The Flipped Classroom: Online Instruction at Home Frees Class Time for Learning

By Tucker, Bill | Education Next, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

The Flipped Classroom: Online Instruction at Home Frees Class Time for Learning


Tucker, Bill, Education Next


Four years ago, in the shadow of Colorado's Pike's Peak, veteran Woodland Park High School chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams stumbled onto an idea. Struggling to find the time to reteach lessons for absent students, they plunked down $50, bought software that allowed them to record and annotate lessons, and posted them online. Absent students appreciated the opportunity to see what they missed. But, surprisingly, so did students who hadn't missed class. They, too, used the online material, mostly to review and reinforce classroom lessons. And, soon, Bergmann and Sams realized they had the opportunity to radically rethink how they used class time.

It's called "the flipped classroom." While there is no one model, the core idea is to flip the common instructional approach: With teacher-created videos and interactive lessons, instruction that used to occur in class is now accessed at home, in advance of class. Class becomes the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning. Most importantly, all aspects of instruction can be rethought to best maximize the scarcest learning resource--time.

Flipped classroom teachers almost universally agree that it's not the instructional videos on their own, but how they are integrated into an overall approach, that makes the difference. In his classes, Bergmann says, students can't just "watch the video and be done with it." He checks their notes and requires each student to come to class with a question. And, while he says it takes a little while for students to get used to the system, as the year progresses he sees them asking better questions and thinking more deeply about the content. After flipping his classroom, Bergmann says he can more easily query individual students, probe for misconceptions around scientific concepts, and clear up incorrect notions.

Counterintuitively, Bergmann says the most important benefits of the video lessons are profoundly human: "I now have time to work individually with students. I talk to every student in every classroom every day." Traditional classroom interactions are also flipped. Typically, the most outgoing and engaged students ask questions, while struggling students may act out Bergmann notes that he now spends more time with struggling students, who no longer give up on homework, but work through challenging problems in class. Advanced students have more freedom to learn independently. And, while high-school students still occasionally lapse on homework assignments, Bergmann credits the new arrangement with fostering better relationships, greater student engagement, and higher levels of motivation.

Once Bergmann's and Sams's lessons were posted online, it wasn't long before other students and teachers across the country were using the lessons, and making their own. Across the country in Washington, D.C, Andrea Smith, a 6th-grade math teacher at E. L. Haynes, a high-performing public charter school, shares Bergmann's enthusiasm, but focuses on a different aspect of the flipped classroom. Smith, who has taught for more than a decade in both D.C.'s public charter and traditional district schools, immediately saw the benefit for students, but says she was most captivated by the opportunity to elevate teaching practice and the profession as a whole. As Smith explains, crafting a great four- to six-minute video lesson poses a tremendous instructional challenge: how to explain a concept in a clear, concise, bite-sized chunk. Creating her own videos forces her to pay attention to the details and nuances of instruction--the pace, the examples used, the visual representation, and the development of aligned assessment practices. In a video lesson on dividing fractions, for example, Smith is careful not to just teach the procedure--multiply by the inverse--but also to represent the important underlying conceptual ideas. …

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