Education Trends

The Flipped Mobile Classroom: Learning “Upside Down”

October 30, 2013
Image credit: Veer

In the past few months, the flipped-learning model has hit mainstream media with articles appearing in the New York Times and even Southwest Airlines' Spirit magazine. Traditionally, students learn new information through lecture or direct instruction while in school. Conversely, in a flipped class, students gain content knowledge at home through audio, video and text, so that more class time can be devoted to discussion, exploration and experimentation.

By using a flipped model, teachers provide content through a variety of modalities, giving students not only the ability to learn at their own pace but also in the way that best suits their learning needs. However, if we take the time to make our content available outside of class, what does learning look in school? Flipped benefits students in two ways:

  1. It provides multiple pathways to gain knowledge and understanding.
  2. As a result of this pedagogical shift, new learning opportunities can start to emerge.

Flipping Macbeth

As a ninth grade English teacher, I struggled to find the balance between helping my students learn active reading strategies and literary conventions while still enjoying the text. We labored through poetry, drama and short stories, breaking down the literature and language, and consequently missing the beauty of the experience.

What if class time had been used to read out loud and experience the reading instead of analyzing it? For example, when teaching Macbeth, I wanted my students to understand Shakespeare's language, the vocabulary, and the significance of key quotes and concepts. However, in focusing on these mechanics, they missed the fact that Macbeth was a play full of adventure and drama. What if I had flipped Macbeth so that we'd used class time to experience Shakespeare as a sort of "theater in the round," and used homework as a way for students to reread and analyze the text?

What if students created a mini-project each day to showcase their active reading and illustrate their knowledge of key concepts such as in the example below? These students used Animoto -- a free, cross-platform video creation tool -- to summarize the previous day's reading, demonstrate their understanding of vocabulary, identify key quotes and make their active reading strategies visual.

Every day, for the first ten minutes, students in this eighth grade class collaborated on these videos. They could use only photos of their books, and the theme had to match their content. The students then shared their creations with the class, giving them ownership of the content, establishing them as experts, and allowing their teacher to quickly assess their understanding before continuing with the current day's theatrical reading.

Flipping Science Labs

A few years ago, I heard a wonderful presentation from a middle school science teacher in Massachusetts. She recognized that she lost one class period each week demonstrating pre-labs that most of her students either could not see because of the crowd around the table or could not process because of the pace. Using her iPad, she decided to flip her labs.

Each week, she filmed herself doing the pre-lab and posted it to a class wiki. For homework, the students watched the video as many times as necessary to then create their own lab procedures. During the lab periods themselves, students could not only refer back to the video on their devices, but also use the wiki's commenting feature to post observations and ask questions. As an additional unintended consequence, students started collaborating across lab groups to make inquiries and troubleshoot problems. In the end, the teacher had transferred ownership of the process and the content, empowering her students and transforming her class.

Spinning the Class

Two major assumptions of the flipped model are:

  1. Students have access to the content outside of school.
  2. Students have the capacity to be independent learners.

This can pose a challenge, particularly in elementary classes, where students may not have devices or the ability to learn on their own. Suzy Brooks (@SimplySuzy), a third grade teacher in Falmouth, Massachusetts, wanted to use the flipped tenets in her classroom while being mindful of these assumptions, so she came up with the concept of spinning her instruction.

Rather than having her students learn independently at home, she leveraged multimodal content for them to use at school. By providing videos to introduce, teach or reteach concepts, she created a means to support her students at their own pace. Additionally, now that her class has access to iPads, students can also demonstrate their understanding through a variety of modalities.

Flipped Learning

As flipped classroom pioneer Jon Bergmann says, "The flipped classroom helps teachers break the habit of lecture." Flipping provides a mechanism to transition toward deeper learning, opening up avenues for exploration and experimentation by freeing up class time. Beyond supporting teachers in their transition from "sage on the stage" to "guide by their side," what really happens in a flipped classroom is that the students become empowered learners with a host of tools to demonstrate their understanding. If we see flipped as an opportunity to break the habit of lecture, then a whole new set of learning opportunities begins to emerge.

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