The flipped classroom

Diana Clement looks at the phenomenon that’s, well, turning classroom practice on its head. Key points A new way of teaching that uses technology to reverse the usual order of…

Diana Clement looks at the phenomenon that’s, well, turning classroom practice on its head.


Key points

  • A new way of teaching that uses technology to reverse the usual order of teaching a topic is taking hold in New Zealand.
  • It may have certain fad-like qualities but it’s also making a dramatic improvement in some classrooms, particularly around behaviour.

What’s the best use of your time in the classroom? Is it delivering face-to-face lessons to the class as a whole? Or is it the activities that use that learning? These are the questions that drive the flipped classroom concept.

Traditionally a teacher would teach subtraction or adjectives or the lifecycle of the butterfly in class and then children would use workbooks or assignments to do exercises on the topic. With flipping, students do the basic learning for homework and cover the applied learning and any problems in class. The theory is that there is less passive learning in class and more active and personalised learning.

In a flipped classroom the teacher becomes a guide, says Leigh Hynes, learning with digital technologies facilitator at the University of Waikato. Or as J Wesley Baker, who is seen as the Godfather of flipped learning, once said: “The guide on the side, instead of the sage on the stage.”

On the cusp

The concept really got underway when Colorado-based teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams started sending videos home for students to watch and dedicated time in class to inquiry-based learning. In other words the class became the homework and the activities the classwork.

Although gaining popularity in secondary schools, the flipped classroom has been slow taking off in New Zealand primary and intermediate schools and may just be on the cusp. In part, says Hynes, teachers have been distracted by issues around National Standards and haven’t had the time to dedicate to the learning and use of new technologies.

One intermediate school teacher who is sold on the concept is T H Biddle of Maeroa Intermediate School. Biddle, with the help of Hynes, has just started flipped lessons in his bi-lingual class.

A concept that clicked

The Hamilton-based teacher first heard about flipping at an eLearning refresher course in Wellington and the concept clicked. “I wanted my students to be confident learners and I thought (flipping) would make them more confident.

“When we have students who are more confident, it minimises behavioural problems because they engage in activities rather than thinking: ‘I don’t know what I am doing so I’m just going to muck around’.”

The first flipped lesson was on adjacent angles. Biddle outlined to the students the new style of learning, recorded himself, put the video on the classroom blog, and asked students to watch the clip at home. If they didn’t have the internet they, and their parents, were allowed to watch the clip in the classroom between 3pm and 5pm when Biddle would be there anyway.

Stop and rewind

The great thing was that the students were able to stop and rewind the lesson as often as they needed until they understood the concept. The children who took longer to understand were able to watch the video more times until they did.

Biddle adds: “They could stop and go back ten or twenty times to get it.” In many cases the whanau were learning alongside the student. “It keeps the whanau informed with what is happening and they are there to support the student.”

The outcome was that the learners understood the concept by the time they got to school the next day and were able to understand and be more involved in the activities, which consolidated the learning.

There wasn’t a single incident of bad behaviour during that lesson. Biddle adds that the students found the flipped lesson less challenging than if he had taught the concept in class and moved straight on to the activities.

Biddle spoke to a number of parents who also enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in their children’s learning.

More than one way

There is more than one model of flipped classroom around now says Hynes. But one thing that it’s not is Khan Academy videos. Research has shown that students identify with clips of their own teacher. “It’s very personal,” says Hynes. “The relationship between the teacher and the students is crucial.” So they can’t just be pulled from YouTube or even Pond.

Flipping isn’t easy. It’s not:

  • a replacement for teachers. The teacher becomes more important than ever guiding the activities.
  • Follow-up videos. It gives the flexibility that provides more time for teachers to teach.
  • a silver bullet that solves everything. It’s a tool to make the classroom more student-centred.
  • one-size-fits-all. Different schools, ages and classes need a different approach.
  • a teacher holiday. The teachers have to create the videos and be there to assist with activities.

Teachers can record their own lessons using apps such as Educreations and ShowMe.

Even the National Library of New Zealand sees a place for school libraries to build and/or make accessible content for the school.

Just a fad?

On the downside, some teachers see the flipped classroom as a novelty. They fear that it is a flavour of the month. Other potential problems include students not doing their homework. If they arrive at school without having viewed the video, they are automatically at a disadvantage. The reality is that it’s no easier for many students to watch a video than to do other homework. It requires the children and their parents to be more responsible about the learning.

Other issues that teachers need to consider in New Zealand include:

Not every flipping time

There is of course no need flip every lesson. One can be flipped here and there. In a survey in the United States by the SOPHIA online community only 5 percent of teachers who were using flipping got their students to watch a video clip every day. About 20 percent assigned videos four to five times a week, and almost half assigned a video once or twice a week.

There are many formal and informal ways to learn more about flipping.

Informally teachers can simply read blogs, websites and the Network for Learning portal Pond discussions on the subject, says Hynes. Twitter hashtags such as #flippedclassroom and #flippedlearning are also good. There are numerous videos about flipping on YouTube.

Schools can access professional development through the Learning with Digital Technologies Professional Learning Development team.

ULearn will be providing three separate flipping classroom modules on October 7 this year presented by Leigh Hynes, Jenny Barrett and Julia Parker. It’s most likely future Educamps will also provide professional development on flipped classrooms.

Hynes also is able to offer assistance through the Institute of Professional Learning at the University of Waikato.