Monday, March 9, 2015

Why all the buzz around "flipping" the classroom?

I have a problem with the flipped classroom movement.

OK, maybe not the movement itself, but I do have a problem with the usual justifications used by the flipped classroom movement. Every single thing I have ever seen about the flipped classroom movement has stated that the main reason to flip is so that students can watch videos of the content at their own pace and come to class prepared to work problems or investigate further. This approach leaves the teacher free to work individually with students.

I don't even know where to begin, but I'll try.

First, the entire movement seems to be predicated on the notion that lecture is the primary instructional method. It's 2015, people! If you're lecturing more than you're engaging kids in conversation about mathematical ideas or discovering interesting properties of mathematical structures or undertaking problem solving, then you're probably not a very good math teacher. There, I said it.

Second, is the ridiculous idea that lecturing is the reason why you can't work individually with students. If you can't find time during class to address a particular student's need, then you're probably not a very good math teacher. There, I said it again.

Third, the videos that are often peddled to math teachers are nothing more than how-to's. These videos tell kids how to get answers. They do not help kids learn how to think mathematically. If all you're doing in math class is telling kids how to perform procedures, not getting them involved in the solutions and not motivating the algorithms with the interesting and vital historical questions that accompany the problems that the algorithms were invented to solve, then you're probably not a very good math teacher.  Yup, I said it a third time.

OK, I'll soften a bit. I can see where a flipping aspects of the classroom might be beneficial. You might want to show students a short video to get them interested in a topic. It could be worth having students view the content ahead of time and then take all of class time to explore. That I get. But, is the flipped classroom really all that different from what we expect in other disciplines? In literature, students read a section of a novel and then come to class prepared to discuss it. That's not flipping the classroom, that's just good teaching. In history, the same thing should happen. Maybe it doesn't, but it should.

I don't have any problem with students preparing in advance; that's a very good thing. I don't have any problem with not talking at kids; that's a good thing too. You have to get kids involved in learning! It's not about flipping the classroom; it's about good teaching.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Michael I think, as with all methods, there are times when a flipped approach can be used to move the class along, and there are times when other methods should be used. I think good teaching uses a variety of approaches based on what the students need and react to. Further, I think that the methods should vary throughout the course of a semester/year/marking period in order to challenge the students in different ways. To use a flipped classroom approach too much is depriving the students of the value that comes when a lesson is introduced in the classroom first (the...unflipped classroom???).

    Another issue is that, as with all methods, there are potential obstacles with the flipped approach. Such as the difference in tech access at home for the students within a class, or even the challenges students face in terms of balancing home responsibilities (whatever they are) with teaching themselves new concepts.

    With that said, the flipped classroom certainly can be an asset, but I believe must be just one of the tools that we use in our teaching strategy.