Teachers turn learning upside down

Before, students were trying to modify their inherent learning styles to meet the lecture format.

Some innovative teachers are turning the traditional classroom model on its head in an effort to make instruction more valuable to their students.

This new teaching and learning style, often called “flipped” or “inverted” learning, makes the students the focus of the class, not the teacher, by having students watch a lecture at home and then apply the lesson with the teacher in the classroom.

With inverted learning, these forward-thinking educators say, students can absorb the material as homework and then practice what they’ve learned with guided help from the teacher if they need it. This new learning style not only makes class time more productive for both teachers and students, but also increases student engagement, increases achievement, and caters to all forms of personalized learning, say the teachers.

Although this style of learning might be termed “inverted,” perhaps it’s the current style of learning with teachers as the “sage on the stage” that is backwards.

“I experimented a lot with differentiated instruction and layered curriculum,” said Dan Spencer, a science teacher at Michigan Center High School and educational technology consultant for Jackson County Intermediate School District (JCISD). “One thing I began to realize as I did that was that not all students learn in the same way or at the same pace. Unfortunately, the way schools are set up, all students are forced to learn the exact same thing in the exact same time and in the exact same way. I wanted to find a way to change that.”

Spencer, who currently teaches three sections of chemistry and two sections of engineering every day as part of Project Lead the Way, typically has anywhere from 15 to 28 students in a chemistry class period.  The school district is relatively small, with roughly 400 students in grades 9 through 12 in a lower-middle class community.

Many of the district’s students come from homes where their parents did not go to college, and many say they are going to college but few actually graduate from the next level, says Spencer.

For Spencer, a love for science came naturally, but he realizes this is not true for all students. He also realizes that interest in science is sometimes spurred by the teacher, not just the material.

“I know that very few of my students will go on to become chemists, physicists, or anything of that nature, but they should be able to leave my class knowing how to question, research, and test scientific claims regardless of what they choose to do afterwards,” said Spencer. “At the same time, I also feel that those students who do excel in STEM fields need to have classes that push them and challenge them with real-world problems, and not just memorized facts from a textbook.”

To help make that realization a reality, Spencer got a little help from his superintendent, David Tebo, who eMailed the entire high school staff an idea for a “flipped” classroom that came from two teachers in Colorado, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Samms.

When Spencer read the eMail, he knew that this was how he wanted to run his classroom.

Meris Stansbury

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