Teaching with Compassion. Why I ‘Flip’. #flipclass

My submission to the ISTE Community Point/Counterpoint question: “To Flip, or Not to Flip?” You can see the discussion on the ISTE Community Forum.

Do I flip? Yes. Do I recommend it? Enthusiastically! But ‘to flip or not to flip?’ is not the essential question. In assessing optimal classroom dynamics, we need to take a good look at our classrooms and determine which activities students gain the most from, what we need more time for, and what we could do without.

Let’s rewind to my 2009 AP Calculus class. When the bell rang each day, I felt like we all had just stepped off a giant treadmill, running full speed for 45 minutes. I had so much material to get through and a very anxious class; there simply wasn’t enough time to have a calm, excited, inspiring classroom atmosphere. Worst of all, I barely got to hear from students because they were focused on digesting new material. We didn’t have time for the lively, thoughtful discussion that’s necessary to developing higher logic thinking (not to mention where the real fun and ‘secret’ learning happens).

So I asked myself the same questions posed at the beginning of this essay: what’s working, what’s not, and how can I create more time? My solution: eliminate lecture. But how could I pull that off? That summer, I went to a technology conference and learned about Camtasia Studio – a screen capture tool that would allow me to record my screen and audio with rich editing features. I knew this was something that would change my classroom completely, and I haven’t lectured new material in AP Calculus since.

In math, we often have the preconceived notion of a boring, rigid learning environment where the teacher lectures and the students do endless practice problems until the skill is mastered. The flipped classroom greatly improves this dynamic by sending the teacher-driven activity home and giving the students a voice in the classroom. Flipping has brought life back to my classroom, and the limited ‘data’ I have collected shows that it’s working. My students’ scores have been up, both for in-class assessments and on the AP Exam. In the first year I flipped, the mean AP score was up over half a point (on a 5-point scale) from our highest recorded average in previous years. But more than that, my students seem so much happier and alive in the classroom.

To those who say that technology in education feels automated, I would argue the exact opposite. Using technology has brought the compassion back into my classroom, giving me time to hear from my students and to work with them one-on-one, getting to know them better as individuals. It allows me the opportunity to listen to their discussions and see them take ownership for their learning. They’re teaching one another instead of me having to do the majority of instruction, and I am now there to immediately catch a misconception rather than have a student go home and reinforce that mistake.

But beyond the improved test grades and AP scores, the differentiated and customized learning experience the flipped classroom provides, the lasting resource I have given my students to reference throughout the year (and beyond), and the significant improvement in performance I have seen with some of my students with learning accommodations, the flipped classroom has allowed me to create a supportive, positive, calm environment where learning can truly thrive. And that is the greatest thing of all!

(Ran out of room due to word limit, but would have added) There is no one-size fits all in education, but as teachers, we always can benefit from observing and listening to our students. And that’s just what the flipped classroom provides: giving students a stronger voice, making the classroom experience about playing with ideas rather than throwing information at them at lightning speed, allowing time to individually check in with students on a regular basis, providing the resources for them to customize pace, and giving students the peace of mind that their teacher is not more than a step away when they need you most.

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