'Flipped' classroom has students doing homework in class and classwork at home

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 13, 2012 

When students in one math class at Beaufort Elementary School sit down to their homework each night, they aren't cracking the textbooks and laboring over problem sets.

Instead, they're watching an online video.

It's a screencast -- a 10-minute video of their teacher, Jill Brown, giving a lecture, complete with a PowerPoint or other visuals. The students take notes, and when they go to class the next day, they do what most think of as homework: projects, worksheets and group work based on the lecture.

Brown, along with a handful of other Beaufort County teachers, has "flipped" her classroom. It's an education trend that seeks to take advantage of technology and gives teachers more flexibility in the classroom.

Brown flipped her classroom at the beginning of this school year. So far, she said, the switch in her class of fifth-grade students in the Advanced Math, Engineering and Science Academy has been a success.

Instead of relying on her for all the information they need, students seek it on their own. And Brown is able to help if they get stuck on a tricky problem; before, they might have relied on their parents to help or simply get frustrated and give up.

"I think (the students) learned a lot this year, and more than just content," Brown said. "They're learning independence, and more about working collaboratively."

Bryanna Dennewitz flipped her sixth-grade science class at Beaufort Middle School in the middle of the first quarter of this school year. She said she believes her students are doing a better job learning the material. She flipped a lesson about the water cycle and said none of the students missed the related questions on the test.

"It really helped them cement the learning," she said. "The things I couldn't flip, I had a few miss those questions."

Brown and Dennewitz said they've been watching unit test scores and implementing alterations along the way to ensure their new methods are working. Many of the units include pre- and post-tests, so the teachers can better track exactly what they've taught.

Kelly McMahan, who flipped a unit she taught her sixth-grade pre-algebra class at Bluffton Middle, said teaching the traditional way -- with the spotlight on her as she lectured -- had become exhausting.

"I was front and center, and I was worn out by the end of the day," McMahan said. "Now (my students) are becoming more independent, and I'm their coach."

The teachers said they talk with students as they work, troubleshooting or teaching elements they might not have picked up from the screencasts.

Brown said flipping her classroom has gotten her more one-on-one time with her students. It has allowed her to re-teach concepts to small groups without slowing the whole class down.

"I'm not just delivering the message to the whole group and hoping it lands somewhere," Brown said. "If a group wasn't progressing, I've caught that because I'm able to meet and talk with them."

Quinn Fackrell, an 11-year-old in Brown's class, said he likes the flipped classroom because it's easier to take notes on a lesson at home -- away from the distractions of his friends in class.

"You can be in your own room, with peace and quiet," Quinn said.

The biggest challenge the teachers have encountered is access: Not all of their students can watch the screencasts at home because they don't have Internet service or a computer.

The teachers said they work around that by encouraging students to go to the library or the home of a neighbor or friend. Students also can take a few minutes at the beginning of class to watch the screencasts.

Despite that hurdle, the experience has been positive, the teachers say.

Brown doesn't plan to turn back.

"I love it," she said. "I'm watching (the students) become better learners."

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content:

Example of a screencast: Jill Brown's presentation to the Beaufort County school board on her flipped classroom

Jill Brown's blog on her flipped classroom

'Flipped' classrooms take advantage of technology from USA Today

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