Beaufort County schools look to grow 'flipped' classroom model

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comMarch 2, 2014 

Several teachers in Beaufort County schools are flipping education on its head.

The traditional model of students listening to a lecture in class and doing homework at home is a thing of the past, said Hilton Head Island Elementary School teacher Mary Baker.

She called the "flipped" classroom the way of the future.

In a flipped classroom, students' homework has them taking notes from an online video of a teacher giving a lesson. Then class time the next day is devoted to worksheets, practice problems or activities typically assigned as homework.

A handful of district teachers, including Baker, began flipping their classrooms two years ago. Other such classes are at schools including Beaufort Elementary and Bluffton Middle.

Now the Beaufort County School District hopes to expand the model to other schools next year, leaving it largely up to teachers to decide if they want to flip their classes.

"I think that flipped classrooms have provided an excellent opportunity for students to learn really in a non-traditional way," superintendent Jeff Moss said.

Many school district and state officials agree and say the model works.

However, researchers both in and outside the district are still collecting data, and some question whether the approach will work for students in all grades and all subjects.

Moss said the district is gathering information and comparing the success of students in flipped and traditional classrooms. There are no conclusions yet because the model is so new and sample size so small, he said.

"It has to be implemented appropriately, and I don't necessarily think it's the best in every single environment," Moss said. "So as we go to expand it, we need to make sure we do it cautiously."

TRAINING AND TECHNOLOGY

That approach includes making sure teachers are well-trained in the model and are effectively conveying the information to students through the video lectures.

Since she began using this model, Baker said she has found that shorter videos, those around five minutes compared to 10, are better at keeping students' attention and helping them grasp the material.

She also includes presentations, links and other multimedia tools in the videos for her fifth-grade students to complement the lessons.

Baker has created the "screencasts" for all subject areas -- including math, science and history -- and said her students have responded well.

They allow students to watch the videos at their own pace and as many times as they need, she said. In class the next day, she can answer their questions and help those who are struggling.

"The kids are learning so much deeper than wider, which really is the goal," Baker said. "This is the way kids learn now. They learn in snippets, they learn quickly and they learn through interacting."

Many parents want their kids in flipped classrooms, according to Hilton Head Elementary principal Jill McAden, who plans to add more such classes next year.

However, students must have access to technology at home for the arrangement to work, she said. That has been the "stumbling point" that prevents the program from expanding, she said.

In the coming school years, the district is expanding its tablet program so every student will have his or her own device and be able to take it home. That will create a platform for teachers to flip more lessons and classes, Moss said.

Expanding the flipped model won't create any additional costs for the district, he said, because about $4.3 million have already been approved by the school board to pay for the tablets.

DO THE HOMEWORK

Bluffton Middle School math teacher Anne Gillins plans to flip some lessons and classes next year. She says the move will give her more time to work through difficult concepts with students.

While flipping means teachers will have to come up with new lesson plans and spend more time preparing, she said many are eager to put in the work and experiment with flipping.

Gillins just hopes the kids do their "homework" and watch the video lectures, she said.

"One thing that I think could potentially be a problem is students not completing their work and watching the video lesson, because for the model to seriously work and have its benefits, the students would have to do their part and watch the video," Gillins said.

Several students in Baker's class said that shouldn't be a problem. Many are already online at night anyway.

Fifth-grader Grace Taylor said the model helps her because she is a visual learner, while classmate Gabby Yocum said she likes the responsibility and control of doing the lesson on her own.

"This classroom style is fun and different because there's more technology in it," fifth-grader Shania Diaz said. "It makes us actually want to do our homework."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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