May 17, 2021

Flipping the Classroom: A revolutionary approach to learning presents some pros and cons

 

Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Back in 2007, two high school science teachers in Woodland Park, CO, decided to try a “crazy idea.” “We said, ‘What if we stopped lecturing and committed all our lectures to videos?’” says Jon Bergmann, now the lead technology facilitator at the Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth, IL. He and fellow educator Aaron Sams posted their short films—15 to 20 minutes long—for students to watch at home. (Parents could also look and say, “Oh, I see how the teacher wants it done!” says Bergmann.) Their goal? “Do what’s best for your kids,” says Sams, who went on to coauthor Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day (ISTE, 2012) with Bergmann.

Flipping the classroom lets school become a place for talking, doing group projects, and getting individual help from teachers—and lets home become a place for watching instructional videos. “The class time that would have been spent on the stand-and-deliver lecture model is now spent working on problems,” says Robert Adhoot, a math teacher who started YayMath.org videos four years ago. “The teacher walks around and helps everyone. It’s not a get-out-of-jail-free card for teachers not to teach.” It’s also not a way for kids to get out of doing anything at home. “Flipping what the kid does means they do the work ahead of time, come to class, and debrief,” explains Michelle Luhtala, head librarian at New Canaan High School in Connecticut.

Aside from the technology involved, it’s not necessarily a new idea. “In the 1970s, when I was a classroom English teacher, I flipped my classroom, and I didn’t even know it,” says Doug Johnson, the director of media and technology for the Mankato Area Public Schools in Minnesota. “I’d ask my kids to read the text at home, and then I’d use the class time to discuss the lesson. Now, instead of asking kids to read, we’re asking them to watch videotape lessons. I sense this is something like old wine in a new bottle.”

Ideally, flipping the classroom gives kids “a personalized learning experience,” says Wade Roberts, CEO of Educreations, which makes a free iPad app that more than 150,000 teachers are using to make interactive video lessons. “The end goal is personalized education. The flipped classroom is just a means to that end.” Students can use the videos to learn at their own pace—any time or place, says Roberts. “These students can replay their teacher’s explanation of a new concept as many times as they need to without fear of holding up the rest of the class.” (Educreations’s website includes a feature that notifies teachers when kids ask questions.)

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