Three Things Teachers are Talking About

The new school year

 

1. Pinning

In 2013, when more than a half-million education-related ideas were being “pinned” on Pinterest each day, the online bulletin board launched the hub Teachers on Pinterest. That same year, it was ranked among the top five professional websites for teachers, according to the results of a survey by Edutopia. Today, teachers from around the world turn to Pinterest to find free or inexpensive ideas on everything from fun math exercises to journal prompts.

They share good ideas with each other by pinning and re-pinning pictures of items like “activities for teaching poetry” and “30 sites for students who finish early.” Nearly 1.4 million people follow superstar Pinterest members like Erin Wing, a former elementary school teacher, who offers resources and advice on parenting, teaching and organization. Wing’s pins often direct readers to teacherspayteachers.com, where they can buy her curriculum ideas for a small fee, usually $4 to $12.

“Pinterest’s visual orientation – offering overworked and busy teachers the ability to quickly skim through hundreds of ideas – seems to be the key to its popularity with teachers, already overburdened with an immense amount of required reading,” writes journalist and author Kathryn Joyce. “It’s simply more enjoyable to scroll through pictures of 100 variations on baking-soda volcanoes, users say, than read a dozen blogs.”

Or resource books. Joyce said the bookshelves in her parents’ home are filled with “colorful volumes of classroom teaching tips” that her mother, a former teacher, had collected over a span of 20 years. “If my mom were teaching today, things would look a lot different. Her library would be gone, replaced by a tidy, virtual bulletin board on social media giant Pinterest,” she noted. “Through the site, she’d have access to a far vaster array of teaching tips ranging from classroom setup to writing prompts to party themes.”

If school supply dealers and teacher store owners are not trolling Pinterest to note what items are most popular with teachers, they should be. What’s more, they should be pinning images of ways their stores can help meet their needs. It’s easy to sign up: go to pinterest.com and enter your first and last name, email address and password. You’ll automatically be taken to a page that lets you choose five boards to follow immediately.

2. Flipping

Teachers who flip their classrooms have seen higher student achievement, increased student engagement and better attitudes toward learning, says the 2013 Executive Summary of the Flipped Learning Network (flippedlearning.org). Founded by teachers and authors Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams – pioneers of the flipped classroom movement – the network “provides educators with the knowledge, skills and resources to successfully implement flipped learning.”

When direct instruction happens via video at home, and “homework” takes place in the classroom with the teacher available to help, that’s flipped learning. It’s not new – 200 years ago, engineering students at West Point learned core content on their own so that class time could be devoted to critical thinking and group problem-solving. More recently, educators were galvanized to flip after Salman Khan, founder of the online Khan Academy, gave a TED talk in 2011 called “Let Us Use Video to Reinvent Education.” The following year, an article in The New York Times gave flipped learning national attention. In the article, Michelle Rinehart, a mathematics and science teacher in Rankin, Texas, said, “It’s not about the videos – it’s about the powerful class time we regain for higher-order thinking activities. Students appreciate the increased assistance and collaboration they receive with this model.”

Today, in theory, technology makes flipped learning easier, but before they can be successful, teachers have many flipping challenges to overcome. Jon Bergmann lists these.

• Not all kids have access to the Internet at home.

• Kids won’t watch long videos. Short videos (Bergmann’s rule of thumb is 1.5 minutes per grade level) are more effective, with one video per discrete objective.

• Kids aren’t made accountable for watching the videos.

• Kids don’t know how to watch instructional videos. (Hint: the pause button is really important for note taking and writing down questions.)

While it is not always easy to convince parents and administrators of the merits of flipping, more and more teachers are climbing on board. The number of teachers who have flipped a lesson in their classroom increased from 48 percent in 2012 to 78 percent in 2014, according to an online study by the Flipped Learning Network and Sophia Learning. Of those teachers who flip, 96 percent say they would recommend the flipped classroom to a colleague. The vast majority of flipped teachers (93 percent) have adopted this method through their own initiative, with three-quarters indicating that their school administrators support their independent flipped-classroom efforts. “These statistics clearly show the flipped classroom is no longer something done behind closed doors, flipped learning is in the mainstream,” concluded the study.

While flipped educators still tend to teach in secondary schools (grades 6-12), this survey saw an increase in elementary and higher-education instructors.

Just a few weeks ago, 500 emerging and established flipped educators took part – either onsite or virtually – in the eighth annual Flipped Conference at Michigan State University.

3. STEMing or STEAMing?

Educators, tech experts and economists continue to debate the merits of adding the Arts to the STEM curriculum.

“We need more –eers,” wrote technology strategist Theo Priestly in Forbes. In addition to “engineers,” he listed “imagineers” and “creationeers” – in other words, creative thinkers and problem solvers. “If we truly are entering an age where 50 billion devices will connect and talk across the Internet, then who is going to build and maintain them all?”

By 2018, the U.S. may be short by as many as 3 million skilled workers, says the National Math & Science Initiative, a statistic that helped pave the way for STEM’s role in our education system. But Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are not enough, says economist Joel L. Naroff. “You can learn the technological skills from STEM, but you develop the ability to think and manage from an appreciation of music, art, culture and history, as well as the ability to write, communicate and understand how others operate and reason.”

He believes our country needs technically prepared students who think more generally and imaginatively, and that STEAM is how to get them. It’s a mistake to cut down on the time devoted to the arts in a typical K-through-12 school day in order to make more room for STEM, he says. “If you take the educational process back to its STEM, you will take the STEAM out of economic progress.”

It’s a tug of war, admits STEM curriculum writer Anne Jolly. The former Alabama Teacher of the Year proposed shaping STEAM programs by looking at ways art naturally fits in the STEM arena, and offered a few ideas during Education Week last November.

Design – “Art can serve a practical function … Through industrial design, students could improve the appearance, design and usability of a product created during a STEM project.”

Performing arts, such as drama and speech – “What about technical or persuasive writing? Those arts fit naturally into the “Communications” stage of the engineering design process.”

 

Creative planning – “As students brainstorm solutions for an engineering problem, encourage them to adopt a playful, inventive, artistic approach. Calling on their artistic right brain can help them to generate more creative and innovative thinking.”

Jolly wrote that she didn’t have a clear picture yet for the ideal STEAM project and added this word of caution: “Art is often touted as a method of adding creativity to STEM – but keep in mind that engineers are rarely lacking in creativity and ingenuity. Just look at the world around you for proof. The purpose of STEAM should not be so much to teach art but to apply art in real situations. Applied knowledge leads to deeper learning.”


by Tina Manzer

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