Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Flipped Classroom in Action

Photo credit jnpoulos
I love it when I hear about something so exciting that it makes me want to go back in the classroom to try it. I first heard about "flipping classrooms" at the beginning of the school year. However,  since I came to a new school this year, I was inundated with new information and couldn’t pay much attention back then. Fortunately, I heard it described in more detail yesterday by Steve Hegwood, a teacher at our school. The more I heard, the more fascinated I became.

What is a Flipped Classroom?

In the traditional setting, a teacher will lecture/present a lesson during class and assign homework for the student to practice and learn the material at home. Students are passive while in class and active at home doing the practice/homework. Furthermore, while a student is practicing something like math or chemistry at home on their own, they’re more likely to have questions. But no one is there to help. To make matters worse, sometimes a student practices something incorrectly over and over and it becomes “cemented” in their brain wrong.

But a flipped classroom is the exact opposite. A teacher records the lecture/lesson for students to watch on video for homework. Then the students come to class the next day having already heard the lecture/lesson, so they’re ready to practice what they learned. And the teacher is there to help and to discuss their learning. So, the passive portion of learning is at home and the active portion is at school with the expert on hand.

This is makes so much sense that I wonder why we didn’t begin this ages ago!

The idea was pioneered by two teachers in Colorado who began with simply videoing their lessons because so many students were absent. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams say they began for selfish reasons, because of the time it takes to “catch up” students who are absent. After they began posting their lessons online, the feedback was tremendous. Not only were absent students benefiting, but other students who were present for the first lecture began re-watching the lectures on video. Also, students found them helpful in reviewing for tests. Their journey is detailed here at The Flipped Class Blog.

Back to my school where teacher Steve Hegwood began flipping his classroom at the beginning of the school year. I got a summary from Steve at a faculty meeting, but I wanted to learn more about how he and his students were doing with this approach, so I asked him. He graciously agreed to be interviewed.

How did you hear about flipping classrooms?
After attending the November Learning BLC conference in Boston for two consecutive years, I was poking around on the Internet looking for ideas of practical applications of technology to enhance student learning (one thing I despise is the trend in the implementation of technology for technology’s sake – you wouldn’t buy a hammer and then go looking for nails to hit). I stumbled across the community site last December or January. I attended the conference in June.

Were students intrigued or hesitant at the beginning of the year?
If I could go back and change how I presented the approach to the students I would. Sometimes more information is not better. I was very excited about what I had planned for my classes so I spelled out every detail on the first day of school. For the most part my explanation was met with blank stares and looks of terror. To the students, it was as if I was about to take everything that they had grown accustomed to over the last 10 years of their education and throw it out the window. They all became very defensive and I could no longer convince them that I wasn’t changing anything other than where they would be listening to lectures.

How do they feel about watching videos for homework?
Initially they were not to sure about it – they thought I was crazy. Their biggest apprehensions were centered on the inability to ask questions. Now that they realize that many of the questions they would normally ask early in a traditional lecture are usually answered later in the same lecture, many have developed the patience to wait until the end to see if they still have questions. Even when I take time in class for a traditional lecture I find that I am being interrupted much less frequently than in the past. I also encourage them to write down their questions as they watch and then ask when they return to class. They also love the fact that the videos have “pause” and “rewind” buttons the average teacher doesn’t have.

How are they doing with the in-class work? Do they like having you there for their practice time?
As I was slowly implementing the approach, providing a mix of video and traditional lectures, the early apprehension quickly faded as students began asking me if they could have another “work day” and wanting to know when the next videos would be posted. The students are finding that the homework is much “easier” when they have someone present who can explain how to work through problems instead of relying only on their own class notes.

Overall, how do you think the process benefits student learning? The questions that are being asked in class are much more advanced than what I am used to receiving from my first year students – many of the questions are what I might expect early in the year from my AP Chemistry students. Average test scores have increased by 6 to 10 percentage points. Not only are scores higher than in the past, but the students seem to have a better appreciation for and understanding of the material.

Since I write about technology here, perhaps you can tell us what software you use to record your slideshows?
I am using Camtasia Studio 7.1 to record and produce the videos. I host them on a Moodle site that I maintain myself. So far, my videos have been voiceovers of my working my way through PowerPoint presentations.

And the name of the nifty gadget you use to make your marks on the screen?
While making the recordings of my PowerPoint presentations, I occasionally use a Wacom Intuos 4 tablet to make handwritten annotations throughout the presentation. The Intuos 4 is Wacom’s midrange tablet, but they make a wide range of tablets from the entry level Bamboo to a series of professional grade tablets. As a technophile myself, this is a personal item that I already happened to have, but there are a number of similar products on the market. Interactive whiteboards are also great for this.

If a teacher is interested in learning more, do you have a website to refer them to?
I would strongly recommend that anyone wanting information visit, and consider joining, the community site and start sifting through the wealth of information and ask questions.

Wow, so much to think about. Thanks so much! I love to share innovative teaching ideas that enhance students learning. I’ll be interested to see how the year progresses. I'll do a status update at the end of the year.

Here is the link for the first time flippers group at the vodcasting ning that Steve mentioned:
Check it out!