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New Teaching Method Flips Traditional Pedagogy

Some Flint Hill teachers have started to lecture through podcasts, using class time for homework

Most lesson plans follow the same basic formula: lecture students on new material in class, allow time for questions from students, have students apply those lessons through homework.

But some teachers at Flint Hill School are embracing technology to mix up the traditional teaching method with a "flipped classroom," or assigning podcast lectures for homework then applying the lessons during the school days.

Spearheading the effort at the Oakton private school is chemistry teacher Kim Duncan, who has been hearing about this teaching approach for years. When Flint Hill launched its , which provides each student with a MacBook Air, Duncan knew the time to flip her classroom had come.

She and three other Flint Hill teachers attended a conference last summer in Colorado hosted by Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, who pioneered the Flipped Classroom Movement, to get tips on how to transform her lesson plans in a way that takes advantage of what technology has to offer.

"I really think trying to keep their attention through a lecture is almost impossible these days because they're so accustomed to having so many stimuli. With a flipped classroom, the kids can watch a podcast of me giving my lecture on their own time. They can pause me, rewind me, or even watch me in double-time like one of my students does," Duncan laughed. "The point is, they hear the lesson the way they need to hear it and come into class the next day ready to apply it."

Duncan gives her students a worksheet they need to fill out as they watch the 20- to 30-minute podcast, then allows a question-and-answer period at the beginning of each class to make sure everyone understands. The rest of their time in class is conducting experiments or working on what would have been homework in a traditional classroom setting.

Duncan has no hard data to show the flipped classroom is more effective on her students, but she thinks the midterm results this year demonstrate it certainly is not less effective: This year's honors chemistry students scored higher than last year's on the midterm, which had the same questions except the six extra ones she added because the classes were able to get deeper into the curriculum.

"I do think we got further into the curriculum because of the flipped classroom," Duncan said. "The kids are able to take the lectures at their own pace, so they can work out a lot of the questions they would have asked in class on their own rather than using up classtime and making the lectures twice as long."

She also said the podcasts help cut down on committing her own teaching mistakes: "The videos are the same for all the honors courses, so one class won't suffer from my own forgetfulness after repeating the lessons several times in one day."

So far, the teaching method has garnered no complaints and plenty of compliments among her students.

"I do think it helps to have [Mrs. Duncan] right there while we're doing what would previously be considered homework," said 10th-grader Zack Thornburg, 16.

Sarah Kashef, also a 10th-grader, finds the flipped classroom valuable.

"I personally love it. Chemistry is really elaborate and complex, and when we're listening at home we can rewind it to try to understand it better or pause it if it's too much at once," said the 15-year-old. "If we had to hear the lecture in class it would be boring. I like that we come in and do experiments and stuff because I think you learn better than with lectures."

Both students said they did not want to see the flipped classroom applied to math courses, but Duncan believes math is well-suited for the format.

Thornburg and Kashef said they feel like being able to ask questions during a math lesson is integral to the learning process more than in most courses.

"At that conference last summer we talked to kids whose entire science department had a flipped classroom and they all said they wished their math classes were, too," said Duncan, surprised her students felt that way. "I think it would be very applicable in math. And Flint Hill has some history teachers using podcasts to get some basic information out so they can take more class time for discussion."

Duncan has flipped her honors chemistry courses, leaving her regular and AP lesson plans in tact for the time being. She plans to flip the regular courses next year, and the AP courses after the curriculum is changed in 2013.

Because the podcasts are posted as soon as Duncan finishes taping them, she sees the flipped classroom having a greater benefit for students in her regular courses.

"In regular classes you have a more diverse group. The kids can access the lessons once they're posted, even if we haven't reached that point yet," Duncan said. "It's more of a differentiated way of teaching."

As for her workload, Duncan has seen an increase because she's revamping all her lesson plans and taking the time to video the lectures. But she expects the workload to drastically decrease once she's taped all the lessons.

"I'll adjust some things over the summer, but after that I think having a flipped classroom will really help my workload," Duncan said.

The Flipped Classroom Movement celebated its first World Flipped Classroom Day on Jan. 30, encouraging teachers who use the format to invite parents, teachers and members of the media into the classroom.

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