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The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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I recently attended the ISTE conference in San Diego, CA. While I was only there for about 36 hours, it was easy for me to pick up on one of the hottest topics for the three-day event. The "flipped classroom" was being discussed in social lounges, in conference sessions, on the exhibit floor, on the hashtag and even at dinner. People wanted to know what it was, what it wasn't, how it's done and why it works. Others wanted to sing its praises and often included a vignette about how it works in their classroom and how it transformed learning for their students. Still others railed that the model is nothing transformative at all and that it still emphasizes sage-on-the-stage direct instruction rather than student-centered learning. I engaged in a few of these discussions offline and online, and while I'm still on the fence about my feelings toward the model, I can offer some insight and interpretation.

What It Is

According to the description on ASCD's page for the newly released book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, by flipped-classroom pioneers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, "In this model of instruction, students watch recorded lectures for homework and complete their assignments, labs, and tests in class." In part one of a three-part series of articles, Bergmann, along with two co-authors, tries to dispel some of the myths surrounding the flipped classroom. For instance, they state that the flipped classroom is NOT "a synonym for online videos. When most people hear about the flipped class all they think about are the videos. It is the interaction and the meaningful learning activities that occur during the face-to-face time that is most important."

The authors go on to explain that the model is a mixture of direct instruction and constructivism, that it makes it easier for students who may have missed class to keep up because they can watch the videos at any time. The argument also goes that since students watch most teacher lectures at home and are receiving instruction as homework, they can spend class time working through any gaps or misunderstandings around the content with the teacher acting as "guide on the side." Another flipped classroom educator, Brian Bennett, wrote a post explaining that the model is not about the videos, but about the learning. I had a chance to talk to Brian at ISTE, and it was great to hear him express his thoughts about the model in more than 140 characters. He also runs the #flipclass chat on Twitter every Monday night, which is a great chance to learn more about the model.

What It Isn't

As with any new fad or trend, there are plenty of people trying to either use the model to make money or jump on the bandwagon without really understanding what they are joining. For instance, the company TechSmith has an entire part of their site dedicated to the flipped-classroom model. Now, I happen to think that TechSmith makes great products and are pretty good at keeping a finger on the pulse of education. However, it's no secret why TechSmith, who creates screencasting software, would be interested in the flipped-classroom approach. For what it's worth, their site does focus mostly on methodology and pedagogy, and they have consulted educators for most of their content. What is disconcerting to me is to hear vendors on the exhibit floor at ISTE talking about how their product will help you "flip your class." If I were your average principal or tech director walking around the exhibit hall without much knowledge of the model, or a misconception of the model, I could really end up getting the wrong information.

I have often seen and heard the Khan Academy come up in discussions around the flipped classroom. (I can hear a vendor saying, "With our amazing display quality, your students can watch videos in crisp detail!") While some teachers profess to using KA videos to present content to their students, the idea is not that KA will replace the teacher or replace the content as a whole. From my experience with KA, the content is taught in only one way. Good instruction, especially for math concepts, requires that ideas be presented in a number of ways. In addition, not all math is solving equations. One of the hardest parts about teaching math is making sure that students are not blindly solving equations without really understanding what they are doing with the numbers. For students to be successful on their own, videos used in the flipped-classroom model must include a variety of approaches in the same way a face-to-face lesson would, and they must also have good sound and image quality so that students can follow along easily. These videos must also match the curriculum, standards and the labs or activities the students will complete in class.

Why It Works

Most of the blog reflections I have read and the conversations I have followed point to the way that the flipped classroom has truly individualized learning for students. Teachers describe how students can now move at their own pace, how they can review what they need when they need to, and how the teacher is then freed up to work one-on-one with students on the content they most need support with. They also point to the ability for students to catch up on missed lessons easily through the use of video and online course tools like Edmodo or Moodle.

Why It Doesn't Work

When I first started learning about the flipped-classroom model, my immediate reaction was, "This won't work with my students." This continues to be an argument made by a lot of rural and urban teachers. Our students just don't have the access required for the model to really work. I've had people tell me, "They can use the public library." To which I explain that there are usually three computers available and there is usually a 30-minute limit per user. I've had people tell me, "You can burn DVDs that they can watch in their DVD players." To which I ask how much of the day can a teacher devote to burning at least 10-15 DVDs at a time? I've also been told that students can use the school computer lab after school to watch the videos. To which I explain that we have only 27 computers available for the whole school, and that it would require an after school program to be put into place. (This last option, by the way, is the most realistic.) Another tough sell for me is the fact that if everyone starts flipping their classrooms, students will end up sitting in front of a screen for hours every night as they watch the required videos. And as many teachers can tell you, not everyone learns best through a screen.

Why It's Nothing New

Listening to Aaron Sams talk about his experience with the flipped-classroom model, one can't help but imagine that what he is describing doesn't require video at all. What he describes is, in essence, what John Dewey described at the turn of the 20th century: learning that is centered around the student, not the teacher; learning that allows students to show their mastery of content they way they prefer. These are not new concepts. I am often brought back to the question: "Are we doing things differently or doing different things?" As educators around the globe try to flip their class, it's an important thing to reflect on.

Why It Matters

So in the end, why should we care so much about the flipped-classroom model? The primary reason is because it is forcing teachers to reflect on their practice and rethink how they reach their kids. It is inspiring teachers to change the way they've always done things, and it is motivating them to bring technology into their classrooms through the use of video and virtual classrooms like Edmodo and similar tools. As long as learning remains the focus, and as long as educators are constantly reflecting and asking themselves if what they are doing is truly something different or just a different way of doing the same things they've always done, there is hope that some of Dewey's philosophies will again permeate our schools. We just need to remember that flipping is only the beginning.


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Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Yes, the schools with urban, low socio-economic populations are definitely at a disadvantage when it comes to flipping. It requires a lot more patience and creativity. Check out the #flipclass hashtag for ideas or any of the links I provided in my post.

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

How very generous of you! I will definitely take a look at them. Thanks!

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Like you, I am curious to see how this trend/fad/practice looks in 2-5 years.

Carlson's picture

It should tell you something that most of the comments posted here are from someone either hawking a blog, an e-book, some software or a website. The whole concept of "Flipped Classroom" is imaginary, and just a marketing gimmick. (Apologies for hurt feelings.)

Any educator that, with a straight face, can say their goal is to "send home lectures for students to watch" is either an idiot or an egotist. We all learned in "Teaching 101" that lecture will, at best, communicate about 10% of the content into student brains. So if you're using that as a primary mode of teaching (where ever you're "flipping" it from) you're a hack and should find another line of work.

Lecturing is what College Profs do because they like to have adoring students gaze up at them. The students actually learn because of hitting the books, study groups, lab sessions, projects -- ENGAGING with the material. If you're lecturing 3rd graders, God help you. Unless you're in a Catholic school, of course.

The only reason a "Flipped Classoom" really improves outcomes is the initial excitement adds to the total time of student engagement with the material. Instead of 5 hours per week, they now spend another 1 or 2 hours a day at home. Once that falls off -- and it will -- they're missing the meat of your curriculum. Oopsie.

If anybody wants to buy a bridge, I've got a really nice one. Good condition.

Mario Patiño's picture
Mario Patiño
NBCT, science educator

[quote\]It should tell you something that most of the comments posted here are from someone either hawking a blog, an e-book, some software or a website. [/quote]

Actually Carlson I am neither. I am just a teacher who is trying to enhance my instructional methods with technology. I have found that assigning work at home which is focused on my learning goals is an efficient way of achieving this tasks. My lectures resources are all online so that students & parents can access them 24/7. These online resources are essential for students who need to review information, those were absent, and for those got "lost' during the class .
One valuable asset of online technology is I can monitor how much time my students spent using the resources. This data if valuable to me because I am able to make correlations between independent student and assessment results, provide timely instructional interventions, and save a ton of paper. Class time with my students involves spending more time addressing misconceptions and engaging in sense making activities. The number of authentic science investigations has tripled since moving to an blended/hybrid structure.

Considering that over 90% of the top universities and colleges now offer online courses, how can secondary teachers prepare our students for this type of learning? Can the traditional class that you describe achieve this?

One value of blended/hybrid courses is how they aid in the development of self directed learning skills. Self regulation is a challenging skill to teach and many teachers have no experience or willingness to teach this valuable life skill to their students. In an online learning environment, the student has to be able to self regulate and reflect on their ability to learn. As complex as the task may seem, blended learning promotes this form of metacognition.

Teaching and learning through technology is not for everyone. There is still a population of teachers who lecture from the front of the class, reuse lesson plans, recycle exams, and teach "curriculum." This is the same population who are not models of learning and uncomfortable with change. Teaching through technology forces you to become a learner, make mistakes, reflect, and catalyze change in your practice. Like any tool, fear and misunderstanding of the tool will prevent you from learning.

Laurie H's picture
Laurie H
High school math teacher from California

Where is it? How much do you want for it? Where can I send a check?

Laurie H's picture
Laurie H
High school math teacher from California

Where is it? How much do you want for it? Where can I send a check?'s picture
Adjunct Instructor at Missouri State University

Carlson - in your own condescending little way - you unwittingly made the most compelling argument FOR flipping classrooms (and "unwittingly" is the best descriptor for your post). Apologies for hurt feelings.

I know of NO educator who has as a goal of "send home lectures for students to watch". Our goal is to reduce the amount of lecturing that goes on in classrooms! Lectures need to take a back seat to what you call ENGAGING with the material. Flipping your classroom opens up more time for students and teachers to do just that. I think we agree on that point.

Instead of the teacher having to repeat him/her self for students who don't grasp the concepts of the lecture the first time, the student can watch the lecture again (and again if necessary).

Teachers teach the way they were taught. Unfortunately the majority were taught through the use of lecture. We are putting new teachers in the hopeless situation of using lecture as their primary mode of presentation. They fail, their students fail, and teachers end up blaming themselves. They label themselves as "hacks" and look for a new line of work. As a result, half of all novice teachers do not make it five years in this profession.

I am in favor of showing teachers that there is another way. Flipping can be a valuable tool in the teacher's toolkit, one that can enable them to use their class time for a variety of lesson delivery methods besides lecture.

Instead of belittling this latest attempt to bring classrooms into the 21st Century, let's think of ways to refine and improve flipping techniques. If the worst case scenario happens and this initiative falls by the wayside, we can just go back to the lesson delivery methods of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (who have been dead for 2400 years).

Here's an idea, Carlson! Instead of ripping people who are trying to help, YOU could put together a website, ebook, or educational software showing everyone YOUR incredible instructional strategies! Oh, is just easier to call people idiots and egotists....we don't have enough of those types of people, so keep up the good work!

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

The video component is misunderstood; it can be a great reinforcer of important concepts using another venue for the students to process the information. Even textbook manufacturers have video supplements that students often find amusing and are also available online at home.

Teachers are always the prime source of classroom success.

Alizabeth's picture

The concept of flipping is a relatively new concept for me. The idea immediately sparked an interest. However, after some thought I came across the same issues you mentioned. Living in a rural area many do not have access or the financial means to support flipping. Some of my students often spend over an hour on the bus. Those involved in after school activities will often arrive home from sporting events after midnight. They do not have the time or energy to watch several hours of lecture. I can find many reasons why it doesn't work. But as a 21st Century teacher, I agree that we need to rethink how we teach and continue to prepare our students for life in this technological era. Although flipping may not work for me at this time, the idea of looking and trying new ways of teaching is an important first step.

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