Perhaps when formalized schooling came into being, this perceived rowdiness was considered disrespectful to the teacher and counterproductive to the learning process. Hence, learning was a solitary activity in which each child listened, attempted to process what they heard and then either wrote a paper or took a test on the subject to signify their understanding. What this protocol failed to consider is that just because a group of students share the same age does not mean their learning styles mesh. Forget about slow and fast learners, what about those who retain information best if it is read, or heard, or acted out.
A relatively new technology-driven teaching method, “flipped learning” flips the time-honored model of classroom lecture and exercises for homework — the lecture becomes homework and class time is for practice. Utilizing videotaped lessons to be viewed at home, flipped learning enables students to “rewind” the teacher until they “get it,” ask the teacher during practice in class the next day or, even better, learn the answer through small-group peer instruction.
Aha Moment for Teachers
The really exciting aspect of this teaching style is that the teachers get to know the unique learning styles of each student and can offer assistance accordingly. Parents can engage in the education process by watching the lessons with their children at home, strengthening familial bonds. Parents know first-hand what their children are learning and can provide feedback to teachers and students.
The previously labeled “smart” kids no longer answer all the questions, while the “slow” kids sit with their heads down. Everyone gets involved in the projects and everyone participates. There is actually great potential for peer instruction here when quick learners are interspersed with those with varying learning styles. All children in the group can feel a sense of ownership for the outcome of the project or activity; the bonus being growing self-confidence in each child. Confident learners are more likely to embrace academic achievement as a precursor to success as an adult.
Backwards Teaching Propels Students Forward
In 2004, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams started teaching at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Colorado and became the Chemistry department at a school of 950 students. As their friendship grew, they discovered they had similar philosophies about education. Their first brainchild was “split teaching” in which they alternated the tasks of setting up labs and formulating test questions for all the classes.
One of the first issues they noticed was that there are no nearby schools; so many students spent a lot of would-be class time on buses traveling to and from sporting events. “Catching up” these students while continuing the current curriculum was a struggle for everyone.
Technology to the RescueAs Aaron thumbed through a technology magazine, an idea was born. He showed Jon the article about software that could record a PowerPoint slideshow with audio and notes and convert it into a video file for online distribution. What an easy solution for students who missed class due to athletics or illness.
What a Great Solution for the Whole Class!
In the spring of 2007, they used screen capture software to record live lessons, and then posted them online for their students to access. “The first year, I was able to double the number of labs my students were doing,” Aaron Sams said. “That’s every science teacher’s dream.”
Flipping the classroom transformed their teaching practice and the way their students viewed education. “We found it was really valuable and pushed us to ask what the students needed us for,” said Sams, now a consultant who is developing an online education program in Pittsburgh. “They didn’t need us for content dissemination, they needed us to dig deeper.”
What’s the Big Deal?
Some naysayers contend that teachers are abandoning their posts as educators. What these detractors may fail to consider is that the structure of traditional teaching is ripe with wasted time.
This misappropriation of minutes and hours can lead to teacher frustration and escalate into teacher burn-out. For example, a teacher has 4 Algebra II classes on Wednesday. For each period s/he goes over the same material (that’s one original presentation and 3 repeats). It may be 15-30 minutes of material, but outside variables such as rowdy classmates, excess questioning and repeated explanations can extend the class time needed to cover the material.
In traditional teaching, homework is assigned, often with a writing component involved. Students show up the next day, hand in their homework and prepare for another lesson or lecture presented by the teacher. The teacher grades the homework. And so on and so on. Eventually a test is given and graded. With this system the teacher has no accurate way to tell where students with poor scores went off track on the material covered.
In the Flipped classroom, the teacher presents the lesson once, records it and posts it online.* Students watch it at home when they are ready to study. If something is difficult to understand, the student has the time and ability to go over the material until they “get it,” or make a note to bring it up in class. Parents may also be asked for help. Written questions or a quiz may be assigned to prove student engagement.
Students show up the next day, not to sit, listen and take notes, but to engage in activities and projects involving the information they learned yesterday. Since the material is practiced in front of the teacher, s/he can see where students are going off track and increase their understanding before going on.
Each duplicate class of the day has the same instruction, but student diversity makes the activity time unique and engaging for the students. Teachers can spend more individual time with students and assess their learning methods to fine-tune the new lessons s/he records. Test grades should be better for everyone, since any misconceptions can be clarified during activity sessions.
There are drawbacks to this type of teaching and learning. One is the lack of home computer or Internet access in poorer school districts. Teachers in flipped classes in these areas encourage students to come early or stay late to view the videos in class. Some instructors send home flash drives and DVDs for those with computers but no internet.
Another is whether the course material lends itself to simple video interpretation. For example, an existing presentation of a Shakespearean play on YouTube is preferable to a teacher reading the play aloud on video.
Despite These Drawbacks…
Teachers from around the world are seeing the win-win application of this educational model and are using it to teach Spanish, Science and Math for elementary, middle, high school and adults.
Crystal Kirch has employed flipped learning in her pre-calculus classes at Segerstrom Fundamental High School in Santa Ana, CA, for two years. In the classroom, while her students are doing practice problems in small groups, explaining concepts to other students or making their own videos, Kirch moves from desk to desk, helping pupils who are having trouble.
Students like the concept, too. “You’re not falling asleep in class,” said senior Monica Resendiz. “You’re constantly working.”
Timmy Nguyen, another 11th-grader in the class, said, “I learned the material quicker. My grade went from a D to an A.” However, explaining that the videos were homework was a little harder. “My grandma thought I was using it as an excuse to mess around on the Internet.”
After years of frustration with high failure rates and discipline problems, Greg Green, principal of Detroit’s suburban Clintondale High School, converted the whole school to flipped learning in the fall of 2011. Three-quarters of the school’s enrollment of 600 is low-income, minority students. Flipping yielded dramatic results after just one year, including a 33% drop in the freshman failure rate and a 66% drop in the number of disciplinary incidents from the year before.
“Graduation, attendance and test scores all went up. Parent complaints dropped from 200 to seven,” Green said. “Kids want to take an active part in the learning process,” he said. “Now teachers are actually working with kids.”
Although the method has been more popular in high schools, it’s now catching on in elementary schools.
Fifth-grade teacher Lisa Highfill in the Pleasanton Unified School District, Pleasanton, CA, made a five-minute, how-to video about adding decimals for her kids to watch at home. In class the next day, she distributed play money and menus and had kids “ordering” food and tallying the bill and change.
Designed to Succeed
Another beauty of this model is that it invites and allows access for collaborative teaching. Teachers from across the country have the ability to tap into other teachers’ lectures. Videos of whiteboards with notes can be complemented with videos containing more detailed content presented by experts in the field. For example, studying a Shakespearean play may incorporate video of an actual staged performance as a way to interpret the rhythm of the prose.
Although the number of “flipped” teachers is hard to ascertain, the online community Flipped Learning Network now has upwards of 10,000 members and training workshops are being held all over the country, said FLN executive director Kari Afstrom.
*Under the flipped model, teachers make eight- to 10-minute videos of their lessons using laptops, often simply filming the whiteboard as they make notations and recording their voices as they explain the concepts. The videos are uploaded onto a teacher or school website, or even YouTube, where they can be accessed by students on computers or smartphones as homework. Teachers may copy videos onto DVDs or flash drives to send home with students without internet access. Students without computers may stay after class or begin the next class watching it.
USA Today online, January 28, 2013, “Teachers Flip for ‘Flipped Learning’ Class Model”