The Flipped Classroom: A Guide for Teachers on the Front Lines

  • The flipped classroom is considered by many teachers to be one of the most revolutionary developments in education in 50 years.

    And Lisa Johnson-Bowers is one teacher who is a true believer. She wants all teachers to flip out.

    A retired chemistry and physics teacher, Johnson-Bowers says the concept of the flipped classroom is one of her favorite topics and something she has been using and teaching for years.

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    The flipped classroom is often defined as “a model in which typical lecture and course homework elements are reversed.” However, Johnson-Bowers calls that definition generic. She says teachers often flop the flip because they take the definition to heart.

    “Flip teaching is about flipping Bloom’s Taxonomy and not merely the lecture/homework concept,” she says.

    Bloom’s Taxonomy is a set of three hierarchical models used to classify educational learning objectives into levels of complexity and specificity. The three lists cover the learning objectives in cognitive, affective and sensory domains. Therefore the cognitive domain list has been the primary focus of most traditional education and is frequently used to structure curriculum learning objectives, assessments and activities.

    On the other hand, Johnson-Bowers breaks down why that is wrong with that approach.

    “Here is how it goes:  Take a concept that you are going to teach and break it down into the individual objectives.  Then, categorize the objectives as easy or difficult to understand.  The easy objectives are moved to the homework venue.  The hard to understand concepts remain in the classroom where there is now ample time for the teacher to work one on one with the students.  It’s that simple.”

    Evolution of the flip

    The trend toward the flipped classroom began with Colorado high school chemistry teacher Jonathan Bergmann. He created videos to teach the content given a high rate of absenteeism. Essentially, he was trying to solve a problem, not revolutionize the classroom.  Meanwhile he created the videos to help catch his students up on missed work.  The videos were successful.

    This concept developed into a new teaching style for him and his colleague Aaron Sams.  They created videos for each chapter.  Then, they created a course guide.  There was no more traditional lecturing.  The students worked at their own pace.  They watched the videos and completed practice problems, labs and tests on their own under supervision.

    Above all, Bergmann decided to “flip” what students did in his classes, watching video lectures at home and doing exercises (homework) in class under supervision. He and Sams not only found that grades went up, they also found time for other types of activities, which Bergmann states is more important than the videos.

    Moreover, the flip teaching movement has evolved into blended Learning.  Therefore advancements in technology have given the teacher a new dimension with which to work.

    “When we grew up, the teacher and librarian were the only sources of knowledge,” Johnson-Bowers says. “Today, students can gain knowledge from anywhere. The role of the teacher has changed and they are now facilitators. The stress is placed more on helping students to learn how to problem solve; to learn what to do with the knowledge. The one-on-one process is very crucial.”

    Three-step process

    Johnson-Bowers says the flip model essentially comes down to three steps.

    Flip Teaching requires extensive planning. Moreover, the teacher must use the backward design approach and reflect on every single objective. What do the students need to know in order to complete the objective? Is this an easy concept to grasp or is it difficult? What background knowledge will the students need to have?

    The assignments do not have to involve technology. The point of the outside assignment is that they are accomplishing the easy objectives so that the classroom time can be used more effectively. These assignments can be videos, of course. They can also be written assignments, research assignments, and simple read and take notes. The point of the outside assignment is for the student to construct knowledge to accomplish the simple objectives.

    However, problems might arise.  “Teachers who do not think and reflect through the process merely grab and create a video to teach the content and assign it for homework,” Johnson-Bowers says.  “Then, they do the same things in class that they have done for years. They assign practice problems.  Teachers get frustrated because the students don’t understand the practice problems because they either didn’t watch the video or they didn’t understand the content in it.”

    Why does the flip flop?

    No doubt, common problems exist.

    Generally speaking they are the following: Students don’t understand the content in the video; teachers make the paradigm shift inside the classroom; students feel that teacher has stopped teaching; parents say the teacher is replaced by a video.

    But Johnson-Bowers says all of these problems are fixed if Bloom’s Taxonomy is flipped and if the teacher makes the cultural shift inside the classroom.

    True story

    Johnson-Bowers tells a story to provide an example of success.

    “My last year was spent as an instructional coach in my district where I help teachers to infuse technology into their methods and to flip their classes,” she says.

    “I had the opportunity to work with a 4th-grade math teacher. She had the lowest state test scores in the district. We spent a couple of days re-designing the pieces of her lessons for an upcoming unit. We used the three-step process. The process was merely about rearranging the pieces of what she already used and about helping her make the paradigm shift in her mind.

    “She had the highest scores in the district that year.  I tell you that story as an example of what is possible. I didn’t do anything but help show the teacher a new possibility. The teacher did all the work.”

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