EdCamp Dallas 2012: Lessons from a Flipped Classroom

The second presentation I attended at edcampDallas was about the flipped classroom model. Since I have only read about the idea online, I wanted to hear about it from someone who is actually doing it. This session turned out to be pleasantly surprising and informative.

The session was put on by Todd Nesloney and Stacey Huffine, though Todd did most of the talking since he was sharing about his personal experience flipping his 5th grade math class. I was surprised to hear about an elementary teacher flipping his classroom, but since he is only in charge of one subject for 78 students, it made a little more sense.

First of all, just like in the previous session, the speaker was a teacher presenting about their own experiences. I think this is part of what makes edcamps so appealing and successful. These are folks who are doing something themselves and then sharing what works and what doesn’t. It feels very honest. I like that.

Todd admitted right away that while he has students watch videos at home for homework, he doesn’t make one every night; they’re just too much work and sometimes a concept is built over several days so it isn’t needed.

He also shared his thoughts about the process of making the videos. Instead of sitting on his couch, laptop in front of him, Todd actually records his videos while standing in front of and drawing on the interactive whiteboard in his classroom. He says that helps put him in the zone of teaching, rather than the zone of vegging which is normally what we want to do on a couch, and he feels the videos are better as a result.

After watching a few of his videos, some of the students complained that they couldn’t see his face during the videos. To please his audience he figured out a way to embed a window showing him while he’s creating the videos. The result? Half the kids like it and half hate it. Some love the personal connection, but other students find it way too distracting because it means there’s too much to pay attention to. They’re trying to watch him work out a problem and trying to look at his face at the same time, and it just doesn’t work. Since the class is so evenly divided, he’s not sure what to do next.

I start with the videos of course, but as Todd and Stacey said several times in the presentation, the video portion of the flipped classroom model is only 10% of the model. Of course as soon as you mention flipping, people immediately think of the videos and tend to focus on that. The other 90%, according to Todd, is pure awesome. He said this year he has not once taught from the front of the room. Instead his students have been involved in project after project, applying math skills instead of doing worksheets and practice.

  • The students have planned a party where they had to do all the budgeting. He said this helped many students grasp making change much more deeply than they ever did solving practice problems on worksheet.
  • They have also made their own videos to teach a concept to someone else. What I like about his method is that after the students made their first videos, the class watched all of them. They discussed what worked and what didn’t. Most of the students realized their first attempts were terrible! Instead of stopping there, the students have gotten the chance to make videos again, and this time they’re learning from previous mistakes. I love opportunities like this for students to do something more than once, reflect, and slowly improve over time.
  • Currently the students are creating board games. They have to write their own multiplication and division problems for the players to solve to win the game. After the games are made, the students will trade and play each others’ games.

I’m having a hard time believing that watching a 5-10 minute video at home is teaching all of the students so well that they don’t need instruction in the class. (I just wrote about this the other day.) However, it does appear to be giving Todd the confidence to entrust his students to do math projects and activities that he shied away from in the past in favor of direct instruction.

In the end, I think the only complaint I have is that there is a “punishment” for students who don’t watch the videos at home. If you don’t watch the video for homework, then during class you have to watch the video and then spend the rest of class time solving worksheet practice problems. The idea is to make the students realize the fun they’re missing out on by not being responsible at home. It sounds like it’s working for him, but this isn’t the approach I would take.

Beyond that, the flipped classroom model seems to be starting on the right foot for Todd and his students. He is obviously genuinely enthusiastic about what he’s doing, and he is also taking the time to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. I look forward to seeing him again in the future to hear his thoughts as he has more flipping experience under his belt.

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