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The Flipped Classroom - Is It the Answer?

Updated on February 5, 2014
The traditional classroom
The traditional classroom

The most talked-about and researched topics within the education community have always been how best to engage the student, enhance learning and improve educational outcomes. Today this conversation has taken on even more urgency, as we see the alarming statistics of student failure in America today. According to an article called, “The Flipped Classroom,” published on Knewton.com, 31% of students who begin high school do not finish. This amounts to 7,200 students dropping out of school each day for a total of 1.3 million students leaving the school system before receiving a high school diploma each year. Statistics such as these serve as a wake-up call to educators, parents, politicians, business owners, and everyone who understands that our ability to remain competitive in the international marketplace depends upon how we educate our children - because they are our future.

The flipped classroom approach may be part of the answer to how to increase educational achievement. The flipped classroom, or inverted classroom, is a teaching environment where what traditionally took place in the classroom, now takes place in the students’ homes and what traditionally took place in the students’ homes, now takes place in the classroom. In the flipped classroom setting, instead of students sitting at their desks, faced forward, with the teacher lecturing, the students are in teams, working on projects. The classroom is alive with activity. The students are engaged in interactive projects, working in small groups to comprehend the subject matter. The teacher is moving around, going from group to group, or working with individual students. No one is daydreaming, sleeping, gazing outside or staring at the clock waiting for the day to end.

Learning from home at the student's own pace
Learning from home at the student's own pace
Greg Green, Principal, Clintondale High School
Greg Green, Principal, Clintondale High School

The flipped classroom's roots

Today’s model for the flipped classroom began with Greg Green, Principal at Clintondale High School in Michigan. Green had been making videos for the school's baseball team and posting them on YouTube for the team to watch. The players watched the videos at home, and then put into practice what they learned from the videos during training. Green saw that this greatly improved the athletes' performance on the field. He decided to bring the concept into the classroom.

In the spring of 2010, Green set up an experiment with one of his school's social studies teachers. They set up two exact classes with the same material and assignments but one classroom was flipped. In the flipped class, Green placed primarily low performers - students who had previously failed the class. After 20 weeks, the students in the flipped classroom were outperforming the students in the traditional classroom.

All of the flipped classroom students received a grade of “C” or higher even though they had failed the previous semester. In the traditional classroom there was no change in achievement.

With such outstanding results, in the fall of 2011, the principal “flipped” the entire school - every grade and classroom. The results were remarkable. The failure rate in math dropped from 44% to 13%, in science from 41% to 19%, and in social studies from 28% to 9%. Graduation rates went up to almost 90%. College attendance went from 53% in 2010 to 80% in 2012.

Earlier usage

Before Clintondale, there were earlier versions of inverted learning. Barbara Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson authored a book entitled, “Effective Grading” in 1988. They suggested a model where students would first be exposed to learning concepts prior to coming to class and then, when in class, the student would focus on reviewing the concepts: analyzing, synthesizing and learning how to incorporate the concepts into problem-solving. (http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/teaching-guides/teaching-activities/flipping-the-classroom/)

Another team of educators, Maureen Lage, Glenn Platt and Michael Treglia authored a report for an economics course in 2000 where they discussed the advantages of an “inverted classroom” approach. Pointing out that students have different learning styles, the authors noted that the traditional lecture approach is problematic for some students.

In 2001, Eric Mazur and Catherine Couch discussed an early form of flipped classroom, which they called “peer instruction.” In their design, the students would gain initial exposure to the subject matter outside the classroom through assignments and quizzes, and then in the classroom, the students would deepen their understanding of the concepts through mini-lectures and other interactive activities.

Parents involvement in their children's education
Parents involvement in their children's education | Source

Why the flipped classroom seems to be working

All learning styles are addressed - Not every student learns by listening to a lecture. In fact many students are unable to sit and concentrate for this length of time. In the flipped classroom approach, students are given a variety of tools to help learn the subject matter outside of the classroom, i.e, textbook readings, lectures on videos, PowerPoint presentations, slideshows, audio lectures, etc. The students utilize these tools to learn the material in a way that works for them. By doing this work outside the classroom, it can be according to a schedule that is better suited for the student. When in the classroom, students already have some background information on the subject and can then connect to what the teacher is saying.

The “invisible” student is reached - Many times students don’t want to ask questions in the classroom because they don’t want to be embarrassed or labeled. When watching a video at home, students can stop it, reverse and review the same concept again or the entire video over and over until they get it. No one is looking over their shoulder. The student who is embarrassed or afraid to ask doesn't receive the attention needed. These are the silent ones who fall through the cracks. The teacher usually doesn't know what is going on with these students until the test scores come in. But, with the flipped classroom design, it is not easy to hide because all students are engaged in interactive and participatory projects.

Parents can be involved - Watching lecture videos at home also engages the parent, as they can now see what the teacher is teaching. It enables the parent to be of more assistance in helping their child understand difficult concepts.

Angela Chao and family at Harvard Business School
Angela Chao and family at Harvard Business School | Source

Best model of the "Flipped Classroom"

Of course, the most stellar, and perhaps earliest example of the flipped classroom is the Case Study Method at Harvard Business School. There, students read "cases", not textbooks, with real life examples plucked from the business world, to study and analyze BEFORE coming into the classroom. Once in the classroom, students come prepared, and even have to fight for a chance to speak - the quality and regularity of comments being essential to their grade - to debate, discuss and analyze the situation and problem at hand. This is no passive learning experience.

The jury is still out on the general broad-based applicability of the flipped classroom but the approach is generating a lot of excitement from teachers and parents and there should be no question that components should be integrated more widely into our educational system.

Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education

Traditional or Flipped

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