When Aaron Sams and I started flipping our classes six years ago, we wanted to answer one important question: What is the best use of our face-to-face class time? As science teachers, we knew that instead of standing in front of students and lecturing to them, it was better to be among our students, helping them with difficult concepts and problems. We also knew that we needed to better incorporate problem- and inquiry-based learning into our classrooms. So we flipped both our chemistry and AP Chemistry classes, and we have not lectured a day in our classes since.
Some might argue that we simply have taken a bad mode of instruction—lecture—and put it on video. To some degree, I agree with these folks. But the amazing thing about flipping is that it enabled us to move from that lecture-based classroom model to a learner-centered, problem-based, inquiry-driven hub of learning. When we gained all that additional class time, we re-evaluated every assignment and its place in our curriculum. And today our videos are optional as well. We give students choices in how they want to learn. Most of our students watch our videos, but others are learning from their textbooks or from online simulations. We have essentially given the responsibility of learning to our students, and that is what the flipped classroom is really about.
If you try flipping your classroom, I think you will find that your students start taking more responsibility for their own learning as well. They will be more engaged and active in your classroom, where they will learn how to work collaboratively. They will see you more as a mentor and a coach instead of a disseminator of knowledge. And if you’re anything like me, you will never want to go back to the old stand-and-deliver method of teaching, because you will see the benefits of the flipped model—all students engaged, learning, challenged, and getting the individualized education they need.
Should all teachers flip? I think most should consider the idea of flipping at least some of their classes. Aaron and I flipped everything. No more lectures! But I am finding that this all-in approach doesn’t work in all grade levels. In my new role as a technology facilitator for a K–8 school, I am finding that flipping individual lessons—especially the more concrete ones, such as grammar and math—makes the most sense in the younger grades. But I have seen flipped classrooms work at every level, from elementary to college.
Are all subjects flippable? Probably not. It seems to work best with subjects that tend to be more linear, such as math, science, and foreign language. We know English and even PE teachers (check out www.flippedcoach.com to see how that works) who flip with great success, however.
So should you flip? Yes! But first you must ask yourself one important question: What is the best use of your face-to-face time with your students? When you answer this, you will quickly realize that either the all-in flip or simply flipping a few lessons just makes sense.
How can we shift the current education model in a way that allows every student to learn and excel? This is the question the flipped classroom is trying to answer. At first it may appear to be an innovative answer, but the underlying problems of bad pedagogy, misplaced emphasis on accountability, and the digital divide still exist. The concept of the flipped classroom—particularly the part of the model that asks students to watch videos at home—will remain inherently flawed until we address these underlying problems:
It’s still consumption. Despite offering greater classroom time, the actual material you are asking the student to learn is still presented and consumed: Watch a lecture, watch some sample problems, and then go to your teacher for help. As the student is watching the video, there is no inquiry, no collaboration—it’s passive. The future of education isn’t a new way to consume; it’s new ways of thinking about how students learn through ideas like project-based and collaborative learning. Why aren’t we finding innovative ways for our students to connect, collaborate, and create instead of new ways to simply consume information?
Teachers are still held accountable for
student achievement. The flipped classroom puts control of learning into the hands of students. This idea is worth pursuing, but it unfortunately clashes with the current push for teacher accountability across the world. Teachers are tasked with being the experts who educate students and are held accountable for proving it through standardized testing, when each student should be held accountable for his/her own learning. That means we must place less emphasis on standardized testing and more on inquiry- and project-based learning. Until that shift in thinking takes place, concepts like the flipped classroom
cannot work effectively.
Not every home can support a flipped classroom. My biggest concern about the flipped classroom model is that access to the flipped classroom is not ubiquitous. Because much of the world is still without wired broadband internet, especially rural areas and areas with high poverty rates, an overwhelming number of students are not able to participate in flipped classrooms. Even those with wireless access will have to contend with bandwidth and data-capping restraints. Making technology use at home mandatory would serve only to increase the academic achievement gap between high- and low-income students that is already prevalent in education. Until broadband is in every home, the flipped classroom will disenfranchise a segment of students, leaving them lacking in necessary instruction while their more affluent peers continue to succeed.
As a society, we need to focus more on reforming education on a fundamental level. We need to adjust the way we think about education, not just the way it looks. We need to move education forward, not sideways. Until then, the flipped classroom and similar concepts will continue to move education along the same track instead of helping it jump the track altogether.
— Jonathan Bergmann co-wrote Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, which ISTE is releasing in June, with Aaron Sams. He is the lead technology facilitator for the Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth, Illinois, USA. He received the Presidential Award for Excellence for Math and Science Teaching in 2002 and was a semifinalist for Colorado Teacher of the Year in 2010. He also blogs at http://flipped-learning.com.
—Derrick Waddell is a former high school teacher and instructional technology specialist for Cullman County Schools in Alabama, USA. As a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer, he champions cloud technologies on his blog, www.teachthecloud.com.