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The Flip Side: A Guide to Flipped Learning

James Paterson

You can try out flipped learning this fall.

Jon Bergmann was familiar with what he calls “Initiative fatigue.” When he was a nationally recognized science teacher in a Colorado high school, every year it seemed a new approach to teaching, classroom management, or school culture was introduced – a new acronym or a clever name or a high-tech solution. Too often, Bergmann says, those initiatives wane before the end of school, and are replaced by a new one the next year in a late summer pre-service meeting. But Bergmann became the father of one new idea in education about 10 years ago that seems to have staying power – flipped learning. He and another teacher tried the concept out, found it was effective, and spread the word.  Now more than half of all teachers have tried flipped learning, many use it regularly, and the research is showing that flipped learning improves student performance and helps them in a number of other ways, particularly marginalized students.

“This approach worked, so it caught on,” he says. “Educators love something that works. Now it should be the standard.”

This idea that Bergmann and a colleague in the school’s science department had moved the classroom lecture to video online (potentially with interactive features and assessments) that students can access at home or elsewhere. Then the work on the new concepts takes place in the classroom, where teachers can see how students have understood the material and help them practice it.

“Flipped learning can afford students a more engaging environment that can lead to higher achievement and a better preparedness for 21st-century learning and work environments,” a review of some 30 research papers about the approach reported. One recent survey found some 2,600 school districts were seeing “A significant increase in teachers flipping their classroom,” and about 30 percent reported it was having a “Significant impact on transforming teaching and learning.” A new report for tech companies says the concept has, “Over 50 percent penetration in the U.S. education market,” having been adopted by teachers from elementary school through college.

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“Once you’ve seen it, you can see how it make so much sense,” says Mike Wolgast, principal at Chisolm Trail Middle School in Olathe, Kan., whose teachers have often flipped their classrooms with good results.

“Before I flipped, I spent the whole class giving them the information then saying OK – go home and learn it,” says Cara Johnson, a science teacher at Allen, Texas, High School, who says she’s had excellent results. “That’s pretty tough. It was sort of a backward way of teaching.”

She says it’s relatively easy for students to listen and take notes, which they can do at home. “The hard part is really learning the material, and it helps a lot if I’m there to help with that part.” She explains why she flipped her classrooms in a video where she also offers tips.

The good news for interested teachers is that they can start slow. Try flipping one lesson or a few lessons in one class. There are a lot of great resources online to get you started, and probably now a colleague who has done it and has some recommendations and resources.

Flipped Learning Tips

Here are five “T” tips Bergmann says he has developed recently for teachers who are thinking about flipping their classrooms.

Thinking. Change yours. The approach distinctly changes how teachers must think about teaching, but it isn’t hard to make the leap, he says. “They just have to be convinced that ‘Stand and deliver’ doesn’t work any more. They need to try a new approach.” He says teachers who fear technology also should recognize that flipped learning doesn’t require sophisticated knowledge of tech.

Training. Get it. “It actually is an easy method to get wrong,” Bergmann says. There are several programs that offer training online and sometimes school districts provide help. Training is available at Bergmann’s site, and at The Flipped Institute and the Flipped Learning Network.  There is a good teacher’s resource at Edudemic and a concise step-by-step “Quick-start guide from the University of Texas.

Time. It will take some. Bergmann says that upfront, there is work involved in developing the lectures and ironing out how you will handle the changes to in-class sessions. Experts say, however, that there are a growing number of resources for this. He suggests getting buy-in from the administration and other teachers so they’ll support your effort and perhaps help you with resources.

Technology. You’ll need it. “It is important to pick the right tools. Choose tools that are easy for you and effective for the students,” Bergmann says. “There is good technology that is simple. I know of very tech-phobic teachers who have been successful with a flipped classroom” (see sidebar).

Trepidation. Just do it. Bergmann says flipping a class is something that it easy to put off. “It’s like exercise and eating right. Everyone agrees we should do it, but it is another thing to get up and go to the gym, or not eat the chocolate chip cookie. You just have to step out of your comfort zone and try it.”


Flipping Tech

A key part of a flipped classroom is the technology to record material, make it available and, potentially, interactive.

Jon Bergmann, who is credited with discovering and promoting flipped learning, has a variety of tools listed on his Web site, as does the Flipped Learning Network. Bergmann points out that the technology does not have to be sophisticated, but should be easy to use for the teacher and their students.

To develop lessons relatively simply, the Flipped Learning Network recommends screencasting (with a variety of applications), narrating over PowerPoint slides (which imbeds narration into each slides) and the FIZZmethod, which involves videotaping a lesson with  information on white boards. At TEDEd you can use existing videos or customize them (this article gives you some tips), and Crash Course from the Public Broadcasting System offers a number of videos on key academic topics. TeacherTube has existing lessons, and allows you to post your own.

Others recommend EDpuzzleEdmodo, Tackk and Powtoon for creating lessons.

Wikispaces is often suggested as a platform for delivering content, but there are several, and school tech specialists should have recommendations about that.