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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

HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA
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A closeup of a kid sitting, reading Dr. Seuss on a tablet.

In 2012, I 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 Haiku Learning. In addition, a 2009 meta-analysis done by the Department of Education showed that in many cases, online learning has some advantages over face-to-face learning.

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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Tabby Riley's picture

I wonder if the age of the students make a difference when it comes to the students doing the required work outside of class? I only teach college level students and have used the flipped classroom several times and most of the students do the work because I have them work in groups and nobody seems to want to be "That Person" that is not ready. Any thoughts?

Mary Beth Hertz's picture
Mary Beth Hertz
HS Art/Tech Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Thank you, everyone, for all of the discussion here. So much to reflect on and think about. As I re-read the comments, I wonder---why are we still lecturing on a regular basis---period? Not that lectures are a terrible thing, but if the reason that we are "flipping" is to have kids listen to us talk at home, then I'm not sure that we are changing anything about how we teach and addressing how kids learn best. If we are simply having kids click through interactive quizzes outside of class, I'm not sure if that is re-thinking how we engage students with content. I am curious to hear more stories about flipping that does not involve students absorbing content or having content "delivered" to them outside of class.

As to the access issue, I think it's important not to downplay this issue. Having taught for 12 years in Philadelphia, I can tell you that it is a HUGE issue and one that really creates a huge divide for all ages, not just school children.

I am also intrigued by the discussion around age and flipped learning. Most of my learning in college was flipped since I only took 3 lecture classes my entire time at college (yay small liberal arts college). Most of my classes required me to do readings outside of class and come prepared to discuss them in a seminar setting. I wonder how we are preparing students (or not preparing them) if we do not, at some point, expect this of them? That said, when is a good age to start this kind of expectation?

Thanks again, everyone, for your ideas and stories. Keep them coming!

Lauren Jackson's picture

I totally would love to try this with my first graders. My 8th grade teacher used this model in 2004. It was difficult for me. I just couldn't learn using this teaching model. However, just because it did not work for me, doesn't mean that it won't work my students.

hannahd's picture

I can see how this model would benefit students by focusing classroom time on activities and student needs. In addition to providing instruction outside of class, it allows students to navigate technology within a relevant context. However, I find myself skeptical about whether students would utelize their time outside of school to do school work. I also think that we need to consider the fact that, specifically for high school students, they have jobs, sports, and social lives, and flipped classrooms force students to engage with school five days of the week plus extra time that they could spend elsewhere.

MattD's picture

hannahd,

I teach 9th graders (science and history) so they aren't typically too busy with jobs but many play sports so I know that if I tell them to watch a video to be prepared for class they simply would not complete that video. That is why I use Edpuzzle when I create my videos. Using Edpuzzle allows me to have questions placed throughout the video which my students need to answers. I grade their performance on the video just like I would any other homework assignment. When I create videos, I rarely do more than two videos a week.

Just like the article discussed, the most important part about flipping a classroom is the available use of class time. Flipping the classroom allows for teachers to more easily differentiate their material and allows for more interaction during the school day. I can see who watched the video and who didn't and then I can see who struggled with the material and who understood the material by analyzing their scores from the quiz. The next day in class I can meet individually with students to help them correct misconceptions they have while other students are able to move on to more challenging projects. I feel that my students have really benefitted from a flipped classroom model and that it has helped me become a better teacher for my students.

Garrett Dragosh's picture

When I took chemistry in high school, my teacher used the flipped classroom model. This was my first exposure to the idea, though I have heard of such an idea. This article list some very well thought-out pro's and con's. Personally, it is a great idea but I had problems with it since I was a procrastinator. I ended up not watching the videos then falling behind. Luckily, I passed the class. I didn't think of this at the time, but I should have switched into a traditional class. There always needs to be that option when a flipped classroom is implemented.

gregory_foxg's picture

The flipped classroom model seems to be one that could be very beneficial if used 2-3 times a month. However, as an everyday experience I believe it would be time energy draining on both the students and teachers. Plus, once this becomes the norm the students will get tired of it and will be no different to the models currently in place.

Tabby Riley's picture

Although time consuming in the initial stage, the activities can be used again in future courses for different students. For me personally, I would rather read the materials myself than watch a Power Point that the teacher is reading from verbatim and sit there bored for an hour. I am a hands on person and would rather do fun activities and games in class to enhance the learning process and enforce what is being learned.

Martin's picture

Thank you for sharing your knowledge on flipped classrooms. I am very interested implementing a flipped classroom with my math classes and found what you shared very valuable. The challenges you mentioned to having a flipped classroom include accessibility, which is an important component for equity in learning. I am fortunate to work at a high school with computer labs and Wi-Fi. I do not have computers in my classroom, but I make use of the smart phones that students always carry. I would assume that most students in high schools have smart phones and therefore would only require access to Wi-Fi to be able to view videos on their phones. Having students carry their own personal devices to access the internet helps relieve the challenges involved in accessing desktop and laptops. My students all have access to resources that I have put together within a shared google folder. Instead of using laptops, they can be seen viewing their smart phones during class. My next step is to develop instructional videos to begin my journey into developing my flipped classrooms.

Omar's picture

Thanks for such interesting and trending topic for teachers. I am one of those interested in using modern teaching methods, however, such methods require other abilities or skills like motivating the students to use their electronic devices at home for writing an essay for example. this is one of the major challenges face teachers. I will use flipped classroom with my English language classes and see the results.. Again thanks for the topic.

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