What’s the ‘Flipped Learning’ Model That’s Revolutionizing How Kids Are Taught Across the Country?

Teacher Crystal Kirch, center, talks to her students in her pre-calculus class at Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana, Calif. , Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. (Photo: AP)

As Americans determine the best way to educate the next generation, tackling issues like school choice and teachers unions, a revolutionary change in how students are taught is underway in certain parts of the country.  Simply put– the lecture becomes homework, and “homework” is done in class.

Aaron Sams, who helped pioneer “flipped learning,” explains how it all got started:

“The way I got started doing this is I just started recording my lessons live for my students who were missing class, and posting those online for them as a resource.  They get to access it when they want to — and that could be 10 o’clock at night, 6 o’clock in the morning, could be the bus to the soccer game, they have control of that.

“Students would watch those before they came to class, then class time was work time, engaging in some higher order of thinking, so we didn’t have to use our class time for direct instruction…

“If a student is a fast learner, they can go through the material as quickly as they want.  The slower learners, the students who struggle, they have control over the rate at which they learn the material.  They can pause the teacher, they can rewind the teacher, they can view it multiple times…”

Noah Reyes, 11th grader, watches as teacher Crystal Kirch solves a problem in a pre-calculus class at Segerstrom High School in Santa Ana, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013. (Photo: AP)

Sams said the result is that his science classroom now looks like a “circus of learning,” with students tackling various projects inside the classroom, having already learned most of the material.

Though the number of “flipped” teachers is hard to ascertain, the online community Flipped Learning Network now has 10,000 members, up from 2,500 a year ago, and training workshops are being held all over the country, said executive director Kari Afstrom.

Under the model, teachers make eight- to 10-minute videos of their lessons using laptops, often simply filming the whiteboard as they make notations and recording their voice as they explain the concept. The videos are uploaded onto a teacher or school website, or even YouTube, where they can be accessed by students on computers or smartphones as homework.

Class time is then devoted to practical applications of the lesson — often more creative exercises designed to engage students and deepen their understanding.

“It’s a huge transformation,” said Kirch, who has been taking this approach for two years. “It’s a student-focused classroom where the responsibility for learning has flipped from me to the students.”

“The first year, I was able to double the number of labs my students were doing,” Sams noted. “That’s every science teacher’s dream.”

Watch his promotional video, which also includes a note on how he tackles tests and exams, below:

In the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township, Clintondale High School Principal Greg Green converted the whole school to flipped learning in the fall of 2011 after years of frustration with high failure rates and discipline problems.  Flipping yielded dramatic results after just a year, including a 33 percent drop in the freshman failure rate and a 66 percent drop in the number of disciplinary incidents from the year before, Green said.  Graduation, attendance and test scores all went up. Parent complaints dropped from 200 to seven.

Green attributed the improvements to an approach that engages students more in their classes.

“Kids want to take an active part in the learning process,” he said. “Now teachers are actually working with kids.”

But the concept has its detractors. Some question whether flipped learning would work as well with low achieving students, who may not be as motivated to watch lessons on their own.

“It’s forcing the notion of guided practice,” said Cynthia Desrochers, director of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at California State University-Northridge, responded. “Students can get the easy stuff on their own, but the hard stuff should be under the watchful eye of a teacher.”

Explaining to adults that homework was watching videos was a little harder, though.

“My grandma thought I was using it as an excuse to mess around on the Internet,” one student said.

​The Associated Press contributed to this report.