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Aaron Sams: The Truth about “Flipping Out” Curriculum

Original article from Scholastic’s “Down the Hall” column

Aaron Sams has become synonymous with Flipped Learning around the world. An award winning educator who speaks and consults on new learning designs took time to debunk myths and update us on how Flipped Learning is becoming common practice in schools all over the world.

Dr. Berger: From the outside Flipped Learning appears to have been generated from the educator and in response to antiquated delivery systems and experiences in the classroom for both teacher and student. How can we include administrators, in the process, so that the entire school embraces new methods for educating students?

Aaron Sams: You are right. much of the Flipped Learning wave has come from the ground up. From teachers in classrooms. However, we are reaching the point where the early adopters and innovators are soaring, and these teachers are the ones who often try new things in their classrooms without seeking support from outside sources first.

They see something that will meet the needs of their students, and they act. The next wave of interested teachers are currently emerging. This next group seems to want to try flipping techniques with the support of their administration, and this is a great opportunity for administrators to get involved.

Any successful school change comes from teachers who buy into a concept with support from the top. I can’t think of any successful programs or ideas that work when teachers are not convinced that something is worth doing, or when administrators issue a dictate that does not seem relevant to the teachers. Only when both groups agree and support each other can a change be effective.

So if an administrator wants more teachers to try Flipped Learning, there is an education and training piece that needs to happen first. I hear there are a couple books out on the subject 🙂

DB: Help me understand fact from fiction. What are the top 3 myths about Flipped Learning that you have to debunk and why do you think those myths continue to dot the landscape?

AS: Myth 1: I can’t flip because I have students without internet and computers at home. Many teachers in impoverished areas are flipping their class. In fact, some entire schools with 75-100% free and reduced lunch are flipping. Don’t let access be your “out”, solve the problem! Write a grant, find some old tech, partner with local business to provide internet access at their store or restaurant. Access is a legitimate concern, but it is not an insurmountable hurdle.

Myth 2: My kids wont watch the video at home. Ok, I get it, not all kids do homework. We ALL have that struggle. Any teacher has techniques and processes to get reluctant learners to participate, and this is no different. Use those techniques to encourage students to do their out of class work.

My experience has been that more students are actually capable of doing this sort of homework than are capable of doing traditional homework. Look at this in terms of cognitive difficulty: which is easier for a student to do on their own, watching a video or applying what has been “learned” in class? I think many students don’t do homework because the can’t, not because they don’t want to.

Any student can watch a video, and any parent can help to ensure that happens. Not all kids can solve complex chemistry problems or write reports on their own without the support of their teacher, and not all parents can assist with those tasks either. Flipped learning levels the playing field for kids without support at home.Myth 3: You have to give homework in order to flip. Some teachers are doing what is being called the “in-flip” in which they are using video as a teaching tool in class. In these cases the videos are being delivered to individual learners rather than to a whole class. That’s important because the entire premise of Flipped learning is that students have control of the pace at which they consume content.

The power in flipping is not in video, we’ve been showing videos in classes for decades, the power is in giving students control over their learning. Other teachers are implementing an asynchronous classroom environment in which students view video content whenever they are ready for it next, rather than outside of class. This, always leads someone somewhere to say “well, that’s not flipping!” To which I respond by encouraging us not to get bogged down with semantics.

Use video when it is appropriate in order to get the teacher away from the front of the classroom in order to help students take responsibility of their own learning. Call it what you like. As for why these misconceptions persist, I have absolutely no idea. Many of us have written articles and books addressing these common concerns, but the questions still come up at every single workshop or presentation I give.

DB: Might there be rationale to employ Flipped methods in areas where the administration and staff intersect? Could we not set the conditions, even for staff meetings, to actively engage all parties and thus drive buy-in?

AS: Absolutely! If an administrator wants her staff to flip, she should model the process in staff meetings. Regardless of wether it is a teacher or an administrator flipping, we encourage everyone to ask one questions: “what is the best use of the face-to-face time with my students/staff?” I can guarantee you that “information transfer” is probably not the correct answer to that question.

Piling 100 of the most valuable resources (that’s your teachers) into the library on a Thursday afternoon to tell them about new policies or decisions that have already been made is not a good use of anyone’s time, and it inevitably leads to a handful of outspoken teachers loudly complaining about these decisions which are unlikely to be changed at this point.

I’ve sat in those meetings, and I’m usually thinking about how I would much rather be in my classroom preparing for my students or working on something more productive. But this is your brain trust.

You have these times blocked out as staff meetings, and everyone has to be there, so why not offload the information transfer to video (or even just an email!), and get your amazing teachers and staff solving problems, developing solutions, creating, and improving the school in whatever way is appropriate.

DB: Let’s talk about supporting the Flipped Classroom. What supports do teachers need from their administrations to successfully integrate these practices?

AS: They need the 4 Ts: Thinking, Technology, Time and Training. Thinking: Teachers have to be convinced that this is a good idea.

Technology: They need the tools for the job (computer, software, video hosting site…which means you need to stop blocking YouTube, and an LMS).We have a list of these tools on our website.

Time: Give teachers time to collaborate and to create video content. It’s not easy, nor is it quick, and only the administration can control this aspect, so give them time.

Training: provide them with appropriate professional development. Jon and I provide this, and you can find more information or educators can join our online PLC.

DB: If we were to peer down the hall to see the future of Flipped Classrooms what might we see on the horizon and what should we be prepared for?

AS: I think creating video as a teaching tool will soon be about as novel as using a pencil as writing tool.

It’s becoming so easy to produce video that it’s almost not worth discussing in the near future. However, passive viewing of video content is not helpful for the learning process, and I’m excited to see a lot of tech tools that are being built to promote interaction with video content.

Also, I’m seeing Flipped Learning as a transitional tool for teachers. This is something any teacher who finds himself stuck at the front of the class delivering a lot of content can use to begin transitioning to a student-centered classroom rather than a teacher-centered classroom. Flipping is a starting point, not an end point.

Aaron Sams is the founder of Sams Learning Designs, LLC,Turn About Learning, LLC, and The Flipped Learning Network™. He has been an educator since 2000 and is currently an Adjunct Lecturer at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, and recently served as the Director of Digital Learning at RPTS in Pittsburgh, PA.

He taught Chemistry and AP Chemistry at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Colorado and at Los Altos High School in Hacienda Heights, CA. He was awarded the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Aaron served as co-chair of the Colorado State Science Standards Revision Committee and serves as an advisor to TED-Ed. Aaron is co-author of Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day and Flipped Learning: Gateway to Student Engagement.

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