NIAGARA FALLS – Some classes at two local schools have been flipped.
Work that used to be done in the classroom is being done at home, and what used to be done as homework is being done in class.
It’s an experimental approach being tried in several cities to move educational techniques into the digital age of the 21st century, improve learning and give teachers more time to bring struggling students up to speed.
“Early reports are quite encouraging, but we won’t really know the outcome until final exams are finished in June,” according to instructional coach Ed Maynard at Niagara Falls High School.
Maynard, a strong supporter of “The Flipped Classroom,” is a teacher on special assignment whose job is to help other teachers become more effective through professional development. So far, a handful of teachers at the high school and at least one at Gaskill Preparatory School are using the new technique.
The teachers and most of their students appear enthusiastic about the new way of teaching and learning, and many students’ grades have improved in their “flipped classrooms.” Several of them spoke in support of the experimental system at a recent meeting of the School Board.
Allison Hubert, an eighth-grader at Gaskill, said the experiment helps her to budget her time better.
“I can take my homework on the road; I can get the lessons for about 20 minutes at home after school, and then I can take them with me on my way to swim practice and can study some more during breaks in practice,” she said. “If there is anything I don’t understand, I can discuss it with my teacher the next day in school.”
Teachers in the “flipped classrooms” typically record their lessons on video equipment that can be accessed by students at any time of day or night on their smartphones, home computers, tablets, iPads, e-readers or almost any electronic device that has access to the Internet. Students who don’t fully understand the lesson can “rewind” the program and replay it many times at home or wherever they may be. Parents are encouraged to help the students with their “at-home” classes.
Students who need more help with the lesson can discuss it one-on-one with their teacher the next day in school. Teachers have more time for those individual discussions because they are not giving lectures, blackboard demonstrations or other lessons for the whole class during school hours.
“We have been able to quadruple the amount of time our students spend with their own teachers,” according to Greg Green, principal of a Detroit school that is using “flipped classrooms.”
Jessica Evans, an “accelerated sophomore” who is considered to be a gifted student at Niagara Falls, said the new system is more efficient and less time-consuming because “I can watch the video once, grasp the lesson right away and move on to something else” without waiting for the teacher to explain the lesson to the whole class, some of whom may not be able to understand it the first time around.
Maynard said preliminary results show that 47 percent of Niagara Falls students in one class were failing and only 8 percent had average test scores of 85 or above under the traditional teaching system, while just 34 percent of those in a “flipped classroom” were failing, and 23 percent had averages of 85 or above.
Paul Harris, a senior who failed algebra 2 and trigonometry last year and scored only a 58 on his final exam, said he is repeating the course this year in a “flipped classroom” and is “doing very well.” Maynard said Paul now has passing grades in the 80s in the same math curriculum taught by Ed Ventry.
Although impressed by the early success of the program, School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco stressed that it still is an experiment in a few classes and that it will be extended to additional classes only if it proves to be a continued success after final marks are in at the end of the school year.
Melanie Kitchen, a coordinator at the Regional Information Center of the Western New York/Erie 1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services, said individual teachers in some other school districts are using “flipped classrooms,” including some at Lewiston-Porter, Randolph, Allegany-Limestone and others.
Maynard said a teacher at Fredonia is using the program, and teachers from North Tonawanda and Royalton-Hartland are among those in a graduate-level course that he is teaching at Niagara University, including the “flipped classroom” concept.
Teachers do not necessarily have to record their own lessons in order to make the plan work. Maynard said they can adapt programs that are available from several sources, including a Khan Academy website that is used here.
Maynard said reasons for “flipping” include:
• Speaking the language of students in a culture that they are comfortable with.
• Helping busy students or teachers who are absent from the classroom because of illness, excuses or suspensions, because the lessons are available to them at home.
• Helping all students to excel because they can pause and rewind their instructions.
• Giving parents an opportunity to work with their children on current lessons.
• Allowing teachers to spend more time with their students because they no longer have to stand in front of the classroom, and can work one-on-one with their students.
“This is not the silver bullet to reform education; not all teachers can use it,” he said. “But it certainly is worth a try.”
Derek Frommert, a math teacher at Gaskill, said his students watch a video and answer questions using smart-response “clickers” at home in a program called Edmodo.com.
Last year, with traditional teaching, he said that the average academic mean score among his students was 83 and that the median score was 85. This year, with a “flipped classroom,” he said the mean score has risen to 90 and the median to 95.
Amy Kilmer, a high school geometry teacher, said her students now are “introduced to the lesson on their own time, at their own pace and without classroom distraction.” She explained:
“In the classroom, the lesson is no longer a one-sided conversation with me doing all the talking. Students develop and ask questions while we are still on the lesson. By the end of class, I know if my students understood the lesson, instead of sending them home to struggle with homework.”
Maynard said the traditional method of teaching provides for about 10 to 25 minutes of each class period for “guided and independent practice and/or lab activity,” but the “flipped” method provides about 25 to 45 minutes because the teacher no longer has to use perhaps a half-hour of each period to lecture on new content.
Among teachers using the program, besides Frommert, Kilmer and Ventry, are Kim Maynard, who teaches Advanced Placement environmental science and living environment, and Katie Canterbury, a teacher of living environment. Maynard said Debbie Betton, a math teacher, was a pioneer in using the program last year.
Students who addressed the School Board about the program included Sierra Watson, Mathew Gilmer, Michael Meyer and Jay Scott, in addition to Allison, Jessica and Paul. Most of their comments were supportive of the program.