Jon Bergmann can hardly contain himself as he rattles off statistics and stories about a fashionable, playful-sounding teaching approach that he thinks is changing education in very serious ways. He says it has “transformed schools” and that its “effect on education is staggering.”
“All across the world, teachers are flipping classrooms,” says Bergmann, author of seven books, including the best-seller Flip Your Classroom. “Now we have to stop talking about whether flipped learning works and start talking about how to adapt it and make it even better.”
Bergmann, of course, should be enthused. While there are others who might be credited with recommending that students learn lessons outside of the classroom and do homework in school with their teachers, Bergmann can certainly be considered one of the fathers of the flipped classroom concept.
He and science teacher Aaron Sams began videotaping lectures for absentees about 10 years ago, then realized that the recordings could be useful to all students and that class time could then be dedicated to working on those concepts. Today, Bergmann tours the world giving lectures on flipped learning and offers training and certification through his website www.jonbergmann.com.
But he is not alone in his enthusiasm. “It works,” says Chris Geocaris, an assistant principal at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, IL, who’s been closely involved in a wide range of flipped classrooms at his school-including foreign language, industrial technology, and business classes. Geocaris is most impressed by improved performance in low- and high-level math classes.
“It has really, totally changed teaching and learning for us,” says Michael Wolgast, principal at Chisholm Trail Middle School in Olathe, KS, who read Bergmann’s book and put it to use at his middle school. Then, after a presentation by Bergmann, Wolgast saw it spread throughout his district. “It just makes so much sense,” Wolgast says. “We saw improvement in grades, state assessments, and measures of academic progress.” Parents who don’t have to puzzle over homework love it, he says.
Lake Elmo Elementary School in Minnesota found that students in flipped fifth-grade math classes completed considerably more work than others, and the pilot project expanded throughout the district. “Perhaps most compelling is that teachers say although the pilot is over, they won’t go back,” says Mike Dronen, the district’s technology coordinator.
One of the most visible advocates for the concept has been Greg Green, former principal at Clintondale High School, a struggling Michigan school just north of Detroit, which typically had more than 700 discipline cases each semester and about half of its freshmen failing English and math. Clintondale had been ranked in the bottom 5 percent in the state for academics.
“Every year, our failure rates were through the roof,” says Green, now superintendent for Clintondale Community Schools. “The students weren’t paying attention, they weren’t doing their homework, they were being disruptive, or they weren’t coming to school at all. And we just weren’t using that seven hours in school in the best possible way.”
Green began encouraging the use of the flipped approach in most classrooms in 2010, and discipline cases and failure rates dropped by more than half. Graduation rates reached 92 percent, and college attendance rose to about 80 percent, up nearly 20 percent. “We need to recognize the solution has been right in front of us the whole time,” he says.
Keys to Success
There are a several incarnations of flipped learning. Some say it isn’t a new idea at all—or that it simply shifts the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy to a different location at home. Some have complained that despite positive anecdotal results, not enough thorough research has been done.
Regardless, the concept has gained a lot of attention and shown promising results as the internet changes education. A review of some 30 research papers about three years ago concluded, “Flipped learning can afford students a more engaging environment that can lead to higher achievement and a better preparedness for 21st-century learning and work environments.”
According to one survey in 2014, more than 4,000 administrators from 2,600 school districts were seeing “a significant increase in teachers flipping their classrooms,” and nearly one-third reported that the concept was having a “significant impact on transforming teaching and learning.” The flipped classroom model has been adopted by instructors from elementary schools to colleges, and a new report for tech companies says the concept has “over 50 percent penetration in the U.S. education market.”
Teachers and administrators in the growing number of schools trying the flipped classroom approach report other benefits apart from improved academic performance.
Valuable class time. Teachers can use the classroom for work on clarifying concepts, assisting students who are struggling, or letting those who missed the lesson watch it. It gives advanced students an opportunity to move ahead and allows teachers to, as Geocaris puts it, “work on topics in greater depth.” Some do more hands-on projects or labs than previously possible. Flipped learning also more easily allows for differentiation. (Experts believe crafting this classroom portion can make or break the process.) Student engagement goes up and behavior problems go down, advocates say.
Faster pace. Research from Lake Elmo and other schools showed that teachers covered considerably more material using the flipped classroom method.
Individualized learning. Students can learn out of class at their own pace—they can pause, break up, or speed through lessons. It can be effective for English language learners who have more time to translate, and teachers may even deliver content in various ways for different styles of learning, according to Cara Johnson, a science teacher at Allen High School in Texas who has gained attention for her use of the process. Using technology is appealing and natural for some students, and it allows them to explore topics on their own. Busy students or those who commute from a distance also can manage work more easily.
Missed class. Work can be available on snow days, for student absences, or when substitute teachers are teaching.
Parental engagement. Parents today are more aware of what’s happening in class, says Wolgast. With flipped learning, they can encourage students and even learn the material rather than struggle with homework. This model may increase effective parent involvement—especially when students need to catch up.
Energized teachers. Teachers report being excited about teaching in flipped classrooms and often develop closer relationships with students. Many enjoy creating online presentations. They also find homework is less tedious to assign and grade.
Clearer assessment results. Teachers can get frequent reports on student understanding—an assessment or an artifact that synthesizes understanding. It is easy to assess work at home and get a good evaluation of student understanding before class.
Classroom management. Advocates report that student engagement goes up and behavior problems go down as students work independently and teachers are available to address them individually.
Online resources. While few would suggest students today aren’t already comfortable with the internet, appropriate work online at home teaches them new ways to find information. In addition, in some cases teachers partner with experts in the field or other schools to bring useful content to their students.
There have been some concerns around flipped classrooms, including one articulated by Bergmann himself. “Teachers need to be trained to use this appropriately,” he says, calling an untrained teacher undertaking a flipped class without preparation “educational malpractice.” Research shows training greatly improves results.
Other critics are concerned that some students may not have internet access. However, Carol Potash, technology director for Highland Central School District in New York, says most do. One study said about 95 percent of students have internet access, and that access can be provided various ways. Temple Independent School District in Texas has a thorough explanation of options at http://tinyurl.com/tisdconnectivity.
Others suggest that less motivated students working independently will slip further behind, but Geocaris says the responsibility can help struggling students. “It holds them accountable,” he says. “The teacher can know if they didn’t do the work at home, have them do it in class, then work with them to make sure they understand,” he says.
Some administrators may worry about students getting off task in a flipped learning environment. Advocates say some would anyway and are less likely to do so while watching a video (especially if it is engaging) than if they were reading or searching through a textbook.
Others are concerned many flipped classes will mean students are saddled with hours of video, but advocates recommend 20-minute lessons and say that shouldn’t add up to any more homework than if it were assigned traditionally.
“It can always be improved,” Bergmann says. “It’s a great concept, but we want people to share their ideas as they explore it—and keep making it better.”
Jim Paterson is a writer based in Lewes, DE.