The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Flipped Learning….The next big thing

While on Twitter the other night, participating in #edchat, I made the statement that 5 years from now, flipped learning will be approaching the tipping point, and on the way to becoming mainstream. Having spent some time over the past 6 months learning about flipped learning, encouraging some teachers to attempt it, and thinking a lot about how technology will impact our profession, I’m convinced that teachers who can make the “flip” successfully will succeed, while those who cannot will become extinct.

For those of you who are new to the idea, “flipped learning” is when students listen (podcast) or watch (vodcast) a teacher’s lecture or lesson at home, then do what has been traditionally known as homework at school. I first encountered the idea at at workshop given by Alan November, who introduced us to videos featuring Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur. The video is below, and you can find out even more about his work at his website.

Naysayers to the idea have plenty to refute. Lack of access to technology, kids who are not engaged in doing their homework in the traditional model, and arguments about whether or not homework should be assigned are all common arguments against flipped learning. Some will point out that this idea works at Harvard, an elite institution, but question if it would succeed with kids who struggle. In addition, the very notion of completely changing how classrooms operate brings many far from their comfort zone.

In response, I’d offer the following points:

Access: Technology is growing smaller, faster, and cheaper every day. The increased capacity of cell phones has taught us that time and again. In the early 1990s, cell phones were large, cumbersome, expensive objects that were only able to make calls. When it came to connecting with others, my first cell phone was mediocre at best! In addition, there were very few people to call, as owning these items was not common. The phones of today (while some remain very expensive) are much smaller, and capable of far more. Internet access, cameras, the ability to make videos, download and listen to music, and even buy coffee at Starbucks are all possible. Cell phone ownership is at a record high, and continues to grow. Remember, my statement is that 5 years from now we’ll be approaching the tipping point of flipped learning, at a point when access will have grown beyond where it is now.

Homework: I am a homework skeptic. To give assignments to work on after school, I contend there must be some value for students beyond completing something that they spent time practicing earlier in the day. Homework should expand thinking, not replay the classwork that was done earlier in the day. In my work, I get the chance to meet with a lot of at-risk students, many of which don’t do their homework. More often than not, their lack of work completion comes from not finding value in their assignments. I’d argue that flipped learning does a meaningful exercise to be completed at home. At-risk kids care about performances. They practice for games, concerts, poetry slams, or art shows. Flipped learning, by making classroom activities about applying the ideas that kids watched or listened to at home, make 4th hour math a chance to perform a skill.

Teacher comfort: I believe that teachers are creative and want all students to learn and grow. I think teachers seek opportunities to better connect with students, and see the need to harness the capability of technology. When considering how online learning, Khan Academy, and iTunesU have become commonplace, it is clear that the “business” of education is undergoing a shift away from the traditional model to better engage students.

Kids who don’t go to Harvard: The argument against this is articulated by Sugata Mitra, an educator from India, far better than I could ever hope to. In his Ted Talk, he shows what kind of engagement technology makes possible in poverty stricken schools where teachers refuse to go.

I’ll close by sharing the amazing work of Aaron Sams and Jon Bergman, introduced to me by a member of my PLN @mmebrady, which shows what is possible.

Flipped learning is the way of the future, it will become commonplace, rewarding those who innovate, while pushing out those who don’t.


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3 thoughts on “Flipped Learning….The next big thing

  1. Love the blog post! Thanks for the mention with the last two videos. I got some more great information from the resources here, as well as the research I’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks. I’m working on a blog post about it now. I’ll let you know when I post. You’ve been very inspirational.

  2. Mike on said:

    While I don’t necessarily disagree with your bold claims (commonplace in 5 years?), I do believe you are somewhat naive to the history of instructional development. First of all, 5 years is, in my opinion, barely enough time to have a decent grasp on the long-term impact, pros, and cons of flipped instruction. Far too often, administrators, such as yourself, and other folks who don’t spend ANY time educating students in a classroom, come up with and support these great classroom concepts. The problem is that few of these people are engaged with students on a regular basis and, more importantly, with little to no actual testing in actual classrooms, they want to make their idea the “next big thing,” and put it in every classroom. For some reason, this model of rushing a new idea to the forefront of educational instruction before it has been adequately tested, has been repeated over and over and over with little success. Why do you think we’re always looking for the “next big thing”? Because these ideas, without proper testing, end up failing and falling by the wayside.

    I’m going to go ahead and say what’s on almost every teacher’s mind. We need to somehow fix the biggest problem facing schools: Parents. Now, I’m not saying that parents are always a problem or that all parents are problems. Take note of your successful students. Now look at their home life. Do they have parents that push them and invest in their education? I would say that at least 75% of the time, they do. Now take a look at the kids that struggle. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the home lives of these students is not desirable, to say the least. The biggest problem facing schools is parenting principles. Parents have fallen into the trap where they think it is the school’s job to raise their child. I guarantee that over 90% of problems with students could be traced back to something missing at home, whether it be a respect for authority or work ethic or something else. We can roll out new technology and new instructional methods until we’re blue in the face, but until parents are taught how to really be parents, we’re just treading water.

    Sorry for the lengthy post.

  3. Hi Mike,

    Good to see you participating in more than one spot! Glad you voiced your opinion, it sounds as though we come from pretty different places philosophically.

    I suppose a good place to begin would be to respectfully point out that you have not worked with me. Before you cast me as “like every other administrator who does not know what my work entails” I’d suggest you remember that administrators, like teachers, are too often painted with a broad brush. My goal is to work with teachers, to support them, and to create an environment where they can innovate. If you walk the halls of the school I work at and ask our staff, they’d tell you that I am an active administrator who is in classrooms regularly and doing my best to engage students. Put simply, I walk the talk. My opinions are based on things I have seen teachers do, ideas that have been suggested to me, and conversations I have had with teachers, not just because of a book I’ve read or a workshop I have attended (though those do impact my thinking).

    My belief is that parents send us the best they have to offer and try as hard as they can. It’s our job to be the professionals, and to provide the best service we can offer. Too often, parents, financial woes, or other outside factors are given as reasons why we cannot do things. I reject that line of thinking. In my work, I interact with countless parents, all of them want the same thing, a quality education for their children. If I speak to them directly, they may not always agree, but I’d bet they walk away knowing that I do not rush to judgment and think critically about the work I do.

    There are always reasons NOT to do something – failure to take action will only lead to control being taken away from our profession.

    Thanks for the post, I enjoyed our exchange!

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