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Aug 17, 2021

Discussing Self-Paced Learning, the Power of Tech with Kareem Farah

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The concept of a modern classroom has evolved significantly. Aside from switching to virtual classrooms and learning through instructional videos, educators have an opportunity to improve their teaching approaches.

Kareem Farah is the Co-Founder and CEO of the Modern Classrooms Project. His background as an educator has made him realize the imperfections of traditional schooling methods and the importance of understanding and addressing students' unique challenges. Therefore, he created the Modern Classrooms Project, a free program that empowers other educators to focus on building relationships with their students.

In this episode of the EdTech Heroes podcast, our host, Nefertiti Dukes, catches up with Kareem to discuss how teachers can connect, engage, and learn new ways to empower students through exciting educational content. Watch the complete episode below or subscribe at Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

Key insights

One-size-fits-all approaches to teaching and learning are ineffective. "My students are certainly facing unique challenges that make it difficult to access a traditional classroom. I realized that when I was standing at the front of the room and delivering lectures at a class, students' needs were very diverse.

So, I started with the idea that lectures needed to be eliminated, and that's what inspired the creation of instructional videos. I realized that when I do that, students will be able to access the content anytime, anywhere, and I'm no longer consumed with delivering a live performance in front of the room."

Technology allowed us to stop using teaching and learning systems that were inefficient. Technology is a powerful tool that allows educators to approach classes more efficiently. At the same time, it eliminates the need for using methods that aren't efficient anymore.

"Leverage technology to use your time more efficiently. You should be spending your time in small groups and individualized instruction, truly differentiating to students' needs. Additionally, why hold kids back from information?”

Related: Read our guide to self-paced classrooms!


👋  Name: Kareem Farah

🖥  What he does: Kareem is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Modern Classrooms Project

🏫 Organization: Modern Classrooms Project

✍️  Noteworthy: In 2018, Kareem was awarded the Standing Ovation award for excellence in classroom innovation and his self-paced and mastery-based approach to teaching and learning.

⬇️ Where to find Kareem: LinkedIn | Free Course

Related episode

For more discussion around self-paced and mastery-based learning, check out our episode with Jon Bergmann!

Episode highlights

👩‍🏫 Modern Classrooms Project

"I was an educator in D.C. Public Schools at the time. I was going into my fourth year of teaching when I realized that one-size-fits-all approaches to teaching and learning are ineffective when you're serving a high diversity of learning levels and social, emotional needs.

So, I started with the idea that lectures needed to be eliminated. That was the first deeply inequitable element of my learning design, and that's what inspired the creation of instructional videos. My co-founder and I realized that when you replace your lectures with instructional videos that you create, you can let kids be at different spots in a unit.

"So, we let kids work at their own pace, and then finally, you can grade them on mastery. And that was the most exciting next phase because now kids don't transition from one lesson to the next because of a different day of the week, but because they've actually understood the previous scale."

That's the model I won the award for. We have a free course and a virtual mentorship program, and our vision is to empower as many educators across the country, in the world, with this instructional approach, assuming that they want to implement it."

⚡️ Technology Has Unbelievable Power

"I'm a massive advocate of providing technology to schools. I think it's a deeply inequitable reality. And it's not right that we don't provide teachers and students with access to technology. The bulk of the learning experience is not happening on the computer. It's happening in the in-person setting. It's happening with kids interacting with each other. 

You don't need a device for every kid because not every kid is watching the screen. For most of the time, a lot of teachers will leverage things like splitters, so kids can watch videos together using their personal devices, like phones.

Tech has unbelievable power. But if you don't have that, you're leveraging the technology for its bare minimum to eliminate a live lecture. You don't have to create an instructional video.

You can have some pieces of writing that kids have to review. There could be a demonstration that's happening in a station model. There could be an activity that kids connect together for.

So, there are ways to think about how you can replace live lectures and infuse self-pacing without having to build an instructional video. But the instructional video creation piece is usually the most effective."

💯 A Valuable Tip for Teachers

"The biggest piece of advice I have for any educator is to think about ways that you can maximize the small group and individualized instruction that you can have with your students and the small intimate engagements that allow you to get to know kids better and make them feel comfortable and safe.

So, don't feel rushed and panicked by the challenges of feeling like, 'You have to get through content really fast.' Focus on what matters most, which is building relationships.

"When you think about instructional videos, make sure that they're increasing your capacity. If you're spending all your time at home building instructional videos, and then you're still going into the classroom and doing a live performance to the front of the room … you're driving yourself insane."

So, make sure that you're leveraging the videos so that it frees you up. If it's not freeing you up, if it's not leading to more communication and connection, it's not serving its purpose.

The best piece of advice I'd say is, 'Make sure that, when you build a video, it's designed to release your capacity so that you're able to do the most powerful elements of the learning experience.'”

Highly quotable

  • [05:08] "The beauty of technology is we've eliminated the need to use systems that are that inefficient."
  • [07:03] "You don't need to teach a student to own their own learning. Kids inherently are going to drive their own learning. It's logical to be in the driver's seat."
  • [08:08] "Students don't need you to learn information. They need you to intervene when they're struggling. They need you to intervene when they're stuck."
  • [20:43] "Our belief is that professional development needs to be relevant. It needs to be actionable and needs to use people's time effectively."
  • [28:20] "The number one thing kids need is connectivity and relationships."

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