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“Flipped learning is a stepping stone on the journey from being a spoon-fed student to becoming an independent learner”

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aron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann are about to meet their audience at the Bett education technology show in London. They are introduced with some fanfare. “How often does a teacher walk into a classroom to be faced by a group of students at the expected level; a group of high achievers; and a group of students who struggle with the information presented to them?” booms the event’s compere. “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to teach them with true differentiation and delivery, allowing the three groups to progress at their own pace? Also, how much of the teacher’s time is used in engaged, informed discussion about the topic and applying knowledge, rather than just transferring facts? Does the teacher really have the chance to focus on individuals and give them the one-to-one attention required for them to succeed? This is what the flippedlearning endeavour is all about.” Aaron and Jon, a pair of chemistry teachers from Colorado, then take to the stage. Over the past few years, they have become closely associated with the concept of ‘flipped learning’, which rethinks traditional teaching. Although, as Aaron is at pains to stress: “We are not really experts in anything other than the fact that we are teachers and we try to do what is best for kids.”

Their experiments began in 2006 when they grew frustrated by the number of students forced to miss their lessons due to sports commitments.Their answer: video the classes so that students could watch later via DVD, memory stick or online. This approach worked well enough as a catch-up, but it also got them wondering whether their students needed to be in the classroom at all, before starting to question the best use of face-to-face class time. As science teachers they wanted their students to be doing science rather than just being told about it. “In those days, the classroom was centred around me,” Aaron says. “I told them exactly what to learn, how to learn it, what assignments to do to learn it and even when to learn – and then I told them how to prove to me that they’d learned it.” The flipped-learning approach begins by taking the direct instruction teachers do in class and recording it using a video camera or webcam. Students then do the learning at home and apply that learning in the classroom. Aaron concedes that this isn’t exactly Earth shattering. “It is simply a recorded lesson – a worksheet that is delivered in a different space to where it used to be. There is nothing revolutionary about lectures and worksheets.” What it is, however, is a stepping stone on the journey from being a spoon-fed student to becoming an independent learner. Jon quotes a teaching colleague from

HOW DO YOU ENSURE THEY’VE DONE THEIR HOMEWORK?

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“We walk around the room and say: ‘have you got your notes from the video?’ and we check their notes on paper,” Jon says. “If they didn’t watch it, why not? We tell them they’ve ‘lost points’ and send them to the back where there are two old computers. They put headphones on and watch while everyone else does other things in class. That solves the problem. They learn quickly that it is easier to watch the video the night before instead of doing it in class.” Aaron adds that a colleague has invested in his webpage and incorporated a form students have to fill in. They must answer a short multiple-choice questionnaire and then answer an open-ended question about the video. “He knows when they watch and how much they watch. Also whether they understood, based on their responses. He then customises the class based on the responses of his students.”

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