The Flipped Classroom

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What exactly is the flipped classroom design? 

© Leslie Owen Wilson

Good teaching cannot be reduced to one technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.   

Parker Palmer – The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life

While there are emerging a number of definitions and designs referred to as “the flipped classroom” the main intentions of this teaching model are to reverse the traditional presentation methods of classic teaching away from what teachers are saying to concentrating on how students are learning and retaining knowledge and information. In doing this teachers are strongly encouraged to utilize a myriad of educational tools, to include technologies and e-formats, as well as tried and true educational models and teaching techniques. The flipped model has also been referred to as “blended learning”,hybrid learning,” or the “inverted model.” From its conception, the “flipped” model was intended to meld and make full use of available e-technologies, which are then combined with face-to-face learning events.

What was: In the traditional classroom model students are usually passive – mostly they listen and watch. During class time students are given background and new information, and often they observe demonstrations of procedures, and watch the teacher show problem solutions or subject related processes. Most commonly information is offered through activities like reading texts or using guided reading assignments, informational lectures or demonstrations, or by PowerPoint or video presentations, etc. Usually these are delivered by a single instructor in a teacher-directed learning environment. Homework is then based on the information covered in class, and often given with the expressed purpose of practicing a skill, or rehearsing or expanding on the initial the knowledge or understandings as presented or guided by the teacher during class time.

Simply put models of teaching deal with the ways in which learning environments and instructional experiences can be constructed, sequenced, or delivered.       Leslie Wilson On teaching models

 What could be – The flipped model: Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann are behind the birth of the flipped model. In 2007 both Sams and Bergmann were secondary school chemistry teachers. They were teaching in Colorado where many of their students lived in remote areas with lengthy bus rides to and from school. These students were always missing class time instruction and demonstrations.

Sams and Bergmann had the idea of broadcasting and recording lectures and demos so these students could have full access to the information missed in class either on the bus or at home via the internet. This method worked so well that the next step was to flip their traditional manner of delivery and devise more intense and interactive experiences for students during their in class experiences.

The chemistry teachers’ efforts and ideas have been embraced by a large number of educators who like the independent access portion of the model, as well as the diversity of teaching techniques that can be used during class time. The methods and ideas inherent in the flipped model have worked so well that Sams and Bergmann have gone on to extend their instructions to other educators on how to best implement their model via books, video clips, and conference presentations. The pair has authored a number of very readable works, geared mostly to educators, grades 5-12, on the rudiments of how to best construct and execute their flipped model. Their very vocal passion and enthusiasm, as well as writing about their personal experiences and those of others in using the model, have helped add to its fast growing popularity.

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Design 1 – 3 Part flipped design – Clipart MS Word 7/2010

The time when my students really needed me physically present is when they get stuck and need my individual help. They don’t need me in the room to yak at them and give them content, they can receive content on their own. (Sams, A. 2012, 5)

Model details: It is perhaps too simple to just say in the “flipped” model of teaching the processes are reversed. The primary intentions of this inverted model are to provide students with more direct access to teacher help. As well, in using the model its structure offers students more active roles in their own learning experiences through concentrated and interactive types of learning during class time. Ideally the model is executed so that during class teachers can better personalize students’ learning though individual help or small group interactions.

The pattern of the “flipped” model usually involves an “at home or independent” preparatory assignment whereby students are required to acquire background information before class sessions. This is achieved through some form of digital presentation or format, or using a hard copy source — videos, podcasts, e-instruction, e-demonstrations, explorations of designated websites, or through books or course manuals, or e-versions of these. Additionally, in some interpretations of the model, the “at home/independent” component may also include opportunities for review or lesson extensions, or collaborative academically focused online interactions with peers.

The class time portion of the model is then reserved for more active and interactive learning experiences — exploring, rehearsing, practicing, and discussing what students have learned independently. Or during this instructor/student contact period, learners will be called upon to extend preliminary knowledge into deeper learning experiences. The “in class” experiences in the flipped classroom are meant to include allocated time where teachers can offer multiple opportunities for help or clarification, or for offering different types of exploratory learning experiences which are monitored by the teachers. Also during this direct contact period, students are not just rehearsing targeted information; ideally they are also having varied types of quality educational experiences so that they might develop some level of content mastery. The concentration during “class time” in the flipped model should be dedicated to promoting students’ understanding and competency rather than on information gathering and dissemination.

The intentions and rationale behind the model: In providing a rationale for the flipped model, Sams’ and Bergmann’s intentions are to help students explore more difficult or complex concepts while in class, with the benefit of receiving individual or small group help directly from the teacher. The collective portion is where students can be engaged in instructional activities that lead to higher levels of thinking, learning, and problem solving. At this point it is where the teacher not only “checks for understanding,” but allows students to rehearse new information, and seek clarification on any of the “fuzzy” points or misunderstood portions or the content.

Much of the rationale driving the “flipped classroom” draws from two components:

  1. The general accessibility and proliferation of quality online information, lectures, and related activities as in the examples offered previously, and
  1. Time management issues whereby taped e-lectures and demonstrations appear to be as effective in disseminating new and basic information as those classes and presentations that happen in real time. If this effectiveness issue is true, then devoted class time can be used more effectively interacting with students and focusing or directing their learning efforts toward active learning experiences, content rehearsal and mastery, and encouraging them to think at critical or creative levels as well as problem solve.

Learner advantages: The central premise of the flipped model hinges on the fact that in today’s information rich age, course content can be easily accessed electronically and previewed, read or reviewed outside of the classroom. As indicated, either preliminary examination of information, or information review and extension, can be done independently by each learner. Students can read, view, or hear information at their own speed in preparation for a forthcoming class. Lectures and demonstrations introduced and absorbed from an e-source also have the decided advantage where learners can replay segments any number of times, or even pause or reverse content while they examine it more closely and/or take notes. Again, the other advantage is there is opportunity for direct help or interactions with the teacher on a regular basis. Class time can then be devoted to exercises and activities where learners explore, practice, examine, and discuss assigned concepts more thoroughly and in more depth. This allocated time not only allows for help, but also allows for rehearsal which has been repeatedly shown to increase retention.

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Design 2 – 2 Part flipped design – Tables: L.O. Wilson/2015

Phenomenal resources: A big part of the appeal and strength of the model are the availability of all kinds of video and audio capture formats; as well as new learning technologies, programs, and informational websites that are designed to help initiate, implement, support and enhance the concept of the flipped classroom. Additionally, a number of prestigious institutions, and sponsored online resources are offering free information to students and teachers. These resources are often outstanding, and far beyond what might be accessible through traditional teacher-led lectures and presentations.

New technologies and new attitudes about information sharing: In the recent past “information” was often considered to be proprietary — however, the internet has certainly revolutionized that! There have been several pivotal events leading to what generally passes as the popularization of the “flipped classroom” through easy information access.

In 2001 MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) released a program called OpenCourseWare (OCW) whereby previously exclusive notes and course information were released so that anyone could have access. Continuing this general access trend, in 2006 an MIT alumni, Salman Khan developed the Khan Academy. This learning library houses a huge collection of several thousand lectures and related practice exercises. Several professors at Stanford University mirrored the Khan example making information from their courses available for general access online. Other prestigious universities like Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and Coursera have followed suit joining these efforts to expand access to quality courseware for free. Both MIT and Harvard have joined forces in a 60 million dollar project entitled “edX” where they are providing an array of classes gratis. Additionally, world-famous organizations like TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) have cached TED Talks online from their worldwide conferences for easy access by anyone.

In addition to many “how to” and demonstration videos on YouTube, this very accessible cache of quality academic material is a phenomenal treasure trove for any teacher willing to spend the time sifting and sorting materials to fit into their instructional design and pedagogical frameworks.

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Things to think about – Caveats, Warnings, and Prime Considerations:

 Leslie’s warnings and her “Baker’s Dozen” – considerations both before and while implementing the flipped classroom model

Teaching practices are usually driven by personal and professional beliefs: At this juncture I think it is important to note that a successful attempt to initiate a quality “flipped classroom” model often depends on the teacher’s professional philosophical orientation. This model properly executed falls under the classification of “constructivist” learning. This view acknowledges learners’ differences and unique perspectives as they interact with the educational materials and experiences provided. This philosophical mindset is based on the premise that in instances where learners are enthusiastically engaged in learning activities – ones that allow them to explore and interact with chosen content – the learning outcomes may be highly personalized.

On summing up the beliefs that drive “constructivism” Baxter-Magola (2004) succinctly points out that:

People actively construct or make meaning of their experiences—they interpret what happens to them, evaluate it using their current perspective, and draw conclusions about what experiences mean to them. The meaning they construct depends on their current assumptions about themselves and the world, conflicting assumptions they encounter, and the context in which the experience occurs.” (31)

As a professional orientation to learning, constructivism acknowledges the uniqueness of each learner.  Educators embracing this view recognize that each learner’s experiences may be different, despite exposure to the same materials or teachings. If an educator has a more traditional orientation toward educational practices and outcomes, for instance a “one size fits all” perspective, then the flipped model may be less useful in creating positive or recognizable learner outcomes.

Perhaps the principle of expectation works here. Those teachers who believe that learners actively construct their own knowledge seem to have less trouble letting go of face-to-face, tightly teacher directed and lecture heavy formats.

The array of phenomenal resources available to today’s teachers and students is mindboggling. The major challenge within the constructs of the flipped model is one of the sheer volume of information. The challenge remains for those embracing the model to have the time, patience, and energy to carefully cull available resources and then create curricular frameworks and sequences that fit the mission of their discipline and the end visions of their learners.

But no matter what one’s teaching orientation, one of the most useful and exciting parts of the model is the “in class” portion as it allows time for the teacher to expose and explore students’ different perspectives directly. Specifically, as indicated before the models pattern allows class time for clearing up fuzzy or muddy points, addressing misconceptions, helping students develop and clarify viewpoints, , practice and perfect academic skills and processes, and delve into knowledge and materials at deeper levels.

scollLeslie’s Baker’s Dozen:

In initiating the flipped model, it is extremely important to consider and answer the following questions.  

  1.  Are your students sufficiently intrinsically motivated to be able to self-initiate the “at home” or independent portion of this model, and how can you best determine this?  
  1. Beyond the books or teacher-created manual choices, do your students have ready access to the many e-format(s) that can be used to deliver information assigned for the out-of-class explorations? Specifically, which technologies are best suited and accessible to your particular students?  
  1.  Often we make unilateral assumptions that today’s students are all tech-savvy, but are your particular students adept in using the technology you want them to use? If not, are you willing to offer tutorials so that they can more easily access and master the desired technologies? 
  1.  How do the materials chosen for the independent portion of the model relate to your institutions’ curriculum? Will the relationships be clear to students, their parents, and to your peers or administrators? 
  1. Are you willing to develop easily understandable information on the intentions and processes of the “flipped classroom model” so that students, and their parents, might understand the concept, procedures, and expectations? 
  1.  Are the chosen “independent” materials at the appropriate grade and/or reading levels, as well as developmentally appropriate for your students? Have you carefully created or chosen materials that can be easily understood at independent levels for the self-directed “at home/independent” portion of the model? 
  1.  If you are using materials from others, are those from credible sources? And can these sources be easily accessed by students?
  1.  How will the materials you are requiring students to access independently be displayed and linked? And, how will you assure that any e-materials being used are always successfully linked for easy student access? 
  1. How will you tie the materials accessed independently to the “in class” portion of the model? Specifically which models, activities, formats, groupings are you considering using for the “in class” portion of the model? 
  1. How will your chosen array of teaching techniques lead to further understanding, deeper learning, and content mastery? 
  1. How will you best assess the success of using this type of instructional model? Will you assess the independent and classroom portions of the model together or separately?  Which types of assessments will you use to know if your learning objectives have been met? 
  1. As teachers, often in grave error, we make the assumptions that our students naturally develop study skills– to include note-taking abilities. The truth is many students (even ones at the college level) struggle in this area with hit or miss techniques. How will you assure that your students are prepared to succeed in the independent portion of the model? What skills will they need?    
  1. Lastly, in my mind, all good instruction begins with a well-developed and considered vision of learners at the end of their contact with the teacher. How does the flipped model fit into your vision of your students at the end of their contact with you? How might using this model have changed them? What will they know and understand as a result of being engaged in the flipped classroom model? 

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Additional Elements to Consider:

There are other elements that might help assure the success of the flipped model. These suggestions have broad applicability and should be part of good teaching no matter what instructional model or technique is being used.   

The potential of the model: There are hundreds of different teaching models and techniques. Part of good teaching is picking the ones that match the learning task at hand. Also part of good teaching is selecting models and techniques which reflect ones’ teaching style and professional beliefs. These two things usually drive what educators consider when they think about how students learn best, and should the direct choices of class activities so they best fit the subject and content being taught. Exceptional teachers are ones who know their students and what motivates and engages them.

One of the strong “pros” of the flipped classroom model is that it is highly adaptable to many different subject and content areas. While students are acquiring baseline information and knowledge, or reviewing information at self-paced, independent levels, what goes on in class can utilize many different separate teaching models and different teaching techniques. A committed and gifted teacher can actively engage students and accommodate different types of learners and their individual learning styles by actively investigating and using different types of learning models for the “in class” portion of the flipped design. However, one cannot do the flipped classroom model justice by just slapping a list of random videos together and then allocating time to discuss them in class.

A course utilizing the flipped classroom model fully has to be carefully researched, designed, sequenced, orchestrated, and assessed. It needs to be constructed and paced with appropriate content that not only reflects the approved or targeted curriculum, but also strongly relates to the age and achievement levels of the students involved. It is imperative that the teacher designing the course asks and answers the questions I have posed above, and has thought carefully about how e-components or independently investigated elements are chosen and delivered. “In class” time is doubly important, not merely for information rehearsal, but for promoting deeper learning and critical or creative thinking as well.  

Teaching fundamentals – Utilizing assessments: One of the elements that needs to be considered when crafting a successful execution of the flipped model is assessment.

  • How are you going to know if students have completed the independent portion of the model successfully?
  • And how are you going to know if class activities are effective in achieving learning objectives in the classroom portion?

Here I suggest that those considering the model investigate all kinds of assessments – traditional, objective, subjective, formative, summative, and authentic. There are some fantastic web resources with suggestions and samples of all of these types of assessments. Plus I suggest that readers might want to use what is referred to as CATs (Classroom Assessment Techniques) to help determine if the independent portion of the course is working. CATs are usually simple ungraded methods, that may or may not be anonymous, and which offer educators indications of students’ understanding, perceptions or misperceptions as they interact with chosen content. CATs can also be tweaked to be pre-assessments of students’ knowledge of content as they come into the course.

Examples of CATs are:

Entry Slips – The “exit slip” is a common way a teacher can check to see what was learned during a lesson. Reversing this process students can fill out “entry slips” when coming into class indicating several lessons learned during the independent portion of the flipped model. Students can also ask a clarifying question about the independent portion to be addressed during class.

Note Check – The teacher simply reviews notes taken during the independent portion of the model. This not only provides alerts as to who has not completed this portion, but may provide insights into those students whose note taking abilities need help. This should be done early on to help those students who need help in this area as note taking is an important part of independent learning and a lifetime learning academic skill.

The Background Knowledge Probe – This is a short, simple questionnaire given to students at the start of a course, or before the introduction of a new unit, lesson or topic. It is designed to uncover students’ pre-conceptions and what background knowledge they may have.

The Minute Paper gives the teacher an indication of how students are gaining knowledge, or not. The instructor ends class by asking students to write a brief response to the following questions: “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” and “What important question remains unanswered?” This idea can be used as an entry exercise also. It is much like an exit slip.

The Muddiest or Fuzziest Point – This is one of the simplest CATs to help assess where students are having difficulties. The technique consists of asking students to jot down a quick response to one question: “What was the muddiest/fuzziest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, film, etc.]?” The term “muddiest” means “most difficult to understand.” Again, this idea can be used as an entry exercise also.  

Why should I assess and pre-assess?

  • It can save time that can be used more productively by helping to eliminate possible redundancies.
  • It can help eliminate student boredom with repetitious content that may already have been learned or mastered.
  • Time saved can be used offering students opportunities to explore a subject at deeper and more comprehensive, or accelerated levels.

Overlooked resources: Many colleges and universities have professional development or teaching centers designed and devoted to helping faculty become better teachers. Most of these centers have companion websites offering well-researched ideas and suggestions for classroom application. While these are an extension of college teaching, many of the ideas and posted documents are simply about good teaching and have broader applicability. These teaching and learning center websites are gold mines of ideas, forms, links, articles, research, suggestions, white papers, and sometimes even full text published articles on teaching and learning. (See sample links below)

Endings – A cautionary tale

The wrong way to flip: I was at a social event several months ago when a mother of a high school junior was complaining about a teacher’s use of the flipped classroom model. She seemed incensed that her son constantly complained that he “wasn’t learning a darn thing!”  Being interested in how teachers are using and organizing this model, I asked the mother several gently probing questions about how her son’s class was structured. Personally I think the model has great potential for those teachers who actively embrace constructivist learning principles, and also for learners who are sufficiently intrinsically motivated to complete the critical “at home” preparation portion of the model. Through a series of casual questions I was able to ascertain pretty quickly that this model was not right for her son, nor was it being presented in a way that optimized student learning.

Essentially the teacher in question seemed to send students to class related YouTube videos where other instructors demonstrated science concepts. He would then have students read related materials in class and discuss them. The process seemed a bit haphazard. There appeared to be no preparatory discussions or introductions provided for the “at home” portion, nor were there companion worksheets, study guides, or questions offered by the teacher to guide the students through the videoed demonstrations. Students were directed only to “take notes” on what they watched so they could discuss concepts in class in small groups or as a class. Multiple choice and short answer quizzes and tests were based mostly on the viewed videos. After a few more questions about her son, I also had the impression that he didn’t really like science, and had trouble forcing himself to watch the assigned videos, much less take comprehensive notes about what he was viewing.

While this is a prime example of what not to do in the flipped model, when done correctly and thoughtfully, it can be an excellent instructional model. But like all teaching models the flipped classroom is not one for every student, nor is it for every teacher.

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Want to know more about the flipped model? Here are two books by the creators of the model.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. ISTE (Eugene, OR.; Alexandria, VA.: ISTE ; ASCD. (Co-published by ISTE and ASCD)

This teaching model is the reverse of traditional classroom presentation methods — away from what teachers are saying and rather concentrating on how students are learning and retaining knowledge and information. In 2007 both Sams and Bergmann were secondary school chemistry teachers. They were teaching in Colorado where many of their students lived in remote areas with lengthy bus rides to and from school. These students were always missing class time instruction and demonstrations.

Sams and Bergmann had the idea of broadcasting and recording lectures and demos so these students could have full access to the information missed in class either on the bus or at home via the internet. This method worked so well that the next step was to flip their traditional manner of delivery and devise more intense and interactive experiences for students during their in class experiences.

Through using this method Bergmann and Sams found that their students demonstrated a deeper understanding of the material than ever before. This book allows readers to learn what a flipped classroom looks like, as well as why it works better than traditional lecture based classes for many students.

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement, ISTE

While the creators of the flippedclassroom, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, stress there are no set formulas for flipping a classroom, they do have some tried and true suggestions as to how to do it well. This is a great addition for any educators, at any level who is considering trying the flipped model. They have done the heavy lifting and are happy to share what they have found out and what seems to work best in creating this model.

Selected Examples of Available Online Resources: 

Sources:

Baxter-Magolda, M. B. (2004) Evolution of a Constructivist Conceptualization of Epistemological Reflection – PDF reprint from EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 39(1), 31–42. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc @ http://citl.indiana.edu/files/pdf/baxter_1.pdf

Bergmann, J., & Sams, A. (2012). Flip your classroom: Reach every student in every class every day. ISTE

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