Flipping the Education Script
Asynchronous lectures and in-class work may boost learning
By Liz Richards
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BATAVIA, N.Y.—When David Porter, a Regents and AP chemistry teacher at Oakfield-Alabama Central High School, first flipped his classroom, he thought he’d created something new.
“I honestly thought I invented this,” he said in a recent Zoom interview.
Five years ago, Porter had a student who had to physically leave school for a time due to extenuating circumstances. The student did not want to miss classes.
Porter began audio-recording his live class lectures and sending them to the student via email along with a supporting note packet. It worked.
If asynchronous teaching was effective for one student, Porter wondered, “Why can’t it work for everybody else?”
He started small, teaching one unit of one class asynchronously as a personal experiment.
Today, all of his Regents chemistry classes incorporate elements of asynchronous learning. And Porter completed his master’s thesis on the concept of flipped learning.
Porter did not actually invent the model educators now call a flipped classroom. That title is believed to go to two high-school chemistry teachers in Colorado who published the 2012 book “Flip Your Classroom.”
Jon Bergman and Aaron Sams were not the first teachers to publish pre-recorded lectures online, either. Their book provides case-study examples from their own classrooms and was the first guide of its kind, breaking down what a flipped classroom is and how other teachers can implement this strategy.
Bergman and Sams wrote that in the flipped classroom, “that which is traditionally done in class is now done at home, and that which is traditionally done as homework is now completed in class.”
For Porter, that translates to assigning pre-recorded lectures as homework. That frees up more time in class for individualized attention and hands-on work.
It’s not a perfect model. As Bergman and Sams acknowledge in their book, “students cannot ask immediate questions that come to their mind, as they could if the topic were being taught live.”
Porter is candid about the limitations. He teaches his AP chemistry class fully traditionally, because there’s too much material to cover. He also maintains elements of a traditional classroom in his Regents chemistry classes.
Across the country, from smaller school districts like Oakfield-Alabama to the largest ones, such as New York City, the flipped classroom and other models may come into sharper focus as educators try to navigate how to best bring most children back to in-person learning.
There’s no sense in pushing forward when they’re already struggling so much
As parents wait for vaccines to become available for all children, a successful remote learning platform may help allay families’ concerns about easing back to normalcy.
In New York City, with approximately 1 million students, giving parents remote options presents a myriad of challenges. But smaller districts upstate may be able to manage it.
For Porter, it’s about flexibility and knowing what will help his students most. He teaches two sections of Regents chemistry.
Chemistry can be challenging content for general learners, and even though Regents exams have been widely canceled due to COVID, he is still teaching curriculum to a statewide test.
Porter finds that for one of his sections, he generally has to flip back to traditional learning about halfway through the year.
“There’s no sense in pushing forward when they’re already struggling so much,” he said.
Porter remains an advocate for the flipped classroom. He’s collaborated with the high school chemistry teacher in nearby LeRoy and the four other teachers in Oakfield-Alabama Central School District who implemented this new style of teaching.
One is a seventh-grade math teacher, indicating that learners don’t need to be at a high school or college level to benefit from asynchronous learning.
Bergman and Sams assert frequently throughout their book that the flipped classroom model is beneficial across classroom subjects, not just STEM classes.
Porter has had to do a lot more convincing among social-sciences teachers, leading to lively discussions.
An English teacher friend of his tells him he wants to try the flipped classroom but doesn’t know where to start. To Porter, it makes a lot of sense for English.
“As an English teacher, you almost already do a flipped classroom,” he said. “You assign kids to read a chapter out of the book every night, and then you’re discussing it the next day in class.”
Maximizing technology could help teachers address some major outdated flaws in education.
“The present model of education reflects the age in which it was designed: the industrial revolution,” Bergman and Sams wrote. “Students are educated in an assembly line to make their standardized education more efficient.”
Pre-recorded lectures give students the opportunity to rewind, repeat, skip ahead as they need individually. Maximizing technology in the classroom has never been more essential than in this moment.
Porter believes that flipping his classroom, having pre-recorded lectures set up and having class set up as a space to check in directly benefited his students during lockdown.
The Oakfield-Alabama Central Schools district combines two small, rural communities. This school year, the population was small enough that the district was allowed to keep classes fully in person, with the state mandating that remote learning stay an option.
Porter has four students who have been fully remote this year. He and some of his students have had to quarantine multiple times because of outbreaks. He has experienced the broad spectrum of student engagement and success with remote and hybrid models that all teachers have.
Now Porter believes that the flipped classroom that has benefited his students will continue to boost learners in years to come.