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“Flipped” Classrooms: How Do They Work?

Students sit at computerby Jacquie McGregor

In 2007, Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams, teachers at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Colorado, came up with the idea of using PowerPoint to record their classroom lectures and post them online for students to review. Their initial aim was to offer instruction for students who missed class. The eventual outcome, however, was quite different.

The online lectures Bergman and Sams posted became of interest even to students who had been in class. Students appreciated the ability to go back through the lecture, taking time to absorb the materials. As more students chose to view the online portions of the class, Bergman and Sams came up with an innovative idea: what if the theoretical portion of learning happened at home, while the classroom was a place for practical application? Thus was born the flipped classroom.

What is a flipped classroom?

Picture this: you are planning a project on Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. Instead of planning an in-class lecture followed by an hour of homework, you decide to flip your project. You record a five to 10 minute lecture on the subject for students to view at home and post it online. Students watch the lecture at home or at school, depending on where they have Internet access. The next day they come to class and work on what would have been their homework. Instead of answering textbook questions at home, skipping over the ones they don’t know, students work in small groups. They engage in discussions, answer questions, and focus on applying the theoretical knowledge to a project you have planned.

This is the foundation of the flipped classroom; what “flips” is the sequence of events. Lecture is done at home, while homework is done in class. Teachers become mentors and facilitators, guiding students in class through practical applications of the material.

Flipped classroom pros

The flipped classroom represents a major paradigm shift in education. Instead of presenting the teacher as lecturer, the model presents the teacher as an expert resource. Students use their in-class time to get help from the expert, gaining focused instruction on the concepts.

There are some obvious benefits to this model. The one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work for many of our students. In a flipped classroom, students can view the lecture as many times as necessary, pausing to review and understand more difficult information. Teachers can even build time into the lecture for students to review text materials or do further checks for understanding. Once the in-class time begins, students are given the opportunity for collaborative understanding and better one-on-one time with the teacher.

Certainly, the technological aspect of the model is a plus for today’s students, who are constantly plugged in. Teaching is a balancing act. Sometimes, the student can be brought into the teacher’s arena; at others, it is necessary for the teacher to meet students where they live. The flipped classroom seems to strike this balance.

Additionally, the flipped classroom model can eliminate behavioral issues that plague a typical classroom. As any teacher knows, the majority of your classroom discipline problems happen during lecture periods, when, for some students, the buy-in is minimized. The flipped classroom makes students responsible for their own learning — get the knowledge at home, because the work is happening in school.

Flipped classroom cons

There are also downsides to the flipped classroom model. The most common concern is that not all students have Internet access. Many schools work around this by providing after-school open lab time for students to view their lectures. Teachers can also burn lectures to DVD or load them on jump drives for students to take home.

Another potential problem is the amount of prep time teachers need to implement the model. Surprisingly, many teachers find that, after the initial adjustment period, the prep required to flip a classroom is equal to or less than that of a traditional  classroom setting. The focus is on preparing the in-class activities, just like it has always been. However, instead of having to prepare homework in addition to a lecture, teachers are simply recording three to five videos a week, and then focusing the bulk of their time on classroom applications.

An additional concern comes from teachers who are reluctant to give up the podium. The traditional role of teacher puts one person in the driver’s seat, and giving up control may be a problem for some. However, the benefits to students should outweigh the need for compete classroom control.

How to try out the flipped classroom

The beauty of following a flipped classroom model is that schools wanting to try it do not have to make an overnight change. Teachers can begin by flipping one or two lessons, experimenting with their students to see if the results are worth the effort. Consider Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Michigan: in 2010, the school experimented with flipping classrooms for 140 freshmen students. In that year alone, the school reduced their failure rate by 30 percent and saw a 66 percent reduction in behavioral problems. Today, the school is instituting the model with the entire population.

The flipped classroom approach many not be for everyone, but it does seem to provide some impetus for exploring new ideas for student success. In the age of charter schools, publicly funded private education and online high schools, teachers must look to ways to individualize the student experience in order to provide the best possible educational environment. The flipped classroom may be one way to achieve this.


Jacquie McGregor has taught a wide variety of subjects in 15 years as an educator, including music, art, language arts and life skills. She currently works in online education as a course mentor, teacher and curriculum writer, at both the K-12 and university levels. She is completing her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focusing on arts programming in educational free markets.



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