Canadian educator cautions about ‘flipped classrooms’

7 Apr

Moi wrote in Flipped classrooms are more difficult in poorer schools:

Sarah Butrymowicz writes in the Hechinger Report article, ‘Flipped Classroom’ Model’s Promise Eludes Poorer School which was posted at Huffington Post:

When Portland, Ore., elementary school teacher Sacha Luria decided last fall to try out a new education strategy called “flipping the classroom,” she faced a big obstacle.

Flipped classrooms use technology—online video instruction, laptops, DVDs of lessons—to reverse what students have traditionally done in class and at home to learn. Listening to lectures becomes the homework assignment so teachers can provide more one-on-one attention in class and students can work at their own pace or with other students.

But Luria realized that none of her students had computers at home, and she had just one in the classroom. So she used her own money to buy a second computer and begged everyone she knew for donations, finally bringing the total to six for her 23 fourth-graders at Rigler School. In her classroom, students now alternate between working on the computers and working with her.

So far, the strategy is showing signs of success. She uses class time to tailor instruction to students who started the school year behind their classmates in reading and math, and she has seen rapid improvement. By the end of the school year, she said, her students have averaged two years’ worth of progress in math, for example.

It’s powerful stuff,” she said, noting that this year was her most successful in a decade of teaching. “I’m really able to meet students where they are as opposed to where the curriculum says they should be.”

Other teachers in high-poverty schools like Rigler also report very strong results after flipping classrooms. Greg Green, principal of Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Mich., thinks the flipped classroom—and the unprecedented amount of one-on-one time it provides students—could even be enough to close the achievement gap between low-income, minority students and their more affluent white peers. Clintondale has reduced the percentage of Fs given out from about 40 percent to around 10 percent.

Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that flipping classrooms is a more popular practice in wealthier suburban communities where nearly all students have Internet access at home and schools are more likely to have computers in classrooms. Some skeptics say flipped classrooms still rely heavily on lectures by teachers, which they argue are not as effective as hands-on learning. Still others worry that the new practice—so dependent on technology—could end up leaving low-income students behind and widening the achievement gap.

It’s an obstacle,” said Karen Cator, director of the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. “We do need to figure out ways that students, regardless of Zip code, regardless of their parents’ income level, have access” to technology inside and outside of schools.

Flipped classrooms have proved useful in educating some children.

One Canadian educator has flipped back from using a flipped classroom.

Shelly Wright explains in the Ed Tech article, Why I Flip-Flopped on the Flipped Classroom:

In July 2011, I wrote a blog post called “The Flip: Why I Love It — How I Use It.” At the time, I argued that “the flip is only as good as the teacher who performs it,” and that it’s used successfully if done “in bite-sized chunks.”

When I wrote that post, I ­imagined the flip as a stepping stone to a fully realized inquiry- or project-based learning environment.

Essentially, the flip reverses traditional teaching. Instead of ­lectures occurring in the classroom and ­assignments being done at home, the opposite occurs: Lectures are viewed at home by students, via videos or podcasts, and class time is devoted to assignments or projects based on this knowledge. It’s unlike traditional homework in that students know we won’t spend class time going over the content they’ve studied at home. Instead, we use that content as a springboard into deeper discussion and activities.

For the next six months, we used the flipped approach sparingly and successfully in my classroom in Canada’s Prairie South School Division 210. For example, when studying genetics, I had my students watch a brief video on the basics of DNA, from home, and take notes on what they learned. The next day, they spent class time building models of the DNA double helix, based on the video they’d watched and the theory they’d studied the night before.

But less than a year and a half later, the flip was no longer part of my classroom. Although I didn’t ­disagree with anything I’d written in the earlier post, I had found that the flip didn’t produce the ­transformative learning experience I knew I wanted for my students….

As our classroom shifted from teacher- to student-centered, my students began to do the majority of their own research. Sometimes, this means they teach each other. Sometimes, they create a project around the knowledge they are ­acquiring. Sometimes, they create their own driving questions. Sometimes, they create their own units.

Ultimately, we have realized that three fundamental questions should drive the teaching and ­learning experience:

  1. What are you going to learn?
  2. How are you going to learn it?
  3. How are you going to show your learning?

As this new way of learning has played out over time, my students have found that they no longer need me to locate or create videos for them. They can find their own resources and direct their own learning.

My goal as a teacher is to help them become independent learners, to give their learning a purpose that is apparent to them (beyond simply passing the unit exam). I prompt them to reflect on their thinking and learning while sharing stories of my own journey as a learner. I help them develop skills, such as finding and evaluating sources and collaborating with their peers.

These days, I’m no longer an ­information-giver and gatekeeper. Rather, my aim essentially is to work myself out of a job by the time they graduate.

See, Does the Flipped Classroom Really Accomplish its Goals?

There are pros and cons of flipped classrooms.

Digital Media in the Classroom posted the Teach article, Pros and Cons of The Flipped Classroom:

Harold Webb, an 8th grade Science teacher at our middle school, has tried the flipped model with some success, but also agrees that there are drawbacks to presenting information simply through a video.

I’ve done a few flipped lessons with my iPad, mostly just for kids who have either missed lecture or for students on an individualized education plan. On my online video presentations, I tend to “simplify” the content and try to keep the videos short (under 10 minutes).


  • Helps kids who were absent, stay current.
  • Helps kids who don’t get the lesson the first time in class.

    Good resource for teacher assistants or student support staff who may not know the curriculum or may not know what to focus on.

  • Can attach Google spreadsheets or other online quizzes to check for comprehension, along with the video link sent to students


  • I have a long way to go in my skill set in making the videos interesting (they, to me anyway, are really boring to watch).
  • I’m not sure how much they (the videos) are being utilized. There are just certain items that are learned better through direct one on one contact.
  • I know as I’m teaching, I get direct feedback from my students by looking at their faces and gauging comprehension. I, as a teacher, don’t get that feedback as I’m designing and creating my videos.”

Harold’s concerns are extremely valid, and as I found, shared concerns among many educators who have attempted to implement this learning strategy.

Math and Science so far seem to be the most logical subjects to try out a flipped classroom. And as you have read, English has demonstrated some use of videos in the classroom as well.

However, I was also pleasantly surprised to hear from one of our Social Studies instructors, who teaches a World History class, and who has enjoyed using the flip model as a supplement to his curriculum.

Dr. Eric Hahn, fondly recognized by the students as one of the most engaging instructors at Ladue High School, explained, “Flipping the class for me was easy. I’m using the John Green Crash Course videos because they contain quick, easy to access, overviews of content we study in our course.  I’ve also suggested that if students are about to read a section for homework, that they preview one of the videos. Or, if they already read a section, they might view the video to help with their comprehension of the material. In addition to the videos, I mentioned in class that students could have their computer on as they read- if they stumble on a section they find too challenging, they could access any site like Wikipedia to briefly read about their topic in a different format. Then, they might go back to their assigned reading with a much better understanding of what they are supposed to comprehend.”

As everything in society becomes more closely tied to technology, key questions are whether technology is useful in a given circumstance and how to evaluate the usefulness of a particular technology application. In a 2004 policy report, Evaluating The Effectiveness of Technology in Our Schools, ACThad some interesting questions about the use of technology in schools:

Specifically, this report:

Focuses on issues that need to be considered as we assess the impact of technology and develop evidence-based strategies for technology integration that contribute to high achievement for all students.  Provides useful information and specific recommendations about evaluating the effectiveness of technological applications implemented to enhance teaching, learning, and achievement. Technology should be a tool to help educators meet the educational needs of all children. As such, technologies cannot function as solutions in isolation but must be thought of as key ingredients in making it possible for schools to address core educational challenges1. Technology can serve as an enabler in teaching and learning to:

 Help organize and provide structure for material to students.

 Help students, teachers, and parents interact, anytime and anywhere.

 Facilitate and assist in the authentication and prioritization of Internet material.

 Simulate, visualize, and interact with scientific structures, processes, and models.

 Help in learning history and depicting future trends.

 Serve as an extension and enhancer for handicapped populations.

 Provide automated translators for multilingual populations2.

However, technology and equity are not inevitable partners. Simply providing access does not ensure that technology will effectively enhance teaching and learning and result in improved achievement. Nor does providing access imply that all teachers and students will make optimal use of the technology. Technology may mean little without appropriate objectives and goals for its use, structures for its application, trained and skillful deliverers, and clearly envisioned plans for evaluating its effectiveness.

Two yardsticks we can use to measure the strides technology has made are accessibility by students (and teachers) to technology resources and how technology is actually utilized by schools and teachers in different settings and for different students.

There is no magic bullet or “Holy Grail” in education, there is what works to produce academic achievement in a given population of students.


How Do You Teach Digital Literacy?           

What are the pros and cons of a flipped classroom?

Researcher Studies Effects of Technology in Schools

Technology In Schools: Weighing The Pros And Cons


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