The Model, Reversed

Lately, much of my thinking is revolving around how to make better use of time–whether that be my own, the students I am in charge of, or the teachers I work with.  Our day is artificially segmented into frames of time that we must use for specific purposes in schools.  This hour is for science, this one for British Literature, and this one for PE.  It’s a construct that adults have created for the children they supervise.



Yes, I know the simple answers, and I know that we can’t always turn people loose to their own devices, at least not until they have shown they are ready.  But let’s, for a moment, look within those frames to see if there is a way to deconstruct the model.


Traditional lesson design involves something for students to do the moment they arrive in class.  They go by many names: Do Now, Warm Up, Problem of the Day, “Attention Getters”.


These are traditionally followed by some form of lead-in to the day’s objective–what Madeline Hunter would call your “anticipatory set.”  This is followed by the lesson itself, with all of its various parts.  Perhaps there is a reading that’s shared, perhaps some lecturing, a video clip, some whole-group discussion–you get the point.  We check for understanding at some point and by that time, we have just enough time to get them to write the homework down or chase them out the door handing back assignments or telling them to check the website.  Then we send them off to do independent practice for homework.


Earlier this year, Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, penned an article for the Telegraphabout what Karl Fisch has been doing with his Algebra students in Colorado.  He essentially decided that the class structure he had used prior to this year was not the best use of his, nor his students’ time.  So he flipped it.


Video recorded lectures at night for homework, time spent solving real-world problems during the limited class time they have.  For a quick example, these are a few topics his class has tackled recently:

  • ipod playlist permutations
  • sotu circle graph mistake
  • Nuggets and Nets salaries
  • gender pay gap
  • Bonds vs. Aaron home runs

(and he notes, he’s still trying to get them to come around).


Jason Kern, the Director of Technology at Oakridge School, inspired by Fisch and others, worked with a colleague to do much the same with an Economics class this year.  Here’s how Jason describes how the class runs on a typical day:

So if we are not lecturing in the classroom, what are we doing? Well for homework we assign a podcast explaining some economic concept and then the next day in class we discuss some current event and how it relates to the concepts. We also have someone different assigned each day to take notes in the Google Doc for everyone to share and contribute to. We then assign two researchers to Google anything that comes up in the discussion that we need more information about. We proceed with the discussion until they got the information and then they would report back with their findings and add it to the Google Doc notes.

Fisch and Kern, and many more teachers out there are definitely pushing on something here that could have ramifications for the structures we have in place in the majority of institutions around the world.  I’d love to hear arguments on either side of this model, so if you have a similar model, or one that is the antithesis of Fisch’s and Kern’s, share it in the comments and we’ll see where it takes us.


Image Credit:”The Flyin’ Hawaiian Super Sampler” from The Daily Ornellas photostream.

Patrick Higgins

Patrick Higgins

Director of Curriculum and Staff Development at Sussex-Wantage Regional School District