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A first-hand look inside a flipped classroom

Teachers say that even though the pilot is over, they won’t go back to the old way of teaching.

There have been many school reform trends over the past few years: student response systems, video games for math, mobile phones for learning—but none have completely transformed the notion of learning like the flipped classroom.

Flipped learning, in essence, turns the idea of traditional classroom instruction on its head by asking students to watch videos of teacher lectures for homework, then apply the lesson with the teacher in the classroom.

Using this method, proponents say, teachers have the opportunity to help students learn as individuals, and students can learn concepts more quickly.

Yet, since its takeoff, skeptics have questioned whether students have the time management skills to watch the videos at home and whether in-class work really does affect student achievement. Some have even questioned whether students and parents like the new approach, and if flipped learning is just a fad.

To help peers and skeptics better understand the concept of flipped learning, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, high school science teachers and pioneers in the Flipped Class ideology, recently created a first-of-its kind flipped classroom “open house,” which invited other educators to see how flipped learning works and what students have to say about it. The event took place in two countries, 20 states, and more than 30 cities and towns.

Watch Lake Elmo Elementary’s experience:

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One of the open houses took place at Lake Elmo Elementary School in Lake Elmo, Minn. Lake Elmo, part of Stillwater Area Schools—a rural district serving more than 8,900 students in 10 elementary schools (grades K-6), two junior high schools (grades 7-9), and one high school (grades 10-12)—started a flipped learning pilot in September that ended last month. Students in fifth grade math were given iPads and earphones and asked to watch 10- to 15-minute chunks of instruction a few times per week, then were asked to complete comprehension questions via the Moodle learning management system.

Information from this questionnaire, including students’ scores and the specific questions they got right or wrong, was saved in Moodle, and teachers were able to look at the results before class the next day.

This process allowed teachers to target their instruction to specific students, or the class as a whole, at the beginning of class.

In total, six classes in four different Stillwater Area elementary schools participated in the pilot. Teachers received special training during the summer, and 52 lessons (the first five units of math) were taught using the flipped learning approach. All lessons were aligned with state standards.

Though Stillwater is currently analyzing the data collected during the pilot phase (the formal results will be available later this year), elementary curriculum coordinator Amy Jones said her flipped learning students already are one to two units ahead of students who weren’t part of the pilot.

“Perhaps most compelling is that the teachers say even though the pilot is over, they won’t go back,” said Mike Dronen, the district’s technology coordinator.

And neither will students. Math students participating in the pilot said they love the idea of flipped learning, because it’s not a one-time lesson. Students can take notes while watching the video at home, and if they get any questions wrong, they can go back and re-watch the lesson.

Parents also were asked to take an “attitude survey,” and the majority said they saw their child improve and were happy with the results, district officials said.

“Parents said they enjoy experiencing what their child is learning first-hand at home,” explained Jones. “When [students] learn at home, they’re more comfortable and can learn at their own pace.”

Dronen said students “get faster access to content, more thorough understanding of content, and at least 30 to 45 minutes per day of one-on-one time with the teacher. There’s more personalization and customization, which is really what 21st-century learning is.”

Altogether, about 20 people attended Lake Elmo’s open house, with 12 of those attendees from nearby school districts interested in learning more about the flipped classroom approach.

Attendees were asked to give their thoughts after the open house. Bergmann recorded some of the comments on his blog “Flipped Learning“:

“There were at least four different activities going on in the room at one time,” explained one attendee. “There were multiple small groups, but also individuals. … I was amazed at the students. A couple of them asked him if he had any more worksheets to help them understand the concept. … He was very organized and very flexible. I want to try this because it seemed to work so beautifully in his class, but I also know it will take time to accomplish something like this.”

Another attendee said flipped learning might be a great option for students with special needs.

“I really like the flipped model. I started doing a similar thing on my own this year, but felt I was missing a component I did not know how to fix. Now I know. This is the type of classroom I need for my visually impaired students. When they go to the dorm or home after school, they often make a lot of mistakes on their work, and no one knows if they are not doing it right. With this model, work is done in class, and I have more opportunities to make sure the students are successful and learning.”

One attendee said he was skeptical at first, but appreciated the focus on “learning by doing.”

“I was really impressed with how well it was working. At first, I doubted the reality of the students actually going home and listening to the ‘vodcasts,’ since they rarely complete their regular homework, but I was wrong. They listened, then in class they completed the homework. Plus, by doing the homework with the teacher right there to answer questions, I feel you eliminate the need for coming in for extra help. The only downside: For me in particular, I ask a lot of questions during lectures, and without a teacher while I’m learning, I wouldn’t learn the material as well. And even if you write down the question to ask later on, the probability that you will remember what you were wondering is slim. However, you really learn by doing, and that’s when you need the most help, right? So, all in all, I think it’s a great way to teach, definitely the way of the future, and the improvement in scores at least for Ms. Duncan’s class speaks for itself.”

Stillwater is analyzing the data collected during its flipped learning pilot and hopes to make the results available sometime in February. Besides test score data, other factors were included, such overall student reactions.

For example, many students said they preferred to watch videos that used their own teacher’s voice and face instead of an actor, actress, or another teacher. Students also liked cultural references to their own school environment in the question sets, such as references to the school sports team.

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Meris Stansbury

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