South Florida Classroom Serves as Testing Ground for Flipping

Kevin Franklin, a history teacher at South Lake High School in Orlando, Florida, is running an experiment in his classroom this year. The format of the experiment is familiar to people who follow the education zeitgeist: instead of lecturing to his students during classtime and assigning traditional homework, he records himself lecturing, posts it on YouTube, and tells his students to watch the videos at home. In short, Franklin is testing out what has commonly come to be known as a flipped classroom model.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the rationale behind Franklin’s choices is that he believes that students find lectures boring. Instead, classtime is used more interactively for problem solving or group projects such as recording podcasts or creating blog posts covering the material the students absorbed from the video the night before. Franklin even goes easy on those who failed to keep up with the viewing. Those who skipped homework can catch up on a computer or a smartphone during class.

Franklin isn’t the only instructor experimenting with a flipped classroom this year. Several teachers around Central Florida are running similar experiments in their schools. Those who buy into the format say that it puts students in charge of their own learning experience — something that older kids, especially high-schoolers, could definitely appreciate.

Flipping lets students absorb lessons during their own time in an electronic way, usually through a YouTube video or an educational social network. Students who’ve done their homework arrive at school prepared to ask questions or have already discussed the lecture with their peers online the night before.

“It takes me out of being the center of the classroom and starts centering the classroom around them,” said Sarah Devereaux, a South Lake High School algebra teacher who flips her room, “so that they can grasp more than just being robots and taking in the information and regurgitating it.”

Although Franklin’s students were initially surprised by the new approach, many in his class have come to like it. Ryan Purvis, who is in Franklin’s sophomore history class, says he especially likes not having to carry around textbooks, nor reading them, for that matter. As a slow reader, he infinitely prefers a video for information delivery. Joseph D’Angelo, also a tenth-grader, said that he was initially apprehensive about the idea that the teacher would be sending out text messages to his students to remind them of assignment due dates. A few weeks on and he doesn’t consider this to be an issue at all.

The idea behind the flipped classroom isn’t universally embraced, however. Critics have pointed out that this approach severely disadvantages students who have no access to a computer or broadband internet at home, which includes nearly 40% of Florida residents according to a 2011 Florida Department of Education survey.

The first experimentation with flipping the classroom didn’t begin until 2004 with two Colorado chemistry teachers. Because the approach is still developing, data on on which its effectiveness might be judged is still scarce, although the preliminary reports are encouraging.

One survey of nearly 500 teachers conducted by the Flipped Learning Network, a group started by the founders of the practice, shows that nearly 90 percent of teachers using the technique were happier about their jobs, and 67 percent had increased student test scores.