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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

I have been asked on a number of occasions what is the biggest hurdle that teachers need to overcome in order to flip their classrooms. In my experience, the number one hurdle is that teachers need to flip their thinking about class time.

Stepping Back from an Old Model

When teachers flip their classes, I believe they must ask one key question: What is the best use of class time? Is it information dissemination, or is it something else? I argue that we need to get away from direct instruction to the whole group and instead use class time for richer and more meaningful activities and interactions.

Why is this a big hurdle? I think it is because many of us have been doing school the same way for many years. I spent 19 years as a lecture/discussion teacher. I knew how to teach that way. In fact, I reached the point where if you told me the topic of the day, I could flick a switch and start teaching that topic without any notes. So in 2007, when Aaron Sams and I came up with the idea of what is now known as the Flipped Classroom, I was the hesitant one. I didn't want to give up my lecture time. You see, I was a good lecturer (or at least I thought I was). I liked being the center of attention and enjoyed engaging a whole group of students in science.

My class was well structured, and I liked being in control of all that was happening. So when I flipped my class, I had to surrender control of the learning to the students. That was not easy for me. But you know what? It was the best thing I ever did in my teaching career.

Teaching Learners

I should provide some context for this experiment. We started flipping our classes after a conversation with our assistant superintendent. She saw how we were recording our live lectures with screencasting software and told us how her daughter loved it when her professor at a local university recorded his lectures, because she didn’t have to go to class anymore. That's when we asked the question, "What then is the point of class time if we make it so they can get all of the content by watching a video?" The obvious answer was that we could make class time more enriching and more valuable.

So as I reluctantly gave up control, I was relieved to see students taking ownership for their learning. For example, I had one student who during the first semester was not really taking class seriously. She struggled to learn in our Flipped-Mastery Model because it required her to actually learn the content. She wanted to just get by instead of engage in the content. I insisted that she learn the material before she moved on. Some time in January, I noticed a change in her. She was learning! In fact she was learning how to learn. During one conversation with her, I commented on the positive change I saw in her and told her how I was proud of her newfound success. To that she remarked, "You know what, Mr. Bergmann, I found it was actually easier if I learned it right the first time." I chuckled, but also saw great growth in this student as she was really learning how to learn.

I realized in this encounter that maybe the best thing I am teaching students is how to be learners. My thinking flipped from my class being about the content to being about the process of learning. I have said for many years, "I don’t teach science, I teach kids." But today I want to change that and say, "I don’t teach science, I teach kids how to learn." This was a seismic change in how I thought about my role as a teacher. I realized that I needed to get away from being a teacher who disseminates content, and instead become a learning facilitator and coach.

Alternative Assessments

Another way I flipped my thinking about learning was when I allowed students to demonstrate mastery of content by means of alternative assessments. In our Flipped-Mastery Model, we required every student to pass each summative assessment with a 75 percent. I was very rigid on this. A 74 percent was not good enough. But as I embraced alternative assessments, I was pleasantly surprised at how students were able to show me what they had learned without having to prove it on traditional tests. I had students designing video games, making videos and doing art projects. They pushed me to rethink what assessment should look like. Ultimately we saw about 25 percent of our students who regularly chose to do alternative assessments instead of the traditional tests. Alternative assessments helped me flip my thinking about assessment.

So if you are at all like me and have been teaching the same way for many, many years, I encourage you to rethink class time. I encourage you to flip your thinking and give the control of the learning back to the students. As you do this, you will find, as I did, how it affects every aspect of your teaching. No longer will you be the person who disseminates knowledge -- instead you will become the learning facilitator of your classroom.

My questions for you:

  • If you have already flipped your class, what was your biggest hurdle?
  • If you haven’t flipped your class, what do you think would be your biggest hurdle?

Comments (46)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Jon Bergmann's picture
Jon Bergmann
Teacher, Author, Speaker, Educational Consultant, Flipped Class Pioneer

Our experience (not just mine but 100's of teachers) is that more students are inclined to do this HW instead of the older school. I think it is because they are more successful. We typically send students home to apply what they have learned. This is a more difficult cognitive task and thus, harder for students. These videos are lower level knowledge and understanding concepts. Then in class the teacher can help students with the more difficult cognitive tasks (application, analysis, etc).

I also believe in individual accountability. Thus, students had to show me proof that they had watched the videos. For some this is posting on a blog, for others it is showing their notes. There a re lots of ways to check for student HW and also student cooperation.

Jon Bergmann's picture
Jon Bergmann
Teacher, Author, Speaker, Educational Consultant, Flipped Class Pioneer

Mr. ML: We were able to cover more material and so have many others. I think you will find that you will be more efficient as you flip your classroom and you will have more time.

Jon Bergmann's picture
Jon Bergmann
Teacher, Author, Speaker, Educational Consultant, Flipped Class Pioneer

Mrs. Brookins: this is such a huge benefit of the flipped classroom. The classroom discipline problems were greatly diminished. We as teachers have spent far too much time and energy trying to keep kids quiet so that they can listen to us. Flipping turns classroom discipline on its head. The classes have a "higher volume," but kids are active in their own learning.

Jon Bergmann's picture
Jon Bergmann
Teacher, Author, Speaker, Educational Consultant, Flipped Class Pioneer

Thomas: It sounds like you are well on the road. By your brief comments, I can tell you are headed for a great career. Good luck as you help your students become all they can be.

Chris Stewart's picture

Having been inspired by Jonathan's and Aaron's successes with flipped instruction and launching of the Flipped Learning Network, I recently started to flip the instruction in my mathematics classrooms. During the spring of 2013, I took the plunge with my calculus students, and we embarked on a journey together to investigate if first-exposure learning at home (by video) with follow-up activities (student-centred) the following day would improve student affect and achievement. The experiment went well as more than a third of my students (who I had taught during the fall/winter semester of the same year) preferred the flipped model to the traditional model. It was exciting for my students to learn by a means that was not previously available to them. Because of their feedback, I was affectively moved to share my experience with other educators in my school board. I continue, today, trying to reach out to the educators in my school board (http://www.flippingthefocus.weebly.com/blog.html). As for hurdles for teachers, I would definitely agree with Jonathan that it takes some deep thought and planning on the teacher's part to provide an environment where students can reach beyond what they've brought into class from the videos. I also think that despite the devotion required to produce one's own videos, that teachers weigh the benefits of this versus that of using other videos (on-line) that might lack the intentionality required to meet the learning goals you're setting before your students.

M. Deister's picture

I have used blended learning in my computer science class now for about 5 years. However, my school will not allow me to assign anything that requires a computer unless all of my students have a computer and internet access at home. I survey my computer science students the first day of school and then speak privately with students that don't have access. I have to provide the materials to them in the form of paper. This is because of a CA Supreme Court decision that public education is free. I can no long require anything that requires any additional materials unless they are provided by either me or the school. I want to do more flipping in my math class but I have to get past the fact that I have students that don't have a computer and/or Internet access. How do others work this out?

Mrs. Brookins's picture
Mrs. Brookins
4th grade math teacher in FL

What has helped me was to have a school computer available for student use late in the afternoon, and first thing in the morning. The videos aren't that long, and don't take that long to watch. The notes they take aren't that tedious and can be done, provided students don't play around. Something else that I've learned over the last few years is that just because a student starts the school year with or without the internet, doesn't mean it's going to be that way for the entire year. Computers crash, viruses render the internet useless, or halfway through the year, the student that had no access suddenly finds himself with access and vice versa. Whatever I assign to watch at home, I do make sure the students--any student, has access to the computer at school. I guess I'm more of a blended teacher--using both video lectures and face 2 face lectures.

Mark Warren's picture

My two biggest hurdles:
1. What to do with students who refuse to watch videos or watch them in a timely fashion. I have a couple students this year who swear they don't have internet access at home, don't have a computer, don't have a DVD player, can't go to a friend's house to use computer, can't go to public library, absolutely cannot make it to school except right when first class starts and must leave campus as soon as classes get out...in other words, every solution I come up with they have an excuse. Other students (the same ones over and over) say the videos won't play for them at home and so they're constantly coming to class without having watched, then do the video assignment later just to avoid a zero grade. The constant reminders to them and e-mails to their parents has turned this into one big, exhausting struggle with a couple of classes. Flipping worked so well to the students' benefit last year and this year with the classes that are doing their videos that it's frustrating seeing students that would rather do poorly than embrace a new way of doing things. I'm getting comments from them that this is just not their learning style, though they have yet to fully try it, or they ask me why we can't just go back to me lecturing the class period.

2. The other problem is with the mastery approach I've been moving toward. A good number of students have embraced it and love it, but there are some who have interpreted move at their own pace, but not move on until they show mastery of a concept, to mean they can do about 15 minutes of actual work during the 90 mins of class and that as long as they keep failing the assessment they don't have to move on to the new material. I realize that they would be failing under a non-mastery system as well, but they keep throwing in my face that they're 'working at their own pace' as if to imply that it's the system's fault and not their own. I have a few others who are passing, but are wasting huge amounts of class time doing nothing and are falling behind in where they need to be. Do I need to give some hard deadlines on progress? If I do, that feels like it's undercutting the whole point of mastery flip.

Mrs. Brookins's picture
Mrs. Brookins
4th grade math teacher in FL

Hi Mark, reading through your post, I immediately thought of the "Love and Logic" website. Try surfing through loveandlogic.com, especially the free materials and download sections. Like you say, these few students would not move forward, no matter what instructional form you used--flipped, blended or traditional. Try giving these students a 'traditional' homework worksheet. Would the students turn it in at a timely manner? I'm guessing not. Maybe pull these students from lunch and have them watch the videos on the school's computer. Even if you played the video in class; that's a 15 minute lecture as opposed to a 45 minute lecture that's been sprinkled with, "Sit down Susie..." or "Please get back on task, Jerry" etc. It can be frustrating, I know. Let us know what you wind up doing! I'm interested!

Shari USA's picture
Shari USA
high school world language

I have the same problem. Kids who don't DO anything (or who do very little) in a traditional classroom, don't do anything in a flipped classroom either. They pick and choose "buzz words" to defend themselves, have "no access to technology," even though they all have cell phones. There are just some kids who should be in vocational training programs. Most of them really do just want to do hands-on stuff they find personally relevant (in the moment).

So, if there is any way to split your classroom- have those with all the excuses watching videos in class while you move on with the others.

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