Standing The Classroom On Its Head

04 Aug

We are undergoing a paradigm shift in Education, a movement away from an education which fitted the Industrial Age, towards one which suits the Information Age. In the era of the factory and warehouse, knowledge was stored in people’s brains and in books, deposited in libraries. Much of what happened at school was concerned with committing knowledge to memory, so that when you went out into the world of work you were equipped with everything you needed to know.

Teachers, in the industrial age, were needed to mediate this store of knowledge and make it accessible to students, render it into forms that young minds could digest, so to speak.

In the brave new world of Information, as we hurtle towards a world of always on, always connectedness, these models of how knowledge is acquired and transmitted simply don’t make sense anymore. As information changes rapidly, committing to memory no longer seems an important skill! When you can instantly access whatever you need to know from the Internet, storing information in the brain seems wasteful of our time. committing knowledge to books is also under question when information can be stored in searchable formats and be made so much more accessible.

How these changes will change the classroom, and the role of the teacher, is uncertain. As Heraclitus observed, the only certainty is that things change. There does seem to be an emerging consensus, however, on a number of issues.

One of these is the whole idea of “flipping” the classroom. Using pre-viewed vodcasts, High School teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams advocated flipping the classroom: doing at home what used to be done at school, and at school what used to be done at home. There is a Ning which focuses on this idea at This video gives an idea of what this means in practice.

I prefer to use a different metaphor, that of standing the classroom on its head. I prefer the mental picture it conjures up, but also it seems more apposite to me because it involves more than just flipping the class work and home work routines. To my mind it suggests a flipping of the whole curriculum as well as the classroom activities.

Currently, any discussion about curriculum probably involves a discussion of a shopping list of what items need to go into the curriculum. Should this topic be there? Should we drop that topic? Any teacher’s year planner therefore resembles a sort of Amazing Race through her subject area. By week 5, I must have finished polynomials, by week 42 we must have done the French Revolution! And at the end of it is an assessment which tests whether the student has adequately covered the material as well!

Best practise in this model is represented by teachers who manage to slip critical thinking skills into the curriculum at key moments, or who manage, somehow to subvert the syllabus to a higher purpose. There is a great deal of consensus emerging, however, on the need to move away from the topic-based curriculum towards a Problem Based approach to Learning. Critical Thinking Skills need to become the Curriculum. The Skills vs Content debate in education is not new, and it tends to go through swings and roundabouts, much like the Nurture vs Nature debate. The only real sense that I can get out of it is that you need to spend time focusing on both skills and content.

I certainly don’t want to argue that there shouldn’t be a core content to the curriculum. Education in the Information Age does not negate the need to know things. But it does change how we know, and how we learn. My gut feel is that flipping the curriculum: placing Critical Thinking Skills at the centre, and the content on the periphery is what is required. How exactly we balance skills and content is the stuff of experimentation and best practice debates.

The affordances offered by vodcasting, as well as screencasting, podcasting and SCORMs will be crucial in allowing us to develop workable models for flipping the classroom, and for flipping the curriculum.


One response to “Standing The Classroom On Its Head

  1. ICT Integrator

    August 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Great post! I love the picture you have created of an Amazing Race through the subject area – so apt. I think high school teachers especially, are caught up in this “amazing race”, especially when the Matric exam is the single most important focal point. Lots of food for thought here.



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