In an urban school outside Detroit, more than half of freshmen failed English in fall 2009.
Along with failing classes, freshmen students got in trouble. A lot. That semester, principals at Clintondale High School dealt with 736 discipline cases for 165 students.
A year later, the scene changed.
Of 165 freshmen, only 19 percent failed English. Math classes saw similar results, going from 44 to 13 percent. And both science and social studies failure rates dropped too.
As failure rates plummeted, so did discipline cases. Principals only had to deal with 249 cases for 140 students.
Instead of spending class time lecturing, teachers created short video instruction for students to watch online each week. And that freed up time for teachers to work with students on labs and problems.
"The answer is not necessarily technology," Principal Greg Green said. "The answer is really to align your resources that you have currently in your school to your students' needs. And this flip model offers the school the ability to do that."
In freshmen science classes, teacher Rob Townsend creates three videos each week with Camtasia Relay and Wacom tablets. Students watch the five- to seven-minute videos at home from the school website or their mobile devices.
Students who don't have Internet or computer access watch the videos at school.
During class, he has more time to do labs and interactive activities. For example, to illustrate force and math, students run down the hall. They calculate their momentum, graph it and compare it to their momentum at different times of the day.
He also has more time to help students with math-based problems. If they want to know whether they got an answer right, they ask him. If they didn't get it right, he tells them, "Go back and try this."
"Now they know where their mistake was, and they can immediately fix that perception in their head," Townsend said.
Before the flipped class, students struggled with homework.
"If they were doing it at home, they would get frustrated and just stop doing it unfortunately," Townsend said.
Now that they work on problems in class, they have someone to help them over the difficult parts. That reduces frustration, which in turn reduces discipline problems in Townsend's class.
In the old model, many students had questions, but didn't raise their hands. The two or three students who did raise their hands dominated the discussion.
But now, Townsend has 45 minutes to look over their shoulder and answer questions individually. When the students watch the videos at home, he asks them to write down questions and take notes. Then in the beginning of class, he quickly reviews what they learned and addresses questions they have.
"The great thing is if I go around the classroom and three or four kids are having difficulty with a certain problem, I can stop class right there and reteach it," Townsend said.
Through Michigan's School of Choice program, Clintondale accepts students from outside its boundaries. Few high schools will take students through School of Choice.
Because many of these students come in underprepared, the high school faces the challenge of catching them up, said Bruce Umpstead, director at the Michigan Education Department's Office of Education Technology & Data Coordination.
At home, they may not have technology or parents available to help them, Green said. But by moving direct instruction outside of class, these students receive guidance at school.
"Kids now can more easily catch up because they have someone to support their process," Green said.
This year, Green plans to expand the flipped class model to the rest of the school. While other Michigan schools have brought in mobile devices for each student and started project-based learning, they haven't flipped an entire high school.
"Michigan is in the midst of a statewide transformation," Umpstead said, "and so while there are a number of schools in Clintondale's situation, very few are saying, even with a grant, 'We're going to step forward and make a change.'"
Clintondale High had applied for a grant from the Education Department, but didn't get it. The school pressed on anyway and later invited Umpstead to see the changes.
While the department missed the first opportunity to help the school, it plans to support Clintondale's efforts in the future.
"What really attracts us is that it's not about the technology," Umpstead said. "It's about changing instructional models so the students can receive more instructional support in the classroom from the experts that Clintondale has on staff."
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