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“If you don’t blow the lid off, you’ll never know what teachers can create,” said Kimberly Kindred, assistant principal at Coppell Middle School North (CMSN).
This was one of the reasons they decided to ‘flip’ their classrooms at the Texas school.
In a traditional classroom, a teacher gives the students information in the classroom, and then gives them an activity at home during which the student applies it.
Flipped classrooms, as the name implies, flip that, so students take in the information at home, and then apply that learning in the classroom.
The pioneers of flipped learning were Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, who found this solution as a way for teachers to spend time with each child every day.
As their book states, “It started with a simple observation: Students need their teachers present to answer questions or to provide help if they get stuck on an assignment; they don’t need their teachers present to listen to a lecture or review content.”
This concept inspired CMSN, and they decided to give it a try. Although their students were performing well, the school wanted to ensure that they would continue to thrive.
Flipped Learning at CMSN
Three years ago, teachers and administration made the choice together to flip the middle school as one tool, innovating as they went, as there was no guide for this type of change.
The classrooms at CMSN are not entirely flipped, but every teacher must flip something in their teaching. For different teachers and subjects, these flipped items can be different things.
The student might need to watch a short video at home, learn a skill, or find a primary source. Then, when they come to school, the teacher has for time for hands-on projects that help the kids understand what they’ve learned, which focus on real-life situation and collaboration.
Teachers also work together on multi-disciplinary projects to help kids apply their learning to real-life situations, which rarely follow one discipline.
One of the reasons that flipped learning works so well with today’s students is that students are, quite simply, consuming information differently than they have in the past. Schools need to keep up to meet the kids in their space with information being provided in a way that will be meaningful to them.
While traditional learning tends to restrict teachers to teaching to the middle, a flipped lesson reaches kids at both ends of the spectrum. As Kindred said, flipped lessons reach “certain populations of kids and demographics of kids that we weren’t reaching.”
Rather than having kids who have already grasped a lesson disengaging while kids who are struggling can’t keep up, the at-home lessons can be tailored to different children.
The students don’t know what the others are doing at home, and a child can take their time or watch a video several times if they need to.
This also gives special education and English as a second language students a boon in CMSN, as students can be in regular classrooms without anyone knowing their lessons are different.
In most schools, results would initially drop after a change like this, “performance consistently stayed the same” at CMSN, said Kindred.
Some parents were concerned that flipped classrooms would mean that teachers and students would lose their relationships, that kids would just be watching a video at home and would not be engaged by their teachers. Instead, flipping the classroom gives teachers the flexibility to spend one-on-one time with each student, more than they did before.
For 8th grade U.S. History teacher Julie Bottom, this was definitely the case. She’s been teaching for 16 years, and was ready to innovate.
“As teachers,” she said, “we are always looking for more options. This gave us more time to apply what kids are learning.”
While her class, like the others, is not always flipped, these assignments really help to engage with students. Flipped work might include asking students to find a branch of government or a right from the Bill of Rights in action in the news, and bring it in to discuss in class.
They talk about which right or branch is depicted in the story, and how they could tell. This gives them time to think about their assignment before the discussion. These assignments are usually very short, said Bottom, “to prime their brains.”
These students get the basic idea of a concept at home, so that they can apply it in school.
“We have time to play a game,” said Bottom, “which reinforces what they’ve learned….the flipped part leaves me more time to do the applied part.”
This also helps to clear up any misunderstandings students have about a subject, so that she is able to correct them before it comes out in a test.
“I can check their understanding,” said Bottom, “and we can apply it.”
Learning doesn’t always happen in the same way, and students are consuming information in rapidly changing ways. Schools like CMSN are staying ahead of the curve, ensuring that they are ready to meet the needs of students so that information is not only learned, but applied in a meaningful way.
As Kindred said, “You get to know the kids on a whole new level…we went into teaching for the kids.”
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