Category Archives: video

Homework: To Flip? or to Toss?

Forays into Flipping

I’ve been edublog silent for a long time now, but buzz about the Flipped Classroom actually hit me human-to-human instead of via the interwebs. Teachers in my school are experimenting with it way out here in this Texan colony that is northern Singapore.

When it comes to social studies, though, I have a hard time seeing how assigning at-home readings for extension in class  —  a pretty traditional approach in history classrooms, in my experience  —  is not already “flipped.”

I did toy with the idea of flipping my classroom over the summer, though, was briefly active on the FC Ning, and played with podcasting and vodcasting content as homework during the first quarter of this school year. The experience left me with

  1. concerns that students read even less than many already do, possibly undercutting their readiness for college and adulthood generally, which expects advanced reading skills (but I could be wrong here; when I was in high school, I never read assigned hw because I wanted to read more interesting things like sci-fi and — if you laugh at the next one, you haven’t read the research — ’70s-era Marvel Comics);
  2. hard-won appreciation for how time-consuming the creation of quality podcasts or vodcasts is, and relatedly —
  3. ditto for how sadistic and morale-killing, good intentions aside, a poorly made teacher podcast or video can be.

I’ll add that students have overall volunteered their appreciation for image-enhanced podcasts. Last September, walking home from school after classes all day on Chinese philosophies, enjoying a thinker’s high about Confucius and the gonzo Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi (“Jesus doing stand-up comedy” is the best hook I can come up with),  I sat under a tree and tried to share that high with my students in a talk into my iPhone voice recorder — the first 12 minutes on Confucianism, the last 12 on Taoism. I went home, slapped some images on top of the audio in Garageband (and took a photo from my 16th floor apartment of the very tree under which those thoughts found voice), and that was that:

Another similar “walk and talk” into that machine about “what goodness means” to a Hindu, a Hebrew monotheist, and a traditional Chinese person for my ninth-graders:

These got good feedback (“It’s interesting” is a nice review of homework, as is “it helped things make sense”). Occasionally students have emailed me special requests on topics we’ve covered in units since those efforts. I’m pretty convinced I’m more interesting talking into my iPhone than trying to deliver the same ideas live in front of the class. I’m less distracted by the clowns and corpses, more focused on the ideas, and less inhibited in letting my own impassioned interest come out.

But man, editing images in in Garageband takes a lot of time, and that time is just not available. I keep thinking I should go minimalist and do audio-only podcasts, and gauge student response. If still good, that’s much easier to pull off. Another option I’ve considered is having students collaborate with me by finding images for the audio lectures, and making them edit them into AV podcasts. Yet another possibility is to assign a crowdsourced transcript of the lecture by having each student transcribe, say, one minute of the audio lecture. 30 students could do 30 minutes and slap it all together on a Google Doc or wiki. That would provide a text that could replace the boring textbook.

But this semester my interests have changed. I want my students to have time to sit under trees too.

(Next to) No Homework: The Sweet Spot?

My current experiment involves not so much flipping homework as (almost) ending it.  I’m using document-based lessons in which all reading and discussion is done in class, and the only homework is a reflective blog post about the day’s content on a team blog — which student team-members read and comment on with corrections, extensions, challenges, etc. I like this so far, for several reasons:

  1. it ensures all have actually done the reading and received the input (never a certainty with homework assignments)
  2. it ensures, moreover, that more students have actually understood the deeper implications of the readings, through the discussions clarifying the concepts and understandings following our read-alouds (we’re currently reading 3,000-year-old Western Zhou Dynasty passages from the  Confucian Five Classics that bring out the teachings of Confucianism more powerfully than any textbook summary can, but that require close reading and clarification. So we read, stop, ask, and discuss; read, stop, ask, and discuss)
  3. it eliminates the “I read it last night but forgot most of it after waking up” that is as true for many adults as it is for students. We read and annotate based on front-loaded questions/reading purposes, take a couple of minutes to gather our impressions, and launch into talks with it all fresh in memory
  4. it makes the student peer-teaching via comments on the team blog more reliable (they read it and discussed it with the teacher’s guidance in class, so odds are at least two in a five-person team comprehended the finer points of the lesson and can reinforce them in blog comments by catching and addressing misunderstandings in their peers’ posts)

The short version: we read homework in class, discuss it in class, clarify and debate it in class — then briefly write about it at home. Hopefully this leads to less homework and deeper learning at the same time — and above all, to less aversion to school because of all that homework.

Chinese Scholar-Gardens: Research as Performance

Chinese scholar-gardens are incredibly interesting. Just ask Will, a very sharp sophomore in my History of China class. His screencast on the origins and aesthetics of these gardens lays it out for you quite well.

No high-tech razzle-dazzle is intended here at all. On the contrary, the allure is in the relative simplicity of screencasting for student research projects (here are the simple assignment sheet and simple storyboard template, for the simplicity-lovers out there who don’t like it when “tech” means “complicated”). It hits so many of the common skills in one fell swoop — researching, writing, speaking, visually presenting — and, as an added bonus, makes “grading” far more pleasurable than merely reading the work.

As in Joy’s piece last week, Will’s below, too, takes a minute or two to warm up. After that, it kicks into a teach-in on this exquisite 1,000-year tradition in China that, I think you’ll agree, easily meets the rhetorical obligation to “entertain as it informs.” (I’ve already told Will, in my best Moe Howard voice, to “remind me to kill him later” for using a watermarked image in such an otherwise high-quality production.)

Seriously: Give it a watch. Most Westerners are incredibly ignorant of how refined Chinese civilization was for all but the last two centuries. Somehow Japan gets all the credit, when both its Zen and its gardens are derived from Chinese Chan Buddhism and scholar-gardens. Will teaches it well.

Next up: Megan on the history and culture of Chinese tea.


Dean's Tweet

Note: The point of this post is Joy’s video at the bottom. The rest is secondary.

Reading Dean‘s tweet felt oddly like posthumous eavesdropping on what the living say after we’ve passed. (It’s a Wonderful Life, anyone?) It’s nice that what was said was nice.

It’s also nice to be so caught up in loving what you’re teaching that you’re too busy learning more about it to want to sacrifice time to write about teaching. I’m that ga-ga over the history of China.*

Teaching Chinese history here in Singapore is especially poignant to me, at this point, because I’m now sufficiently steeped in it, after three spellbound years, to teach it from new depths — and hopefully to re-introduce so many of my Westernized Chinese students to their own exquisite and unappreciated roots. So many of these students come into my classroom saying “I know nothing about my Chinese roots,” and I wonder how this can be so, given that their parents, though Westernized, surely have a stronger connection than their American-educated children.

But then I think about my own experience in Shanghai last summer, when I went to the Foreign Language Bookstore downtown in search of one of China’s foundational Confucian classics,  the roughly 3,000-year-old Shujing (The Book of Documents). I was amazed that the Chinese staff at the bookstore had no knowledge that it existed. Had Communist anti-Confucianism — or Chinese Communist Capitalist consumerism — so severed today’s Chinese from their roots that even they were oblivious to them too? I found the book, after being told they didn’t have it, by ransacking the shelves and discovering it myself. And I read this rough (and far more refined) equivalent to the West’s Hebrew Bible cover to cover, within the month, and tried to pass that torch, as any good Confucian transmitter of the ancients would do, to the young — especially my Chinese students.

When we reach the beginnings of the triumph of the West, in its Full Metal Jacketed glory, over China with the 1840 Opium War — and the triumph of Westernization and modernization — I tell my students that, to me, the best part of our story is over. Traditional China is finished, and now we move into 160 years of dreary and decidedly non-exquisite wars, hot and cold, between capitalism and communism, Christianity and Confucianism, and other uninspiring tales of woe.

We reached that point a week or two ago in the current course, and I put the brakes on for a brief discussion about the effects of learning this history on my students. That “poignant” part I mentioned above came when the occasional Chinese student articulated a new appreciation for the deep roots of that fine history, a new pride in its distinctive traditions and values compared to the rest of the world — and especially compared to the world of my own Western roots. Call me immodest, maybe even delusional, but I find great satisfaction in the possibility that I might have returned these young growths, uprooted from the native traditions and culture of their ancestors by the onslaught of my own gold- and God-obsessed ancestors, at least somewhat to an appreciation of what was lost in that transplanting. As I joke to my students, I’m white on the outside but yellow on the inside, and they’re the opposite — and don’t know what they’re missing while I, ironically, because of my years of immersion, do. (Thus, to repeat, the silence on this blog. My interest in iPads is nil in comparison to the supremely literate millennia of Chinese culture. My biggest sadness is knowing, first, that I’ll probably die before finishing reading all the texts I want to read and, second, that even if I don’t, I’ll only read them in translation, and not in the rich originals in the Chinese script.)

And now that I’m feeling like some silly and self-inflated reverse missionary of post-colonialism, I’ll get to the bone I originally opened this post to throw to Dean and anybody else who wants an example of beautiful learning. I read Dean’s tweet just before grading this independent research project on the Tang and Song dynasties (roughly 600-1200 ce).

The assignment itself was simply to research a self-selected aspect of this Golden Age of Chinese civilization, write a 700-1000 word script, and then create a screencast reciting the script to well-chosen accompanying images. In one class, a girl asked if she could take it beyond simply filming a Powerpoint and use film instead. Of course I said yes, remembering as I did Chris Harbeck‘s advice from the old ed-geek days to “release the hounds” and see where they run without the schooly, teacher-held leash.

Thank goodness I did. That girl is Joy, and she’s Taiwanese. Here in Singapore, Joy had already been re-discovering her Chinese roots by practicing Tai Chi and calligraphy, learning to make dumplings by hand, and surely other things unknown to me.

Joy chose to explore the Golden Age of Chinese lyric poetry of the Tang Dynasty. The result, below — technical quibbles aside — is evidence that Joy is aptly named. Give her a couple of minutes to get past her intro and into the heart of it all, and maybe you’ll get some of that ga-ga too.

I’d almost buy her some pro-quality audio and video gear if she’d promise to share more along these lines in a regular series.

(Joy posted the video on her class reflective blog here, if you want to read the script with the poems she recited or drop a comment.)

* I’m also in the third year and final year of coursework for my Master’s degree, he moaned. Can you say “exhausting”?

Dark Comedy: “Do We Need to Know That?”

Do yourself a favor and discover, as I just did over the weekend, a little-known Texan comic genius named Bill Hicks. The 2009 documentary of his tragically short life–impressive for being animated when not showing archival footage–is called American: The Bill Hicks Story.

It’s remarkable on many levels besides the intellectual content of Hicks’ jokes. Teachers and high school students should especially be interested in Hicks’ decision, when in high school, to devote his life to writing and performing stand-up comedy. The film devotes a good amount of time to his high school years. He was amazing.

I had to share the 48-second clip below. It’s from Hicks’ first years doing stand-up, and in it he discusses that painful experience of being a student in a classroom surrounded by other students who don’t want to learn. We’ve all been there.


Update: Here’s an official trailer. Don’t miss the last 4 seconds.