03/01/2013 03:27 pm ET Updated May 01, 2013

We Need a Revolution (Literally) in Education -- It Is Time to Flip the Curriculum

We need a revolution (literally) in education. It is time to Flip the Curriculum.

There is a lot a buzz about how to reform education but unfortunately most of it focuses on the backend of the process. The majority of our attention has been on assessment (assessing students, teachers, etc.). However, if we hope to create an education system that successfully prepares students for the future, then we must focus on the process.

We need to turn things, as my young son used to say, "Upside Right".

Flipping the Curriculum focuses on how we teach. Specifically, it flips how we deliver the content. Reading and math skills would be taught through the vehicles of science, social studies, and the arts. The skills would be integrated instead of being taught separately. This revolutionary change would align teaching strategies with how the brain actually learns (that's a novel concept!).

The main problem with the current, outdated approach is that we are still using a model that is not effective in today's learning environment. Our schools largely run on an industrial model, not a conceptual/integrated model. Using the methods of yesteryear (that's so 20th century!), we teach subjects in a compartmentalized fashion.

Math, language arts, social studies, etc. are taught in isolation and this not only makes it boring ("Why do I have to learn this?") it also makes it difficult for students to make connections that are meaningful and relevant (which is necessary for true understanding).

Predictably, kids are bored and they lack motivation. Our methods do not match the world in which they live and we are testing them too much. They are not the only ones bored. Teachers are bored too. We go into this profession to make a difference, not to drone on from some script. Teachers want to engage and challenge their students to think and create.

If we hope to transform our education system to reflect the demands of what author Daniel Pink calls the Conceptual Age, we have to literally revolutionize the process by "Flipping the Curriculum". We must start using strategies that not only reflect the world of today, but also align with this generation of learners.

In the elementary years, the subjects are taught in isolation with language arts and math being the primary focus, science and social studies are secondary, and art has virtually disappeared. As students progress, they experience a physically segmented education (separate classes for each subject).

Flipping the curriculum would end this segmentation. Instead of language arts and math being taught separately, they would be taught through the vehicle of science, social studies, and the arts. Instead of being secondary, these content areas would be the centerpiece of our education. This change will transform education from a series of unrelated facts to an interconnected narrative that makes sense and has meaning to the learner.

Instruction would be centered on engaging, interesting, and relevant, content that we find in science, social studies, and the arts. Imbedded in these would be the concepts taught in language arts and math. Since students would be connecting these concepts to concrete experiences and the information would be relevant, true learning would occur.

"Flipping the Curriculum" would be a major shift and we would have to overcome enormous institutionalized inertia. Textbooks would have to be written to align the concepts and walls separating content areas would have to be figuratively and literally torn down.

Imagine the power of an educational process that connects concepts to actual experiences

Instead of teaching the comprehension skill of "cause and effect" in language arts, it would be applied after completing a series of science experiments related to plant growth or studying the Civil Rights movement. Or instead of teaching graphing in math class, imagine students learning this concept by observing the acceleration of a marble on an inclined plane and then graphing the results. This brings the graph to life because students can connect it to a concrete experience.

Students would be able to connect the concepts with concrete, personal experiences. This is a brain-centered educational approach. When the learner makes these types of connections, the knowledge is not only retained, it transferable.

This shift would not only engage students and improve learning outcomes; it will also help reduce the achievement gap we are seeing in lower socio-economic area.

One of the core challenges related to lower achievement is the lack of vocabulary. Kids must have a grasp of related vocabulary so that they can understand concepts and process information. Lack of vocabulary, specifically academic vocabulary, hinders learning and understanding.

Now imagine students being exposed to a rich vocabulary that they not only hear but experience. That's what will happen when we "Flip the Curriculum". Instead of students merely memorizing definitions, they would be able to attach the meanings of the words to concrete experiences.

It's time to work smarter, not harder. James Marzano said it would take 25 years to teach the elementary school curriculum if we were to do to right. We should be teaching concepts in an interrelated fashion (the way it happens in the world) which is a more effective use of our time.

We need fewer textbooks not more. Now that CCSS and NGSS are being implemented, this is an opportune time to make this shift. It would require visionary thinking and unprecedented planning to truly integrate the disciplines, but it would lead to more effective and relevant education for our kids.

We need to equip our kids for the "Conceptual Age". I am proposing that we leave the 20th century methods in the 20th century (including the textbooks). I hope we will soon see a day where concepts are fully integrated and we are leveraging our students' natural curiosity and creativity by teaching concepts in context.

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