On Teaching with Aaron Sams
On June 29th and 30th, educators from all over the world gathered at Collingswood High School in New Jersey to reunite with their "tribe" of fellow flippers, talk about what they are doing in their classroom, and encourage each other to reimagine how they approach teaching.
This was an amazing an unique experience for me, because I not only got to meet some inspiring local teachers, speak with pre-service teachers about the mechanics of a flipped classroom, but also meet some of my own personal heroes-- namely, Mr. Aaron Sams, one of the main founders of the Flipped Classroom.
Aaron Sams, one of the fathers of the Flipped Classroom movement, kicked off the conference Friday morning with a keynote about his journey with the flipped classroom. He reflected that he, like so many of us, started his teaching career replicating the kind of classroom that he had seen as a student -- with the teacher in the front, delivering progressive lectures each day, while students quietly and passively complied with the curriculum.
It wasn't until he and his colleague, Jon Bergmann, observed the inadequacies with this method that they started to implement the flipped lesson, or as he referred to it "Flip 101". The statement, "Time is constant. Learning is variable." was a truism in so many schools and classrooms, and Bergmann and Sams sought to "flip this" with a new approach to teaching. In this model, they recorded themselves lecturing, shared their videos via thumb drive or dvd, and then opened class time for student inquiry, learner intervention, and project-based learning.
"Wouldn't it be great if we could flip the old saying 'Time is constant. Learning is variable'? Making learning a constant, and freeing ourselves from the confines of time?" - Aaron Sams
While Sams reflected that his classroom sort of became a "controlled chaos" to an outside observer, he was able to see how this new model engendered mastery learning and student-centered pedagogies that had not been possible in the previous model. Over time, he was able to integrate UDL (Universal Design for Learning) into his instruction, as he "designed his lessons and units for the 'fringe' students" so that everyone could benefit, rather than designing everything for that "middle" or average group. This observation was sparked after he had noticed how we, as a society, so often fail in design as we traditionally consider the function of a tool or innovation to be paramount to the human's experience while using it.
Designing instruction with the user or learner as the foundational principal introduced the novelty of choice and options into Sams' pedagogy. Starting each year with the question, "What does learning really look like?", helped to alleviate the concerns of his seemingly chaotic classroom, as he acknowledged that authentic learning was really happening.
While Sams, himself, asserted that he WAS NOT ANTI-LECTURE, he illustrated that twenty years of advancements in technology have drastically impacted the way our society lives and functions, and to that end, we need to transform our teaching strategies with that simple fact in mind.
As he cautioned us all to take what we learned today, maintain our own brand of teaching by stay within our comfort zones, and forging our own versions of flipped instruction that worked bust for us and our students, he reminded us to base our practice on a fundamental question posed by familiar friends, Piaget and Vygotsky: "How do people learn
He asked us to reimagine the task of teaching in a way to make every lesson an act of "Human centered coaching"--suggesting that if we begin every lesson plan thinking about the mechanics of how people learn and how we can best make learning user-friendly and universal, the "what" people learn will be all the more impactful and significant.