Everybody’s Doing the Flip

So there’s a Big Exciting Idea that’s been whizzing around the educational oxygen recently. It’s called “flipping the classroom.” Bill Gates is a fan; so is Nobel Prize winner Carl Wieman, an advisor to President Obama.

Here’s how it works: In regular classrooms the teacher stands at the front of the room and explains, the kids listen and absorb. Then they go home and do homework — the problem sets, the paper-writing, etc.

In a flipped classroom, the situation is reversed. First, the learners absorb the lecture at home, often via a video. Classroom time is devoted to doing the homework — grappling with the material, solving problems. Instead of being a sage on the stage, the teacher is a guide on the side, roving like a personal coach, spotting problems, giving individualized attention and guidance. Class time is about active construction, productive struggle and exploration.

Proponents of flipping make the point that video is a more efficient way to deliver lectures, because, unlike teachers, they can be rewound and watched until they’re understood. Doing homework in class works better because teachers can help students struggle through problems they might otherwise abandon, if alone at home.

The interesting thing about flipped classrooms isn’t just that they seem to work, especially for hard skills like math and science. It’s that the concept is flexible enough to be applied to other situations. Such as:

  • In sports — why not flip the locker room? Coaches could deliver theories, strategies, game plans, and fundamentals via video, and spend practice time actually working on the skills.
  • In music — why not flip the music stand? Teachers could deliver music theory over video, and spend the practice time putting it to use.
  • In the workplace — why not flip training session? Instead of listening to lectures, time could be spent practicing real-life on-the-job skills.

I like flipping because it’s a nice way to highlight a home truth: sitting still and listening to someone talk is a demanding and inefficient way to learn. Learning is ultimately about doing — about struggling and reaching, often with the guidance of a good coach — and the highest goal of a teacher is to design a space that makes that happen.

In other words, teachers aren’t really teachers — they are designers. As Einstein put it, “I never teach my students; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they learn.”

So the next question is, what can you flip in your world?