How the Flipped Classroom Failed to Teach Me

The flipped classroom model is a pretty new idea of how to teach. Knewton has a pretty detailed infographic here, but I’ll cover the highlights:

  • The idea started with two teachers who started recording lectures for students who were sick to use at home.
  • This infographic argues for two things that are failing students: a one size fits all approach and the prevalence of technology.
  • The way it’s supposed to work is teachers create videos and post them online for students to watch at home. Class time is spent discussing more difficult concepts, labs, or activities.
  • It also says that this approach caused more students to pass English and Math and significantly reduce issues of discipline.

Now, some of this made me pretty suspicious, so I decided to try and figure out what school saw the amount of discipline problems drop from 736 cases to 249 in one year. This school is a high school in Michigan called Clintondale High School that switched from traditional classrooms to the flipped classroom model in 2009. This school is part of the School of Choice program, which is essentially a magnet program that pulls from the greater Detroit area. A CNN article covering the change in models reported that 75% of students receive free or reduced lunch and students had to spend more than an hour on the bus in the morning.

The flipped classroom seems to really have helped this school, which had once had almost 50% of it’s freshman fail English. So why did the flipped classroom fail me? UNC doesn’t have the amount of financial issues that Clintondale did. It wasn’t pulling from the greater Detroit area. I never qualified for free or reduced lunch. The flipped classroom model did such great things for this school in Michigan, why did it fail here?

Carolina has been experimenting with the flipped classroom model. In fact, it has been reporting that the flipped classroom model has actually improved student performance. I would argue that it’s not true in every case. For my math class in the fall semester, the flipped classroom was disastrous. And it was incredibly poorly implemented.

For each section (most of which only lasted one class period, however some were two), we would need to

  • read and understand the corresponding section in the text book
  • watch a youtube video created by the professor (these ranged from 3 minutes to 20 minutes)
  • do a set of 10 problems before class
  • do a set of 10 problems during class
  • do a set of 10-20 problems after class (most of which had multiple sets)

The original idea for flipped classroom and the model that did so well in Clintondale used 5-7 minute videos. Granted there is a huge difference between expectations in high school and in college, this was significantly above that. This class was not designed to let me succeed. I could have just stopped sleeping or eating if I had really wanted to be successful in this class. I could have not had the work study that helped me pay for my tuition. I could have lived in the math help center. I could have spent all my time doing homework for that math class and neglect my other five classes.

And, as if all of this wasn’t enough, the class was taught by a T.A. who clearly didn’t care about making sure we understood the material. He was a graduate student who was required to teach a math class to get whatever degree he was working in and, on top of that, had no experience teaching. The class had 75 students and there was one T.A. Within two weeks they had found two undergraduate students to help answer questions, and honestly they were better than the T.A.

This T.A. wasn’t equipped to teach a traditional classroom, much less a flipped classroom where he probably hadn’t seen how it was supposed to work. Even if you ignore the lack of qualifications of the T.A., the structure of the class wasn’t conducive to student learning. Because of the emphasis on grades, I was forced to spend all my time ensuring that I could get the highest grade possible on the homework assignments.

The flipped classroom is supposed to encourage student to learn independently and then analyze material in class. This class had many different problems, however it was structurally flawed. To expect students to spend hours outside the classroom on one course and then not be able to provide them with a classroom experience that was helpful in any way is ridiculous. Using this model could revolutionize teaching, or it could go very, very wrong.

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One Response to How the Flipped Classroom Failed to Teach Me

  1. sydneymitchell17 says:

    I am so sorry for the experience you had for the Flip classroom model. I think that the teacher you had really handled the situation very poorly. That is seriously an insane amount of work that you had to do. I think in theory the flip classroom model could be successful but it has to be executed correctly. I also don’t really understand why a T.A. would be teaching this type of class, I think that it should have definitely been a more experienced teacher who would be more equipped to deal with the complications that a Flip Classroom might have!


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