Teaching Coding in a Flipped Classroom
Feb 11, 2023
As the Middle School Technology Teacher at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi, Brad Flickinger teaches Python coding through pixel art with imagi in the context of a flipped classroom environment that he’s pioneered. His method, which he has named Techttoos Studios, is a creative learning approach that empowers students to follow their interests, while also allowing them to demonstrate their newly acquired technology skills in the form of concrete projects.
The Origins of Techttoos Studios
Brad didn’t come up with this innovative approach to technology education overnight. When he began his career as a classroom teacher after leaving the world of tech in 2000, he found himself frustrated with the way that tech was being taught at the time. The way he was expected to teach didn’t work when kids were coming to his classroom at so many different skill levels. Even trying to teach something that sounds inherently engaging like robotics was a classroom management nightmare when kids were expected to sit in their seats and just listen to direct instruction. He knew he had to try something different.
Enter: “The Flipped Classroom”
It was during his early years teaching that he began to explore what was called “the flipped classroom.” According to the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University, flipped classrooms replace direct instruction with opportunities for kids to learn concepts at their own pace and engage in activities that allow for high level thinking. For Brad, this meant recording his lessons for kids to watch at their own pace and then allowing them to do the work on their own. Instead of grades, kids complete a final project and earn badges for the new tech skills they acquire. All of Brad’s lessons are carefully aligned to standards set forth by the International Society of Technology Education, and he’s even written a book about it. As he quickly realized, this new approach to technology education would have a remarkable impact on student learning.
The Power of Competency-Based Tech Learning
According to Brad, the beauty of creating educational resources like videos that kids can watch on their own is that there is no stigma attached. Kids can access the lessons wherever and however they need to. They can watch the videos however many times they need to. They can translate it into their own language by turning on the captions. They can go at their own pace. Different age groups can work together and collaborate. Most importantly, kids can demonstrate their learning by actually creating something concrete at the end. Students in his classroom are creating films, podcasts, radio broadcasts, composing digital music, and building robots - just to name a few of the projects. Once he ditched making students sit around in their seats to learn about technology, he’s seen engagement skyrocket. His ultimate goal is to bring joy and creativity back to technology education, and after spending just a minute or two observing in his classroom, it’s clear he’s onto something.
Imagi Pixel Art at Techttoos StudiosWhen Brad stumbled upon imagi, he immediately felt it would fit perfectly into his approach to competency-based learning in a flipped classroom, where students demonstrate their learning in creative and tangible ways. He also felt the curriculum slides were very easy to implement and conducive to self-paced learning, but he’s actually also recorded his own videos with students to help other students get started. What he’s noticed is that students are more confident when they see their peers doing something first. Check out one of the videos he’s created here with one of his students as they write their very first line of code:
For many of his students, getting to learn Python coding through pixel art with imagi has been a real game changer. This year, one of his students, Martyna (name changed for privacy) was a new 7th Grade student who had just come to his classroom from Russia and had been struggling with learning English. She hadn’t been engaged all semester, and Brad began to worry as the end of the semester was getting close, as she hadn’t completed any of her projects. When she started using imagi, something in her just “clicked.” She took the lessons, copied them, and translated them into Russian. She went independently all the way through Lesson 9. For her, creating a concrete project with imagi helped her transform her thinking. She proudly began to think of herself as a “coder.”
Beyond the Classroom
Brad’s ultimate goal is for students to move from passive consumers to active and confident creators, and he wants his kids to understand not only how Python can connect to jobs in the real world, but also how they could use an understanding of Python to affect positive social change and bring awareness to real issues. “What if kids all over the world coded something on their imagi Charms to bring about awareness of climate change or food insecurity? Think about the impact they can have.” For him, the possibilities of tech education are endless and so exciting, that he’s even writing a book about it. The book, set to be published in the summer of 2024 will be about how we can approach education in new ways and use tech to bring about real change in the world. As he says, “We are headed in a direction where AI is going to be really shifting the way we must assess our students' ability to learn. Therefore, we must move from knowledge-based to skills-based learning, where kids can follow their passions and demonstrate their skills in concrete ways. This will be an important step in breaking down the current gender barrier and making technology more accessible to everyone.”
Want to give imagi a try in your classroom? You can sign-up for imagi Edu here and begin coding with your students today.
About Brad Flickinger
Brad currently serves as a Middle School Technology Teacher at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi, UAE. His innovative badges program that he created as an alternative for traditional grades for his tech students has drawn the attention of educators worldwide, and in 2016 ISTE published his book on badges called Reward Learning with Badges, which continues to be one of the top selling books. Brad currently lives in Abu Dhabi, UAE with his wife and continues to spend his summers traveling the world as an edtech speaker at conferences, attending district meetings, and consulting to help schools and districts do what he does so well. Follow him on Instagram @MrFlickTech or on Twitter at @BradFlickinger for more innovative ideas!