Flip it to flourish

Published: 26th August 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th August 2013 11:15 AM   |  A+A-

Three-and-a-half years ago, Principal Greg Green experimented with “flipped classrooms” at Clintondale High School, Colorado. The story of Clintondale is similar to that of many American schools trying to educate their at-risk students. “The issue was that students had no help while doing their homework so we decided teachers should be there to help students process the information,” says Green.

An experiment

What began as an experiment back then for 140 freshman students has now been implemented across all grade level for all subjects at the school. What exactly is the flipped classroom model? The teacher uploads a five-10 minutes long video with sample problems, which students review and try at home before coming to class, and then the following day, students practise teacher-guided exercises as well as collaborative and individual assignments in class. This approach allows students to have their problems answered by teachers or peers. The school is testing a number of ways to make flipped classrooms more effective — they are using “Remind 101,” a texting service that teachers can use to send learning material to students and parents. 

Through the flipped classroom technique the school saw a reduction in failure rate by 33 per cent in English language and arts, 31 per cent in mathematics, 22 per cent in science and 19 per cent in social studies in just one semester. Green says that the positive outcome is the result of “personalised learning environment for students.” The “information can be repeated a number of times and the teachers are there to hold the hands of the students and help them with their problems.”

In simple terms, flipped classrooms inverts the traditional style of teaching—moving the lecture online outside of the class and bringing the homework to the class. Jerry Overmyer, mathematics and science outreach coordinator at University of Northern Colorado,USA, explains, “It was originally called the flipped class because what used to be class work (lecture) is done outside of class and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class.”

Flipped classrooms have been most popular in science and mathematics at the high school level. But more recently it has also been incorporated into foreign language, humanities and literacy classes, and elementary school teachers have started incorporating elements of a flipped classroom as younger students become more technologically savvy. The technique is also finding its way inside college classrooms particularly in technical and nursing fields.

However, flipped classroom can have different models. Karl Fisch, algebra teacher at Arapahoe High School experimented with the idea in 2005. He explains, “There is no one way that flipped classrooms work — there are many, many different variations. The way mine works is that students engage in inquiry and exploration around a mathematical topic first, then at some point watch a video to see a more step-by-step, algorithmic approach to the specific algebra skill. For me, the inquiry first is a very important part of this.”

Fisch decided to give the approach a shot after Brian Hatak, one of the chemistry teachers at his school, tried it in his class. He recalls Hatak telling him that the Woodland Park High School was podcasting their chemistry lectures. Hatak wanted to know if they could do the same. Like many other teachers Hatak felt frustrated about not having enough time in class to answer student queries, and not being around to help them when they got stuck with their homework. As a result, his following day class would often go in repeating the information. So Hatak decided to do the opposite — he started posting note guides on the web and began giving lectures as homework and using class time to work with his students. Now, his chemistry podcasts have been linked to iTunes store.

Fisch says, “I had been a full time technology coordinator for a while but, due to budget cuts, I picked up one section of Algebra three years ago and decided to try it as well.” He explains, “The major advantage of this approach is that it frees up class time for inquiry. One of the issues all teachers have is not having enough time to do everything we are required to do. This method of teaching allows me to use class time more productively in inquiry-based activities, while knowing they will get the step-by-step algorithmic stuff via the videos. If I wasn’t flipping, I wouldn’t have as much time for the inquiry.”

A personal touch

Overmyer also notes that a huge advantage of flipped learning is that it gives teachers an opportunity to work personally with students. He says, “Teachers who have effectively implemented flipped learning say that the most unexpected benefit is they are able to get to know their student strengths and weaknesses. However, like all new technologies, educators must be cognizant of a child’s learning disabilities and make sure these needs are being met.” He adds, “Since there is no one set way of doing a flipped model, hopefully, teachers are able to adapt to meet the needs of all students.”

Paul Kim, Chief Technology Officer and Assistant Dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, USA, decided to try this method of learning “to engage learners in a constructive learning environment where learners create things to learn.” He started a programme called SMILE (Stanford Mobile Inquiry-based Learning) that engages students in creating their own inquiries while collaborating with their team members and competing against other teams. This learning model “has been tested in over 22 countries world-wide and classrooms from 1st graders to medical school graduate classrooms,” says Kim. “In fact, in India, there are Project WHY schools and also MVN schools and MVN university that are using SMILE today,” he adds.

Kim himself tested SMILE as a flipped classroom approach in graduate courses. Although there are many ways to flip a classroom, in SMILE, instead of giving the students exams and questions, they conduct their own research to come up with questions that they find most meaningful and important.

The programme can be adapted to suit the needs of kids with learning disabilities as well. Kim says, “There are many different types of learning disabilities on the disability spectrum so it is hard to give a definite answer, but helping learners with disabilities to overcome their disabilities and engage in more fun, active, constructive, and self-regulative learning events and opportunities is our goal. Therefore, SMILE can work for students with learning disabilities if there are appropriate interfaces and supplementary resources in place.”

In a nutshell, flipped learning is a scenario in which the information is presented in an alternate way. Overmyer says, “Mostly flipped learning happens with online videos, but it has also started to include educational games and simulations as well as self-paced modules.”


Most educators point out that the most basic challenge of implementing this method of teaching lies in the non-availability of reliable internet access to all students. Fisch says, “Most students can’t learn simply from a video, which is why the in-class inquiry first, and then follow-up after, is so critical.”

— anuja.seith@gmail.com


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