Answers to your 'flipped school' questions

by Greg Green, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:  Greg Green is the principal at Clintondale High School  in Clinton Township, Michigan. His guest post on this blog titled “My View: Flipped classrooms give every student a chance to succeed” generated more than 500 comments and was shared thousands of times on social media.  In this post, Green offers answers to some of the questions you asked the most.
The response to my guest post last week about flipping the classroom on CNN’s Schools of Thought blog was overwhelming and thought-provoking. While I appreciate that there are varying opinions, I would like to respond to some of the topics that were frequently brought up in the comments section, to provide some further food for thought on the issues.
1. Does the flipped model replace teachers with video? Does it turn teachers into classroom monitors rather than actual teachers?
There were many comments on the role of teachers in the flipped model, some questioning whether the flipped classroom replaces teachers with video instructions. I would argue that the opposite is true. The flipped instructional model makes teachers more valuable in the classroom. They are no longer just delivering information during class, but facilitating learning and comprehension with their students and providing one-on-one instruction.
Teaching is one of the only professions where people are expected to be experts in everything. In other jobs, people specialize in certain areas. Teachers, just like everyone else, are interested in certain subjects more than others. If a math teacher at our school also happens to be a Civil War buff in his or her spare time, why not have that teacher create a video lecture on the Civil War? And if one math teacher is better at explaining calculus while another specializes in geometry, why not have them share lectures with each other? Sharing knowledge this way and making it available 24/7 online benefits everyone. It enables our students, partners and guardians, and even community members, to learn by giving them unlimited access to information.
2. How does the flipped model motivate students any more than the current or traditional educational model does?
The traditional education model was difficult for our students outside of school. There are so many reasons why they didn’t complete their homework, including having jobs after school, having to take care of siblings while their parents were working, and not understanding the material. Using the flip has enabled us to account for these challenges and obligations. We realize that students often have to support their families, so we make their tasks align with what their current obligations and circumstances reasonably allow them to do.
When the video lectures are viewed outside of class, class time becomes available for students to receive one-on-one attention from their teachers and work collaboratively. I believe this model motivates students to succeed because it allows them to truly understand the material, and either slow down the pace or ask questions if they’re having difficulty – options that weren’t really available in the past. Also, if students miss a class, they can easily catch up.
I also believe that our students really do care about their education. When we implemented the flipped model and explained how it worked and its benefits, we immediately noticed a collective increase in self-confidence and more engagement in class. Several students even said that their parents began watching the video lectures with them at home, even though they had never helped with homework before. If we were to all operate under the belief that students don’t care about their education, it would be difficult to make even the smallest improvements to our educational system.
3. Is this use of technology just spoon-feeding students and making it way too easy for them to get out of doing homework?
Since technology and mobile devices are so commonly used in everyday life, why not use an education model that complements this trend?
The flipped model gives students experience using technology and applications that they may not have been exposed to previously. Since technology has become an essential part of almost all jobs, these students will leave high school with the necessary computer skills and online collaboration ability that are crucial in our global economy. In today’s world, every job requires some type of collaboration. Having practice and experience working with others this early in their lives will benefit them in their future careers.
4. Do students from at-risk populations really have access to smartphones?
The smartphone topic definitely touched a nerve for many readers and generated a lot of comments. This was an issue that we also looked into before using the flipped model at Clintondale, because we wanted to be sure that if we spent time making all of these videos, students would be able to access them. So we conducted a survey to find out how many students had regular access to the Internet through some type of device. We learned that 82% of students can access these videos outside of school – whether it’s through a smartphone, an Internet connection at a friend’s or family member’s house, or some other means. Also, our teachers often replay the video lessons at the beginning of class as a review, while they take attendance or pass out materials. This way, we are confident that every lesson is reaching our students in one way or another.
Add on top of that, the fact that some smartphones are now available at $50 per month or less, smartphones have become an option for some, instead of the much higher-cost laptops.
5. Will this model work for every single student, school, geography, learning style, learning disability, age group, etc.?
I can’t say if this model will work for everyone. However, continuing on the same path was not an option for us at Clintondale – we felt that if we didn’t try something different, we would be failing our students. Through the flipped model, we ended up creating an environment where students now spend their time learning material from an expert in each subject, and receiving the support they need to be successful. While this is a new approach to education, the results so far speak for themselves at Clintondale. Yes, there is more research that needs to be done, but right now our students’ grades and state test scores are improving, and they’re excited about coming to school and learning. For me, the most important thing is that we have tried to fix the problem rather than continuing with a system that was not working.
I hope the debate about our educational system and the flipped classroom continues to be a hot topic, because it shows how much people care about helping our students. I would encourage everyone to weigh in and share their comments, opinions, concerns and examples, because we can all learn from each other, and together, we can continue to strengthen our schools.
The opinions expressed in this report are solely those of Greg Green.