Flipping catches on

Flipping instruction — typically, students watch a video at home and work through problems at school — is going mainstream, writes Education Sector’s Bill Tucker in Education Next.

Colorado chemistry teacher Jonathan Bergmann says “he can more easily query individual students, probe for misconceptions around scientific concepts, and clear up incorrect notions.” He has time to work individually with students.

Bergmann notes that he now spends more time with struggling students, who no longer give up on homework, but work through challenging problems in class. Advanced students have more freedom to learn independently.

In Washington, D.C., Andrea Smith, a 6th-grade math teacher at E. L. Haynes, a high-performing public charter school, says flipping is educational for teachers.

. . . crafting a great four- to six-minute video lesson poses a tremendous instructional challenge: how to explain a concept in a clear, concise, bite-sized chunk. Creating her own videos forces her to pay attention to the details and nuances of instruction—the pace, the examples used, the visual representation, and the development of aligned assessment practices. In a video lesson on dividing fractions, for example, Smith is careful not to just teach the procedure—multiply by the inverse—but also to represent the important underlying conceptual ideas.

USA Today also looks at flipped teaching. Stacey Rosen, an AP calculus teacher at a Maryland private school,  “digitally records her lessons with a tablet computer as a virtual blackboard, then uploads them to iTunes and assigns them as homework.” She uses class time to help students work out exercises based on the recorded lessons.

Before flipping, she couldn’t cover all the material before the AP exam. Now, she finishes a month early and uses the extra time for review, boosting the number of students who score a perfect 5.

Students watch lessons at home, sometimes two or three times, and replay confusing sections. If they’re still confused, they query a friend. If that doesn’t work, they ask Roshan the following day.

On a recent morning, she told the class a student was confused about the intermediate value theorem.

 “It’s a really complicated name for something really simple. You guys want to go over it right now?” No one protested, so she launched into the lesson: She talked, she drew, she took students’ questions. She drew some more. Start to finish, the lesson lasted three minutes and 25 seconds. Back to homework.

Critics say flipping won’t work for low-income students who don’t have computers or reliable Internet connections at home. Of course, it also requires students to watch the videos at home.

In addition, it encourages lecturing, which many think is an ineffective way to teach. “It’s just kind of Lecture 1.0,” says Frank Noschese, a physics teacher at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y.

Roshan disagrees.

“In an English class, you send the kids home to read a passage, and then in class you discuss that passage,” she says. “Why in math class am I more or less having them read the passage in class?”

So far, most flippers seem to be teaching math and science classes.  I think it’s too soon to predict that it will go mainstream, but momentum is building.

About Joanne


  1. It’s a fad–like small learning communities, whole language, etc.

    It will work for students who are motivated, or whose parents are motivated, but the “average” student, or the less-than-average? Probably not so much.

    I wonder what the no-homework crowd thinks of “flipping”….

  2. “In addition, it encourages lecturing, which many think is an ineffective way to teach. “It’s just kind of Lecture 1.0,” says Frank Noschese, a physics teacher at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y.”

    I think the science teacher nailed it. I’m not anti-lecture but the best lecturers I had in college science used interaction with the students to help students develop the concepts.

    If I simply want to TELL my chemistry students that atoms exist and are made of sub-atomic particles and then have them answer questions then flipping would be great.

    It will not work if I want to help my students use data and evidence to develop the appropriate theoretical conclusion that atoms exist. You know, what science is all about, explanation.

    If I need to teach something procedural, then flipping sounds great. I assume this is why flipping works well in math class because most of high school math is simply procedural application. I’m pretty sure that most AP calculus courses don’t involve proofs a la Spivak.

  3. I suspect that some (many?) of the students will come to class not having watched the videos.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I think Marshall’s point is an excellent one. I’d also like to point out that it’s entirely possible that flipping is a terrible teaching tool, while at the same time beloved by students and teachers alike. The determining factor as to whether these two possibilities can or cannot coexist is whether or not the teachers and students have learning as their actual priority.

    I’m not saying it *is* a terrible tool, merely that how much people love it isn’t necessarily the best gauge.

    Proof’s in the pudding, and all that.

  5. I suspect that some (many?) of the students will come to class not having watched the videos.

    Most definitely. It probably isn’t a problem for the AP calculus teacher at a private school, but for most educational settings it will be a problem.

  6. “Flipping” is a variation on an instructional format often used at the college level: students attend one or two formal lectures each week, and one or two discussion sessions, usually facilitated by a grad student. In science/math classes, the discussion sessions often go over problem sets or other homework. Or they are labs. The efficiencies are obvious. Even at the college level, students may skip the lectures and therefore not be prepared for the discussion sessions. At the high school level, results would vary. Hard to imagine how this could be a good technique for anyone younger than HS..

  7. Hi Joanne,

    On my blog I describe in detail my criticisms for using video to deliver instruction (flipping, Khan Academy, etc.) and also how I use videos as springboards for inquiry and problem-solving. A lecture at home is still bad pedagogy.

    My interview with MSNBC.com makes my case nicely:

    More on modeling instruction (inquiry-based physics that is shown to be MORE EFFECTIVE than lectures):

    Pseudoteaching (e.g., ineffective lectures):

    The (in)effectiveness of science videos:

    Some examples of how I use video in the classroom for inquiry rather than content delivery:
    1. Angry Birds

    2. Win/Fail Physics

    Interested in your thoughts, Joanne.

    Frank Noschese

  8. Lightly Seasoned says:

    We English teachers can tell you exactly how well it works. We’ve been “flipping” all along — requiring students to read at home and then do in-class discussion, activities based on that reading.

    • This homeschooler is siding with the English teachers on this one. My 13 year old regularly listens to lectures or does readings for her history program then comes back to me and we discuss it and I have her work on related assignments. It works very well. She doesn’t need me to parrot off info she can access straight from the source. She needs me to engage her in discussion, help her see mistakes, challenge her thinking, etc.

      I used to buy into the idea that the lectures were ineffective. Now I tend to think they’re ineffective when used in a distraction filled room with kids that haven’t been expected to learn the skills one needs to pull relevant information out of a lecture.

  9. As long as you can boil your whole lecture down to a five minute soundbite, it’s great.

    Additionally, I can’t see a student doing more than one class this way. It is asking a lot to have him responsible for learning, in one or two hours at night, after practice, what would have taken six hours and eight periods the next day.

  10. And it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: this is mostly for high-school grades and above.

  11. palisadesk says:

    It also goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that this is only for those with computer+internet access at home. That’s less than 20% of my school population.

  12. MagisterGreen says:

    I still come back to the basic question: If you can create a lecture (’cause that’s what it is) that lasts 4-6 minutes that can:

    A) concisely explain the concept
    B) reach a broad number of students
    C) allow you to go straight into working with the new concept

    …and you can do all that for a video…then why can’t you just do that for your class and remove the variables of 1) students not watching, 2) students not having Internet, etc…?

    Is this not the ultimate vindication of the much-maligned “lecture method”? Craft a well-thought out introduction to new concepts that explains underlying concepts, yadda-yadda, and then use that as the opener to lead students through unfamiliar problems and teach them to work with the new material. Why do people insist that this stuff is “new” at all?

  13. An additional few quick reactions based on my discussions with teachers that are developing “flipped” classroom models:

    1) Student motivation issues, as many commenters note, do not magically go away. Of course some students don’t do their homework. But, teachers report success increasing motivation because they re-structured time for individual attention and engaging in-class activities.

    2) Teachers report doing everything from burning DVDs to using thumb drives for kids with no Internet access.

    3) There’s no one model, with most teachers figuring this out and adapting as they go. Aaron Sams has a great post about this on his blog: http://chemicalsams.blogspot.com/2011/10/there-is-no-such-thing-as-flipped-class.html

    4) While we should all be wary of fads, we should also be open to listening to how teachers are using new technologies. A number of teachers are writing about their experiences online. I encourage you to follow their stories if you want to learn more.