A+ Advice for Parents

Educators Flipping the Script on Old Teaching Standards

Q: My middle-schooler has a lot of YouTube videos as homework. He says it's because the school has "flipped instruction." Can you please explain what this is?

A: Flipped instruction is a new teaching strategy. Traditionally, teachers present new material during class time and assign students homework and group projects to do on their own. But flipped instruction switches the model: Teachers introduce new content through videos or podcasts that are assigned as homework. They ask students to take notes and answer questions. In class, the teacher discusses those questions with students and works with them on individual and group projects, such as labs, to put their new knowledge to work.

For instance, let's say your son is learning about the Earth's structure and plate tectonics in science. In flipped instruction, the teacher might assign online videos (including the teacher's own lectures) that tell the story of how continents were formed and where earthquakes and volcanoes occur. Once students have viewed the videos, the teacher uses class time to answer questions, coach students in experiments and check their understanding through tests and activities. (For a short tutorial, go to youtube.com/watch?v=26pxh_qMppE.)

What are the benefits? Colorado educators Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann, authors of "Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day" (International Society for Technology in Education, 2012), believe that flipped instruction personalizes learning, increases student-teacher interaction, holds the attention of students who struggle during class lectures and leads to a deeper understanding of concepts.

Mary Beth Hertz, a K-8 technology teacher in Philadelphia, says that the model provides a way to "individualize learning for students, so they can move at their own pace and review what they need when they need it. It can free the teacher to work one-on-one with students who need the most support. Students who miss lessons can catch up through video and online course tools like Edmodo or Moodle."

For flipped instruction to be successful, says Hertz, teachers must make and choose videos and podcasts carefully.

"Materials should include a variety of approaches in the same way a face-to-face lesson would," she says. "In math, for instance, students must see different ways to solve an equation. The videos must have good sound and image quality so that students can follow along and stay engaged. They must also match the curriculum and the activities the students will complete in class."

One drawback is that students who don't have online access at home can't rely on public libraries, where computers have time limits, says Hertz.

"Plus," she says, "if everyone flips their classrooms, students will be in front of a screen for hours every night. Not everyone learns best through a screen."

Parents should make sure that kids aren't watching a string of videos without corresponding class activities to lock in the learning, says Hertz.

"We know that students achieve best when learning is centered around the student, not the teacher," she says. "Flipped instruction works best when it allows that to happen."

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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