A New Frontier?

The Flipped Classroom. An education revolution out of small town Colorado. Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams are probably still reeling from the impact of their collaboration. Fast forward a few years to Central America. Panama, to be precise. I first heard the term “Flipped Classroom” in 2010, teaching 7th grade English at the International School of Panama. I was trying to figure out a way to make A Day No Pigs Would Die more relevant to my mostly Latin American students, hoping that in some way, they would be able to empathize with the trials and tribulations of a turn-of-the-century, 13-year-old Quaker boy cum farmer named Rob. I knew the students were struggling with the language of the text, particularly the colloquialisms and idioms that are more easily understood when heard, rather than read. And of course that, on the surface, they had nothing in common with this boy who reared pigs.

David Clow Some rights reserved

My solution? Read alouds! BUT (a big “BUT” in literature signifies a shift or conflict), who has the time in today’s manically paced classroom to read an entire novel out loud? Solution #2 – make a recording of me reading the book (in my faux southern accent) and assign reading/listening for homework. (Side note – I also added music, for effect.) The result? Surprising. The students LOVED it. They ate it up! Our class discussions became lively, robust and analytical. They begged for more! It literally transformed their experience of this novel. I was sold.

Almost 10 years after the birth of the Flipped Classroom, reverse instruction has erupted into a educational movement. The Khan Academy has transformed the model of online learning, offering more than 2,000 video tutorials. Many of my students, in fact, claim that the Khan videos (and other similar youtube options) have helped them enormously, specifically with their math and science courses.

good teaching must de-emphasize lecture and emphasize active problem-solving,” Carl Wieman

Despite my success with bringing Rob and his pig Pinky to life, I am not completely sold on the Flip. I struggle with the idea of broadcasting my lessons online, not because I am reluctant to watch myself on the big screen (ok, maybe a little bit of that), but mostly because I don’t really lecture. In my experience, long, extended “talks” on Mersault’s existential crisis or the tormented heroine of Sylvia Plath’s “Lady Lazarus” don’t usually garner the interactive, highly collaborative, analytical experience that Socratic Seminars can bring about. And according to The Economist, “lectures, whether online or in the flesh, play only a limited role in education. Research shows that the human brain accepts new concepts largely through constant recall while interacting socially.

Key words – “interacting socially.” That last bit is what motivates most of them to set their alarms every day. I really do believe that without the opportunity to interact, true understanding and growth cannot occur. Education, in this new realm of technology, must find the equilibrium between independence and collaboration.