Redesigning Learning in a Flipped Classroom

Flickr CC, TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³

A comment I hear frequently after a visit is, “That looked nothing like what I thought it would.” It’s a good place to start a discussion about the total redesign a flipped classroom brings.

A major criticism of the flipped classroom is that lecture is given as homework, and homework becomes the new class work. This view is too simplistic and leads to a labyrinth of other misconceptions. The main part of this argument assumes a flipped classroom simply injects video into a traditional teaching format. Assignments are not modified and class expectations do not change.

I think of this like adding more salt to saltines. It may increase the flavor a little, but you are not doing anything revolutionary to that cracker. Inevitably, the saltine tastes the same.

In order to leverage the power of video, either as instruction or as extension, you have to rethink what class looks like.

I do not have a preference where my students learn chemistry. I have a group that watches the videos the night before and then uses class time (extremely effectively, I might add) to work through challenge problems, labs, quizzes, and projects. In the same class, I have two students that work 30-35 hours each week outside of school. They use the class time to watch the videos together and then move forward. They rarely do chemistry at home, which is fine with me. Yet a third group does most of their chemistry at home, checks with me in class, and then moves on to geometry for the rest of the period. Each group is totally different than the others, but they are still learning.

I had to re-think what class looks like when information is available anywhere, any time.

Learning about and moving to a flipped classroom requires that you shift your thinking about class time in general. Your role, as the teacher, changes entirely. You have to be okay with students using class to learn chemistry, or using it to learn english, or math, or history. Part of the beauty in a flipped classroom is that it is no longer limited to my content. I can learn alongside students every day. (Did you know, frogs blink their eyes to help them swallow? So. Cool.)

At this point, you may be thinking, “This sounds like something that could easily end up in anarchy.” I want to reassure you, that although this sounds uncoordinated and chaotic, it is a good, fulfilling chaos. Students are engaged in their learning. They are coaching one another through hard questions. Groups form spontaneously, based on self-identified needs. There is freedom to be wrong, free from a fear of failure or negative consequence. Since the class is student time, the “noise” is really hypothesis, creation, and critique in their purest forms. Also bear in mind, this change does not happen overnight. This movement requires a shift that has to occur in both the student’s, as well as the teacher’s, perception of school and the learning process. This requires a healthy investment of time and energy.

Don’t simply salt your class with video and call it a flipped classroom. Many teachers begin by adding some of the new with the old, but that approach will rapidly stagnate and your class will not feel any different than when you started. Challenge yourself to think outside the box about the time in class. Ask students for their opinions. You could even go so far as to implement an iteration of Google’s now-famous 20% time initiatives. By simply allowing for flexibility, your class dynamic can change dramatically.

Time spent in school should be spent meeting your student’s learning needs, not defining learning for them. We seem to have lost that vision in the age of industrialized education.

A true flip is not in when or where videos are assigned…it is time to go deeper. Flip your thinking about where learning happens and work with students on making the change. Working together, you will all land on your feet.

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