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Using Technology To Flip The Classroom

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 7:57 PM

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Schools have gone through numerous changes over the past century, but the basic setup of the classroom has stayed the same --- teachers lecture at the front of the room and kids complete assignments based on that material for homework. Now, thanks to webcams and YouTube, some Ohio teachers are using technology to record their lessons and assign them for homework instead. It's called the flipped classroom, and ideastream's Michelle Kanu reports it's another example of how technology is changing the way teachers teach and students learn.

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Sarah Carter, Spencer Pajk and Matthew Vehovec learned about melting points from a video they watched for homework. Chemistry teacher Lisa Bowers uses a live scribe pen to record instructional podcasts for her chemistry students. Bowers says flipping her classroom gives her more time to interact with students during class time.

Every student knows the frustration.  In class the lecture your teacher gives seems clear enough, but when you get home, the homework is so confusing it seems like it is written in a foreign language.  If only you could replay what your teacher said in class….

Teachers say that’s exactly what flipping the classroom allows.  By recording their lectures and posting them online, students can watch them at home and rewind whenever they don’t understand something.  And instead of students struggling to answer problems on their own for homework, they’re doing those in class instead.

At Mentor High School in Lake County, the juniors in AP chemistry are trying to calculate the melting point of a substance when it gets added to boiling water. 

Spencer Pajk says the videos he watched for homework last night gave him the directions to carry out today’s lab.

Pajk: “Instead of just diving into a topic that we know nothing about during class, it really introduces us to it and shows us what we have to do, how we can do it, gives us examples, and shows other students that have done this.”

Teacher Lisa Bowers says recording videos and podcasts is time consuming, but once they’re done, they can be recycled.  Bowers says now she has a better idea of which students are struggling.

Bowers: “As I walk around, just listening to their conversations tells you who’s got it and who doesn’t. Now, that’s the opportunity I have because I freed up classroom time.”

The flipped classroom idea started in 2007 with a teacher in Colorado who blogged about his experience.  Five years later, the concept is spreading to teachers around the country including a handful in Ohio. 

But the idea of using recorded lectures to teach math, chemistry and other subjects doesn’t sit too well with some people.  Critics of the flipped classroom say it excludes students who don’t have consistent access to computers, and there’s always the issue of kids who don’t do their homework.

(sound of Khan Academy teaching fades in)

Khan Academy is a website full of free recorded lectures on subjects ranging from algebra and chemistry to art history.  Founder Salman Khan has garnered national attention, and one school in California now uses the site regularly in 5th grade classes.  In an interview on Comedy Central, satirist Stephen Colbert captured why the flipped model intrigues some policy makers intent on using technology to help schools save money.

Colbert: “If people watch these videos at home, why do we need teachers?  That’s another thing right, we can crush those Wisconsin teachers with this!”

Back at Mentor High School, Lisa Bowers insists the flipped classroom is less about relying on technology to teach and more about freeing up teachers so they can work closely with students. 

Bowers: “It gives you the opportunity to get away from the traditional teacher in front of the class, 30 kids looking at you glossy eyed, you know.  Doing this approach gives you more of a one on one.”

Other teachers and schools around the country cite changes in student performance with the flip. 

At Clintondale High School, a largely low income school outside Detroit, principal Greg Green experimented with flipping classrooms over the last two years and says it has helped reduce the number of freshmen failing English language arts and other core subjects.

Green: “We found that our failure rate, which was at 52% in ELA, dropped to 19%.”

Internet sites like Khan Academy and the flip model have caught the attention of some Ohio policymakers like Rob Sommers, director of the governor’s Office of 21st Century Education.  He’s part of a group working on a state strategy to integrate more online instruction into Ohio schools.

Sommers:  “Our focus is on giving schools and teachers the tools necessary to use blended learning, regular lecture, flipped learning, whatever it takes for students to succeed.”

Sommers says his group plans to release a report with their recommendations in late February.

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