The Flipped Classroom

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Online instruction at home frees class time for learning



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Winter 2012 / Vol. 12, No. 1

Four years ago, in the shadow of Colorado’s Pike’s Peak, veteran Woodland Park High School chemistry teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams stumbled onto an idea. Struggling to find the time to reteach lessons for absent students, they plunked down $50, bought software that allowed them to record and annotate lessons, and posted them online. Absent students appreciated the opportunity to see what they missed. But, surprisingly, so did students who hadn’t missed class. They, too, used the online material, mostly to review and reinforce classroom lessons. And, soon, Bergmann and Sams realized they had the opportunity to radically rethink how they used class time.

It’s called “the flipped classroom.” While there is no one model, the core idea is to flip the common instructional approach: With teacher-created videos and interactive lessons, instruction that used to occur in class is now accessed at home, in advance of class. Class becomes the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning. Most importantly, all aspects of instruction can be rethought to best maximize the scarcest learning resource—time.

Flipped classroom teachers almost universally agree that it’s not the instructional videos on their own, but how they are integrated into an overall approach, that makes the difference. In his classes, Bergmann says, students can’t just “watch the video and be done with it.” He checks their notes and requires each student to come to class with a question. And, while he says it takes a little while for students to get used to the system, as the year progresses he sees them asking better questions and thinking more deeply about the content. After flipping his classroom, Bergmann says he can more easily query individual students, probe for misconceptions around scientific concepts, and clear up incorrect notions.

Counterintuitively, Bergmann says the most important benefits of the video lessons are profoundly human: “I now have time to work individually with students. I talk to every student in every classroom every day.” Traditional classroom interactions are also flipped. Typically, the most outgoing and engaged students ask questions, while struggling students may act out. Bergmann notes that he now spends more time with struggling students, who no longer give up on homework, but work through challenging problems in class. Advanced students have more freedom to learn independently. And, while high-school students still occasionally lapse on homework assignments, Bergmann credits the new arrangement with fostering better relationships, greater student engagement, and higher levels of motivation.

Once Bergmann’s and Sams’s lessons were posted online, it wasn’t long before other students and teachers across the country were using the lessons, and making their own. Across the country in Washington, D.C., Andrea Smith, a 6th-grade math teacher at E. L. Haynes, a high-performing public charter school, shares Bergmann’s enthusiasm, but focuses on a different aspect of the flipped classroom. Smith, who has taught for more than a decade in both D.C.’s public charter and traditional district schools, immediately saw the benefit for students, but says she was most captivated by the opportunity to elevate teaching practice and the profession as a whole. As Smith explains, crafting a great four- to six-minute video lesson poses a tremendous instructional challenge: how to explain a concept in a clear, concise, bite-sized chunk. Creating her own videos forces her to pay attention to the details and nuances of instruction—the pace, the examples used, the visual representation, and the development of aligned assessment practices. In a video lesson on dividing fractions, for example, Smith is careful not to just teach the procedure—multiply by the inverse—but also to represent the important underlying conceptual ideas. Like Bergmann, she makes it clear that the videos are just one component of instruction. She’s keen on the equivalent of a motion picture’s “director’s cut,” where a video creator might explain the reasoning behind the examples chosen and how she would extend those activities into class time.

“Flipping” is rapidly moving into the mainstream. Bergmann and Sams have completed a book, are in high demand across the country at educator conferences, and even host their own “Flipped Class Conference” to train teachers. The chief academic officer at Smith’s school, Eric Westendorf, is taking the tools he has piloted at the school and building them into a platform for teachers everywhere to create and share videos. Most notable, though, is the emergence of the Khan Academy, an online repository of thousands of instructional videos that has been touted by Bill Gates and featured prominently in the national media.

Given education’s long history of fascination with new instructional approaches that are later abandoned, there’s a real danger that flipping, a seemingly simple idea that is profound in practice, may be reduced into the latest educational fad. And, in today’s highly polarized political environment, it also runs the risk of being falsely pigeonholed into one of education’s many false dichotomies, such as the age-old pedagogical debate between content knowledge and skills acquisition.

But the ideas behind flipping are not brand new. For over a decade, led by the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT), dozens of colleges have successfully experimented with similar ideas across math, science, English, and many other disciplines. NCAT’s increasingly impressive body of practice shows that thoughtful course redesigns lead to improved learning. Carol Twigg, NCAT’s president and CEO, says there is no magic: course redesign is “a hard job.” She’s not assuming students love homework. But redesign offers an opportunity to reengage students and improve their motivation, while setting proper expectations and monitoring to “push school to the top of the list.” And while many course redesigns focus on incorporating more project-based learning opportunities, Twigg’s experience leads her to quickly dismiss pedagogical extremes: “If you don’t have basic math skills, you can’t do an interesting physics project.”

There is also some danger that the flipped classroom could be seen as another front in a false battle between teachers and technology. Yet Bergmann and Sams emphasize that the “only magic bullet is the recruiting, training, and supporting of quality teachers.” And while Khan Academy’s prominence engenders fear of standardization and deprofessionalization among some critics, Bergmann, Sams, and Smith see instructional videos as powerful tools for teachers to create content, share resources, and improve practice. Smith admits that if such tools were available when she first started out, she “would have run to this every week when planning.”

It seems almost certain that instructional videos, interactive simulations, and yet-to-be-dreamed-up online tools will continue to multiply. But who will control these tools and whether they will fulfill their potential remains to be seen. As Scott McLeod, one of the nation’s leading thinkers on educational technology and the director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education, observes, the “reason Sal Khan is so visible right now is that nobody did this instead. It would have been great if the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics had been doing this, but someone from the outside had to fill the vacuum.” His guidance to educators: “Start making!”

Bill Tucker is managing director of Education Sector.

For more on this topic, please read “The Transformational Potential of Flipped Classrooms,” by Michael Horn, from the Summer 2013 issue of Education Next.




Comment on this article
  • Susan Goding says:

    I want this to happen in our school district. However, there is no way it is sustainable if every teacher has to learn how to use camtasia and/or make their own videos. The NCAT models uses off the shelf software and the software is modified for use for all students and teachers to use. That seems doable.

  • Renee Hawkins says:

    This is one of the best overviews to flip / blended teaching & learning I’ve come across. The part that is often missed when discussing these concepts is that it’s a strategy for learning that humanizes the classroom. Building and growing teacher-student relationships is essential to improving student learning outcomes. When a teacher has the opportunity to speak to each student and assess their progress every day, students feel that learning matters. They feel challenged and supported. Again, it’s not about the technology or the devices, it about shifting our pedagogy to put each students first.

  • Jennifer Hand says:

    I can appreciate flipping for what it adds to the educational experience, namely making students more independent learners and providing individualized instruction. But, I can see this panning out to be socially detrimental. If every class uses this method, students receive twice as much instruction in the course of a week as they would by simply attending school–the obligatory hour per class in school and an additional hour per class outside of school to learn the material (plus their usual homework?). How do we factor in students who may be unable to complete the additional coursework because of external obligations? What about low-income students who may not have access to computers at home? How is it reasonable to ask them to stay after school for a few hours to watch their teachers’ lectures? Or students that may need to provide for their families by holding a job after school? How is it fair to exhaust them further? Or students that have children? It seems that this method could create an even greater chasm between high-SES and low-SES students. Asking students to add several hours of out-of-class work to their day seems unreasonable, regardless of the educational benefits. It would be great if we could come up with a system that grants individualized instruction without the extra burden on the students, or teachers for that matter.

  • [...] the news this week: the “flipped” classroom, in which the homework assignment is to watch a video of a lecture, and students spend class time [...]

  • Erik Palmer says:

    How long would YOU last? Watch some online videos. How long until they get old? How long until your attention wanders off and you begin texting, or go get a snack, or talk to someone, or check the TV? How many students have the incredible discipline needed to sit through a fairly monotonous online presentation? We have to be honest: most online material proves that the people who love creating content are not riveting communicators. Yes, the theory is way cool, but the reality is way different.

  • Dewey Furr says:

    This seems to be a version of the pre-teach approach, rather than remediate material you “front load” be pre-teaching it. We used this approach in one of my schools and identified students who usually struggled, put them in a group for extra instructional time and taught them the basic lesson ahead of the class it would be taught in. When the students got to the regular class they would be exposed to the material for a second time in a fairly short time. We found the students to be more apt to ask questions and interact in class.

  • [...] an upcoming article, Bill Tucker of Education Next says that “Khan Academy’s prominence engenders fear of standardization and deprofessionalization [...]

  • H says:

    Idea of using video tutorials to allow students access to seeing a concept over and over until it becomes more clear is a great idea. However using it as the main medium to deliver content would be very difficult in urban classrooms where consisten Internet access is a problem. I love the integration of technology, but I think this style of teaching would only be effective with specific student populations and the videos would be better used as a supplements to content covered in class.

  • Dave Frye says:

    This is really a great way to truly change teaching. Not trying to sound like a spammer – but I’d like to recommend a great resource. A colleague of mine has worked on one way to Flip the classroom that might be help address a few issues. He has made tutorial videos for teachers that give a simple structure for making videos. No video-editing, just one-take videos. These are free to use!

    Also, the teachers he has worked with have realized that they don’t need the internet to do this! They can create videos, and save them on students’ machines quickly and easily. That way students just watch them from the computer without having to worry about connecting to the internet.

    We’ve also been able to repurpose old laptops for just this use. Since all the computers need to do is play a few videos, old laptops are perfect for this task. We shut off the wireless connections on the computer and then teachers don’t have to worry about monitoring students’ computer use, since the machines don’t do anything interesting other than show these videos.

    Check out and use the tutorials if you’re interested:
    http://www.fi.ncsu.edu/fizz

  • Brian Bennett (@bennettscience) says:

    I’ve written on my use and philosophy behind the flipped class in schools and various classrooms. In response to Ms. Hand (see above), there are some important things to realize:

    1) The flipped class allows for learners to customize when and where they learn. I have plenty that spend class time learning and practicing, and at home, they don’t worry about chemistry. There is no such thing as “homework” anymore. If they work, they can use class time to front-load and account for their work life. We went through how to budget time and use the resources so they don’t overwhelm themselves through the year.

    2) “Several hours of outside work” is inaccurate. Most of what my kids (and many flipped kids) do is use the videos as A) remediation if they need it, or B) pre-learning for use in class the next day. The videos I put out are less than 10-minutes in length, so the time at home is considerable LESS than a “normal” homework assignment. Plus, they aren’t sitting at home struggling with a worksheet or book assignment, so their mental stress is also alleviated to a degree with a flip.

    I’d be happy to talk much more about this if you’d like.

  • Ramsey Musallam says:

    See “www.flipteaching.com” for additional resources, models (see pre training model,and work of Rich Mayer (2005) as it is similar to pre teaching described above).

  • WatchKnowLearn.org says:

    One of the best articles I’ve run across on flipping. Thank you. Granted, the concept may not be for every teacher or every situation, but it’s a solid idea that appears to be successful for many. In reference to comments on difficulties for the student who has to find time to sit and watch an hour-long video, agreed. Certainly teachers using this technique have been encouraged to shorten the length of the video by selecting key points and not just a boring, hour-long lecture. There are also so many resources out there, including WKL, that already have free, educational videos (interesting and short in length to boot) that can be assigned as “homework”. I don’t think every teacher has to reinvent the wheel by creating their own video “lecture.” The more we all share, the easier it will be!

  • Scott MacClintic says:

    In the spirit of sharing my experience with flipped classroom…one of the most surprising things I learned when a colleague and I went to using videos to deliver most of the “content” of our class was that when forced to boil down the content to the most important concepts in order to create the videos, we ended up with a total of 8 videos of about 10-15 minutes each for our 10 week course in microbiology. In the past, we wold have spent FAR more time delivering the same content in class. Now, class time is spent exploring the content in context, the students are in the lab more often and the class time is a far more collaborative endeavor for the students. We have been able to do more higher-order thinking projects with the “found” time. Also, the students really like being able to control the pace of the delivery of the content in the videos. We provide them with sheets to take notes on while watching the videos so it is not simply a passive activity. Flipping has definitely resulted in more engaging and enjoyable class time for the students and the teachers.

  • Anna Maria Schäfer says:

    Thanks for the article!
    The concept is hardly known in Germany, but we will be hosting the first conference on the flipped classroom in February next year and hopefully it will become more popular after that. Here is the weblink: http://invertedclassroom.wordpress.com/english-information/

  • John Burrell says:

    Great article, good historical balance although there have been initiatives in other parts of the world which pre-date the US group. I use this tool for all the reason stated and more, particularly the opportunity to spend more class time addressing the higher order thinking skills. Could it be that this is the point that critics are missing? The term ‘ flipped classroom’ places too much emphasis on a tool used by students to prepare for class and clouds the fact that teachers are developing fuller, richer learning cycles with their new time. Let’s call it the ‘flip-tool’ and start to write more about the consequences that is the rich learning cycles we have been able to develop for our classrooms. One writer here has commented about the quality of the online resources made by teachers, now that is cynical. We are not trying to be the discovery channel and in any case why worry about your voice in 3-4 min video when you used to be prepared to talk at them non-stop for an hour. The argument about the technology gap is ridiculous and if taken would mean going back to ink and quill, a stick in the sand, when has the educational world ever been a level playing field.

  • Jonathan Bergmann says:

    After 25 yrs as an educator, and 6 yrs flipping, I could never go back. It answers so many questions about why I went into public education. I am glad to talk some more with folks who have further questions.

  • Matthew Feist says:

    I still have seen no comment on those students that don’t own computers or have Internet access. Thoughts?

  • Bill Tucker says:

    Matthew,

    Dave Frye comments on this issue above. It is also a topic of that several teachers have commented on at #flipclass on Twitter.

  • Bill Tucker highlights and responds to some comments on this article in “Educators Answer Questions About the Flipped Classroom” — http://educationnext.org/educators-answer-questions-about-the-flipped-classroom-2/

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  • [...] approach. Teachers Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams clearly state in an article written by Bill Tucker for EducationNext that they can now more easily query individual students, probe for misconceptions [...]

  • senthil says:

    This is excellent in concept but hard to implement. The videos take long to create and require many gadgets to create. Also, the long videos can bore the students. The teachers have no accountability on whether the students learne anything before working on exercises in class.

    A better model would be of there was a software where students are made to go through 15 min well presented lessons along with intermediate questions which makes it about 20 mins long. The teachers can check what the students have learn offline.

    This is exactly why we developed Vaultilius. We are still early so our lesson list is low but we are willing to work with visionary teachers to make lessons for them to prove our concept. Check us out at Vaultilius dot com and contact us if you are interested.

  • Nicholas Hobar says:

    We used the “Flipped” classroom approach in my Technology for School Leaders graduate class at Loyola University Maryland. It worked like this:

    1. A cohort of 24 aspiring school leaders gained content knowledge and skills by completing away from the classroom an online program of seven Learning Layouts of sessions and activities using integrated social media and PD tools, including online coaching sessions as needed by individuals.

    2. Over two months we met F2F as a whole class for three weekends [Friday night 6-9 and Saturday 9-4] wherein the graduate students worked as individuals and in action teams to apply the content and skills they gained online to solve problems, construct products, and complete performances related to the program outcomes.

    3. The blended “Flipped” approach included one global online learning community, one online learning community for the entire class, and four action team learning communities that met online and F2F in the flipped weekend sessions.

    Our flipped approach led to over 100 products and performances for sharing in the six online learning communities and were posted as wikitasks for standards-based lessons, data-driven Web 2.0 presentations, professional blogs, and action plans for disruptive and sustaining innovations.

    The program process and outcomes still serve as resources for the graduate students because the learning communities continue beyond the ending of a “conventional” class and the outcomes are available online for anyone beyond the class to access, adopt, or adapt.

    The program and free integrated social media and PD tools are available here:

    http://www.learningfront.com/Media/LF_TechSchLdr.pdf

  • [...] content on subjects ranging from arithmetic to history is free. Classrooms all over America are “flipping” Khan Academy’s lectures with homework: students watch Khan Academy lectures at home and get help [...]

  • [...] teach me to stop aimlessly surfing the internet after two glasses of wine), I did find a pretty good article by Bill Tucker from EducationNext.org  that explains the radical new concept of the flipped [...]

  • [...] Most school districts across the country operate under a similar organizational structure. The superintendent reports to the local school board, while the various district departments-Evaluation and Accountability, Curriculum and Instruction, Human Resources, Finance, and Operations, among others-are overseen by the superintendent. In many cases, these departments operate independently of one another. As a result, the roll-out of new programs often occurs in a vacuum, which can cause duplication, confusion, and inefficiency. To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at the “flipped classroom,” a technique gaining momentum in classrooms around the county. Bill Tucker, Education Next blogger, describes the concept perfectly in “The Flipped Classroom“: [...]

  • [...] Flipping the Classroom. Basically, it’s a whole new approach to teaching as it puts a lot of the learning responsibility on the learner themselves. Its fascinating and new and has lots of possibilities, but I don’t see it working everywhere. While there is no one model, the core idea is to flip the common instructional approach: With teacher-created videos and interactive lessons, instruction that used to occur in class is now accessed at home, in advance of class. Class becomes the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning. Most importantly, all aspects of instruction can be rethought to best maximize the scarcest learning resource—time. (http://educationnext.org/the-flipped-classroom/) [...]

  • Glenn Platt says:

    Just to present a little history of the term “inverted classroom”:

    In a 2000 article in the Journal of Economic Education called “Inverting the Classroom”, my colleagues and I both coined the term and outlined the model for the inverted classroom (and what would be the “flipped’” classroom for Khan Academy and others). While concept in parts, has been discussed for a while, as you note – it was not called “the inverted classroom” or flipped classroom until our article was published.

    Here is a link to the PDF of the article: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/249331/Inverted_Classroom_Paper.pdf

    Or you can read this blog post about it here: http://interacc.typepad.com/synthesis/2009/09/inversions.html

  • John Chapman says:

    Check how the FIZZ model for online videos for the flip classroom. Easy, inexpensive and EFFECTIVE! http://www.fi.ncsu.edu/project/fizz/pd/lecture

    The go through the Why and How in detail.

  • [...] Education Next  post by Bill Tucker provides examples of how the Flipped Classroom model is used in classrooms. In addition to describing how it is used the article also has many comments from other educators where concerns are expressed and how these concerns have been addressed. [...]

  • [...] Next – http://educationnext.org/the-flipped-classroom/:  This article provides a detailed overview of the Flipped Classroom concept along with examples [...]

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  • [...] In its simplest terms, the flipped classroom is about viewing and/or listening to lectures at home during one own’s time which frees up face-to-face class time for experiential exercises, group discussion, and question and answer sessions. It’s called “the flipped classroom.” While there is no one model, the core idea is to flip the common instructional approach.  With teacher-created videos and interactive lessons, instruction that used to occur in class is now accessed at home, in advance of class. Class becomes the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning. Most importantly, all aspects of instruction can be rethought to best maximize the scarcest learning resource—time. Flipped classroom teachers almost universally agree that it’s not the instructional videos on their own, but how they are integrated into an overall approach, that makes the difference (The Flipped Classroom by Bill Tucker). [...]

  • [...] Best Practices The Method Radically Transforming Learning Myths vs. Reality Teachers Use Technology [...]

  • [...] you've got a flipped classroom then the video provides a great introduction to the theory that your class can view at home while [...]

  • [...] due to efforts such as Khan Academy or Udacity, the notion has been around for some time (see http://educationnext.org/the-flipped-classroom/). Simply put, the idea here is that students learn the basics on their own from some awesome online [...]

  • [...] behind the flipped classroom aren’t new, particularly in higher education. But the concept has begun to spread among K-12 teachers in the past few years, thanks especially to two Colorado teachers who began posting their lessons [...]

  • [...] due to efforts such as Khan Academy or Udacity, the notion has been around for some time (see http://educationnext.org/the-flipped-classroom/). Simply put, the idea here is that students learn the basics on their own from some awesome online [...]

  • [...] and increase the rigor of schooling. Many of these efforts are made possible or enhanced by emerging technologies and digital learning options that are changing how and where learning occurs. And [...]

  • [...] control over how I teach my course: I'm told how to organize student desks, that I need to use the flipped classroom model, that classroom time is mostly for solving problems (no traditional lecture), and that videos [...]

  • [...] classroom” model. I only recently encountered this model when a friend forwarded me an article about the model. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, a “flipped classroom” relies on vodcasts  to [...]

  • [...] the theory that underlies the flipped classroom paradigm.  Flipped lesson planning, developed by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams at Woodland Park High School, requires teachers to reimagine the techniques they use to present, extend, and refine content and [...]

  • Dallin Stephens says:

    I would say that the flipped classroom approach frees up more time for students and teachers inside and outside the classroom. Like others have said, the videos can be short: probably no more than 5 minutes for each concept. As for the problem of students not having the internet or a computer at home, they could download the videos onto a DVD where they can watch the videos on a VCR. There will likely only be a few students without a computer or internet access. For such students, teachers can make accommodations. It may not be too hard to make accommodations for a few students. It may be hard to make accommodations for more than 15 students.

  • Matt Miller says:

    I support the idea of the flipped classroom. Since September I have implemented it in my Pre=Calculus class and agree with many of the comments expressed in the article. I have a very productive classroom atmosphere with real collaborative efforts. After 30 years of teaching I welcome the notion of a change (not a fad) which produces positive and immediate results

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