Teachers rethink education at Flipcon conference
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Eagle Staff Writer
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June 30, 2014
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Molly Schroeder, keynote speaker for Flipcon 2014, welcomes educators from around the globe to the Flipped Learning Network's annual conference Tuesday at Mars High School.

ADAMS TWP — Molly Schroeder, keynote speaker for Flipcon 2014, summed up in one sentence Tuesday what hundreds of educators at the conference hope to achieve.

“Helping a child find their spark and curiosity is one of life's greatest treasures,” Schroeder told the crowd that packed the Mars High School LGI room.

Schroeder's keynote address welcomed 400 educators — who traveled from around the globe and across the U.S. as well as virtual attendees — to the Flipped Learning Network's annual conference. The conference is being held at Mars High School through today.

The flipped learning concept switches traditional instruction to a student-centered approach. A flipped classroom sees students doing homework during class and listening to lectures and other instruction via videos at home.

Schroeder, a digital learning specialist and director of professional development for the EdTech Team in Minneapolis, urged teachers to rethink education and the way students learn.

“Teachers need to think big, ask difficult questions, and allow for failure to impact learning,” she said.

Schroeder also advocated for “future ready schools” that have courageous leadership, empowered teachers, responsible students, inspiring spaces, and an infrastructure that allows students access to the technology they need.

“Technology is like oxygen,” Schroeder said. “You need it, but you don't even know it's there.”

After Schroeder's address, the educators fanned out to attend dozens of flipped learning workshops set up in classrooms throughout the high school.

Kristen Gregory, a chemistry teacher at West Geauga High School in the Cleveland area, said the event was her third Flipcon. She has been using the flipped learning concept in her classes for three years.

“It makes a better use of class time for kids,” Gregory said.

She said while some students have a harder time and others blossom in a flipped classroom, she has seen improved grades with the method.

“It brings lower- to mid-level kids up (on the grading scale,)” Gregory said. She said in the flipped concept, the onus of grasping lessons is on the student.

“The kids learn how to learn,” Gregory said, “and take responsibility for their learning rather than waiting for the teacher to do everything.”

Doug Ragan, who is a chemistry teacher at the Hudsonville School District in West Michigan, said while he has employed flipped learning in his classes for three years, the Mars event was his first Flipcon.

Ragan said he mainly attended to network with other flipped teachers and get some of his more complex questions answered in detail.

He said Twitter is heavily used by flipped teachers, who can ask questions and collaborate among themselves no matter how distant they are from one another.

He said five teachers in five different states prepared a flipped classroom lesson together via Twitter.

“I think (flipped learning) has the potential to change the face of learning worldwide,” Ragan said.

Julie Schell, the director at the Center for Teaching and Learning and an assistant clinical professor at the University of Texas at Austin, led an “Intro to Flipped Learning” session.

The Harvard-educated professor stressed that while many educators think the two parts of a flipped classroom are homework being done in the classroom and lecture videos at home, the third part is focusing on what happens after class.

Schell said students must check their learning and understanding of a lesson, and extend their learning outside of the classroom.

She said teachers should always use in-class and out-of-class lessons to direct student understanding.

“The number one way to get someone to learn something is to have them remember it often,” Schell said.

She said keeping information learned at the beginning of a class going throughout the semester will result in better understanding and improved grades.

Schell counseled the group of educators to select the lesson their students are struggling with the most for a flipped classroom experience.

“Start small, and work out the kinks,” she said.

Schell said one complaint she hears from teachers using the flipped classroom method is that students are not doing the assigned pre-class work.

“My answer is, 'If you assess it, they will come,'” Schell said. “Out-of-class work should count in high-stakes assessment.”

John Gurnak, who coordinates alternative-learning training at Walsh University in Ohio, said he is asked the same questions described by Schell. Gurnak said he will now know how to answer those questions more fully. He said Schell used sound information and background research in her presentation,

Those in attendance broke for lunch in the high school's cafeteria and lined up to have the flipped learning books available at the conference signed by the authors in attendance.

Aaron Sams of the Flipped Learning Network said the Mars event marked the first Flipcon to be held east of the Mississippi River. He said Flipcon 2014 was well attended in part because many educators in the densely populated eastern states were unable to travel out west to past conferences.

“It's exciting to see it happen,” Sams said.

Mars Assistant Superintendent Matt Friedman, who served as liaison between Sams and Mars administration in planning the event, was thrilled with the enthusiasm shown by everyone at Flipcon on Tuesday.

“It's awesome so far,” Friedman said. “The sessions have been extremely beneficial, and we've had a lot of positive feedback.”

More information on the flipped concept is available at www.flippedlearning.org.