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Posted at 06:06 AM ET, 06/07/2012

‘Flipping’ classrooms: Does it make sense?

One of the biggest trends in classroom teaching is the “flipped classroom,” which lives up to its name: Students learn lessons at home — with the help of videos and/or other materials their teachers provide — and then do their “homework” in class, getting individualized help from the teacher and working with other students.

In recent years this has been gaining popularity and now thousands of teachers around the country are using it for subjects ranging from math and chemistry to history and even gym, where teachers send home explanations for games and exercises that students then do in class without wasting time doing much talking).


At the Bullis School, in Potomac, Stacey Roshan works with sophomore James Li, 17 in her flipped AP Calculus class. (Sarah L. Voisin/WASHINGTON POST)
A new book called “Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day”is coming out this month, written by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two teachers who began flipping their class seven years ago in Colorado. Meanwhile, the fifth annual conference on Flipped Learning is being held this summer in Chicago.

I wrote about flipped classrooms for the Education Page of The Washington Posts recently, publishing an interview with Bergmann — who taught in the traditional way for 20 years and won teaching awards before flipping — and then writing about a flipped classroom at Bullis School in Potomac.

Bergmann and Bullis teacher Stacey Roshan are flipped champions and believe that it can work in most classes with students at all levels. They say that with this educational tructure, students learn more material and understand it more deeply and teachers have more freedom to help students who need them.

“When you are stuck in the old model, kids would go home and do one of three things,” Bergmann said. “If they didn’t understand what they were supposed to have learned in school, they gave up, called a friend or cheated. In the flipped classroom, the teacher is there to help with the instruction piece, the learning, while the lecture is done at home.”

Eleventh grader Brooke Gutschick, a student in Roshan’s AP Calculus class, said “the flip” has helped her enormously. “There is a lot more support with this and it’s a lot easier to learn,” Gutschick said. “You don’t get stressed out about what you are doing.”

But not everybody agrees and see a lot of problems with this approach for many students.

Skeptics ask: How many subjects are really appropriate for this technique? Doesn't this only work for motivated kids? How does it work for students who don’t have computers at home to watch videos or who live in chaotic conditions that make it impossible to absorb new material? What about teachers who deliver inspiring classroom presentations that don’t translate to video? Isn’t this all just a way to expand the school day that will leave many children behind?

Supporters say there are ways around these problems. For example, students can watch the videos at school after class or teachers can create other materials for students to take home. Unmotivated students can get more individualized help from their teachers now than in the traditional teaching model.

Sold on this approach is Superintendent Mark Twomey of the rural Havana School District #126 in Mason County, Ill., with nearly 65 percent of students from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The entire high school is flipping this coming year and the middle school teachers can experiment with it. Why does he think this works for at-risk students?

“I do not believe it is fair that a student’s success depends on the house they live in or who they live with,” he said. “The current model sends a great deal of the work with the student to be completed at home. Two equally motivated students go home with work. One has two educated parents that help the student until 10 p.m., [and] understands and completes the homework, while the other student receives no support at home. Each returns to school with very different grades put into the book. Of course, I am not drawing this comparison in each home because there are always exceptions. However, as subgroups, this paints an accurate picture.”

But I got an email from a skeptic who is a teacher named John Hrevnack. Here’s what he said:

Having students complete homework has been a problem for time immemorial.  The difficulty with flipping is that if the student does not do the assignment at home instruction the following day is impossible.  

The second concern I have is that the lecture is portrayed as the teacher speaking and the students listening.  This is not the way that most teachers ‘lecture.’  Most teachers use an Interactive Lecture.

In the interactive lecture, a teacher, as an expert, feels he/she has knowledge to impart to the students and that it is best learned through two-way communication. The interactive lecture provides the teacher with a forum to motivate the students to learn the information being taught. One important difference between the traditional and interactive lecture is that in the latter the teacher needs to carefully embed questions to which the class responds.  The questions need to be structured so they stimulate discussion and interaction with the students. They may also be utilized to extent knowledge of material previously introduced.

The advantage of this approach is that it enables a teacher to present instruction sequentially in a within a given time frame and is an effective way to teach a large group.  An additional advantage of the interactive lecture is that it promotes two-way communication rather than communication which is unidirectional.  This allows the teacher to relate the material presented to past learning experiences and correct any misconceptions as they occur.

To assume that all students are self-motivated and will do the lecture portion at home is fallacious. This idea, like the open classroom, has a kernel of truth but is not a panacea. It may, at times, be a useful strategy for teachers to utilize. Successful educators utilize an eclectic approach to teaching because each student has his/her own best way to learn. There are no magic bullets in education only a thoughtful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each student and delivering educational program to meet those needs.

Regards,

John Hrevnack  

What do you all think about the flipped classroom?

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