Pushing the Pause Button for Teachers

More students report better learning with the 'flipped classroom' concept

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A rising number of New Jersey students say they learn more when they can put their teacher on pause.

    Or rewind and replay.

    Instead of listening to old-fashioned lectures in school, they are watching their teachers' lessons on computers or cellphones at home. Then, when they come back into the classroom the next day, they tackle the kind of problems that used to be assigned as homework. Only now, a teacher or their peers can help them immediately when they get stuck.

    It's called the "flipped classroom," a national trend that is a growing part of the fast-changing world of education as teachers harness the power of digital tools.

    Some parents cooking dinner may be surprised to overhear a math teacher's voice explaining a complex formula in the next room.

    Many are embracing this approach, however, saying it lets students learn at their own pace, saves precious class time and clears the way for more engaging group projects.

    Teachers in Fort Lee, New Milford, the Northern Valley Regional High School District and Wayne are among those experimenting.

    "It's an up-and-coming concept and really spreading," Samantha Morra, a technology consultant for North Jersey schools, told The Record of Woodland Park.

    "It's allowing a shift in how time with the teacher is used."

    There are doubters, too.

    They worry that some students, especially in high-poverty areas, might not have sufficient access to computers. Some also warn that high-tech tools are not magic; students might not bother to watch the videos unless they're naturally motivated. And some teachers are baffled by all the digital devices.

    But many are becoming converts.

    Carrie Wiederholz, a seventh-grade pre-algebra teacher in Fort Lee, first read about flipped classrooms last summer while on a beach vacation. Now, almost every lunch period she uses a flip camera to tape a short lesson — usually lasting three to 10 minutes — as she introduces a new unit to her students. The camera catches her scribbling down equations on her SmartBoard and cracking a few jokes. Her students watch it on their own later, take notes, and try to solve several questions.

    The "real meat of the lesson" happens in class the next day, she said, when they review the unit together and try more difficult problems in small groups.

    Wiederholz, a 10-year veteran, said this technique means she no longer has to "teach to the middle" because students who struggle can watch a lesson several times and those who grasp it quickly can skip ahead instead of getting bored. Some watch the videos in the car on the way to sports practices. Students who are at home sick can stay on top of their work, and sometimes parents tune in to brush up.

    On a recent morning, Wiederholz's class spent about 10 minutes going over the few homework questions, 10 minutes preparing for upcoming state tests and the rest of the period divided into groups of four or five students. She clustered those who had trouble with the same problems so they could puzzle them out together. This approach assumes students learn more from hands-on activities, and aims to have a teacher serve more as a "guide on the side" than a "sage on the stage."

    Wiederholz said her students are performing better under the flipped model and anticipates that scores from this spring's state exams will prove it. "Every single quiz and test I've had to make harder," she said. "I'm setting higher expectations and they're leaping bounds above it."

    Several parents and students agreed. "This is less stressful because I can rewind," said Shaina DeLeon-Monroe, 13. "I get anxiety over school when I don't get it."

    This model took off in the past two years thanks to energetic promoting by two Colorado high school science teachers, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, who published a book last year called "Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student Every Day." Surging access to laptops, tablets and smart phones enabled the trend, along with software and apps that let teachers make videos and podcasts easily. Some teachers use free videos already available on sites like SchoolTube, CrashCourse, Ted-Ed and Khan Academy.

    Others, like Wiederholz, prefer making their own, saying students connect better with their own teacher in the frame. Her next project will have students create the video lessons themselves.

    Many see the approach as one useful part of a growing menu of options. "The flipped classroom is an excellent resource but not a substitute sometimes for the traditional classroom," said Joe Borchard, educational technology coordinator in Wayne.

    All the new choices can seem overwhelming, he added.

    "It's such a paradigm shift in how we're delivering instruction, you could easily get lost in a sea of digital tools," he said. "You can do a lot of them and not do them well instead of choosing a few and doing them excellently. That's the challenge, choosing which we are going to use and stick with."