Thinking about the Flipped Classroom

In an article written for Getting Smart, author Charles Perry of MentorMob included a quote from one of the fathers of the flipped classroom, Aaron Sams:

“The most important thing is that the kids are learning. If they like the instructional videos for my chemistry class that I worked really hard on, great! If they’d rather just read the textbook during class, that’s fine too! I more or less put my kids in a room with a bunch of learning ingredients, shake it all up, and see what happens.”

This ambitious approach to learning is what flipping the classroom is all about, but it is easy to mistakenly envision students being granted too much freedom when left to their own devices. (An image of the educational armageddon of the screaming children Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character first sees when he enters the classroom in Kindergarten Cop comes to mind.) Aaron Sams and other teachers of flipped classrooms are always present in the class, and one might even argue they are more present to their students than in a traditional classroom. By flipping the homework model and bringing assignments into the classroom, teachers are able to provide quicker feedback to students instead of waiting to review their homework a full 24 hours later. Additionally, by encouraging students to write down questions about concepts they may not have understood during a lesson they viewed at home, teachers can more frequently revisit concepts during the classroom period to ensure maximum retention. 

The model works because it challenges the idea that instructors must “teach to the middle,” structuring the curriculum to meet the needs of those students who aren’t falling behind in the subject matter or exceeding in their understanding of it. Teaching to the middle does not allow all the students to reach their full potential, only some of them. The idea of “concept engagement” is more of a possibility in a flipped classroom because the teacher has more time to attend to students’ individual needs.

Sams’ quote also touches on the concept of learning at one’s own pace. Technapex has covered several apps and online resources that allow students the freedom to monitor their own learning and move forward at their own discretion. If multiples of eight are proving too hard in a basic math class, a student should be able to master eights before moving on to nines. If a student is challenged when calculating molecular weight in a chemistry classroom, then they should have the freedom to master it before moving on to … man, I don’t know, I got a D in Chemistry. (In a traditional classroom model, I should point out.)

Teachers in flipped classrooms are able to be mindful of the individual challenges each of their students face. While the entire class may be moving in the exact same direction, all the students are not moving at the exact same pace.

And finally, Sams talks about the freedom students have to select the option that best suits their learning style from a variety of resources. This is all about basic human learning. Some people learn best by taking notes on a laptop, and some learn better taking down information freehand in a notebook. Some are visual learners, some are audio learners. Some need extra attention from the teacher, and some need to be largely left alone. A teacher like Aaron Sams gives students many options, but most importantly, he gives them the freedom of choice.

The best teachers I had in college were the ones who provided me with a healthy mix of instruction and freedom. I had due dates for assignments and tests at the end of semesters, but the space between those concrete aspects of my education were periods of my own progression and understanding. A student should be allowed to progress at his or her own pace while constantly having a teacher guide them to the ultimate goal.