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"Flipping" the Classroom

Every so often we do an interview here at Learnpower for our blog. If there was ever one worth reading, this is it! Jon is a pioneer in "Flipping the Classroom" and it just may change the way you view education and turn your school upside down (For the better)

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I started teaching in 1986 in Denver. I was teaching science and math. In 2006 my family moved to Woodland Park, CO and I took a science teaching job there. Started working together with another science teacher names Aaron Sams in the school. We were very traditional in the way we taught. I was a pretty good teacher and liked what I was doing. Second semester that year, Aaron mentioned a software that can record our lectures. I thought it was pretty cool. We started doing that just by pressing the record button! It captures our screen, our voice and our pen on PowerPoint. The day that changed everything was when the Asst. Superintendent came by. We had been posting our lectures on the Internet using Google video. She mentioned that her daughter was attending CU Fort Collins, and said that she loved when her teacher would video his lectures, “because I don’t have to go to class.” That’s when we looked at each other and said, “What’s the value of class time if the students could just do it sitting in their pajamas? What do the kids really need us there for? Do they need us to deliver a lecture and direct instruction? Or do they need us when they are stuck?” This was when everything changed. We said, “What if we did that?” In Spring 2007, we made the commitment. We didn’t call it flipped classroom at first. We flipped our Chemistry and AP Chemistry classes for our kids. People found out about it, and we shared it with other teachers in the science field. We were pretty connected in the science-teaching world, and we started sharing our journey. Many teachers asked if we could teach them how to do it. We set up a conference the following January and about 30 people came from all types of places and wanted to hear about this thing. Then a news station came and asked us about it and from then it took off. We have held conferences and speaking engagements all of the world!

Can you simply explain the “Flipped Classroom”?

There are two terms we use: Flipped classroom refers to a synchronous environment where all students would typically watch a video say, Tuesday night. Then Wednesday in class they would do all take part in the same activities relevant to the video they watched the night before. Flipped Learning has a more specific definition. We are moving the direct instruction from the group space to the individual space. The student can get the direct instruction right when they need it on a device, rather than wait until say, Tuesday 3rd period when you have that specific teacher. The 2nd piece of the puzzle, more importantly, it DRAMATICALLY transforms the face of the classroom into an active, engaged place where students do more application and analysis, as opposed to the lower level stuff. If you take Bloom’s Hierarchy of learning, you will be doing the higher-level stuff in class with the teacher present, and the lower level stuff is done in the individual space. So for example, if it were a writing class, they would do the actual writing in the class rather than sending them home to do it, where they have no help. We are actually trying to put the class “right side up”, in a sense, when we are flipping it. We are actually putting the most important resource, (THE TEACHER) in the most important time frame when the kids need the most help.

Share with us a success story of the flipped classroom

There was a girl in my chemistry class who was not a good student, quite frankly. She was having trouble in her other classes as well. There was a sort of freedom in the flipped class model for her to explore at her own pace, and she developed a great love for science. She wrote a letter saying were it not for the flipped class, she wouldn’t have had the freedom to explore it on her own. She went on to take our advanced courses, then her senior year, went with Aaron and helped design fuel-cell batteries to charge cell phones! She is about to graduate college with an engineering degree. It changed her life. She’s a kid that would never have been a candidate for the advanced classes. It’s a pretty cool story.

Does a flipped classroom help students with learning disabilities?

The key thing is, is that you get more time to work with your students. You get more one on one time. In my former traditional class, let’s say in a 50-minute period, I would lecture for 30 minutes on most days. Now I have those 30 minutes to walk around and help the kids. So ALL kids get more of my time now than they did in the past.We have a conference every year. Recently, there were about 300 people at the conference. I walked up to one of them and asked him, “Why are you here?” He said he has been a HS math teacher for about 20 years, and pretty much teaches bell to bell every day. He once finished a class with about 4 minutes left, and one of his students asked for help. He sat down with her, and as the bell was about to ring, she still didn’t understand the material. She threw her hands up and said to him, “I will just go look it up on YouTube!” She realized that whatever he just taught, that it was probably on the Internet, and she would figure it out. He said, “That was when I knew I had to change. I need to find a way to reach this generation.”That’s the reality. These kids are going to YouTube when they are stuck, like it or not.

If someone wants to implement Flipped Learning or a Flipped Classroom, What’s the first step they should take?

Most importantly, you have to be willing to change. Then, go out and LEARN! It’s really more of an attitude change. There is also a lot of work creating video content. It takes time. Its even more work rethinking what happens in the classroom. What do you do with the class time now that you have flipped? Now that you aren’t lecturing anymore? What kind of engaging activities can you use for your kids? Could you simply take the homework and projects you assigned for outside the class and use them inside the class? That’s what we did first, so that can really be a very basic step. There is an entry point that is flipping a lesson. One lesson a week. Try it for a lesson, or even a unit. Some people aren’t ready to go all in, so it’s a good way to enter into this idea.

Has there been studies in higher education that flipped learning can increase retention?

It’s working, yes. We have a non-profit called Flipped Learning Network. We had a grant from a company and did a lit review last year. George Mason University did this for us. We are finding really positive results from case studies. By and large the answer is yes! It’s in the early stages and there are research studies ongoing. There’s a lot of stuff happening in this area.

Can you flip the classroom in online delivery?

I think some of the tools a flipped learning teacher uses, like creating videos, is easy to do. These videos are easily produced and delivered through an online platform and LMS. That’s essentially what we have done. We have brought some of the elements of online learning to a traditional class, and the attempt is to really maximize face-to-face time. It can still help deal with some of the lower level content. So the online discussion time could be used for deeper or higher cognitive tasks. In that sense, it can be flipped.

In the flipped classroom, do you see discussion boards utilized?

Yes, some people are using those, or creating blogs and having the kids comment, etc. Those things can often happen in the class while the teacher is present. Again, how do you do the higher order thinking? That’s the big thing. And there are lots of ways to do that.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle in teachers wanting to flip?

I wrote a blog post on that very subject, and I said the biggest hurdle in flipping your class is to flip the thinking of the teacher. They have to be convinced and rethink what class time looks like. That is the key. The rest are details: what software to use, what LMS to use. The blog is on my website and the title is “The Greatest Hurdle in Flipping Your Class.”

If you could give a few pieces of advice to someone who is starting this process, what would you tell them?

First, find someone to work with. It’s really huge if you’ve got a partner. It could be someone across the country. We have an online group of educators who are sharing ideas. It just passed 18,000 people. So they can go to and find somebody. There are groups for math, science, history, and college professors. Everything you can think of. Another piece of advice is that you MUST, MUST, MUST make the videos short. Very short, and one topic per video. Most people think they should have a 45-minute video. Do not do that. The younger the students, the shorter the video. I’m thinking no more than 15 minutes. Lastly, I would encourage them to read and learn about this. It’s going to take a lot to change, and they are going to have to learn a lot. Change is hard for all of us.


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