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Free Agent Educators and the Rogue Learner

By Bruce Wilcox
Director, Carolina Science Online™

Carolina Science Online

In December 2010 my family and I relocated from San Diego, California, to Sparta, New Jersey. My 15-year-old daughter was mid-term in 9th-grade physics. As a student entering honors physics in Sparta High School, she lacked the prerequisite exposure to trigonometry. Her teacher gave us some direction regarding the elements of trigonometry emphasized in his class, so we set about finding a way for our daughter to hone these skills in the few days that remained before the resumption of the balance of her 9th-grade year. While we were stuck in traffic on George Washington Bridge, my daughter exclaimed, “This is no problem; I get this stuff.” She handed me her phone, and I previewed the Khan Academy Trigonometry playlist that she had been watching. On a bridge, in traffic, via her smartphone, at her pace, in her place, my daughter was learning trigonometry. Of course, Khan Academy primarily supports rather than replaces good teaching and solid curriculum; that said, it is quite handy when you have only a few days to catch up!

Sal Khan and the many other teachers, learning resource specialists (tutors), and subject matter experts who vodcast or screencast online are the vanguard of a new class of educators who connect not just with a group of students but with the world of learners at large (even those stuck in traffic in New York). Khan Academy has now delivered more than 100 million lessons. Assuming each student uses about 5 lessons, Sal Khan has touched, and provided support to, more than 20 million students over the past few years, and the support is accessible 24/7/365. He is a rogue teacher, a syndicated columnist of learning activities, a “free-agent educator.” What if there were 100 Khans, or 1,000, or 10,000? If there is 1 thing we know about information technology, we know that it scales to meet demand. Hungry brains, eager to learn, exist in even the most impoverished parts of our world; these rogue learners will find free-agent educators, and the scaling-up effect will be extraordinary.

We’ve been a hearing a lot lately about the “flipped” classroom teaching model. In short, teachers capture elements of lecture, demonstrations, presentations, and other media and then screencast (or vodcast) these resources to students anywhere, anytime, on any browser-enabled device. Rather than sit and listen to you lecture or watch you solve a problem on the board in class, students view the majority of whole-class instruction either before or after class time—at their own leisure from any location that offers Internet access. Thus, the lecture component of teaching and learning occurs outside of class, and the in-class time serves for hands-on or applied learning.

The implications of the flipped classroom for science teaching are significant. Simulations, demonstrations, videos that introduce difficult topics, and lecture can be delivered online, saving precious class time for experiments, dissections, and group or individual study. “Homework” is done in class and the lecture at home—thus, the term “flipped classroom.” A growing number of resources supports educators’ moves to flip their classrooms. In addition to Sal Khan’s work, I’ll highlight a couple of others here:

  1. University of Northern Colorado—A comprehensive collection of information and tools to support flipped instruction. Created by educators Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, pioneers in the field of vodcasts in the classroom, here you will find a wealth of resources to support your own efforts to flip your classroom.
  2. Bozemanscience.com—2011 Montana Teacher of the Year Paul Anderson has been teaching high school science for the last 17 years. In the last year he began using YouTube as a vehicle to both flip his classroom and extend his reach to students and other educators worldwide. Mr. Anderson has assembled an impressive suite of content and tools for you to use to support your own strategy to flip classroom instruction.

Ready to reach 100 million students? If so, flip your classroom and teach to all—the world awaits!

I’m pleased to share with you the first blended implementation of Carolina products, now underway at Texas Woman’s University. Shaumarie Scoggins, lab coordinator for anatomy and physiology students, is using our online e-book version of the Dissection of the Fetal Pig to help students preview and prepare for dissection activities. In this case, virtual tools reinforce the hands-on learning for about 1,500 students a year!

We have a special offer for you as we launch our new collection of science films developed by Twig World Limited, winner of the British Education Technology Tradeshow (BETT) Award for 2012 in Secondary Digital Content. Be sure to create your account at Carolina Science Online™ and stay tuned!

Your comments are always welcome.

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