Imagine being in Ben Stein’s economics class from the 1986 film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Remember that scene where the teacher droned on and on in a monotonous, never-changing voice while students stared at him with that please-shut-up-you’re-putting-me-into-a-coma-look on their faces?
Could there be a way to keep those students awake and interested in the material instead of drowning in their boredom-induced sleep?
A new movement in education claims to have the answer: the “flipped” classroom.
This technology-based teaching style has found its way into schools including Folsom Middle School and Elk Grove High, according to a recent Sacramento Bee article (“‘Flipping’ class gaining momentum among educators,” Feb. 19).
The flipped classroom is a model which takes technology-based teaching to a new level.
Instead of lecturing in class and giving students homework, the teacher records lectures for students to watch at home. In class, students participate in activities to demonstrate their understanding and receive help with assignments. The teacher has essentially “flipped” the way students learn.
Supplementing lesson plans with videos isn’t a new concept. But, according to the same Sacramento Bee article, the idea of the flipped classroom grew from the lectures that two Colorado chemistry teachers recorded for students who missed class.
Supporters believe that the flipped classroom allows three important things to occur: an increase in one-on-one time with the teacher, students learning at their own pace and the development of “mastery learning.”
With the flipped model, class time is entirely devoted to helping the students. The teacher no longer lectures and instead guides and helps the student when they stumble. Students don’t move on to the next topic until they have demonstrated mastery.
Because lectures are in online video format, students can pause and rewind as much they want to better understand difficult information.
Though it is a radical concept, flipped classrooms are already demonstrating results.
At the Clintondale High School near Detroit, a fail rate of 50 percent in English and 44 percent in math for the freshman class dropped to a 19 percent and a 14 percent, according to Knewton, Inc, an adaptive online learning company.
So would the flipped classroom work at Country Day?
According to chemistry teacher Alan Beamer, the answer is no.
“I don’t think it’s that realistic,” he said. “They’ve (flipped classrooms) at a few universities. The students don’t do the work until the last minute, and you end up relecturing.”
Virginia Tech was the first of those universities, Beamer said.
The flipped classroom failed at Virginia Tech, he said, because students didn’t go to class, watched videos at the last minute and ended up failing.
For Beamer, the true problem is verifying whether or not the student did his or her work.
He said he would be more likely to entertain the idea if there were a way to verify that students watched the lectures. He’d think about using a flipped classroom only with AP students.
“For a regular student, would they really have the interest in the material to go through it all, or would they just ask their friend the next day about the video?”
Physics teacher Glenn Mangold agrees with Beamer, although he does say that he is not against the flipped classroom.
“With the traditional method (of teaching), I know that all the students in the room are ‘watching the notes,’” he said.
“If I ask them to watch a video before class, I think that some—maybe even most—won’t do it.”
But Mangold’s real problem with flipped teaching isn’t the students’ dedication to watching the video lectures. It’s that people believe the idea is new.
“When I was in high school, we called it ‘doing the assigned reading,’” he said. “I have the AP Physics C classes do this. I tell them that ‘if they don’t read ahead, we won’t be able to go fast enough.’”
And it’s the speed that has actually changed in the new tech-oriented flipped teaching, according to Mangold.
“It’s just slower now,” Mangold said.
“The problem here is that it takes 45 minutes to watch a video that you could learn in 10 minutes of reading.”
But Mangold doesn’t believe the flipped classroom should be discounted entirely. Teachers need to find a balance, he said.
“There’s a view that many teachers have where they say, ‘I have a laptop. How should I use it?’” he said.
“Instead, they should be saying ‘I have these students with these personalities and work habits, and I want them to learn this material. What’s the best way of doing it? Technology? Reading? Drawing?
“The teacher ends up panicking and thinks they have to use this new technology when it might not be the best decision.”
And this idea of hybridization is echoed by Sue Nellis, head of high school.
“I don’t know if a flipped classroom would work completely,” she said. “There are educational trends that come and go, and when there’s experimentation in the classroom, everyone is going to find bits and pieces to teach with.
“Throwing out everything you’ve done isn’t the right way of doing things. You have to think about the students you’re teaching and the whole community of the school.”