‘Flipped’ classrooms based on short videos, long discussions

lbonner@newsobserver.comNovember 29, 2013 

— Science teacher Vance Kite spent most of the 90-minute lesson on genetic mutations at City of Medicine Academy circulating the room, talking to students, answering their questions and drawing diagrams of chromosomes.

Absent from this Advanced Placement biology class was a formal lecture. Students arrived in class already having watched Kite’s graphics-rich genetics lecture online.

This is the second year Kite has “flipped” his AP biology class. Students watch his recorded 10-minute lectures for homework, and class time is devoted to discussion, questions and experiments.

Flipping classrooms is a growing national trend in public schools and universities, even though extensive evidence that this teaching method is more effective than traditional lecturing is sparse.

Research into student performance in flipped classrooms is ongoing, but educator Lodge McCammon says they are more efficient. McCammon developed a training program for teachers who want to flip classrooms while at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation in Raleigh.

Flipping, he said, improves learning because students spend more time on activities and less listening to lectures.

“You get to the activity quicker, and it’s the activity where the students really learn,” McCammon said.

At Durant Road Middle School in Raleigh, about a third of the classes are taught this way, said principal Drew Sawyer. But students don’t watch videos every night, he said. The recorded lectures are used to introduce concepts that are developed in class.

“What I see in a classroom is more exploration of a topic or a problem or a lesson or a lab that they could not have done” if the time had to be used for lectures, Sawyer said.

Flipping started at Durant Road a few years ago with math teacher Katie Gimbar, who worked with McCammon on the training videos. She found students made great strides in her classes, even though some started class a half-year late. Though flipping classrooms is optional, the practice spread to other math teachers, other grades, and other subjects at the school.

The videos help students who miss class keep up and enhance parent engagement, Sawyer said. Parents are able to see for themselves what students are learning and are better able to help their children with homework, he said.

Older students say they have more responsibility for coming to class prepared with the basics.

“It’s basically on you how you learn,” said Lily Pham, 17, a senior at the City of Medicine Academy, a magnet high school that focuses on health care careers.

Notes from live classroom lectures may be spotty, said Omari Hicks, a fellow student, but the videos make note-taking more effective and make for a ready reference for test review.

“You learn the concept at your own pace,” he said. “You come in (to class) and ask questions and develop the concepts.”

Addressing access

Some of the pitfalls are obvious. Teachers have to figure out what to do for students who don’t have Internet access at home. The needs of lower-income students who can’t afford computers have to be addressed. And students will skip the video assignments, just as they do other homework.

The access question was easy to answer at the City of Medicine Academy because students are assigned laptops they can take home. Most have Internet access at home, Kite said. Students who can’t watch at home can do so during school hours, and Kite will load videos onto thumb drives for students.

Making sure students watch the videos was a bump in Kite’s learning curve. After he flipped his first class, Kite found from the results of a student survey that only about half the class watched them. This year, he starts classes with five-minute quizzes based on the videos.

“You have to have student accountability,” he said.

Kite still gives the occasional traditional lecture but sees so many benefits in videos as homework that he plans to start using them in his environmental science class.

“It multiples the time I can spend with students,” he said.

Bonner: 919-829-4821; Twitter: @Lynn_Bonner

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