2011-2012 Looking back. Looking forward

Time to reflect. Image taken from: http://0.tqn.com/d/taoism/1/0/p/0/-/-/Yuangshuo_reflection.jpg

2011 has been a busy year in education. Emerging technologies are making computing more ubiquitous and communication easier. By following the feeds of many wonderful educational blogs, I have seen a real mind shift happening in education with many teachers embracing technologies to change the way that learning happens in their classrooms for the better. I feel confident in saying that I will look back at 2011 as a year when many learning mini-revolutions began, when education systems around the world started thinking about moving on from the lecture-style model of learning they have used for the last 120 years. Maybe these emerging trends will pass as edu-fashion and fads or perhaps they will make a lasting positive impact as their proponents suggest. As 2011 comes to a close I’m going to take this opportunity to reflect on key innovations and events of the last year and to stargaze into the future with my predictions for 2012.

2011- Looking Back

Three big trends in education in 2011.

The Flipped Classroom Takes Hold

Turning the learning model 180 degrees is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in classrooms in the USA. The idea of the Flipped Classroom is that pupils learn new concepts at home, rather than at school through watching educational videos (quite often made by their teachers). They then work in class collaboratively on problems that they would have traditionally done for homework. Teachers who have tried the flip successfully say it’s a better model for learning as pupils learn concepts without the distraction of their peers and then when it comes to practising applying their new knowledge they do it in an environment surrounded by people to support them. See this link for a fuller description of the Flipped Classroom.

I have followed the blogs of teachers who use the Flipped Classroom model for a while now and am convinced in its benefits and plan to trial the approach with one of my classes next academic year.

Particularly towards the second half of this year I really noticed much more chatter about the Flipped Classroom approach within the blogging community. I believe the excellent work of Salman Khan through his Khan Academy website, which has now received funding from Bill Gates, and his TED talk (see below) raised the profile significantly to a whole new audience.

With the efforts of people like Salman Khan, MyMaths and the excellent CGP MathsTutor (click here to see my review), and with video creation becoming simple through apps like Educreations on the iPad (click here for my review), the resources and the necessary ease of use in the technology is now available to realistically support teachers who want to use the Flipped Classroom approach.

iDevices make quality technology for education available to the pupils

This year I was fortunate enough to attend an ‘iPads in Action’ conference at Longfield Academy, Kent where every pupil has their own iPad with them in every lesson at school. My thoughts and comments can be found at this link along with an excellent write up of the day by Rob Harrison on his blog. I left Longfield in no doubt that 1-2-1 iPad schemes can be implemented successfully with a real benefit to pupils’ learning. The pupils were fully engaged in their lessons and were using their iPads for quality learning, not just fun.

I ran a student survey at my own school and discovered that 50% of pupils own an iPod Touch. There are enough for one-between-two in nearly all my lessons and I have started making use of them for learning. For example, Quick Graph is a superb free graph plotting app that makes graphics calculators look like dinosaurs. The intuitive, simple, colourful user interface is so good you literally do not have to teach pupils how to use it. Click here to read my review of Quick Graph.

2011 is the year where lots of teachers realised the potential that iPods/iPads/iPhones have for learning. I think that potential is in its infancy at present and I hope that the blogging community continues to share ideas for teaching with these devices so we can all benefit.

Using Social Networks and Blogs for learning becomes more widespread

For years the education system fought the introduction of the calculator for fear that pupils will lose all their mental calculation skills. Mobile phones must be ‘turned off and in the bottom of your bag’ in most schools at present, although that view is certainly wavering in many schools. The educational benefits of mobile phones and iPod Touchs etc are now being realised, particularly over this last year. Social networks and blogging are also on the education system conveyor belt of being banned originally and then realised as great tools for improving learning. As using mobile phones and other mobile computing devices in lessons has become more ‘socially acceptable’ over the last year, the early adopters who have the mandate to experiment with social media and blogging have found them another good tool to support learning. I have myself run a blog for my pupils this year, which in the first 14 weeks of the academic year has been visited 4747 times by the 200 or so pupils that I teach. I am convinced by the comments I receive from pupils that blogging is an excellent way to engage pupils in your subject and make them realise that it is bigger and more wide-ranging than what you cover in class. I would thoroughly recommend blogging in particular to fellow teachers as I have not found any other technology medium yet that seems to engage so much student interest.

I could not finish off this section of looking back over 2011 without mentioning that this is the year that Google+ was born. In only a handful of months I have built up a social network of 545 like-minded teaching people with whom I share ideas, resources and laughs. Google+ will be the demise of Facebook, I am certain of it. Not only is it less cluttered, yet more functional, you can also do free video chats with up to 10 people simultaneously, called Hangouts, which are great fun. The Hangout video of the Dalai Lama chatting to Archbishop Desmond Tutu has now definitely entered the YouTube viral-video archives as a truly unforgettable moment. Google+ allows you to control which of your followers see which of your posts in a very easy to use way, handling your online privacy much better than its rivals. Go Google, Go!

2012- Looking Forward

And now for my predictions for 2012. Don’t hold me to these (unless they are right!)  😉

Twitter supports collaborative learning in the classroom

How do you get all pupils in your class to engage with your questions, ask ones of their own and continue this outside of the classroom as well? How do you get knowledge that is learned shared around your classroom without needing to stop the class whilst they are on task? How do you get quality feedback from all the pupils in your class without needing to speak to them individually?


Check out this wonderful article which forms part of series of pieces written by a South African teacher who is using Twitter in the classroom to answer these questions and more. I believe, done right, this could take assessment for learning to a whole new level and promote quality discussion of learning between pupils in our classrooms. I have experienced this style of learning and communication myself at conferences and really seen the benefit. I think this could be very big and am certainly going to give it a go myself. I will of course keep you up to date with the results of my experimentation on Great Maths Teaching Ideas.

The Flip It movement grows supported by more technology and resources

The Khan Academy has really supported the Flipped Classroom movement, providing resources to allow teachers to try the new model. I am big fan of the Khan Academy but I do think there is room for improvement. Taking a UK maths teacher’s perspective, I often find that the Khan videos contain language differences which confuse my pupils. For example, Khan talks about ‘Greatest Common Divisor’ rather than ‘Highest Common Factor’. Whilst you could argue that the language should not be a problem, my pupils tell me it confuses them.

Early into this academic year I discovered the CGP MathsTutor product. It is like the Khan videos but more professionally produced by a maths-specialist teacher and designed for the UK maths curriculum. Click here to see the demo website. I am very excited about using these with my pupils to take independent learning to the next level.

YouTube has this month released ‘YouTube for Education’ which features filtering to ensure content is appropriate for pupils and no related video links at the end of videos. Early impressions are good and this may be another channel that supports independent learning.

My second prediction for 2012 is that the Flipped Classroom model of learning will become more popular as the increase in quality independent learning resources makes it practical for teachers to plan and deliver this model of learning. To truly embrace the model I think pupils will need their own mobile computing device in school which is a trend I predict will continue to rise throughout 2012.

Project-based and enquiry-based learning methods become more widespread

Presuming my first two predictions about 2012 are correct, what our pupils do in class will be different to what they do at the moment. Teachers who Flip say that it frees up a lot of class time for practice in applying knowledge through project-based and enquiry-based learning activities. Both of these approaches promote Higher Order Thinking Skills on the upper-reaches of Bloom’s Taxonomy and are desirable if you can ever fit them in, which the Flipped method allegedly gives you time to. Proponents argue that this teaching style is more like real life in the world of work and also makes learners much more active in ‘constructing their learning’ rather than ‘passively receiving it’ from the teacher. A move in this direction might even please the government who have recently introduced the ‘functional skills’ focus on the maths GCSE. The problem solving skills promoted by these teaching methods would support the focus on functional skills type questions.

One well-known apostle of enquiry-based learning is Dan Meyer who writes Dy/Dan, his blog that promotes teachers being less helpful with the purpose of getting the pupils to think more for themselves. Dan is not a fan of traditional textbooks which break a problem down into its solution steps and then makes them ‘part a, part b, part c’ sub-questions. He argues pupils should be deciding what the sub-steps are themselves. Dan got huge recognition of his cause on the back of his TED talk (see below) where he articulates his views in a clear and humorous fashion.

My third prediction for 2012 is that project-based and enquiry-based learning styles will become more prevalent. Dan’s blog, his ‘three acts activities‘ and projects on sites like YummyMath and Real World Math will become more popular and important.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post and please feel free to leave your own thoughts and comments either in the comments section here or get in touch with me via my Google+ profile. I wish you all the very best for a happy 2012 with lots of exciting teaching and learning developments!

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1 Response

  1. 28/12/2011

    […] and try to expand on it. “This is going to spread like wildfire,” he said. Read more . . . [caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"][/caption] But what make…cademy" width="300" height="82" […]

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