A Critique of Student Centered Classrooms

Many education reformers and education pundits have been pushing for student-centered classrooms for quite some time.  The teacher should simply be a facilitator of the class, and let students construct their own knowledge.   Then students, left to themselves, with their natural curiosity and inner desire to learn freed from constraints, will take ownership of their learning and become lifelong learners.  The reason many have been calling for this change is that classrooms have been too teacher-centered for a long time.  In another post I shared some data from the Marzano Research group that indicates classrooms across the United States are heavily teacher-centered. So I get it.  We need to move away from the teacher as the sole deliverer of content.  But lets not throw out the baby with the bath water.

We can’t completely do away with teachers leading and teaching their classes.  I believe one reason many teachers hesitate to embrace a student-centered classroom is that a completely student-centered classroom goes too far.  Students often don’t know what they don’t know.  I, as a science teacher, am an expert on a topic such as Chemistry and know Chemistry very well.  My students, on the other hand, come to class not knowing Chemistry very well, if at all.  And though it seems well and good to think that we can have students completely construct knowledge on their own, we need to teach them the things that we do know.  We are experts in our field.  We went to college for a long time to learn specific content.

Instead of choosing between student and teacher-centered classrooms, we should think of it more as a continuum. Teachers need to teach and students need to take ownership.  The best classes bring in both of these elements. The sweet spot is where they come together so that the classroom becomes neither student nor teacher-centered as a whole. See diagram below. The sweet spot will be different for each teacher depending on the subject taught and degree of willingness to give up some control.

I believe one of the best ways to make your class less teacher-centered is to flip your class.  Teachers can still teach and students can still construct knowledge.  If teachers are presenting content to a whole group of students at the same time on a consistent basis, then classes tend to be too teacher-centered.  The simple act of putting the direct instruction (the “teaching”) on a short instructional video allows for more time for student-centered activities.  Teachers still “teach,” but class time is now freed up for students to explore, expand, and receive assistance.


What do you think?  To what extent do you think teachers need to teach and students need to construct?  Share with me your thoughts on how you can make class less teacher-centered and yet still allow you to teach.  Or if you think classes need to be student-centered.

Visit a Flipped Class Up and Personal

FlipConTXVisitThere have been a lot of people talking about the flipped classroom.  Many people think it is just videos at home and homework in class. It is so much more. When teachers flip their class they ask one fundamental question:  What is the best use of class time?  So the key to the flipped class is how class time is re-imagined.

To that end we want to invite you to see how teachers from across the globe are flipping their classes.  Thirty-six sites from around the world have offered to open their doors in conjunction with Digital Learning Day on Friday, March 13, 2015. There are fifteen states and twelve countries you can visit.  The US states are:  AL, CT, FL, IL, IN, LA, MA, MN, MO, NC, NY, OH, TX, UT, VA, and you can visit classes in the following countries:  Brazil, China, India, Italia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Serbia, Singapore, The Netherlands, UK, USA.

So go out and go visit (in person) a flipped class and experience a classroom where students are the center of learning.  Sign up at:  http://flippedlearning.org//site/Default.aspx?PageID=104.  The deadline to sign up is March 12th.

Flipped-Learning Toolkit: Getting Everybody On Board

Edutopia.org published this video and article on their home page co-authored by Aaron & Jon

So you’re a parent, a student, or an administrator, and you just found out that a teacher in your school has flipped their class. What impact does that have on you? How should you respond? How can you support it? Where can you go for more information?


Your child’s experience in a flipped classroom is probably different than your educational experience has been. Acknowledging this fact is probably the most important step in being able to help your student. Before you start to hear chatter about how the teacher “isn’t teaching any more,” arm yourselves with the following information:

Flipping will increase student-teacher interaction.

One of the beauties of the flipped classroom is that it gives the teacher more individual time with each student. That means your son or daughter will get more one-on-one time with his or her teacher. There is something powerful about moving the teacher away from the front of the room, something that changes the dynamics of the class. Spending lots of quality time with each child helps teachers know students better both cognitively and relationally.

Flipping will bring added value to homework.

How many times have your children come home with homework they were unable to understand? You sat with them at the dinner table and tried to help them, but you couldn’t. Or maybe you had learned something when you were in school, and your child has informed you that you “do it wrong.” Another beauty of the flipped classroom is that you too can watch the videos with your kids. You can learn how the teacher presents a topic, and you will be better equipped to help your son or daughter. Additionally, viewing video content is a task that all students can complete, and all parents can help support. Concerned about equitable access to technology at home? Check out our earlier post about technology.

Your child will be able to pause and rewind the teacher.

All kids learn at different speeds, and frankly, teachers talk too fast. Wouldn’t it be great if your son or daughter could pause and rewind the teacher? Well, they can in a flipped classroom.


Your teacher has flipped your class. What do you need to know?

Don’t just watch the video. Learn and interact.

Watching a video, or for that matter a lecture, can be a passive exercise which doesn’t require a whole lot from you. As you watch a flipped video, find a quiet place free from distractions, turn off Facebook and Instagram, take notes, write down questions, and make time to learn from the content. Your teacher doesn’t expect you to come away having learned everything perfectly, but she does expect you to come to class with some knowledge and background.

You will get more attention from your teacher.

You and your teacher will get more time to talk about things individually. He will be constantly moving around the room working with different students, including you. Be prepared to discuss what you are learning with your teacher. He has your best interests at heart and wants you to succeed. That is why he’s implementing the flipped classroom.

You need to be engaged in your learning.

The flipped class may be an adjustment for you, because you’ll need to take an active role in your learning. Being passive won’t work. At first, this might be difficult, but the overall effect will be that you’ll learn how to learn for yourself — which is an extremely valuable skill to have as you mature.

Here’s what to do if you’re struggling.

The power of the flipped classroom model is that class time is reimagined. Instead of your teacher standing in front and lecturing at you, there is now more time for different things to happen in class. There is more time for you to get help on hard concepts, and more time for working with your peers to apply what you’ve learned. Make sure that you take advantage of the extra time in class to learn from your teacher and your peers, and to learn on your own.


How can you support teachers who are flipping their classes?

Give them time and encouragement.

Trying anything new can be difficult, and a flipped classroom is no different. Teachers may need time to work together to plan lessons or create content — give them collaborative time if you have that ability. Parents may be unfamiliar with the model — field those phone calls and shield your teachers from unnecessary questions. When teachers face challenges or difficulty, encourage them. Let them know that you’re there as a sounding board to help them overcome any issues they encounter.

Model flipping in your own practice.

If you’re an administrator who is interested in bringing flipped learning to your school, model it in your staff meetings. Rather than bringing your entire faculty to the library on a Thursday afternoon for a staff meeting to tell them about a new policy, prep them with a video explaining any new information, and invite them to spend the meeting time working on ways to improve instruction at the school. Maximize the face-to-face time you have with your teachers.

Provide training.

If you want to support flipped learning, make sure it’s being done well by providing training. Send your teachers to a local workshop or conference, or bring in trainers for staff development. Have expert teachers in your school train other interested teachers. Whatever you choose to do, ensure that the model is implemented with fidelity and care to give the students the best possible experience in the best possible flipped classroom.

Students, parents, and administrators: What advice do you have for other students, parents, or administrators? What are some successful ways that your school has implemented the flipped classroom model, and how have you helped support it?

Ironman Arizona Triathlon

Today’s post is not about education or the flipped classroom.  It is about one of my other passions: triathlons.IMAZSetingUp2014
What and Why
As some of you may know I have had an obsession with triathlons for the past fifteen years.  I am not sure what it is about triathlons that gets me, but I think a lot of it has to do with finding gratification in pushing myself with new and different challenges.  To that end last year I signed up to compete in the Ironman Arizona Triathlon. The race is this Sunday and I want to share the day with you.  The race is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride,  and 26.2 mile run.  Yea–This is a challenge–or maybe insanity.  So along with about 3000 other people I will enter the water in the Tempe Town Lake at 7:00 Phoenix time (9:00 Eastern).
The Preparation
I have kept track of my workouts via my Garmin for the past year and below is a summary of all the work done.  As I look at these numbers these are lower than they probably were because in some instances the watch wasn’t working or I ran on a treadmill or rode on a bike trainer, etc.
Type of Workout Number of Activities Distance Time Calories
Swimming 82 109 miles 53 hrs 35,000
Biking 162 3946 miles 242 hrs 125,000
Running 136 551 miles 91 hrs 56,000
Strength/Other 99 NA 83 hrs 9000
Totals 479 4679 miles 469 hrs 228,000


Not Alone

Getting ready for this race has been a huge commitment.  The commitment has not been just mine.  My family, especially my wife, Kris, has had to put up with me gone for long times to workout, decreased energy for home chores, and many other things.  I can’t thank her enough for letting me do this and supporting me throughout.  There have also been some great folks who helped me get ready.  My coach:  Kate Schnatterbeck from Team Tri-Umph (  www.tri-umph.us), and some of the guys I have ridden and biked with.  One group of guys even joined me for a 120 mile bike ride (what a glorious day it was)

 How to Track Me

And in the semi-narcissistic vein of this post, you can follow me during the race in real time.  I will be wearing a GPS tracking device during the bike and the run (the bulk of the race) and the official site will track me at specified locations on the course. If you are interested in following me you can go to:

The race is this Sunday11/16/14 and starts at 7:00 Arizona time = 9:00 a.m. Eastern

  • Official Ironman Triathlon Site:  http://ironmanlive.com and find the race tracker.  There you will see my splits occur.  My race number is 2842 which will make it easier for you to track me.
  • Real Time GPS tracking. http://www.myathletelive.com/events/  This may be the best way to track me as you will have real time data on my journey.  At this site you will choose Ironman Arizona and then find my name.  They also have mobile apps for both android and apple devices.
  • You can also watch live video of the event and there is a finish line camera where you could see me finish.  If you use the real time gps tracker you could anticipate when I will finish and tune in.  I anticipate it to finish somewhere between 5:30pm-8:00pm local time (7:30-10pm Eastern).  I anticipate the race taking me anywhere from 10.5hrs to 13hrs depending on many variables.

And if you want to know my goals for the bike and run.  I am hoping to ride at about a 19mph clip and run around 9:10 min/mile pace.  If I am faster, that would be good, if slower then I am probably having a hard time out there.

Thanks for hanging with me for this long post.

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