minute video that will engage a child’s interests requires story-telling, or narrative skills that don’t come naturally to most people. But being able to inject narrative into a digital presentation is crucial, or students won’t watch it.

But the equation is changing - fast

In the past 18 months, the prospects for bringing flipped learning into classrooms have soared. First, internet access really is getting better and better. The National Broadband Network is a reality, and high-speed data connections are becoming ubiquitous and cheaper. It’s now reasonable to expect that in the very near future, almost all school children will have good internet access outside school.

The problems of equity won’t ever disappear, but today they are vastly more manageable. The second change factor is the sudden appearance of superb content-creation software. Two years ago it was seriously difficult for all but technically skilled teachers to create compelling video clips. Now it isn’t.

There are lots of options around. I love Office Mix — a free add-in for Office 2013 and 2016. Office Mix enables teachers to easily create cool videos with a mixture of video and presentation. You can also build in interactive elements – such as quizzes – and best of all, you can embed the Office Mix into a OneNote workbook.

This is a huge advance for flipped learning pedagogy. Today, both the creative and the sharing part of flipped digital learning lie within the realm of most teachers’ skills-set.

Pedagogy on a single platform

At my previous school, the platform that brought our flipped pedagogy together was the OneNote Class Notebook. It worked as a great delivery vehicle because it meant teachers only had to place their digital curriculum material in one content space, so students can then complete their work in their own student space. It also provided the visibility teachers needed to monitor student uptake.

But what does this add up to today? Having put all the elements together – Office Mix, PowerPoint in OneDrive, and OneNote Class Notebooks – we see teachers creating videos that are a mixture of web-cam presentations, curriculum content, and third-party media. STEM teachers will often ink over the top of video images, exactly as if the content was on a white board.

Teachers can insert this video content into a PowerPoint presentation. They often include an interactive test so that students are asked questions every 90 seconds. This is a popular technique because it gives teachers assurance that students are watching the content. They can also monitor how effective their content is.

STEM flourishes in today’s flipped learning world

With the technology up and running – and enthusiasm growing – teachers are able to build superb problem-based learning (PBL) or inquiry learning scenarios. Faculties can construct scenarios on how to help third-world countries improve access to clean water, for example, and bring in lots of STEM angles.

At our school, we even took the STEM approach one stage further by incorporating arts or humanities topics into project work. And the fact that all students’ workbooks are live on OneDrive in Office 365 means students naturally collaborate outside school hours.

So the Office Mix–PowerPoint–Class Notebook combination brings every element of pedagogical theory to life in STEM learning: from ideation to mind mapping, to content creation, research, group work, to testing and reporting. It’s as if we’ve broken through the barriers that held flipped learning back.

What teachers can do today was unimaginable just a few years ago.

Article by Matthew Jorgensen, teaching ambassador for Microsoft

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