Flipped classrooms: Turning learning upside down

Trend of 'flipping classrooms' helps teachers to personalize education

Published: Sunday, Nov. 25 2012 10:35 p.m. MST

USU math professor Camille Fairbourn, seen at upper right, helps students with their assignments, both in the classroom at the campus in Brigham City, but also remotely in classrooms in other locations, by way of a remote camera system Monday, Sep. 17, 2012

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

Two years ago, the students in Sarah Tierney's fourth- and fifth-grade blended classroom weren't catching on to math well enough, and she knew it.

Teaching two grade levels in one room, as Tierney does in Centennial, Colo., is a challenge for any teacher. Tierney was teaching math the traditional way — lecturing and providing practice time at school, then assigning problems to be worked at home. But she found it hard to make sure each child was learning the material.

So last school year, Tierney turned math instruction on its head at Centennial's Franklin Elementary School, and this year the school's entire team of fifth-grade teachers joined her classroom flipping experiment. Their upside-down instruction model is showing benefits already.

Instead of listening to lectures at school and doing problems at home, students in a flipped classroom watch videotaped lectures at home (perhaps taking notes or working sample problems), then work through problems and exercises at school. There, the teacher can keep students working, supervise pairs or groups of students as they work problems, and work one-on-one with kids who lag behind.

The students absorb online lectures at their own pace each evening, repeating tricky concepts as needed. Parents can choose to watch along with their children as new learning concepts are introduced, improving their ability to help at home.

At school, the teacher's role is transformed. No longer a sage on the stage, the teacher becomes a guide on the side, spending precious class time working with students, spotting learning hurdles and helping students find ways to leap them, according to the Vancouver Sun.

The flipped classroom model seems to improve parent participation in student learning, and that's important, said Karen Cator, director of the office of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education. Cator likes the way the model serves a variety of learning styles, too.

"These advancements in digital learning are as significant as when people first began to learn from books," Cator said. The flipping trend is growing fast around the nation, she said, but more research will be required to evaluate its effectiveness.

Flip that class

The Franklin teaching team assigns students to take notes on the at-home video assignments, so the teachers work with their students on listening and note-taking at the beginning of the school year. They continue to reinforce those skills and are seeing benefits in other classes, said Sheryl Goutell, a member of Franklin Elementary's fifth-grade team.

Catherine Merrill, a math educator whose daughter is in Goutell's class, likes the new way of teaching math, a subject she's passionate about. Merrill thinks the flipped instruction model allows more time for her daughter to process new information because she is introduced to new concepts while watching videos at home and has a chance to try them out and think about them before coming to class.

Merrill is impressed with the quality of the videos Franklin's teaching team created. The teachers came together during the summer on donated time to learn to use Camtasia screen capture software, which allowed them to add interactive elements to their lecture videos. Slides, videos and voice-overs are combined in ways that hold students' interest.

Parents have been unanimously appreciative of the flipping model's advantages, Goutell said, and she and the other teachers feel re-energized by their heightened interaction with students.

An added advantage is that students who are absent don't miss out on the teachers' explanations of new concepts. And, their parents get a sense for how much material is missed when a student is absent, making parents less likely to take students out of school on flimsy excuses.

Pros and cons

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