The Flipped Classroom: Answering Obama’s Call For Creativity In Education

It’s the kind of educational innovation that could truly reshape how our children learn.

At Michigan’s Clintondale high school, resources are scarce and failure rates are high. But a new initiative–watch videos of lectures at home, work on problems in class–has achieved jaw-dropping results. It’s the kind of educational innovation that could truly reshape how our children learn.

As a sophomore and junior at Clintondale High School in suburban Detroit, Dominique Moody was barely squeaking by, getting D’s in geometry and algebra. He was not alone: two years ago, the average failure rate was 61% at the financially disadvantaged school, where three quarters of its 570 students qualify for free lunches.

But last fall, everything changed. The school inversed its teaching model, assigning students ]short, instructional videos to watch before class and then, at school, helping them practice problems that ordinarily would have been assigned as homework. Dominique’s math teacher, Richard Filbey, captured his short, step-by-step advanced algebra lectures on videos for students to watch at their own pace on computers, mobile phones, or tablets.

The “flipped classroom” at Clintondale might just be a way to implement President Obama’s call in his recent State of the Union Address to “grant schools flexibility to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test.”

Dominique, who likes math yet finds it daunting “because there are so many steps to remember,” appreciates slowing down videos while taking notes or replaying them as often as he likes. And he is no longer hindered or distracted by other students disrupting Filbey’s lectures. Dominique started coming to class with specific questions about practice problems. Soon he not only raised his grade average from D to B, but also volunteered to help classmates. “Dominique has done an outstanding job,” says Filbey. “He has simply flourished in this model. His is a story of how support within the flipped instructional model can turn a person’s life around.”

This new strategy is the brainchild of Principal Gregory Green, who got the idea while coaching his son’s baseball team three years ago. Seeking a way to teach the 6th graders strategy, he found YouTube videos with drawings on computer screens and wondered how they were created. He learned that Camtasia, a software program made by TechSmith Corporation in Okemos, MI, captures screens and records PowerPoint slideshows, voiceovers, and annotations. Then it converts the recording into a video file that can be distributed online. With it, Green produced three-minute clips illustrating plays the kids could watch before games.

But Green was also desperate for change at Clintondale. For nine years, he had interviewed seniors about the obstacles they faced. They described emotional and physical disruptions at home, economic struggle, insufficient money for high-tech gadgets, absent parents, or lack of parental guidance because the material had changed since they were schooled. Green asked himself, “’Why then take work home, where it can’t be supported?”

Why not, that is, take his baseball videos further and implement something similar at Clintondale?

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Green approached TechSmith about using their product in classrooms. The company granted him free software for a pilot program for 9th graders during the 2009-2010 academic year. Failure rates overall decreased by 30 % to 10.8 %. The breakdown by subject: English went from 52 % to 19 %; social studies from 28% to 9%; math 44% to 13%; and science from 41% to 19%. (The school doesn’t yet have complete statistics for last fall. But after the first 10 weeks of flipping, the overall failure rates were pretty much on par with the pilot results.)

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