What is the Flipped Classroom?
“I just searched for the number of child laborers in the world,” the gregarious boy in the front of the room responds to his teacher’s question.
Another student chimes in, “I went to the United Nations website to get statistics.” The discussion continues with students offering ideas and suggestions of where to find introductory hooks for their essays.
With laptops out in front of them, this sixth grade Language Arts class in Monroe Township, New Jersey seems more like a college seminar than a middle school classroom. The room is alive with the bustle of busy minds simultaneously collaborating to learn the art of essay writing, while focusing on their individual projects.
Welcome to the flipped classroom. In 2006, high school chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams innovated the idea of the flipped classroom. They began recording their chemistry lectures so that students who missed class could catch up at home. Little did they realize that this would turn into an educational revolution.
So, what exactly is the flipped classroom? To begin, material that is traditionally thought of as homework becomes classwork (and vice-versa). Students are typically sent home with lectures to watch or articles to read. They start learning material for a new class topic. During the next class session, students participate in a collaborative manner to work on projects, essays, and problem solving. Thus, lessons from homework are applied in the classroom, where student and teacher can interact on a personalized level.
Benefits of flipped learning include positive use of technology, more accurate assessments, individualized attention, and efficient use of class time. It also allows for differentiated instruction and encourages students to become independent in their learning.
Integrating Technology in the Classroom
Patricia Smith, 6th grade Language Arts teacher at Monroe Township Middle School, tells how Google Classroom helped her to make the leap to a partial flip model. Google Classroom is a virtual classroom that works in real-time. Teachers post resources for students to watch, read, and learn at home. It permits live time tracking, showing her which students are working on their essays. Other benefits include discussion forums for conversations outside of class and direct messaging to the teacher’s phone. Mrs. Smith claims that Google Classroom is one of the most effective uses of technology that she has seen in a while.
Dawn Graziano, a colleague of Mrs. Smith, is also making the transition to a partial flipped classroom. She uses technology in class to maintain student interest in material and encourage participation. Students in Socratic Seminar divide into two circles to discuss a topic using the socratic method. An application called Socrative polls students during the exercise. Students that she suspects may not be paying attention are asked a question which travels specifically to their personal iPad or other device. They can then answer, giving her an idea of their participation. It allows students who wouldn’t normally participate in an open forum to provide feedback.
Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, a leading researcher in the field of MBE Science, provides the scientific understanding behind the success of flipped classroom techniques. Learning facilitated in a low-threat environment works best. This allows the brain to retain information and build upon it. By giving her students different opportunities to participate in diverse ways (e.g. through Socrative), Mrs. Graziano is creating a low-threat level in her classroom.
Technology: Positive or Negative
In the Monroe Township School District there is an iPad initiative at the high school level. All students receive an iPad for educational use. The iPad is loaned to them for the duration of their high school years. There is also technology available in school at the middle and elementary school levels. Class sets of laptops are available to teachers who request it. Technology is monitored and filtered within the school setting and outside work is parentally approved.
While classroom technology poses some important questions, both teachers interviewed seem to agree that technology is a far greater positive power than negative influence. This is especially true for its integral role in the flipped classroom. Mrs. Smith uses technology as an opportunity to teach students that any silly comments are forever stored on the web. She also teaches acceptable boundaries, since students have nearly unlimited access to messaging her outside of class. It is a way for her to guide students in the appropriate use of technology and teach social skills in general.
Mrs. Graziano agrees that issues she has with students, such as students that aren’t prepared, are issues that any teacher might have in a typical classroom. They are not products of the flipped model or technology. If students come to class unprepared, Mrs. Graziano does not penalize students by excluding them from class activities. Instead, she allows them to catch up on their “homework” in class, so that they can then participate.
The availability of laptops inside the classroom allows for thoughtful free-flowing discussion, independent research, and collaboration in ways previously not possible. These are all important components of nurturing a developing mind.
Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa identifies the uniqueness of each individual brain as part of The Five Well-Established Concepts of MBE Science. Each brain learns and processes information differently and at a different speed. Just like no two people look exactly alike (even identical twins have genetic differences), similarly no two brains function exactly alike or develop exactly alike. In the flipped classroom, information is conveyed through different mediums, while technology is used to vary the content. This allows for unique brains to process information in the best way possible for each student and at the best pace for them.
The flipped model uses differentiated instruction to reach each student at his/her level. Through Google Classroom students have continuous access to material and are able to review it ad infinitum. They can digest material at their own pace. Mrs. Smith says that she can add more challenging material for those students who are ready for it.
Motivating students to learn at their own pace and level means that there is a more efficient use of class time. Mrs. Smith provides YouTube clips and Powerpoint presentations with questions at home, as well as reading, writing, and relevant grammar study. Students already understand the content and what is expected of them when they get to class. Therefore, the teacher can spend class time helping students collaborate and get through an in-class activity. She has more time to gauge who completely understood the material and who may need more help.
Developing Independence in Learning
The flipped model teaches students how to learn. It allows for challenge, which is necessary to stimulate learning.
The brain thirsts for novelty, which seems to be a product of detecting changes and recognizing patterns that comes naturally to the brain (Mind, Brain, and Education Science).
This is something that Mrs. Smith has picked up on and exploited in her flipped classroom. Students feel free to explore topics on their own outside of class and enjoy doing so. They are teaching themselves how to do research.
Mind, Brain, and Education Science outlines the significance of cultivating curiosity: “the search for meaning is innate in human nature…if the brain is engaged it continues to explore.”
Mrs. Smith says that students don’t feel as vulnerable to failure when exploring on their own time: “If they make a mistake nobody will see and they can sort of test the waters.” This is an important development in learning how to learn and opening the floodgates of curiosity that the brain naturally craves.
Mrs. Graziano’s students are anxious to give her suggestions about what they would like to work on next. She is no longer as concerned about delivering content, but rather now “we are working with content.” The learning has become more hands on for students. Rather than being lectured at, they jump in and make it their own.
She admits, “[the students] will tell you straight up that sitting and listening to teachers is absolutely torturous for them.”
She asks students to do the legwork at home, allowing them to then discuss material at a higher level in class. Projects that would have taken weeks can be completed in days. This frees class time for more serious learning to take place.
Mrs. Smith feels that she gets a more accurate assessment through tracking student progress in Google Classroom live time. However, since there is less traditionally graded homework to act as an assessment, there are less grades to work with. She has to figure out how to “show” assessments. Perhaps, the flipped classroom will initiate the beginning of necessary educational reform. Teachers might be able to rely less on grades and instead focus on instilling lifelong growth, love of learning, and retention of information.
During class, Mrs. Graziano sometimes likes to set up teacher-modulated chat groups to delve deeper into material. She accurately assesses students who would be too intimidated to participate in a traditional class setting. Simultaneously, she monitors everybody else. Mrs. Graziano says, “[It allows for] a greater cross-section of understanding. I can really see who is getting it and who isn’t getting it.”
In this case, some may say that technology replaces important social interaction by not encouraging introverted students to develop social skills. This is an important concern. However, flipped learning does not exclusively favor technology over social interaction. It teaches different methods of communication, acknowledging both traditional social skills and new age interaction.
Transitioning to The Flipped Classroom
Both Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Graziano have implemented a partial flip model, in order to allow for a transition period for both teacher and student. At times, the teachers conduct class in the traditional sense. When appropriate, the flipped model is employed. For teachers this means that there is adequate time to prepare the lectures and forage for the appropriate material to send home for students to learn. For students this means that there is time to adopt to a new method of learning.
Mrs. Smith says, “For some of them [the transition] is hard, but I think that this is an age where they are ready to start assuming some control of their education.”
Both teachers concur that the flipped model has encouraged more motivation for learning and a more positive attitude from students in general. Mrs. Smith says, “They amaze me at what they can accomplish on their own… and they have no fear of technology.” As with anything new, it will take time to fully integrate, but from all accounts the costs seem to be worth it. With time, more teachers, administrators, and school districts will come to see the benefits that the flipped classroom offers.
Join the Revolution
John Abbot, Director of The 21st Century Learning Initiative, writes about revolutionizing education and redefining the traditional understanding of teacher and student:
The role of the teacher has to change from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’… Within a cognitive apprenticeship both the task, and the process of achieving it, are made highly visible from the beginning. The student understands where they are going and why. Learners have access to expertise in action. They watch each other, get to understand the incremental stages and establish benchmarks against which to measure their progress. (Battling for the Soul of Education 11)
What Abbott refers to as the “cognitive apprenticeship” model echoes the strengths of the flipped classroom. For homework, students have access to materials beforehand, which gives them an “understanding of where they are going and why”. In class, they receive “access to expertise in action”, where they collaborate with their peers while the teacher is available for guidance. Abbott’s Battling for the Soul of Education acts as a social and political manifesto, calling for educational leaders to use scientific understanding of brain development to determine how best to educate our youth. The flipped classroom provides perfect grounds for experimenting with new models of education, and Monroe Township Middle School has jumped onboard the revolution.