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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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The Flipped Classroom: Pro and Con

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

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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wmchamberlain's picture

Brian Bennett and I have had many discussions about what the 'flipped classroom' means. If we use the definition that is provided by Sams and Bergmann's book, you can count me out. Do we have the right to expect our students to spend time (whether it be 10 minutes or 4 hours) daily after school preparing for our classroom? Perhaps everyone remembers too vividly the college model where this is necessary since we only spent 15 hours a week in class. This isn't the case in the k-12 classroom. My students spend (just in class) 7 hours a day and many of them spend an hour or more being bussed. That is equivalent to spending a little less than 3 hours per credit hour of studying (which most of us didn't come close to doing.) If a student is in sports, clubs, after school programs, or even works (which I believe most would encourage them doing to 'give them a more rounded education') they can easily go over the 3 hour per credit hour rule.

When do the students have time to learn about things they are interested in? If we send homework home, we minimize their time and desire to follow their own passions. I don't know about your school, but in Missouri our curriculum does not reach every important facet of a child's education. Give them some time to learn something other than what you are teaching in class.

Here is a post I wrote that explains how I think a Flipped Classroom should be run:
http://attheteachersdesk.blogspot.com/2012/07/i-got-your-flipped-class-r...

Crissy Cochran's picture

I like this post--interesting perspective on flipped classrooms. We at Lightspeed Systems know numerous teachers that use My Big Campus to flip their classrooms effectively, and all have seen an increased level of engagement among their students. Here is one MBC bundle that educators are sharing with each other: http://mbcurl.me/APG. Many more exist but this is just one example.

Ultimately, teachers need a support group when using any teaching model to help them find what works for their class and what doesn't. In My Big Campus, a community of teachers are there to lend support and learn.

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

I love the comparison to Google's 20% model. Really, flipping should be about making school more like real life. I also agree that Brian's take on the flipped model is one that I respect. Thanks!

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

Thanks, Crissy, for sharing the My Big Campus resources.

Brian E. Bennett's picture
Brian E. Bennett
High school science teacher in South Bend, IN.

This is a great overview, Mary Beth. You're right...there are a ton of discussions happening and it can be very confusing if you're learning about flipped learning for the first time. A couple things I would like to add:

1. Flipping is personal for the teacher and the student. It should be grounded in the community and the learning culture. Things that worked last year might not work with my new students this fall. So, while I want to focus on incorporating personalized learning for my kids, the route I take from A to B will probably look different. It also looks different between teachers of the same class, which is why flipped learning is hard to discuss. Like you said, learning needs to be the focus, regardless of where this is happening.

2. Will and I have had some great conversations, and we have a similar vision for what the ultimate goal (in my opinion) of flipping should be. on how flipping should redesign the learning process, not just the delivery of the content.

3. I agree that . If you cannot support the learning process through flipping, please don't try it. Make sure the infrastructure is in place to support all students in all situations. Again, I agree, that video does not need to be incorporated into a "flipped" class. It is simply a tool that has worked for me (and others) in the past and is by no means a keystone in the ideas.

Jackie Gerstein's picture

Thanks for your post, Marybeth. I agree with and want to respond to your comment "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?""

The problem is that even many educators profess alliance to Dewey's ideas, too many, in my opinion, are not integrating a progressive pedagogy into their educational practices. They teach in a way that they were taught which is often didactic. So even though these ideas are not new concepts, as you state, they have not created a change in pedagogical practices.

I have been blogging about and presenting on The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture (see http://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/tag/flipped-classroom/ for an aggregate of my blog posts). I am taking advantage of all the popularity surrounding the Flipped Classroom to propose a experiential cycle of learning. This model is one where video lectures and tutorials fall within a larger framework of learning activities. I am titling it the Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture to get folks' attention given the Flipped Classroom popularity right now. It really is a cycle of learning, driven by student-centric and immersive experiences) where the video lectures support not drive the learning process.

In the larger picture, The Flipped Classroom offers a great use of technology - especially if it gets lecture out of the classrooms and into the hands and control of the learners (which, by the way, does NOT necessarily have to occur as homework), and gets more engaging, hands-on, interactive into the classroom.

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

I love the work that you've been doing on the Flipped Classroom, Jackie! Once the post went live I immediately noticed that your work was missing from the list! I will try to add it. You have a lot of great ideas to share!

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

I love that you bring up the flexible, personalized nature of flipping. Like anything we do in the classroom, there's not one right way to do it, but there are a number of ways it can be done wrong. Thanks for your insight. I'm sure others will find it helpful as well.

Bill Powers's picture
Bill Powers
Principal

For writing a post that sees all sides to Flipping. I agree it does have some good attibutes and some pieces that will make it more difficult to implement.
I believe, not only with Flipping, that all teaching comes down to allowing students choice, connecting with them and the learning by making it relevant, and reflecting on what we are doing and how we are doing it and making the necessary changes to help all students be successful.

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