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There's More Than One Way to Flip a Classroom

In a packed session this afternoon at ISTE 2012 here in San Diego, a panel of nine educators, as well as two moderators presented their ideas and experiences with "flipping" their classrooms.

The session was led by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, two chemistry teachers who pioneered the flipped learning model back in 2006. The pair recently co-wrote a book, published by ISTE and ASCD, called Flip Your Classroom.

Defining what "flipping your classroom" meant was the first topic of conversation, which proved to be somewhat more difficult than you might expect. In fact, the reason the panel consisted of nine educators, instead of two or three, was precisely to demonstrate that there were many different ways to effectively flip a classroom.

The flipped classroom has become somewhat synonymous with using videos to have students view lectures at home while in-class time is used for applied knowledge. However, as the educators on the panel talked about, not all flipped classrooms work quite that way. The conversation starts, said Jonathan Bergmann, by asking how your in-class, face-to-face time is best used. For some teachers, that is pre-recording lectures and doing hands-on activities in class. For others, it is presenting information and then supplementing the more difficult aspects of the lesson with videos.

Many of the educators talked about pre-recording certain topics that students consistently ask about, such as "How do I get to Google Docs?" and "What does MLA formatting look like?" Then, instead of having to answer the question over and over, teachers can simply point those students to a video. "It's a better use of time for the students to learn more efficiently and for us to all collaborate and learn in the class," said Eric Marcos, a math teacher from Santa Monica, Calif.

Another aspect of flipped classrooms that the panelists had in common was a desire to personalize and individualize learning for their students. By using videos, students can then watch the lectures and receive educational content at their own pace, they said. Students can watch the videos as many times as needed, and they can pause the videos whenever they want. And instead of spending an entire class period lecturing, teachers can then spend that time working directly with students—answering questions and facilitating activities. In addition, if students have access to videos covering future lessons, they can work ahead if they are planning on missing school or have a busy week coming up.

Meloney Cargill is the assistant principal of Clintondale High School in Michigan, where starting in the fall, the entire school will be flipped. "We needed to maximize the time we had with our students," said Cargill. "The flipped model was the best model for our school." Two years ago, the school started by flipping one class. Encouraged by the results from that one class, last year, the school flipped the entire 9th-grade curriculum. A dramatic reduction in failure rates in all subject areas convinced school officials to move to the model for the entire high school.

"We needed to level the playing field for all students," said Dawn Sanchez, the director of the 9th-grade center for the school. "This is not for the high-end learner only."

Overall, the panelists agreed that flipping the classroom's biggest strength is placing the responsibility for learning in the students' hands. Look for more coverage of flipped classrooms in Education Week's upcoming e-learning special report, to be released this fall.

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