Upside Down Learning: Does ‘Flipping’ the Classroom Work?

Students in Crystal Kirch's math class don't get in trouble for talking. In fact, it's encouraged.

When the Southern California highschoolers walk into class, they gather in small groups of four to six, chat animatedly about the day’s work, or head to a corner of the room where they can re-watch a video of their teacher’s lecture they were assigned to watch the night before.

Kirch walks around her classroom, stopping to help students who need individual attention with number problems and interjecting herself in conversations when she feels they could use a boost. Occasionally, she’ll offer a “mini-lesson” or demonstrate an idea on a whiteboard for the whole class, but for the most part, she is simply there to assist her students as they work their way through a mapped-out curriculum.

Kirch runs a flipped classroom where homework is done in class and her teaching lecture is viewed at home or elsewhere.

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 “I’ve always looked for new things to try in my classroom to make the learning experience more enjoyable, affective and engaging,” Kirch says. She made the change two years ago after the stress and pressure of having to finish her teaching concepts in a mandated time period started to get to her. “We were always rushed,” she says.

On a lark, she put together a video tutorial and sent it home with her students. “I got really good feedback,” she says. “I started time-shifting my lessons out of class so that I could support my students when they were doing problems on their own.”

Kirch did some online research and was surprised to learn that other teachers were experimenting with “flipped learning” as well. In fact, the Flipped Learning Network has almost 10,000 members across the country. It’s a concept that works particularly well in math and science—subjects where students can easily become frustrated while working on homework in isolation.

I get to talk to every kid every day. I have time to build those relationship.

“I’ve seen so many examples of students taking ownership of their own learning,” says Kari Arfstrom, the executive director of Flipped Learning Network. She points out that since students are bringing home videos, their parents can take part in the discussion and become better partners in their child's learning experience.

Kirch, who teaches five math classes, has now fully flipped all of her classes. “Any lesson I could be giving them is offloaded,” she says. “I’m now able to work with them individually.” She says the test scores have gone up, but the greatest result is qualitative. “I now have a relationship with every kid in my classes,” she says. “It’s a positive environment. I get to talk to every kid every day. I have time to build those relationship—and that makes a big difference in their desire to learn.”

The first year was the most difficult, Kirch says, because she had to spend a lot of extra hours creating daily video tutorials for every lesson. But now that she can use the videos from last year, she actually has more time to work with her students and think about other ways to incentivize them. She adds that her administration has been very supportive in helping her make her room a little more tech-friendly. And for the students who do not have computers or smart phones, (her school is 75 percent low-socioeconomic) Kirch burns DVDs.

Kirch runs a blog called Flipping with Kirch to help others learn how to flip their classes. “A lot of teachers write and ask questions about how to flip,” she says. “It’s been overwhelming at times.”

And how do her students like learning in a flipped classroom? Kirch laughs. “By this point, the kids [understand this is] a little more work,” she says.

“The flipped class holds kids more accountable. They are not allowed to sit there passively doing nothing during class period. Most realize it’s good for them, that they are learning more, that they don’t have to sit there bored all period and that they have the time to ask questions and get help. Everyone is on board.”

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Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.