Flipped Classes: Dispelling Myths and Sharing What Works

Brian Bennett, one of the major proponents of the "flipped class" teaching model, shares his thoughts about this emerging trend and describes how it works in his class.

by / June 28, 2012 0

At the ISTE 2012 conference this week, Converge magazine caught up with a proponent of the flipped classroom model to talk about what the flipped class is and isn't. Science teacher Brian Bennett has been working on flipping his classroom for three years, first in South Korea and now at William Henry Harrison High School in Evansville, Ind.

Keep reading to find out what he has to say.


For those who don't know what a flipped classroom is, how would you define it?

We did the panel today [Tuesday, June 26], and that was one of the questions. We all gave different answers. I think the flipped classroom is being "metacognitively" critical of your class time. What am I doing that makes sense and then using technology as a tool to free up that stuff that doesn't make sense. For me it's lecture. Does lecture make sense in class? No, it doesn't. I record those lectures and then I can provide all this other stuff.

But also tagged onto what I'm doing — I want schools to evolve, I want classrooms to evolve where they've got flexible learning time. Kids can come and go as they need to; the space is flexible. The core idea is what is the best use of my class time. But then it leads in to all these other things. That's where it gets very personal. I'm very passionate about my class and I like sharing with other people, but my values are going to be different than the next guy's.

So our core idea is the same — how can we take that class time and bring it back in, and then what are we going to do with it? But I think the question most people are asking right now is, "What I'm doing in class is not working, so what can I do differently?"


Explain exactly what the myths are and what a flipped class really looks like.

Myth No. 1 is that all content should be through video. That's just bad teaching. So the things that I'm recording are things that work well taught directly to someone, or they're things that are procedural. The example that I've been using this week: I use Google Docs in my classroom, and my kids are always asking, "Mr. Bennett, where do I get to the Google Docs?" And so I have a video showing them how to get from one to the other. 

The second [myth] is that the videos are full-length class periods. That's not true because when I really get down to the core idea, I can do it in 10 minutes. They're not watching hours and hours of video at home.

And that kind of leads to the third one: If kids are doing everything at home, then I can just hang out in class. But I'm on my feet the whole time, I'm going group to group and I'm asking them questions. And they're asking me questions, and I'm interacting with them. At that same time I'm soliciting their feedback on the video if we have one. What worked for them, what didn't they like, what do they want to see if I went back and revised it, what would they want to get out of it.

And the last myth is the class time: [People think] we're just taking traditional American schooling and doing the same thing and not really changing anything. But what I talk about here is the fact that my classroom time is now totally open to whatever learning they need to do. If it's chemistry, awesome, I'm there to help them with chemistry.

For the kids who get chemistry or biology, they will do most of my stuff on their time. Some of it's in class, some of it's out of class. I'm there to support them and push them. But then that means they also might have extra time to do history or English. So they're using school to learn.

How does the flipped class fit in with blended learning and some of the other models that are out there?

Blended learning — they talk about using mobile devices and computers and splitting the time. But I think a lot of blended learning is still teacher driven. I have a picture that I show in my presentation: It's a bunch of kids sitting and watching a teacher. The next one I show is a classroom with computers, but they're all still facing one direction: the teacher.

And so in my flipped classroom, it might be blended because I'm using tech, and I have PBL [Project-Based Learning] and UDL [Universal Design for Learning]. I think the core of what I'm trying to do is totally reverse the responsibility and the roles in the classroom. It's student-driven, it's student-centered. I'm not purely blended, but I'm not purely PBL; this flipped thing incorporates the best of all of those different ideas. So it's more an amalgam.


What are the key differences you've seen in your students since you've started this approach?

I see kids feeling accomplishment where they haven't seen successes, and that empowers them. So the kid that comes in at the start of the year and says, "I hate science." It's the first thing out of their mouth. "I'm not going to do well; I just hate it." Giving them opportunities to have these little nuggets of success so that they feel empowered and want to continue to grow.

I get better questions from kids. They're making connections on their own. I've seen kids creating their own content. They'll take an idea and they'll put something together that's totally new and innovative, and then I can share that with other students and teachers.

They're becoming more globalized as well. I'm on Twitter tweeting stuff out, so they start to use Twitter and share their own stuff. They're growing as learners, which is the ultimate goal for teaching — I think it should be the ultimate goal for teaching — is to instill that love of learning in whatever we're doing.


What are some tips that you have for other teachers, other schools that are thinking about trying the flipped model?

Make sure you have good curriculum to do it and good pedagogy behind it. You can't just take the tech and throw it in there. Districts are trying to do that all over the country, and it doesn't do anything. People get frustrated, and then they give up on it, and nothing changes.

Know how you're going to be distributing things. Have the infrastructure in place. Are you going to do "bring your own device"? Do you have computers for kids to use? Are we expecting them to do homework? What kind of infrastructure do your kids have? It's knowing your culture of learning and building to fit that. Don't try to force kids into your little mold, because it's not going to work.

Find a buddy to work with. Someone you can communicate with and solve problems with. I've done this for three years now: I learned my first year and I've flipped for two years now. I've been working alone in my building, but I have a network of people on Twitter, email, on Skype that I can reach out to. TechSmith is one of them.

Plan before you dive into it and then start small, like maybe just a week, a unit or a lesson. It's not for everyone, so don't think that this is going to fix everything and that anyone can do it. It's definitely a lot of hard work. And it takes trial and error. I mess up a lot. But being flexible and working with the kids to get that feedback has really helped me improve.


Have you talked with a lot of schools or districts who are taking a more systemic approach to this, or has this mostly been driven by the classroom?

When I first started it was more classroom driven, where in conferences like this I was used to meeting teachers. But I am meeting more district personnel. I met a superintendent today. I've met principals who have teachers who are interested. So I think it's starting to mushroom a little bit into higher levels in the districts.

I'm actually doing a webinar for administrators in July to answer the three big questions about the flipped classroom that administrators typically have. The discussion is shifting a little bit ... it's expanding because of the publicity that it's gotten. But it started from a grassroots thing and it's really starting to pick up.


What are the three big questions that administrators usually have?

Administrators usually ask me, "What data is there?" because they're forced to think about data. So I'm trying to gather a preliminary resource. There hasn't been a lot of quantitative research done on it yet, but there's a growing body.

They want to know what kind of support teachers need, so what kind of PD [professional development] do they need to be thinking about, what kind of technology do they need to be thinking about, do our resources meet the need?

And then the third one is what was one thing you did that didn't work at all so we can avoid that? Pulling from my failures or other people's failures. I do find that principals are very open-minded — the ones that are contacting me — so it is very discussion based. They're thinking locally about what resources they have in their school to provide this change for their teachers. Support's growing, and it's good.


What does a typical at home and in-class day look like?

I don't assign homework. Once we're established through the training and nuts-and-bolts side of it,  5 minutes at the beginning [of class] I'll say, "Friday we have this coming up, here are your resources and the practices you need to do, here's the lab you'll do. Are there any major questions, like how many questions is the quiz on Friday? Is it going to be computation or theory?

The rest of the time, some kids will get right into the chemistry and they'll start working on it. Others will understand that they have time after school to work on it. And I hold them accountable, so they'll come in the next day, and I'll say, "What did you work on last night? You didn't do it in class, so what are you doing to stay on top of it?" It's all discussion. I'm not coming down on them and they're not feeling like I'm just champing at the bit for them to do something. So they take that very seriously and they know that they're accountable for it.

And it works into a nice system where different groups will emerge. Last year I had a group that did everything in class because they worked outside of school; they didn't have time to do homework. They would watch the videos, they would do the problems, they would do the projects, the labs, everything in class. They were crazy efficient.

I had another group that was the more traditional flipped model where they would watch stuff at home because they didn't need to do that together, but then in class they would do do the problems, the labs and the projects.

The third group did everything at home because they understood chemistry. They would listen to it, do the practice problems, check themselves. I would check them in class and then they'd work on history or Spanish or English. So that gets into the flexible learning time. Do you need to do chemistry right now? If not, show me that you don't need to. The burden of proof is on them, and I'll provide support as needed.

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.