One of the newest trends to hit South Florida classrooms, “flipped learning” combines new technologies with one very old idea: homework.
But this is homework with a twist. Instead of lecturing in class and assigning problems to be done at home, teachers use technology to “flip” the model. Students first learn about a concept by watching an online video or using another resource at home. In class, they do work based on the information they learned the night before.
The reason for turning tradition on its head?
“Classroom time is valuable,” says Janis Tobin, a science teacher at Palmer Trinity School in Miami-Dade County who began using the technique with her 8th grade classes last year.
“If we’re just going to be talking at the kids, they can listen to that at home. With flipped classes, we had twice the time in class to do an activity. We could do some problem-solving, and my co-teacher and I could see what [students] were having difficulty with. If they were just trying to do the problems by themselves at home, they might just quit trying and not go on.”
THE DIGITAL DIVIDE
Classroom time may be valuable, but technology is expensive – which is why flipped learning is more likely to be used in private schools than in public schools at this time, says Mary Ann Tobin, program professor of reading education at Nova Southeastern University.
“The first thing that comes to mind is an access problem. You can’t guarantee that every public school student is going to come home to a computer or an Internet connection.”
By 2015, however, each of Miami-Dade’s 350,000 public-school students will have access to a device such as a laptop or tablet, according to a plan approved in June, which could push this trend into more public schools.
In Broward, during the 2013-2014 school year, the school district plans to distribute devices to 3,200 5th grade students as a part of a personalized learning pilot. Teachers will receive training throughout the year about integrating technology in the classroom.
At Archbishop Curley Notre Dame Prep in Miami’s Buena Vista neighborhood, every student in the ethnically and economically diverse Catholic school now has an iPad; the school leases them to students who cannot afford their own. Principal Douglas Romanik is so committed to flipped learning that he instituted workshops in May and June for teachers to learn about the concept.
“Students today are not geared toward 50 minutes of information,” Romanik said. “They are geared toward a 15-minute YouTube video and then they’re moving on to the next thing. I don’t want to lose students because they don’t fall into the mold of the usual teaching style.”
Marjorie Petit, who teaches high school economics and government at Westminster Christian School in South Miami-Dade, agrees. Petit, who found out about flipped learning from a fellow educator’s blog, is going to flip her Advanced Placement Economics classes this fall.
“Even at my age, we’re not necessarily ‘intentional listeners’ anymore. This is a generation of rewinders, and they can’t rewind a live lecture. I’m hoping that a student, if he or she is motivated, will take the time to go back and listen to the parts of the lecture they didn’t understand.”
That’s exactly how it works for Carlos Moro’s math students at Christopher Columbus High School. Moro pioneered flipped learning at the all-boys Catholic school last year.
“Students say, ‘I don’t write notes very quickly, so I like being able to stop the video,’ or ‘When I review for tests, I watch all the videos.’ There is no more excuse that ‘Oh, the teacher went too fast.’ You can write down your questions while you are watching the video and ask me the next day in class, and it’s so much more productive. The incentive to watch the video is knowing that there will be application the next day in class and we can really focus on what they didn’t understand.”
Aside from the issue of access to technology, the biggest concern regarding flipped learning has to do with homework.
“The flipped people brought homework into the classroom” by expecting students to do work at home and then use it to complete activities in class, says Nova Southeastern’s Mary Ann Tobin. “It’s the old-school model of teachers expecting students to do their own preparation.”
But when students fail to prepare, says her daughter-in-law, Janis Tobin, the consequences are more serious in a flipped classroom.
“Kids who don’t do their homework get very behind and get behind more quickly,” she says. “If they don’t do the homework, they don’t get the material they need to lay the foundation” for what is being done in class.
Despite its advantages – which include homework videos sometimes going “a little bit viral” – Janis Tobin has concluded that flipped learning “is not the be-all and end-all.”
She says she and her co-teacher “ended up looking at the content and letting that decide whether or not we flipped the class. For example, when you talk about gravity and weight, there’s so much you can say about it, but when you get kids weighing things and dropping them, they get the concept so much better. But some of the more abstract things, like the structure of the atom, were hard for kids to hear about on a video when they didn’t have the foundation.
“The frustration level shut down learning faster when they have ultimate control at home. They can just turn off the video and that’s it.”
Ultimately, educators agree, flipped learning is what Janis Tobin calls “a great tool in your toolkit.” Mary Ann Tobin stresses that “the teacher’s job is to know about the flipped classroom and decide if it would work in their context.”
Adds Pedro Garcia-Casals, assistant principal at Columbus High: “The challenge for me is to keep the focus, so that we keep the things that are at the core of the learning process. All of this [technology] is just an enhancement.”