How the Flipped Classroom Works For Today’s Educators
Feb 18, 2015 – Derek Spanfelner
Classrooms of the Future
If asked to envision the classroom of the future, most would see a proliferation of technological advancements from within the classroom walls. Newer, shinier outlets for teachers to dispense information, tablets in every students’ hands, and more tools to communicate student learning. But what if the greatest pedagogical advancement of the future took the teacher from the front of the classroom and put them among their students as they practice and collaborate for the whole class period? What if the teacher was moved from behind the podium to a laptop screen in each child’s home? And what if such a movement was happening right now?
As long as anyone can remember, traditional classrooms have operated on the assumption that the teacher must dispense valuable information during class time and then allow students to practice new concepts and prove their new learning in the time that remains. Homework would be then be assigned to drive home these new concepts and the teacher would use the homework results to inform new teaching. That’s how it has always been.
Except technology has changed. According to Census reports in 2013, there are computers in 84% of American households, while 64% own an Internet-capable hand-held device like a tablet. With the relative ubiquity of information access in students’ homes, it only makes sense that K-12 educators would begin to appropriate new technologies in their teaching. And they have. Students are now blogging on real-time issues, coordinating projects through online file-sharing, and incorporating social media as a relevant medium to show their understanding of new learning. What’s next? Completely reversing the way teachers dispense information, apparently.
Enter the Flipped Classroom.
The concept is pretty simple; just reverse or “flip” the way in which students receive and digest information. Instead of lecturing for half of a class period, teachers record their lessons and making them available online or on a transferable device like a DVD or thumb drive so that students can access the lesson on a computer at home, in school or in the community. Class time can then be better utilized to scaffold student learning with expert guidance and immediate, individualized feedback. Instead of devoting only a fraction of the class time to student questions and inconsistencies, educators may now give students the attention they need while they are experiencing new concepts and ideas. In this infographic (http://www.knewton.com/flipped-classroom/), which cites Detroit-area Clintondale High School as a case study, student success rates were drastically better once the Flipped Classroom was introduced. English and Math scores skyrocketed and disciplinary issues plummeted. Suddenly, students appeared to be learning and, just as importantly, were identifying themselves as capable of learning.
But what do real, local educators have to say?
A case study and a few fancy numbers were not enough to convince me that this was a legitimate pedagogical alternative, so I sought out educators in my area to discuss their own use of the Flipped Classroom. I had the privilege of speaking with four passionate educators at Liverpool, NY’s Chestnut Hill Middle School (all of whom bring at least a decade of teaching experience to the table) and asked them for their thoughts. Here is what they told me.
Missy Kane- 12 years teaching 7th grade English
Me: How is your use of the Flipped Classroom influencing student learning?
Missy: It’s a metamorphosis of the student, really. I think because I do this with 7th graders who have never had this style of learning before, there’s a HUGE learning curve. Their transformation begins with learning responsibility and accepting that they have control over what they learn. They have to become more self-directed and self-aware.
I’ve found that once students get used to this style of pedagogy (usually by end of October) they begin to take more risks in their learning. Students will ask each other for help; they will ask me for help; they will risk making mistakes, which leads to editing and revision. Also, because I essentially work as a facilitator, I am able to monitor progress more than I’ve ever been able to, and I’m able to really sit with students one-on-one to truly individualize their instruction.
Last year, I had the highest achieving students I’ve ever had in 7th grade. Could be the population, or it could be the style. I didn’t have a control group by which to compare them. BUT I can say that I’ve been teaching 7th and 8th grade for *cough*12 years and I’ve NEVER been able to have such intellectual conversations and application of skills as I saw with the group last year.
Me: What are some obstacles you’re coming up against?
The Flipped Classroom relies heavily on technology, which requires kids to have technology. As you know, our school has a majority free and reduced lunch (51% I believe) and with that comes enough poverty to not have computers with Internet in every home. That was probably the biggest challenge to butt up against, but that has been remedied by providing burned DVDs for students, “renting” flash drives, and providing time after school and within the school day for them to complete the task.
Me: Are you an advocate?
Missy: YES! I think it has great potential. Again, I do it differently from the rest of my peers in my building and I feel like student choice is HUGE in this. I found last year that just doing a basic flip (lectures at home, teacher guided practice in class) gets a bit mundane. They get what I call “Flipped fatigue,” and you start to see a little less excitement about the novelty of this learning style. However, I’ve had a lot more buy-in when students are told to complete “x-amount” of work on a particular skill, it is scaffolded for choice and ability (think: differentiated instruction – 3 options at different levels of difficulty), and they are allowed to work at their own pace with a long-term deadline.
C.J. Vivacqua- 10 years teaching 7th/8th grade Science
Me: What are your thoughts on the Flipped Classroom? How have you implemented it?
C.J.: I am blended (a mix of the Flipped Classroom and traditional pedagogy). I use CK12.org and write my own Flexbooks (online interactive texts). I have options for embedding videos and such. I use a lot of YouTube, TED, and Khan Academy. I do direct teach at times, especially new concepts at the middle school level that will be on state tests. However, most of the real learning happens through student choice and problem solving, which include lots of hands-on projects. On a related note, my 8th grade students just started a completely paperless unit where they are looking at digital learning and 21st century skills. One big initiative in this unit will be an attempt to gather data on cost savings, as well as the environmental impact of this type of pedagogy.
Alan Robbins- 12 years teaching 8th grade Science
Me: How have you “flipped” your teaching?
Alan: I classify my use of Flipped Classroom as a balanced version. Students use Edmodo almost exclusively for their assignments and class communication. It is a wonderful tool that allows me to provide a much richer variety of resources: websites, files of any type, interactive sites and provides a 24/7 forum for communication between myself and students, as well as between students. I can set up separate groups where kids work in teams and it provides a”space” for that team to operate out of; all under my control and supervision.
The flipped videos I use have saved a tremendous amount of time. I rarely lecture nowadays, and when I do, the kids don’t seem to mind. The downside of using this and any technology is the problem with kids who don’t have equal access to the internet and a computer. No easy answers to that one. I try to provide printed materials and schedule “in-class” time to complete the assignments. The only other downside is that there is a technology learning curve at the beginning of the year…I have to spend a significant amount of time getting kids up to speed: how to save files, file types, uploading, downloading, etc.
All in all, I would not go back, although I still have some days that look very traditional because there are some ides, concepts, labs, etc. that are still best taught with direct teaching methods.
Larisa Farlin- 14 years teaching 8th grade English
Me: How is the Flipped Classroom influencing student learning?
Larisa: Flipping has increased student learning significantly.
1) Since the videos are always less than ten minutes (mine average around five), more students complete their homework. They no longer struggle with completing assignments at home because they are simply watching a video and taking notes.
2) If a student doesn’t understand the information, they can rewind the video and watch it as many times as necessary. This is especially effective with special education students. Parents can also watch the videos, which empowers them to help their son or daughter.
3) Students who are absent no longer miss the class lecture.
4) If a student does not do their homework, they watch it in class. Since the videos are brief, they can join the class activity without missing too much.
All of these reasons result in ALL students receiving the information at their own pace. Most importantly, students are applying the information in class with the teacher to help them. Class time is no longer wasted by lecturing. It is an place where the concepts are applied, practiced, and transferred to higher meaning. Not bad, huh?
Me: What are some obstacles you’re coming up against?
Larisa: Student access is the first obstacle I had to overcome. However, the solution was simple. I had the students fill out a questionnaire asking about access. I, on average, have about 6-8 kids without Internet access. Everyone has a DVD player, so I simply burn them a DVD with the video on it. The students then returned the DVD’s, so now I have a “library” of videos for next year’s students. The second obstacle is district restrictions. For example, YouTube is blocked. A lot of videos we find are on YouTube, so we had to find an application that would convert YouTube videos to MP4’s. I would advise anyone who wants to flip to run a few lessons as a trial to work out any bugs you may find with the district and/or the technology in general.
I believe I’ve answered whether I’m an advocate. 🙂
Derek Spanfelner is the Head of the Learnivore Community. You can follow and message him on Learnivore or email him at Derek@Learnivore. If you are a tutor or instructor that would like to join the Learnivore community, let him know and you may have your profile created for free.
He would like to thank Larisa, C.J., Alan, and Missy for their contributions to this article. Without forward-thinking educators, we do not have forward-thinking students.