Flip that Classroom!

Sam is tired.  He can hear the teacher talking, but he does not understand anything.  He glances down at his incomplete notes and then back up at the teacher.  In front of him, Sarah is furiously scribbling down notes and viciously bobbing her head in agreement to whatever the teacher is saying.  Sam is not good at chemistry. He knows it. But he also knows that he is not stupid, just a little slower.  When he manages to get help from the teacher after class, he understands it.  For now, he puts down his pen, frustrated and confused, and looks around.  Some students are following along like Sarah, others are zoned out, and a few are even sleeping.  Sam picks up his pen again, knowing that he needs to write something down because he is missing a lot of information.  If only he could go back in time just before he got lost…

Sam is experiencing a problem that many students across America have, especially those here in Hawaii – an education system that does not fit their needs. Furthermore, it only caters to students like Sarah.  Those like Sam end up frustrated and abandoned.  If they need extra help, they will have to go afterschool or during recess.  Even then, there is no guarantee that they will get the help they need from their teacher, who may be busy helping others.  The current model of teaching is a lecture followed by a bunch of pre-picked textbook problems that students may or may not be able to do depending on how much they understood from the lecture.  This old teaching model causes students to lag behind, not because they are lazy, but because it becomes too difficult to learn.  A new model which attempts to address the current issues of student learning has emerged, it is called flip teaching.

In flip teaching, teachers are encouraged to “flip” their classroom time with what used to be homework.  Teachers give students lectures in the form of videos, narrated Powerpoints, or screen-casting. The students use the materials to learn the lesson at home and come to school to work on problems.    Sure, it might sound sketchy at first, but this model has the results to prove that it will take us one step closer to improving the education system for Hawaii students.

Now let us talk about success, of which this model has many.  Perhaps the most prevalent story of success comes from Clintondale High school.  Michael Van Beek, the Director of Education Policy at Mackinac Center for Public Policy, stated that at Clintondale High in 2010, “the failure rate for freshman was 52 percent in English classes, 44 percent in math classes, 41 percent in science classes and 28 percent in social studies classes.”  After viewing these numbers, Principal Greg Green decided to do something radical – he flipped all of the freshman classes.  The result?  The failing percentages dropped to 19 in English and math, 13 in science, and 9 in social studies.  According to a Star-Advertiser article by Mary Vorsino called “Teachers Explore ‘flipped’ Class,” some of the Hawaii schools that are flipping their classes are Sacred Hearts Academy, Punahou School, Kapolei High School and Wheeler Middle.  The results are positive and many of these schools are planning to flip even more of their classes.  Since this model has the possibility to improve student scores, we should immediately begin creating implementation plans for flipped classes in all Hawaii schools.

Some people say that flipped classrooms are not feasible because of the issue with technology accessibility.  It is true that we have poor schools called “Title 1” schools.  However, according to Beek, Clintondale High still managed success with flipped classes in a school district with “an operating deficit of 15 percent”.  When I was a senior at Kalani High School, the school created a program in which every single one of the underclassmen students received school laptops.  That program is still going strong and now every freshman and sophomore brings a laptop to school every day.  I think that if the DOE and BOE redid their budgets, they would be able to find a way to provide students with computers.  Other viable options include school libraries, computer labs, and public libraries.  By working with the community and government, we should be able to come up with solutions.  Although the problem of technology accessibility may be big, it is not an impossible obstacle.  Besides, it is better to have access to a computer as the problem standing between a student and a better education, than an entire education structure that hampers their learning.

Another common misunderstanding about flipped classrooms is that it lessens the amount of time a student has with teachers.  However, students will still see the teacher every day, just under different circumstances.  A flipped class gives teachers the opportunity to work with more troubled students, which also ensures that more advanced students will not be held back. As for those who claim that it will not guarantee to motivate a lazy student, it is true that a lazy student will always be lazy.  Students who cannot thrive under the current system or under the flipped classroom model do exist and there will always be many outside factors that affect students in ways that I cannot generalize.  However, there is a difference between those who do not want to learn and those who find it too frustrating to even try.  For students like Sam, they will be able to watch a video over and over, stop it, and replay it.  They can basically work at their own pace.

We continue to push students through the grades without being able to help them because of the current educational structure.  I have tutored at Kaiulani Elementary, Palolo Elementary, and Kalani High school over the years.  While I was at the elementary schools, I saw children who could not grasp simple concepts, let alone pass the Hawaii State Assessments (HSAs).  These children were in desperate need of a good educational foundation.  But what could the teachers do with overflowing classrooms and unrealistic learning conditions?  Teachers were forced to just push students through the grades, even if they could not multiply or write a coherent sentence.  Of course, a flipped class is not the solution to all educational woes.   I just think that we owe it to these children to try something new since it is obvious that the old ways are not working.   As it is right now, nothing significant is being done to improve the education system except throwing around meaningless progress goals and random standards at schools who struggle to meet them.  It is our duty to nurture the natural intelligence of these students and guide them into becoming strong community leaders of the future.  Flipping classes is a step in that direction.  We should teach our students well and teach them right.

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One Comment to “Flip that Classroom!”

  1. I do like the sound of this proposal. However, I do think it will take a long time for students to adjust to a style that is so different from the standard method of learning. I hope that the schools who are trying out ‘flipping’ turn up with successful results. I think this new style will force kids, even the smart ones, to stop being lazy in general because it requires much more work on the part of the student.

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