We are offering 40% of our curriculum online. As we were designing this school, this aspect led to some serious thinking.
The reason we want to offer 40% at distance is to give flexibility to parents and children. It could be two days per week; it could be whole weeks of the school year. When it is very hot in UAE, parents who can will want to take their kids elsewhere.
How do we ensure they can continue their education? How can we make that education consonant with the experiential, active and project-based learning they engage in at school.
Flipping the classroom is one of our answers to this problem. You’ve probably heard of this term. It’s not ours. However, we have given it another flip to fit in with our philosophy and ideas.
This is what I wrote about the Distance Learning component in the student handbook:
You probably spend too much time looking at screens already. The Distance Learning component is not all about being plugged in. We want you to get out to see and do real stuff. You can add videos, images and stories about the real things you do away from the school in your online portfolio. You can write things up for the newspaper and share them with your friends.
So, this is the thing: you access the online component through the computer, but you don’t “do it” online. We don’t want kids to be plugged into their computers all day! We don’t want parents to give kids that horrible message, “Time for school; turn on the laptop.”
This step comes first. We have a school with free choice of action, exciting project work and an emphasis on real, hands-on stuff. We can’t have an online component doing exercises in a virtual classroom. There are great resources available for learning algebra or phrasal verbs. But our 40% had to be better than that.
40% is a lot: we can’t just hand that over to a company that designs online curriculum. That’s why we have a Distance Learning Coordinator on the Senior Management Team. That’s why we are using the Flipped Classroom idea.
The Flipped Classroom idea started out with university educators and migrated to secondary schools. The idea was that, instead of having the “lecture” in class and exercises for homework, the internet gave the opportunity of having the “lecture” for homework and exercises in class. If the “lecture” is recorded the learner can access as many time as necessary to understand it before coming to class.
We have taken this idea and given it a twist and a flip. What works for universities is not going to work for primary school kids. However, it only seems like common sense for a school to work with the possibilities and potentials of technology. We emphasise a solid core in our reduced formal curriculum. The taught parts of these courses will all be available as short explanations online. When a teacher prepares a class, she prepares a short explanation to go into the distance learning environment.
The possibilities for teamwork, cooperation and peer teaching are endless. And we can extend our ideas beyond the formal curriculum and include ideas from the children themselves. The more real it is, the more engaging it will be. It is hard to explain this in words, so I am going to post a couple of examples here. Little questions that I have been asking myself:
- Does the Moon influence my onions?
- Why which? Why that? Why not what?
Moon and Onions
My neighbor, Feli, gave me some onion seeds and told me I had to plant them today. It is all to do with the moon. There are two words in Spanish- creciente and menguante. That is when the Moon is getting bigger, or waxing, and getting smaller, or waning. Everyone here says it is important to plant according to the phases of the moon.
What do you think?
We know the moon affects the tides, but the sea is big and my onion seeds are small. Watch the video. Then think of an experiment we can make to find out if it is true that the moon affects the growth of plants. You can try it for yourself. You don’t need a garden. All you need is a seed tray, some earth and some seeds. Remember to give them a bit of water!
You can investigate in books or on the internet. Here are some terms you might like to look for:
- gardening according to the phases of the moon
- farmer’s almanac
- moon gardening
- planting phases of the moon
If it turns out to be true, we will have to start asking why? Is it gravity? Is it light? Is it magic? You will have your own ideas, but ask people you know what they think and keep a record of what they say.