Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, two rural Colorado public school secondary chemistry teachers, have launched something over the past five or six years that is truly significant and lasting, I believe, and this fine, short, accessible book is a great vehicle for their program. I commend the authors, and recommend the book highly.
Bergmann and Sams utilize a fine tone in the book. Throughout, they maintain their passion about serving students, of putting kids at the front of every decision and ensuring the technology choices follow the learning goals. They are open-minded, experimental, and truly innovative in all the right ways. They iterate, they experiment, they make mistakes and learn from them. They take care to offer clarity of direction, to be nuanced and open-minded, allowing for nuance and for variety. I appreciate their repeated expression to the effect that there is no “the flipped classroom,” only many flipped classrooms.
They also write with humility, acknowledging their limits and their errors. I wished at times they would tell us more– not just that they realized they had made a mistake but telling us more in detail about the difficulties they encountered. I appreciated their inclusion of the voices of other teachers and some students, but it felt a little disappointing that it was a fairly small circle of voices– the same three or four teachers, again and again.
There is a way in which this is two books in one, or two separate techniques bundled into one package. They recognize this– I am not pointing out anything they don’t acknowledge. But it makes the book just a tiny bit clumsy, with some redundancies in the second part as they explain their second technique.
The first technique is what Bergman and Sams call, to their amusement and mine, the “traditional flip.” Traditional, that is, in that it maintains the same course curriculum and syllabus, with the class moving through that syllabus altogether, but with lectures captured on video and assigned for homework, and the classroom then the time and place for study problems, labs and PBL, and teacher individual support.
The second part of the book offers two chapters on the second and current iteration of Sams and Bergmann, which they advocate as the superior of the two techniques, Flip Mastery. Here, students progress by mastery, if and when they are ready and have demonstrated that they are. Mastery as a course program has its own pros and cons separate from flipping, but surely they are correct that if you are committed to a mastery approach, flipping offers a great deal of value. I’m taking a bit of a pass here on evaluating the mastery element, and keeping my focus instead on the “traditional flip.” You can’t help but wonder whether our fine authors wouldn’t have done better to save the Flip Mastery technique for a second book.
1. The “Why You Should Flip chapter” is great: compelling and exuberant: it really covers the range, and shares some great thinking about what we can accomplish with this technique. (Also helpful are the reasons why not to flip, including “because some guys who got a book published told you to.”)
15 (!) reasons, in total, are shared. My favorites include:
“Flipping increases student-teacher interaction.”
This is the promise of “blended instruction,” which is my preference also. I don’t want to lose the power of the teacher and student, in person and inter-personally, advancing learning upon the platform of relationships and genuine connections. Lecturing during the precious time teachers and students are together seems such a loss when the lecturing can be outsourced to digital video and the classroom can become laboratory, seminar room, studio and tutorial.
“Flipping educates parents… and makes your classroom transparent.”
Transparency is always a virtue: so often what happens in the classroom when the door is closed is murky if not opaque to parents, to other teachers, to the community. Knock down the walls and let everyone see– this is an age of sharing and light, and teaching can be a part of it.
From the book:
As it turns out, many parents were watching right alongside their children and learning science. this leads to interesting discussions between students and parents about the content of the lessons.
“Flipping helps busy students.”
I hated it when students missed my class, and I know how much most teachers become frustrated when students miss critical or key lectures. Flipping doesn’t end this problem altogether, because it is hard for students to miss project time also, but for teachers who use lectures as signficant elements of the curriculum, flipping allows busy, traveling students to stay in the program and keep current.
“Flipping allow students to pause and rewind their teacher.”
I love this, and I often tout this as a key component. In class, teachers often go too fast for many students, or the flow of lecture is cut off and cramped by the students who ask “can you say that again?” Bergmann and Sams explain how very important it is for their students to understand the value of the “pause” button for recorded lectures, and actually train them in, with practice, on the first day.
When we give students the ability to pause their teachers, they have the chance to process at the speed that is appropriate for them. We especially encourage students who process more slowly to use the rewind button so they can hear us explain something more than one time. If they still don’t understand, we will work with them individually or in small groups in the classroom.
But it is not only the pause button: some students watch lectures at double-speed, and that is fine too, if they are succeeding in the learning.
2. “How to Implement the Flipped Classroom” is the most useful chapter in the book, and where I learned the most.
Some key take-aways.
a. Videotaping yourself lecturing on the board isn’t always best.
“Camtasia studios, that captures anything on our screen, our voices, a small webcam of our faces, and any digital pen annotations,” offers the best array of material in the video, they explain. I love their advocacy that you keep the teacher face in the video; they quote a student as saying “you aren’t just a disembodied voice talking to us– you’re a real person.”
b. The Cardinal Video rules include the following
- Keep it short.
- Animate your voice.
- Create the video with another teacher.
- Add Humor
c. Project-Based Learning and Flipping are entirely compatible.
We cheer yes. Picture a class driven by student-identified problems or interests. Students are exploring a real-world problem and developing solutions, and then suddenly realize that they need to know how to perform a particular mathematical function in order to execute the solution. The teacher now faces a decision. Does she spend valuable class-time teaching the entire class…? Or does she create a video or perhaps access an archived one to give the students what they need, without sacrificing class-time for direct instruction? Marrying the technological tools and asynchronous content delivery used in a flipped classroom with a student-directed approach to learning can create an environment in which curiosity thrives.
3. As a frequent and ardent advocate of “open computer testing,” I was delighted and surprised to encounter in the book here a brief section discussion Aaron Sams’ use of the assessment technique.
He began this experiment to answer two questions: (1) what questions are so easy to find answers to on the internet that they do not need to be taught in class, and (2) given that so much information is at the fingertips of our students, how will the exams need to be written differently in order to effectively evaluate what the students know and can do with a certain subject? Asking these two questions is transforming his tests from primarily data-recall and mathematical computations to problem solving, data analysis, and mathematical understanding.
Additions and Differences:
There are just a few points I add or differ about.
One point I have been making in my writing about the Flip is that this is the future, and teachers need to recognize the change that freely and universally available online digital lectures is going to make to our profession. It used to be that students needed you for the lecture to explain the American Revolution or the Quadratic formula– but now (or soon), those lectures will be freely available, in a quality that most of the time (not all of the time) will exceed the quality of the individual teacher. So the value add is no longer the lecture, it is the tutorial, it is the project-facilitation, it is the classroom inquiry design and supervision. These things can’t be provided at scale, and teachers good at these things and practicing them regularly can’t and won’t be replaced.
Bergmann and Sams suggest that it is fine for teachers to start their flipping by using the video lectures of others. “It is Ok to use someone else’s videos! You do not have to make these on your own.” It isn’t terrible to do it this way, but I don’t think it is best or even recommended, and I certainly don’t think it deserves an exclamation point. It makes all kind of sense, once the program is established, to use a fine panoply of videos: other teachers, KA, Open university initiatives. Indeed, it is probably preferable over time to mix in others and expose your students to various styles. But getting started, teachers need to “own” the program, and demonstrate to their students, parents, administrators and everyone else that this is still their course. They also need to be intimate with how the video lectures are working to serve their students learning, and they can do so better if it is their own lectures transposed to video than borrowing those of others: the variable are fewer, the controls are better situated.
I also want to throw in an argument about the definition of “flipping.” Bergmann and Sams write, somewhat confusingly to my eyes, that “not all flipped classrooms use videos as an instructional tool,” and then define the term as being “unified around the desire to redirect the attention of the classroom away from the teacher and onto the learners.” I agree that flipping wants to serve this goal, but I’d maintain the specificity of the term by insisting that it conveys that at least part of the teaching which was previously provided in the classroom by synchronous teacher lecturing, presentation, or “direct instruction,” is now shifted to asynchronous digital video.
I have been put out by some who say that Flipping is nothing new, just the same as a longstanding practive of assigning reading, say a textbook chapter, and then discussing it in class. I disagree: I think a lecture captures and conveys more information, and more powerfully delivers that information and guides us more toward understanding, than the written word does. Chris Anderson, in a TED talk that I value greatly, makes the case that video has only recently become available over the web because it demands so much more bandwidth than text, but that bandwidth is correlated with the information it delivers. Video requires more bandwidth because it delivers more information than text.
Bergmann and Sams explain again and again, and of course I agree, that the point– that the gain– of flipping isn’t in the videos kids get to or have to watch but in the way the classroom learning experience is transformed when the lecturing is redeployed. I wonder though if we could have learned more about their classroom transformation–more concretely and more visually. It would have been nice to have been more extended anecdotes or vignettes about their new classroom environments.
Indeed, for a book that is in part about the power of the visual, (video), this book is extremely logocentric. There isn’t a single image, drawing, or other visual tool of any kind in the entire book. I would have loved pictures of their classrooms before and after, (or maybe a url inside the book pointing to online pictures?). It would have been neat to have videos made available; it would have been nice to see a broken out agenda displayed showing how they use their 95 minute block classes. (There are a few simple tables displaying test scores, and a two page unit organizational guide, in grey.)
This points are only small potatoes. This is a great development for pedagogy and for our students’ learning, and this is an excellent book to guide teachers in their development of this technique.
I began writing about the flip teaching in the Fall of 2010, and have presented on it several times. Some links to my related posts over the past two years:
- Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip” (this is my most-read post of all time!)
- The Flipped Classroom Advances: Developments in Reverse Learning and Instruction
- Mistaken Binaries: 2 great pieces in Chron of Higher Ed on Blended Learning Opportunities
- Khan Academy: Where Does it Fit?
- Sal Khan: Transformer
My presentation at edleader21: