Monday, 3 October 2011

The Flipped Classroom - so what exactly am I flipping?

The Flipped Classroom concept is an idea that has been floating around for a while. It has been in the media recently alongside the growing popularity of a group called the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy as explained in last week's Economist, is becoming a favourite learning aid for many teachers. The traditional definition of a flipped classroom is something like this...
Where videos take the place of direct instruction. Thereby allowing students to get individual time in class to work with their teacher on key learning activities. It has been called the flipped class because what used to be classwork (the "lecture" is done at home via teacher-created videos and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class.
The initial idea was that the internet could provide students with 24hr/7day a week access to learning materials, and that this could make our class time more effective. To me this is a similar notion to the university concept where you needed to read the textbook chapter before the lecture, to make sure you understood the basic ideas. The growth of the Khan Academy and their suite of learning resources for Maths and Science is now making this is concept a reality for many teachers. The following video is one of the nicest explanations I have seen.

The flipped classroom concept can now be linked to some broader teaching ideas. By providing students with online learning resources, the students can take responsibility for their own learning. The time in class with the teacher can be an opportunity for more meaningful and personalised interactions. It is a classroom where the teacher can become more of a "guide on the side" and not the "sage on the stage" It is a concept where information and resources from class are stored and archived so that students can access and personalise thier learning overtime.

This sounds just like my classroom..?

Many classes at UWCSEA already follow a similar idea, and I think that this is a concept that we should be trying to follow in specific subject areas such as Science, Maths and Economics/Business. Overtime it will help us become more efficient teachers and support learning. With student laptops the idea of a flipped classroom is more achievable. Lots of teachers place resources on StudyWiz and ask the students to prepare for class by putting resources up prior to the lesson. But here are a few further reflective questions to ponder?
  1. Do you provide students with an outline of where the next lesson is heading? Where can they find this outline?
  2. Do you point students to specific resources which could support their learning in the next lesson,  or next topic?
  3. How do students access these resources? Are the resources effective, dynamic and interesting? Is there an filing system of where these are saved?
  4. Do you share these resources and collaborate across the department with other teachers?
  5. Do you give students your presentation/notes before the lesson or guard it until the students finish the topic?
I must confess that I taught in a laptop school for three years and struggled to adopt all of these ideas. I was successful with the following which in my opinion are the first steps towards a flipped classroom. 
  • Using my StudyWiz classes and the information box to explain the focus of learning, both backwards (where we have come from) and forwards (where we are going next)
  • Provided at least one resource ahead of the next topic to prepare students. In the simplest context this was sometimes a chapter reading from the textbook. Sometimes I would point them to a specific video from an Economist on YouTube
  • I would often give students my presentations as a PDF file at the beginning of the topic so that they didn't need to copy down copious amounts of graphs. This allowed them to read ahead to the next lesson and be prepared.

The biggest challenge..?

The significant pedagogical change required is the shift from being the lecturer at the front of the class to becoming a facilitator of the students learning. For me the shift was hard because I had always been taught in a lecturing style, growing up in the Catholic Boys school environment. 

Be asking students to complete even the smallest amount of learning before class; looking at a video tutorial about light , flicking through a Prezi about Development, or reading some notes will make their learning in class more effective. It is recognized in research that students need to revisit new material 2-3 times over 3-4 days and the flipped classroom idea supports this. Classtime is better spent doing hands-on activities, role plays, experiments, looking at case studies and participating in discussions. 

Students need to be taught about taking notes, and overtime being more independent in their learning. If students using time previously dedicated for homework learning about material for the next lesson then I think they will learn more.

As a teacher it is also hard to find resources which prepare the students for class to the depth that you require. That is why many teachers may think about recording mini-lectures for students and placing these on StudyWiz or will provide students with notes outlines such as in Senior Biology. A nice example of mini-lectures is this idea from a friend, Jason Welker teaching Economics at the Zurich International School.