Try Flipping Your Classroom

Before you scroll down to read about the Flipped Classroom Movement and Spin Education’s interview with pioneer Jonathan Bergmann, check out this infographic by Knewton and Column Five Media.

Flipped Classroom

I love teaching history, but every day is a balancing act between teaching skills and content. I want to spend more one-on-one time with students, tailoring instruction to individual needs. But the more I do this, the more material I need to skip or gloss over.

I wish I had learned about the Flipped Classroom Movement much earlier.

Multiple approaches exist, but teachers use or make vodcasts for students to watch at home—replacing the traditional “sage-on-the-stage” lecture. In class, kids benefit from enhanced face-to-face time with instructors, while working on labs, problem-sets, reports and other skills-based activities.

In 2006, high school science teachers Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann began pioneering this approach. I’m fortunate to catch Bergmann before he travels to England, where our neighbors across the pond are eager learn about his work.

I recently finished Sams and Bergmann’s groundbreaking book, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. I’m a huge fan, and I tremble a bit as I begin the interview.

I’m curious to hear how these innovators came up with their idea. Bergmann says that because of sports, debate tournaments and other obligations requiring early dismissals, students missed a lot of school. He and Sams wanted to find a way still to effectively disseminate content, leading them to begin recording lessons and posting online.

“That spring, after we had recorded for two or three months, we had an ‘aha moment’ when Aaron and I were at lunch one day,” Bergmann says. “And Aaron said why do we actually always need to deliver content live?”

On a “crazy whim,” Bergmann says, they decided to flip their chemistry courses. The following year, Bergmann and Sams prerecorded lessons and instructed students to view them in advance.

“And then we saw some amazing results,” Bergmann said. “Our kids were doing better, they were learning more. We knew we had stumbled upon something.”

Bergmann makes clear that there is no one right way to flip a classroom, which makes me happy. In speaking with colleagues, I find the most skeptical think that flipping requires an all-or-nothing approach. But Bergmann says that teachers can flip as much or as little as they deem fit, and that this method works great in every classroom.

“I’m not sure there’s a subject that it doesn’t lend itself better or worse to,” Bergmann says. “I think that I’m seeing lots of creative uses of it in all disciplines.”

As I speak with Bergmann, I too think about how I could utilize the flip method. Instead of lecturing on Andrew Jackson’s “Bank War,” for example, I could post a vodcast and use more class time to work with students on critical-reading skills.

Thanks to Khan Academy, TedTalks and like-minded sites, I could use their material and save even more time, allowing me to provide higher quality feedback on papers, quizzes, tests and assignments.

I ask Bergmann an obvious question: “How do you know that students are actually watching the videos?”

As a techy, I know how to check that students at least access the assigned video. Still, there is no way to make sure that students don’t just play the video while talking on the phone or watching a movie.

“Don’t rescue the kids,” Bergmann says, adding that some teachers fall into the trap of reviewing what the vodcast already covered. “Well, what you’ve just told those kids that did watch the videos is that that was a worthless waste of your time. Never do that.”

I’m interested to learn more about “flipped mastery,” an asynchronous model where students work with teachers to move through content at their own pace. Right away, Bergmann says that this model is better suited to math or science, where it’s crucial to understand one concept before grasping another.

For example, Bergmann explains that it’s not vital to understand the War of 1812 to fully grasp the Civil War—and that while one might have some bearing on the other, both events can be studied in isolation. I teach American history, and I couldn’t agree more. For better or worse, I know I’m not alone in giving this or that event short thrift.

“It wouldn’t be horrible if you didn’t master the war of 1812,” Bergmann says. “But if you’re in Algebra, if you don’t master unit 2, unit 3 is going to get really hard because you’ve got to know how to solve for ‘x’ before you add extra variables.”

Bergmann provides an example where a student fails an important math test on Friday, but on Monday his teacher still moves ahead with the next chapter.

“You are now lost, and you don’t know what to do because you didn’t really understand the last subject, and now you are on the next subject,” Bergmann says.

Our classes have become laboratories of learning where the entire focus of the classroom is on what students have or have not learned. No longer do we present material, provide a few extra learning opportunities, give a test, and then hope for the best. Instead, students come to class with the express purpose of learning. We provide them with all the tools and materials to learn, and we support them by helping them develop a plan for how and when they will learn. The rest is up to the students.

Bergmann currently serves as Lead Technology Facilitator at the Joseph Sears School in Illinois. But when he taught chemistry, students needed to earn a “C” or better to move on. This allowed him to help struggling students master critical content, while others learned from vodcasts and progressed at their own pace.

I like this idea, but I ask Bergmann how many times he allows students to retake a test. “This is a bit of a rub,” he says, adding that it’s important for no one student to fall too far behind.

“There are sort of two reasons why that happens,” Bergmann says. “Number one, the kids are really not applying themselves. Or number two, they’re struggling. The kid who’s not applying himself, I don’t have a whole lot of patience for that child. But if the kid is truly struggling, I kind of make adjustments.”

Whether it’s Cushing Academy’s iClass Table, ePals, Socrative, SmarterCookie, Tioki, Animoto, Audacity, Twitter or Facebook, as far as Web 2.0 and educational technology goes, simple is better—and nothing is simpler than classroom flipping.

All you need is screen-casting software, and Bergmann and I suggest Camtasia. Bergmann also suggests that you keep videos brief, and that the most effective vodcasts are not just informative, but animated and theatrical as well.

“You can be a boring teaching on a video just like you can be in a classroom,” Bergmann says.

I ask Bergmann to tell me the biggest impediment to the flipping phenomenon’s becoming even more popular. I’m not surprised by his answer:

“It’s really not that hard to make videos, but teachers are still afraid,” he says. “And I think this is where if we’re really going to see this change happen with our more seasoned teachers, shall we say… we need to create ways to make it really, really easy.”

From a technological standpoint, I’m not sure how much easier flipping could get—especially with such amazing software already available.

Before he leaves to catch his plane, Bergmann tells me that he’s working on another book. This time, he and Sams are investigating how teachers from around the world effectively utilize classroom flipping.

I can’t wait to read it, and I’m excited to explore how I can flip my own class.

As a coach, history and journalism teacher at Brimmer and May, a wonderful independent school in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, I have the absolute best job in the world. I am thrilled to get up every morning to engage with interesting young people, and I'm equally fortunate to have such amazing colleagues and mentors. As the founder of Spin Education, I encourage you to check-in frequently and submit posts and lessons—all in an effort to better our practice as teachers.

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