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In Depth: Flipped Learning

Tuesday, July 15, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

This month, we’re going to focus on some pedagogical ideas currently taking hold in classrooms. The goal is to give you some ideas worth trying out once the doors open in August. This week, it’s flipped learning.

What is it?

A flipped classroom is one in which the background learning of a particular topic or skill occurs outside of class time - utilizing technological tools like videos and podcasts to teach what students need in order to practice. This leaves the class time free to practice, work collaboratively on the higher-order thinking needed to utilize the skills, or seek help from the teacher.

The goal is to make more efficient use of class time. Instead of lecturing on background information that can be easily provided in other ways at other times, the class works toward the goal together.

How it works

For example, let’s say you are teaching the properties of matter. This is how a “flipped” lesson about the topic might go:

  1. The students are instructed to watch the instructional video and then post one question about matter on your online classroom message board.
  2. The question acts as both a record of participation and to guide the discussion in tomorrow’s class.
  3. In tomorrow’s class, you already know who grasped the concept and who is still struggling, based on their questions.
  4. Collaboratively, the class answers these questions, hopefully using some real-world examples.

The challenges

Not every student has ready access to the Internet at home, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods. For those students, you may have to alter your expectations for turnaround time to allow them to make it to the library or a computer lab. You may also want to modify your online components to be used on a cell phone.

You also might worry about where the background content comes from. Many teachers make their own videos and podcasts using free or cheap online tools. If you’re not quite that creative, you can borrow another teacher’s using sites like YouTube and other video repositories. Just search for the topic at hand and something is bound to come up.

Teachers will always complain about how their class time is eaten by paperwork and other obligations. Flipped classrooms are a way of taking some of that time back, making you a more efficient teacher. Suddenly things like individualized and small group instruction are possible, as well as actual experiments and projects that allow the students to practice the skills rather than just memorize information.