PBL and Flipped Learning are a Perfect Match

I’ve always been into projects.  You know, the ability of a student in a social studies classroom to actually show what they had learned? And I always felt I had done a pretty good job of assigning projects and getting really cool products back from my kids.  For the 10 years I taught high school prior to flipping I would’ve arrogantly acknowledged how great my students were learning and achieving, not fully realizing the potential for something better to happen.  Everything changed when I started teaching seventh grade.  They wouldn’t stop moving, and talking, and my incredible Barry White-sounding voice didn’t carry the weight it used to in high school. I needed to do something different, yet still do the cool stuff with projects I just knew the students enjoyed. Finding the time to fit this in was impossible (enter horrible organ music).

I started flipping my class my second semester of teaching middle school and haven’t looked back in five years.  I actually found “time” to incorporate meaningful projects, and the evolution of my projects has been an ongoing journey. In Jon Bergmann’s book “Flipped Learning for Social Studies Instruction” he detailed a fun project of mine called the Multi-Genre Project, where students use multiple mediums, or genres, to display learning on a particular unit.  It’s essentially a glorified choice board on steroids, allowing my students the opportunity to show what they’ve learned about world geography or Kansas history through digital, written, or any art form they chose.  Students even made food from the region or era of study and brought it in for the class… and their interest in food never wavers!  With these projects they created portfolios, had to write introductions to each project, and were able to see each other’s projects in a gallery walk.  As a result of flipping my classroom I was able to do one of these at the end of virtually every quarter.

I now plan a small activity each unit to engage the students in the content, and these are what my students know my class for, besides the videos.  So my Barry White voice may be gone in person, but the kids are talking about the impact of the flipped class in seventh grade at my school.  And as much fun as these projects are, I can say I’ve changed my curriculum to incorporate new and different projects.

So with the popularity of Genius Hour I thought I’d give it a whirl myself.  Since I wanted the student buy in, I changed the name to the iGenius Hour, putting the onus on their creativity while at the same time thinking I was clever by coming up with this name (If anyone else has coined the phrase iGenius, my bad… I don’t mean to intrude.  If not, then I call DIBS!).  The iGenius Project has ranged from a true open-option Genius Hour, to me assigning a current event topic in Geography, to a cross curricular project with my team science teacher during her Ecology unit, to my favorite – the iGenius Service Project.

The iGenius Service Project is what we do from January through May; a true “work at your own pace” project incorporating research, writing, technology, and more importantly, the concept of civic responsibility.  Given checkpoints on each of my Flip Mastery checklists, the students decide how they can best answer the question “How are you going to make society better?”  After brainstorming for several days, the kids finalize an idea… then they make a plan to actually do it!  This experiential learning would’ve never happened in my traditional high school classroom, primarily because I would’ve been talking during the time my kids now have to work, plan, and create their impactful projects.  I am able to replace my role with that of the student as the center of the experience – and I was met with amazing, meaningful products.  Seventh-grade students, aged 12 and 13, volunteered at animal shelters, donated books to local youth organizations, volunteered at food kitchens, helped raise money for people in need all over the world, and some simply cleaned up trash in their neighborhoods.  Yet, each one of my students helped make society better with a couple of minutes a week now available in my classroom.  And yes, I mean each one… all 120+ last year.

So yeah, I now believe fully in the flipped classroom model since it is now enabling my students to experience social studies instead of me doing my chalk and talk. I know their experiences will last a lifetime, since these activities are what they will remember as a 30 year old, not the definition of the rain shadow effect.  I also know they’re learning those geographic definitions and terms in the flipped class… but I’ll take them developing these memorable, life-long experiences, too. Talk about your win-win.

Post by Flipped Global Master Teacher Ryan HullRyanHull. Follow him on twitter: @mrhullsworld

Ryan has been flipping for 4 years in different capacities, starting at flipping single lessons to currently using the flip mastery model.  The use of class time was crucial, and the flipped classroom has allowed an enormous amount of growth in covering content, as well as enabling students to expand into projects and enrichment activities to expand their understanding of content.  He now utilizes a Genius Hour concept in the class, and has introduced service projects to expand on each student’s civic responsibility.

Leave a Reply