Flipped classrooms: Turning education on its head

You know this scenario well: The teacher stands in front of the class and lectures, and you try to take notes on everything that is said. That night you sit down alone to do your homework and find yourself with questions, trying to understand your nearly illegible pages of scribbles. You read the assigned text for the next day, when you go back to school, sit in the classroom, and take notes again. If you got stuck, maybe you can stay after school and ask questions.

It’s the longtime standard for how a classroom works. But is it the best way for students to actually learn the material?

No, say proponents of “flipped classrooms,” where the work typically done in the classroom is being done at home and vice-versa. Teachers in flipped classrooms record short video lectures for students to watch before class (at home or in a school computer lab), which allows those students to take as much time as they need to watch the video and take notes. The next day’s class time is then spent in discussion and projects connected to the topic at hand, activities thought to be more meaningful in learning the concepts being taught.

“In our combined 37 years of teaching, we have been frustrated with students not being able to translate content from our lectures into useful information that would allow them to complete their homework,” writes Jonathan Bergmann about himself and Aaron Sams, two teachers who met while running the chemistry department at a high school in Colorado. “Then one day, Aaron had an insight that would change our world. It was one simple observation: ‘The time when students really need me physically present is when they get stuck and need my individual help. They don’t need me there in the room with them to yak at them and give them content; they can receive content on their own’.”

Voila – the passive classroom had just become an active one. Bergmann and Sams created the flipped classroom, and tried the concept in earnest during the 2007-08 school year. They pre-recorded their chemistry lectures and spent classroom time on problem work and lab experiments.

“We found that we had more time for both the labs and the problem work time,” Bergmann writes in the book the two co-wrote, Flip Your Classroom: Reaching Every Student in Every Class Every Day (International Society for Technology in Education, 2012). “For the first time in either of our careers, we ran out of things for the students to do. They were completing all their work with 20 minutes left in class. Clearly, this model was more efficient than lecturing and assigning homework.”

In an interview with the Washington Post that year, Bergmann talked about himself, teaching, and his new approach. He was asked whether standardized test scores had improved.

“Students have done better. I don’t know the numbers, but they learn the material,” he said. “In my first 19 years as a teacher, I was a good stand-and-deliver lecture guy. I won a presidential award. I had all these credentials. I was good that way. You get to the end of the unit and a kid gets a 62. We move on. All you can do is say, ‘Wish you had done better, Joey,’ but by that time he’s lost and we are in Unit 2. Joey never really learned it. This forces Joey to learn it.”

In the decade since Bergmann’s and Sams’ experiment, the two have become national experts. They have a website, FlippedClass.com, and founded a nonprofit organization, The Flipped Learning Network, which helps provide resources to teachers interested in flipping their classrooms. And in keeping with their understanding of the digital students of today, they are active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. And their concept has many fans.

While it seems there has been no large-scale nationwide study on the effects of flipped classrooms, there is strong anecdotal evidence. Education World cites case studies in a research project conducted by the Flipped Learning Network, Pearson, and George Mason University. One school studied showed no appreciable change. The other results:

  • School: Niagara Falls High School, New York
    Subject: Math
    Results: The year before, 71 percent of students in honors Algebra II/Trigonometry passed the Regents exam; in the flipped classroom, 83 percent passed it. In General Algebra, 35 percent passed the exam the year before; 55 percent passed it in the flipped-classroom year.
  • School: Ashland Middle School, Massachusetts
    Subject: Language
    Results: Two concurrent classes were taught, one in a traditional model and the other with a flipped classroom. Homework completion was close to 80 percent before the flip; the flipped classroom improved to nearly 99 percent. The traditional class scored 78 percent on a grammar class while the flipped class scored 88 percent; the traditional class scored 87 percent on a written assignment while the flipped class scored 92 percent.
  • School: Bullis High School, Maryland
    Subject: AP Calculus
    Results: The year before, 58 percent of students scored a 4 or a 5 on the AP exam. The year of the flipped classroom, 78 percent of students scored a 4 or a 5.

There are also benefits for the teacher in a flipped classroom, in addition to the ultimate goal of helping students to learn better.

“Teachers can get to know students so much better and quicker than in a traditional lecture-style classroom,” writes EdSurge, a website offering news and resources for those involved in education and technology. “Since you are now going from group to group and student to student asking and answering questions, the relationship is much more of a two-way street. As you get to know your students better, it becomes much easier to differentiate your instruction for each individual learner. When students are so involved in their learning, the learning is much stronger and it is easier for them to recall information.”

So, what’s the takeaway for a passionate teacher who just wants to get the best out of students?

Dominican University of California offers a three-part, self-paced Flipping your Classroom Teaching course meant to introduce and refine the skills you need. The course, which uses Bergmann’s and Sams’ book as text, is appropriate for teachers at any level.

In Part 1: Introduction, the focus is on understanding the flipped classroom, learning the history of the movement, and creating or enhancing your own online presence with a classroom website, a wiki or a blog. Part 2: Building Your Flipped Classroom Toolbox teaches you how to create videos, embed them in your online site, create Google forms and more. And Part 3: The Flipping Unit Plan actually walks you through creating a detailed 3- to 4-week Flipped Unit of your choosing.

“If you are new to the flipped classroom, this class will be a terrific introduction. If you have already started to dabble in the flipped classroom, you will appreciate refining the fundamental skills of flipping. Regardless of your experience, the best part of any professional development course is that you, the participant will take this information and make it your own.” – Dominican University of California