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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

Jared's picture
Jared
HS Biology/General Science Teacher

I teach in a province that has a government mandated final exam worth 50% of a students' grade. It is multiple choice and numerical response and we have a strict curriculum to follow. I am very nervous about flipping my class because there is so much material to cover in a semester. I am worried about that exam killing kids who are learning the content "on their own" in a manner of speaking. I totally understand that some kids may learn better in a non-traditional manner. If I'm being honest, I suppose I am not sure that I know the best practice for flipping a class, therefore I am leery of my ability to teach this way and I don't want it to be a detriment to my students with such high stakes at the end of the course. I guess I just need to research and learn more myself, maybe an implementation of flipped class in "baby steps" is a way to have the best of both worlds?

Russell Kirkwood's picture

I think the biggest hurdle would confidence in the students outside work. How do you ensure that students are taking the initiative and making an effort outside of your classroom?

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

I would definitely start with baby steps. Perhaps show your video in classes first. Even an hour lecture can be taught "first" in 15 minutes or so by watching the lecture straight through. Then have discussion or activities. One thing I like about having the videos, is that the lecture is delivered in a smoother manner. I always have a "Your turn!" at the end for students to respond to a quick ? WIthout the video, I am EXACTLY like the guy (whose name I can't remember) said this his lectures were something like, "Now, class, I need you to write this----Johnny, sit down, please. Now, class, back to these notes, make sure that you underline this sentence that says---Susie, I need you and Mary to switch you seats back.. thank you. Again, class, it's important that you note--Bill, spit your gum out please..." and on and on it went. With the video, I became my own teacher's assistant and could do class management while the video was playing. I must admit, following the threads on this particular article is making me more determine to chisel out time to create a few videos....

Caroline's picture
Caroline
10th Grade Living Environment Biology Teacher from NYC

My biggest hurdle to flipping the classroom is finding good resources/software for videotaping. I agree with the author that it requires re-thinking assessments and possibly providing tiered assignments and assessments to provide multiple access points. Thanks for a great article--lots to think about!

Annie Talaiferro's picture

I think that the biggest challenge for flipping my classroom would be having students actually watch the videos at home. I have trouble getting them to do homework, and because my school is a 1:1 laptop school, I am afraid that my students would put off watching the videos and waste class time they could be using to practice. That said, I love the idea of a flipped classroom, and would like to start slowly moving in that direction. Perhaps having the students do activities where they practice watching the videos and gleaning information first?

Mr. ML's picture
Mr. ML
Mathematics Manhattan, NY

I love the idea of flipping my classroom, but my concern lies in the tests the students must pass in June. Will my flipped classroom cover all the necessary information? I don't know unless I try. I approach each lesson with the idea that I am teaching young adults skills within the mathematics arena. Will my students willingly explore these skills on their own? I do not know unless I try...

Tiffany Boney's picture

I am in the process of flipping my classroom. My biggest hurdle so far is trying to get students to understand that the work we complete is their notes and they can use it to study for all assessments. Most students believe that the work they complete in science is just classwork, or work that will be collected and graded like an assessment instead of notes that they can use to study for test and complete other assignments. Students believe that copying something from a board or a projected screen is notes.

Another hurdle is time management. It takes students much more time to complete assignments when they aren't given the information. Investigation and researching takes so much more time.

Thomas's picture
Thomas
10th Grade Math, NY

I am actually a new teacher and it seems that my biggest hurdle thus far has been to leave my preconceived ideas about learning behind. Much of what I know and think about teaching is largely based on how I have learned when I was in school. I feel that I am constantly reshaping my ideas about teaching, and after reading this article I have finally realized I should direct my thinking to become a facilitator of learning who helps kids to learn better.

Debra Jackson's picture
Debra Jackson
Special Education Teacher and Educational Technology Specialist, New York

There are some good ideas for application presented in the comments.
I like the idea of a flipped classroom as a resource for students to prepare for class and reference at any time. Because our school has a large online presence, storing and viewing these videos may be less difficult.
I have experience working with online screen capture programs (screenr.com, screencast-o-matic, screenjelly) to show how to work through pieces. This seems to be the least time-consuming. Video production takes a long time (at least for me) when making a fancy video (i-movie, etc)

I worry about students not viewing the presentations prior to class. I like the idea about modeling within class and then moving it to students becoming self-directed.

I also like the comment that it is messy. Knowing that going into it and that others experience this mess makes it a little easier.

Sandra Oliveira's picture

Hi Thomas! I'd love to talk to you about Glean, (glean.co/teachers) a website that is seeking to be a free resource for teachers who are interested in flipping their classrooms or using more video in their daily lessons. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on flipping the classroom, as well as some of the ways that Glean could be of service to teachers like you! Please do shoot me a message here or at my email: sandra@glean.co

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