On the first day of school in Kevin Franklin’s world history class, students whipped out their cellphones, scanned a bar code taped near the classroom door and jumped to their first assignments.
During the first few weeks of school, 24-year-old Franklin had no plans to stand up and lecture about the history of the world with PowerPoint. That’s much too boring for teens, the South Lake High School teacher says. Instead, he recorded himself on YouTube, assigned the videos for homework and saved class time for group work and students’ questions.
These days, class time is reserved for projects such as making podcasts about the Byzantine Empire or designing a digital collage about Japanese feudalism on Glogster, a visual social network. And those who didn’t do the homework? Well, they can catch up using a class laptop or their smartphone.
“Rather than being exposed to content, they’re engaged with the content,” Franklin said. “Now we can move toward more production, so there is a creative product.”
Franklin’s approach is what’s known as the “flipped classroom,” a teaching style that more instructors are using to turn the school day on its head. Teachers say the practice puts students in charge of their learning and makes classrooms more interactive.
Flipping lets students absorb lessons during their own time in an electronic way, usually through a YouTube video or an educational social network. Students who’ve done their homework arrive at school prepared to ask questions or have already discussed the lecture with their peers online the night before.
“It takes me out of being the center of the classroom and starts centering the classroom around them,” said Sarah Devereaux, a South Lake High School algebra teacher who flips her room, “so that they can grasp more than just being robots and taking in the information and regurgitating it.”
In Franklin’s class, students said they were surprised to learn their class would be conducted through a Google site. Sophomore Ryan Purvis said the technique took a little getting used to, but he likes the approach because it’s a lot better than carrying around textbooks.
“I like how everything’s in one place,” he said. “Videos are fast, and I’m a very slow reader, so it definitely takes less time.”
Joseph D’Angelo, another 10th-grader, was also wary when he heard his teacher would be sending mass text messages to remind students about upcoming assignments.
“I didn’t know if it was going to be a good idea or not, but it’s worked out,” he said.
The approach does mean extra hours and, sometimes, special equipment for teachers, especially those just getting started. It takes Devereaux at least half an hour to hook up her electronic whiteboard to her computer; explain the problems; and edit and post the videos. Districts also offer little or no training, teachers say.
But while excitement grows over “flipped” classrooms, not everyone has embraced it.
Critics say the process excludes students who don’t have personal electronics or Internet at home. According to a 2011 Florida Department of Education survey, 66 percent of students have a computer at home, while 60 percent report having the Internet.
“(The) flipped classroom is one thing that will really help,” said Lake School Board member Jim Miller, who is concerned about students who can’t afford electronic devices for schoolwork. “It’s not the silver bullet, but it’s only available if kids have devices.”
Teachers agree it would be easier if districts invested in school-issued electronics, but those who flip say they try to make extra time or burn CDs of lecture videos for students without Internet access.
Students and parents also have to buy into the idea or it won’t work. Last year, Devereaux tried unsuccessfully to flip two of her on-level algebra classes. One class loved it, while the other didn’t.
“It was a constant fight, and I never got them to take it on,” she said.
Experts say the technique, which started with two Colorado chemistry teachers in 2004, is still so new that there’s no solid research to prove its effectiveness.
One survey of nearly 500 teachers conducted by the Flipped Learning Network, a group started by the founders of the practice, shows that nearly 90 percent of teachers using the technique were happier about their jobs, and 67 percent had increased student test scores.
Local teachers say their students are more attentive and produce better work than before, but they haven’t analyzed grades much, either. One exception would be Devereaux’s class that refused to flip. In that class, students on average were failing, while in the class that did flip, students had a C average.
Despite the growing popularity of the new approach, however, educators think many still may be hesitant to try it because of increased demands on student performance.
“They still feel that pressure,” said Sharyn Gabriel, principal of Ocoee Middle School, where more teachers are flipping their classes. “They want their kids to do well, so they don’t want to risk using their kids as guinea pigs. … You want to know something’s going to work.”
(c)2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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