A handful of years ago I was teaching fourth grade when the whole idea of the flipped classroom entered my radar. The Educause definition of the topic states:
The flipped classroom is a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Short video lectures are viewed by students at home before the class session, while in-class time is devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.
In short, get the direct instruction out of the way so class time can be dedicated to problem solving.
Front-loading direct instruction goes against everything that I believe in as an educator, and therefore, so does the way in which most classrooms are flipped.
For example, let’s take a look at adding fractions with common denominators. For homework, students can watch a clunky Khan Academy video, or something comparable, and be force-fed the proper formula (add numerators, denominators stay the same). Then, at later points in time, these students can complete numerous problems that are identical to what was shown in the video (with just the digits changed, of course).
Students may be able to get all of the problems correct, but does it really mean anything?
In what has been called parrot math, “this approach suggests that children mimic mindlessly what teachers [or videos] model with the hope that somehow the mimicry will lead to learning. Do parrots understand?”
Furthermore, will the ensuing exercises, projects, or discussion (on which the majority of class is spent) actually matter to students when they already have the “right” answers?
According to John Van de Walle, “It is important to understand that mathematics is to be taught through problem solving.”
To clarify…There is a considerable difference between students learning as a result of problem solving vs. word problems that are thrown at students after they’ve already memorized the basics.
Let’s examine another approach to teaching fractions with common denominators. When I taught this concept my students interacted with several pairs of electronic fraction bars through a paint program, and each pair of bars was already divided up for them into equal parts (to signify common denominators). Students were able to manipulate or electronically fill in parts of the bars in order to come up with equations (e.g. 1/5 + 2/5 = 3/5, 4/10 + 3/10 = 7/10, etc.). After generating several equations, the students looked for patterns, and based on these patterns they were able to “uncover” the proper formula for adding fractions with common denominators while also being able to explain why it “worked.” After, students practiced using the formula by applying it to basic problems.
Although a decent amount of time was allocated to students uncovering the formula, it was time well spent as they developed a conceptual understanding of the content. Less time then had to be devoted to “drill and kill.”
As Van de Walle declared:
Then, by allowing students to interact with and struggle with the mathematics using their ideas and their strategies – a student-centered approach – the mathematics they learn will be integrated with their ideas; it will make sense to them, be understood, and be enjoyed.
In the End
First, I cannot recommend enough the books of John Van de Walle, as his work explains in the most concrete way possible what it means to facilitate inquiry-based mathematics. In my previous district, when we made the Common Core shift, every teacher across all seven elementary schools was provided one of his books.
Second, although there is definitely more than one way to flip a classroom, this post reflects the one method that I have most commonly seen and experienced throughout my career. Also, while I have used math as an example, I do believe that the same overall ideas apply to all subject areas.
Finally, no matter what the approach, I cannot help but think that flipping a classroom is developmentally inappropriate, especially for students at the elementary level. If we want our students to engage in productive struggle, inquiry, and the uncovering of formulas, I have a hard time believing that these objectives can be fulfilled by watching of videos in isolation (no matter what the videos contain).
Nonetheless, I realize that these beliefs reflect my teaching style and my experiences, and I would be willing to be bet that there are educators who have flipped their classrooms in ways that benefit their students. So, if you are one of these educators, please feel free to contact me/leave a comment with your approach, as I would love to include your work in a follow-up post.
What are your thoughts on the flipped classroom? How have you seen it implemented effectively? Was it just a passing fad that’s already had its day?
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