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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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Ms. Nay's picture
Ms. Nay
5th grade Head Teacher and Academic Leader at ITJ Queretaro, Mexico. Passionate about Science & Tech. Currently piloting a paperless classroom under PBL.

I'm currently piloting a paperless classroom in 5th grade under PBL. One of the most valuable resources I've come across is Flipped Learning. Planning is definitely the key for a productive class and a positive outcome. My students love finding out about the new topic on their own instead of through the teacher.
You can follow our classroom on Twitter @5Aonline, where I post our finding with tools and resources.

WaldenKR's picture

I believe that a flipped classroom would be very beneficial to my students. My school is going towards a PBL model and we have begun to move in that direction already. By going to a flipped classroom my students can easily collaborate on their projects outside of the school day, they can easily gather the information that they need, and students who miss a day can easily check what their groups members did while they were gone. I would also love to move towards a flipped classroom because it can really individualize student learning. If a student really struggled with an assignment they can go back and relearn the information at anytime or if the student needs to be reminded of something this will give the easy access to the content. I also do not think that it would be a hard thing for my school to move towards given that students already have their own Google logins that we access on a daily basis to gain access to certain apps, to collaboratively work on presentations, to publish our papers on Google Docs and many other tools. However, one big draw back is that many of my students are low-income, therefore, gaining access outside of class is not applicable to many of my students. Also I do not want students lives to turn into staring only at technology 24-7. I'm very technology smart and love using it, but at times I have to print things out and physically hold, highlight, and read a paper to truly understand something!

Tabby Riley's picture

Ms. Nay,

I made my classes paperless years ago and use Blackboard as a supplemental for the students to access lectures, homework, Power Points and case studies on their own. The materials taught in my classes have to be remembered and applied until the students graduate and take their national credentialing exam.

Patricia FitzGerald's picture

Hi,
I am beginning to look into using a flipped classroom approach for the next school year. I currently teach 3rd grade and have 1:1 Chromebooks in my classroom. Does anyone have any professional development resources or tips they are willing to share?
Thanks!

Ms. Nay's picture
Ms. Nay
5th grade Head Teacher and Academic Leader at ITJ Queretaro, Mexico. Passionate about Science & Tech. Currently piloting a paperless classroom under PBL.

Thanks Tabby. I've been using slides (PP Google Docs version) and it works wonders!

Ms. Nay's picture
Ms. Nay
5th grade Head Teacher and Academic Leader at ITJ Queretaro, Mexico. Passionate about Science & Tech. Currently piloting a paperless classroom under PBL.

Hi Patricia,
I recommend you open a gmail account for each chrome, without providing any student info since they're under 13, for example: student01@... and assign them permanently to each ss. Once you do that, you have endless possibilities to work with flipped learning. I prepare my lessons via Slides and share them through a link or QR code. Digital worksheets, questionnaires, quizzes, etc... can be assigned through Google Forms. I've also created a classroom site with a -Google calendar to display the daily lessons and assignments.
You can check out our site here https://sites.google.com/a/itjqro.edu.mx/5-a-bad-habits/ or follow our classroom account in Twitter @5Aonline to get more ideas for your classroom.
Hope it helps!

Patricia FitzGerald's picture

Hi Ms. Nay,
Thank you so much for responding! My district assigns students an email through our partnership with Google. I've been utilizing Google Classroom all year, as well as the other Google Apps for Education. However, I find myself, too often just making an assignment "electronic" in a Google Doc or Google Slide and not truly flipping my classroom to truly utilize the amazing 1:1 capacity I have in my classroom.
Thanks for the tips!
Patricia

PHU Parent's picture

As a parent, the implementation I have seen of a flipped classroom simply did not work. A student was expected to watch youtube videos for up to 2 hours nightly, then come to the classroom and twiddle their thumbs. Teacher would ask, 'did everyone understand the video' and most students were too embarrassed to say anything. So basically, in a classroom, teacher would give tests, check their email and social media... and students were supposed to learn at home. Kids with extracurricular activities suffered the most.
In my eyes, as a parent, there are good teachers and bad teachers. teachers who are passionate and teachers who need to find another career. success of anything depends on implementation as well as the maturity and readiness of students.

Jenny's picture

I work in a school that encourages the use of a flipped classroom. We have distance education students as well as day school students, so all learning activities and instructions are placed on an online platform. This is essential for the distance education students, but also great for day school students who may miss class due to sickness or another event. However, I still feel that many of the day school students struggle with viewing the bulk of their teaching on a screen. I feel the distance education students still need the live group online lessons via google hangout and the day school students still need the teacher up the front teaching/explaining a new concept. So, as the article above states, there are definitely pros and cons for the flipped classroom. I think that probably a mixture of flipped and non-flipped is best.

meredmc's picture

In our local school district many students are lower income. Computers and internet are not in the home. I also struggle with the concept that students getting distracted over recreational obligations and private home life interfering. Academics are important but if you are in the classroom. 6 to 7 hours a day and then want them to study like in a classroom at home. Does not seem like a student would be a well rounded individual in the future.

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