History of the Inverted Classroom: Founders, Inspiration and Other Origins of Flipped Learning

History of the Inverted Classroom: Founders, Inspiration and Other Origins of Flipped Learning
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Flipped learning, the concept of students viewing lectures at home and tackling homework together in class, is a powerful movement in 21st century education. Forward-thinking teachers seizing modern technology are turning education into something newer and more effective. The “sage on stage” is becoming the “guide on the side.” Learning is student-driven, with teachers helping kids reach the sources of knowledge their own way, rather than the educator being the sole source.

How did we get here? How have generations of lecture-watching audience members become the tablet-navigating pilots of their own futures?

It began in Colorado with Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams.

The Start for Bergman and Sams

In 2004, Bergman and Sams began teaching Science at Woodland Park High School. They were the core of the Science Department. They planned lessons, wrote tests and set up labs together. Soon they were good friends.

In this rural setting, students involved in sports or other activities missed a lot of class time. Other schools in the district were a long bus ride away, requiring students to leave early for such activities. How could you get class material to those students and others who were out sick?

Bergman and Sams discovered a solution in a technology magazine: software that could record a PowerPoint slide show with voice and notes. The resulting video file could be easily shared. In the spring of 2007, they began recording all their lectures and turned them into video presentations.

The next year, they decided to use the technique for all their classes. The called it “pre-broadcasting.” Students would view the presentation before school. In class, they would discuss it, experiment with the material and receive assistance from their teachers.

Precursors and Inspirations

Bergman and Sams do not claim to have invented the method. They credit Maureen Lage, Glenn Platt and Michael Treglia’s “Inverting the Classroom” for setting the ball in motion. The paper, published in 2000 by the University of Miami-Ohio, “didn’t take off,” said Bergman. “It wasn’t the right time.” YouTube was yet to flourish. The infrastructure of video sharing was not in place.

In the 1990s, Harvard physicist Eric Mazur developed “peer instruction.” His students prepared to learn before class by reading and answering questions about the material. In class, the instructor follows the following procedure:

  • Instructor poses a question on the reading.
  • Students reflect on the question.
  • Students choose answers individually.
  • Instructor reviews the responses.
  • Students discuss their decision making process with other students.
  • Students have a chance to modify their answer.
  • Instructor reviews responses again, and then decides whether to explain further or move on to the next idea.

This method is how many flipped classrooms operate, only with more viewing and less reading before class.

In 2003, Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst, was tutoring his cousin in mathematics over the internet. His cousin requested that he record the lessons so she could skip over the parts she understood and spend more time on the parts she didn’t. He began publishing his lectures on YouTube and the concept took off. His Khan Academy lectures have received nearly a half billion views. They are a key tool to many Flippers.

The Ripple Effect

Clintondale High School in Michigan had the distinction of being one of the state’s worst schools. In 2010, more than half the ninth graders failed science and almost half failed math.

Principal Greg Green and social studies teacher Andy Scheel decided to try something new. They taught identical material in two classes. One was flipped and the other was traditional. The flipped class included many students who had already failed the course.

After 20 weeks, every student in the flipped class was passing with at least a C+. The traditional class showed no change in results.

In 2011, Clintondale flipped every class.

The Future

Flipped learning has become something every wants to know about. The web is alive with teachers passing advice and recorded lessons. The movement has spawned its own national conference, FlipCon, which began in 2008.

Bergman, Sams and the rest of the FlippedClass.com staff host boot camps, one-day workshops and ongoing partnerships to teach teachers and administrators. They have published a book together titled Flip your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.

A central problem all flippers face is how to get technology into the hands of every student, no matter the affluence of the school or student. Sams says that is always the first question asked. They surveyed their student body and found 80% had access to the internet. Then they focused on getting lessons to the other 20%. It took some creativity, but they got it done.

They put videos on flash drives for students with computers but no internet. They burned DVDs for students with TVs but no computers. They put lessons on iPods and phones. They beat the roadblock with ingenuity.

As technology gets cheaper and more ubiquitous, the roadblock will shrink. The revolution created by Bergman and Sams will continue to grow. Education will never be the same.