Flipped by Christopher Yin
America is failing its students. In a day and age when international job markets are becoming increasingly competitive, it is more important than ever that children and teenagers receive the best education possible in order to stand a fighting chance at finding success as adults. Yet America is severely lagging behind in the educational field. According to government statistics, in 2007 only 29% of eighth grade students were classified as proficient in reading, and 32% in math. Furthermore, on the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Reading Test, two-thirds of fourth graders scored “below proficient,” and a third scored “below basic;” this means that 67% of fourth graders in America were not identified as possessing grade level reading capacities. As for eighth and twelfth graders, only a respective 32% and 38% of students were ranked as at or above grade level by the NAEP Reading Test. When examined in a broader context, America placed 25th out of 30 countries in an assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that measured the mathematical abilities of fifteen year-olds, and 21st in the field of science. So, what does all this portend for America? What is the future of the American education system?
Maybe it’s time to evolve. The saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But there’s definitely something broken here. Something is holding back the students of America and preventing them from meeting their intellectual potential. The question remains, however- what is it that needs to be done? Though at first glance the problem seems infinitely complex, there is a wave of educators who believe that they have stumbled onto the answer. A revolution is occurring in schools across America, an inversion of the natural order of things. It’s called the reverse school day.
What is the reverse school day? Well, typically students spend their mornings and sometimes afternoons on campus, listening to lectures in-class and then leaving school to do homework later in the day. The reverse school day takes this schedule and flips it. Instead of doing homework after school, students watch teacher lectures that have been posted online. During the next class, students are then given “home”work. In this manner, they are able to interact with fellow students and the teacher in what some consider to be a more active and intellectually-stimulating environment. Many people argue that simple lectures are poor techniques for conveying knowledge because students have difficulty retaining information in such a passive situation. Thus, the reverse school day could be the ideal solution to students’ problems with knowledge-retention, for it gears class time towards discussion and critical thinking. At least in theory this is how the reverse school day is intended to function. But in practice, how does it hold up?
Edison students need look no further than the math hall to see for themselves. Enter our own revolutionary: Mr. Hawkes. Recently, I had the chance to speak with Mr. Hawkes about the reverse school day and his experiences with going against tradition.
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When did you first hear about the reverse school day? Did you know right away that it was something you wanted to try?
The first I heard of it was either at the beginning of last school year, or tail end of the school year before that. Mrs. Rosales and I took a trip over to Segerstrom High School, visited a teacher by the name of Crystal Kirch- she’s got a blog and website and all that stuff [http://flippingwithkirch.blogspot.com]. She’s full on into flipped classrooms; that’s really what they call it now, the flipped classroom. And so, you know, I’m always looking for different ways of helping my students learn, and when we visited her in her flipped classroom, I was interested, but I knew I had to do a lot of planning. So, I did a lot of planning. I guess that was two school years ago, towards the end. And then last year, I knew I wanted to start doing that, but I had issues with creating the videos –how was I going to do that? how was I going to make them good? how was I going to post them all? So there were a lot of issues at first. Then I finally got it all in place, and then I had some personal things going on last year, so I had to accelerate; I was going to be gone every Friday for about two months, so I had to figure out a way of doing that. So, I started right away. In other words, I was going to be gone, and I didn’t want to have a sub teaching a lesson eight block days in a row… I kind of dove right in, made videos of my lessons, and then had students come back in. I initially liked the idea, and so I, you know, I kind of went ahead with it.
How difficult was it to make the switch? Did you ever think that what you were doing wasn’t going to work out? Did the administration support your decision?
The administration supported full-force, because they enjoy that kind of a thing when teachers don’t just think inside the box, they think outside the box. They like that. And so I had full support of the administration; in fact, I had to get a document camera, had to get headphones for the computer in the back of the room, things like that. I had to make sure I had all the equipment necessary to be successful at doing that. I was pretty confident that it was something that would be good for me. But I wasn’t sure. Though I’d give it a shot, yeah.
Can you explain how exactly your class works?
So, in a traditional classroom, students come in, we go over homework or whatever, and then I would explain the new lesson. All the students take notes, and then they’d do practice problems, and then they’d get feedback and things like that. Then they’d get homework to take home, to do their practice problems at home. Well, in the flipped classroom, I make a video of the lesson, so the students for homework will go home and watch the lesson and take notes, do some practice problems. And then many times I have them do an online quiz, just to give me some feedback. So, four, five, six questions where they’re all multiple choice so I can see quickly when I come back in the morning what concepts they understand and what they don’t. When they come back to class, they bring their notes and I check to see that they did them, but then also they would do some more enrichment-type activities in class, or practice problems from the book that they can now, in the class, get help from their classmates, instead of doing their homework at home and not having anybody to help them. They have their classmates to help, so they work together in groups, and then I circulate around the room and help them as well.
In your opinion, how successful has the reverse school day been in comparison to a more traditional schedule? What do you think are the advantages of a class that is set up like this? What are the drawbacks?
The things I really like about it, number one is I get more face-to-face and more interaction with my kids, with my students. I am with them, I am in the classroom, I’m more of a facilitator where I walk around and they can get help from me. That’s a huge advantage, where there’s less of passive learning and there’s more active learning in the classroom going on. The things where they’re taking notes, they can take notes at home, they can take notes in the classroom. Either way, they’re taking notes. So, in the classroom, when they’re not taking notes, there’s more time to do practice problems, there’s more time to learn concepts, as opposed to, you know, spending most of the time taking notes. So those are the advantages. Disadvantages are anytime you have change, you have resistance, and so some students think that they can’t learn from videos, but that’s a crock. Because they can learn, if they want to learn, but some students use that as an excuse not to. “Oh, I don’t really get it.” Then come in and ask! There’s plenty of time to ask and clarify what you’re not understanding. So, it’s a benefit when students are responsible; some students aren’t. They don’t watch the videos, and so that’s hard, because then if they don’t watch the videos, they don’t get the lesson. They don’t get the instruction. And it puts more responsibility on the student to learn, which means that some students are just going to fall through the cracks, unless someone makes them sit in front of the lesson and watch it.
Did you ever have to do that, where they sit in the back of the classroom?
Yeah! So if they come in and they haven’t done their work, then they go back and sit there and watch the videos in the back of the room. Or they watch on their smartphone. Other advantage too, by the way- when the students don’t understand something, they can pause me and rewind me. They can’t do that in the classroom, because, you know, they feel bad when they’re asking questions and you repeat things. They just feel bad, and then also somebody pointed out today that they like it because when they study for the final, all the videos are right there, any concepts that they missed they can go back and get a refreshment on what that lesson was all about.
Do you employ this technique in all your classes? If not, then why some and not others?
Right, I’ve got Algebra Prep, and I’ve got PreCalc Honors and AP Calc. I do it in PreCalc Honors and AP Calc. Those students will watch the videos, and the other students, I’m not convinced that they will. So I don’t do that with my Algebra Prep class. They initially said that it was a good idea, but they couldn’t even get on the website, so there’s nothing that leads me to believe that they’ll watch the videos, and there’s no need for me to waste my time if they’re not going to watch the videos.
Do you think students in general prefer the flipped classroom to a traditional set-up?
Yes. Definitely. Students in general, I get great, positive feedback. Most students love it, most students complain when they’re not getting it now. Like sometimes I go a week without doing any videos, and they go “When do we get to do videos again?” So they really like it, but like I said, some people in general just resist change. And you know, some lessons just lend themselves better to being in the classroom. And I try to remember that, and I try to do that, but for the most part, I get great feedback.
Would you recommend that other teachers take this approach with their classes? Do you believe that certain subjects are inherently more suited for the reverse school day than others?
That’s a good question, I haven’t really thought about that, I would think though that yeah, there are certain types of lessons that are great for video and there are certain other types of lessons that are not. Like a lesson we did today in Calculus, I was explaining one kind of big concept, and it’s just, you know, there’s emotion in that concept because I love it, and it’s hard to have that emotion with just the video. So, I did that in the classroom today. Yeah, I think other subjects may be a little tougher. I think science, or anything technical is very good, when you have to spell things out for students, and they are able to go back. Anything step-by-step that you have to do is good with video. It’s harder to explain concepts with video, because you kind of need emotion with concepts. And some individual types might just prefer to be in the classroom, I guess it depends on the teacher, versus subject.
Do you ever direct your students to any videos that you didn’t make yourself, like Khan Academy, videos that other teachers have posted online?
I used to. I didn’t find that that worked really well. For one just kind of basic concept, yeah, here, go check these videos out. But I find that it’s important that the teacher who is teaching the students is the one doing the videos. Because you have a certain way of connecting with your students, and when you explain something different than the way somebody else does, and when you get back in the class and you’re explaining and it’s different than that, there’s not that flow that comes from you being the one doing the videos. It’s a lot of work though. Tons of hours.
Do you think that the future of the American education system lies in the reverse school day? Why or why not?
Yeah, I think so. I think with technology, you can get information anywhere at any moment, you just Google. There’s always going to be the need for teachers, because there needs to be that…
Yeah, it’s just, it’s not linear, there are so many dimensions to it, you can’t really capture everything with video. I think in general though, with technology, having information at your disposal- I think everybody’s going to have something, someway of using video in the classroom. I think that’s where many teachers are going, and I think we’re going to see more of that in the future.
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After talking with Mr. Hawkes, I think it’s clear that the flipped classroom has enormous potential. Already improvements can be seen in the educational field due to the reverse school day. According to a study by Sophia, an online educational video aggregate site, out of 200 teachers who flipped their classrooms, 85% observed improved grades. Moreover, 30% of these teachers revealed that they used technology to connect with students outside of the classroom, 25% said that class time was utilized to delve deeper into subjects, and 23% felt that their classrooms had been transformed from a lecture forum to an interactive environment. And in the end, that’s what I think school should be: not an information dump site, but rather an ongoing dialogue both among students and between students and their teachers. Eric Mazur, a physicist at Harvard, once said that “You can forget facts, but you cannot forget understanding.” Maybe that’s where the American education system needs to go. Maybe it’s time to flip things around.
Thank you to Mr. Hawkes for participating in this article. Mr. Hawkes was named the Charger Teacher of the Year and district Teacher of the Year for 2012-2013.