Flipping for flipped classes
September 2, 2012
By Jay Bullock
I made a joke on Twitter the other day, that if Star Trek: The Next Generation had taught me anything, it’s that flipped classrooms don’t catch on. Which is to say, on the TV show, set 300 years in the future, children aboard the starship Enterprise still sit and listen to teachers lecture.
A “flipped” class is upside-down: Traditional homework activities are done in class with teacher support, while lecture- or demonstration-style teaching is done online, where students watch at home, or individually in class.
Flipping lets students, who are working at home, take as much time as they need to understand a lesson—rewinding and re-watching videos as often as necessary. Likewise, they receive as much help as they need to complete the homework while they are physically in their classroom, since the teacher is right there with them.
Perhaps the most famous flipping is done with help from Khan Academy. Former Wall Streeter Salman ‘Sal’ Khan started making web videos to tutor his cousins in math in 2006. Since then his work has exploded; he has received funding from the Gates Foundation and Google. A number of schools, mostly in California, are using his videos to teach math. Khan, via YouTube, does the teaching; teachers coach one-on-one as students work on practice problems.
It’s easy to find teachers who flipped their classes online—along with their videos!—and want to help more teachers do the same.
Around Milwaukee, though, you don’t see this teaching mode much. I don’t personally know of any teachers who are flipping their classes, so I plied every social network and lots of friends, and found, finally, one.
Kate Kelleher Junk taught math at St. Joan Antida High School for the last two years, although this year she has moved to a non-teaching resource position at the school. In her last semester of teaching, she flipped her 9th-grade algebra classes.
Junk discussed the flip with her students before she instituted it. “I offered them the option and we discussed what it would look like. We also discussed what my expectations were and that this didn’t mean we could get away with not working.”
Getting students to buy in is key to making it work, she said.
“It’s incredibly important,” Junk said, “that your students realize that each member of the class, including the teacher, has to put work in and that they can’t get away with not working. If you don’t have that, it can’t be successful.”
Junk made her own PowerPoint presentations for students to watch on in-class computers. “These PowerPoints had the basic info, practice problems (with worked out solutions), and videos or animations whenever I could find good ones.”
The results were mixed. Junk said her honors class preferred the old way, and “unflipped” after a few weeks. About half the students in a second class bought in but the other half did not.
A third class thrived, though. “These were mostly students who told me they hated math and hadn’t been very successful in their previous classes,” Junk said. This class had some student leaders, she said, and “they could help slightly less needy students and I could work more closely with my lowest performers.”
That mix of self-directed learning with teacher and student coaching is a fantastic dynamic. But as you might guess from Junk’s overall experience, it’s not always easy to find.
And it suggests perhaps the perfect reason to try flipping. Students who don’t have a lot of success in “school” as we know it might do much better when “school” stops being as we know it.
As I think about my own practice, I struggle with how or when to flip, since many of my students—and students throughout Milwaukee’s schools—could benefit from a different kind of school experience. But literature and writing is not as easy to flip as math or science.
Luckily, the trend towards flipping means a wealth of online resources for an English teacher who wants to leave lectures behind. Students can play Grammar Ninja to learn skills or run writing through PaperRater to check for basic errors. (kwarp.com/portfolio/grammarninja.html and paperrater.com)
One obstacle to successful flipping is technology access. I have no student computers in my room—most MPS teachers don’t—and I can’t always get a lab reservation or laptops for internet access. And many of my students don’t have reliable internet access at home.
Still, contrary to what Star Trek might have us believe, the technology is moving inexorably toward flipping. It’s time for Milwaukee teachers to embrace it.
Jay Bullock teaches English at Bay View Middle and High School. He blogs at schoolmattersMKE.com and jokes a lot on Twitter as @folkbum.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.