Has Doctor Who Flipped Your Classroom?

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Today in biology class, a student logs in to The Radix Endeavor (a new MMOG developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and finds herself wandering on an island where her leader has taken actions that have endangered the local plant and animal life. She must discover what the problems are and how the local environment functions, and devise solutions to preserve the island’s ecosystem. What she doesn’t have to do, in class today, is open a textbook or take notes on a lecture – she’ll do that online, at home.

It’s a “flipped classroom,” in which homework time is spent watching video lectures online and interacting through blogs and chat rooms, and class time is spent on things like group projects, games like the Radix Endeavor, and other activities.

Doctor Who – that British sci-fi classic time-traveling TV character – is coming to British classrooms to help get students interested in learning computer programming. “The Doctor and the Dalek,” a computer game featuring the hero and his nemesis, has the ambitious goal of teaching students basic programming skills and inspiring a lasting interest in programming, as part of the BBC’s attempt to help even very young children understand coding.

Meanwhile, in New York City and Washington DC, similar efforts are underway – NYC schools are using a new curriculum developed at the University of Colorado at Boulder that allows students to design and build their own video games. Professor Alexander Repenning, who developed the program over 20 years, said that the goal is to “combat the widely held notion that computer programming is hard and boring.” Leigh Ann DeLyser, program manager at the nonprofit NYC Foundation for Computer Science Education, said the hope is to encourage students “to think of themselves as not just users of technology, but the next generation of creators and makers.”

In DC, college computer science majors were recently invited to the White House for “Game Jam,” a weekend conference on video game development for classroom use. “They have to learn the material, but nobody cares how they learn the material,” said University of North Carolina computer science professor Diane Pozefsky, who brought three students to the conference. “So why not learn the material in a way that’s going to be more interesting and more entertaining?”

The idea of taking a new approach to the use of classroom time has even made it to traditional university STEM classrooms, like engineering courses at Purdue University. Charles Krousgrill, a professor of mechanical engineering, has been using a sort of “flipped classroom” approach for two years in his core courses. Students spend their out-of-classroom time interacting online, through a blog and instructional videos, and use their class time for projects and “homework” rather than lectures. He has seen a “marked effect” on student performance, and class attendance has increased from 70% to 85-95%.

Have you experimented with “flipping” your classroom and using games to engage your students during class time? Is it intelligent innovation or is it endangering students’ ability to thrive in traditional academic environments? What kind of balance do you seek in “flipped” classrooms? Do you see students succeeding and engaging more, when given those kinds of options?

Last but certainly not least – how do you assess these games and activities for effectiveness? Do they meet the standards your district and state are using?

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