Using video to flip my classroom

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by bledsoe on September 11, 2011

I was at a teacher workshop over the summer and we had a couple of guest presenters who talked to us about "flipping the classroom."  I hadn't heard of this before, but it's apparently a popular classroom approach these days (just google 'flip classroom' for a ton of links), inspired in part by the massive popularity of the Khan Academy.

The basic idea is that instead of using the traditional classroom model of lecturing during class and having the students do practice problems for homework, you have the students watch your lectures at home and use class time to do the practice problems, work on projects, work in groups, etc.  This allows students to use class time to more actively apply their new knowledge while the teacher serves as a facilitator.  In the traditional model, even if the teacher is a great lecturer, the students are still spending a lot of class time passively sitting and listening; or, as many of us know, not listening at all.

The approach that my workshop guest presenters talked about, and the one that I used in my Geometry class, involved using my old Flipcam and some inexpensive DIY whiteboards to create videos of some of my class lectures.  Then I assigned the videos as homework and we did the practice worksheets in class the next day.

It worked out reasonably well, especially as a first attempt.  I seemed to have more classroom time available for working directly with the kids, and they seemed more engaged and actively working, even though they were still just doing worksheet problems.

Here are a few of my thoughts based on my first experience with it:

There's some front-end expense, though it's relatively minor - I had to get my write-on whiteboards from Home Depot, plus some colored dry-erase markers.  I already had a video camera and a tripod, so I didn't have to shell out for that.  I also found out that uploading videos to your Google Docs account will use up your free 1gig of storage pretty quick, so I had to buy more storage.

There's some front-end tech-savvy required as well - You need to feel comfortable (or willing to get comfortable) making and uploading videos, and setting up and maintaining a website.  These are skills that are getting easier and easier to acquire, but they may still be a hurdle for some.  I used a Flipcam to make my videos, Google Docs as my video host, and Google Sites for my website.  (See the end of this post for some great how-to videos on this kind of stuff.)

It takes some time to create the videos - Each of my videos is around 15 minutes long, and it took me about two hours to create my first one.  That included planning the video, getting the whiteboards ready, and doing the actual recording.  After I'd done a couple, I had the total time down to about one hour per video.

It changes the flow of your class - I had originally thought I'd record a few videos of random lessons from different units, but I found that to be too complicated, at least for my first try; going from a video-as-homework on one day to a worksheet-as-homework on the next day just messed up my pacing.  So I decided to try flipping my class for one whole unit.   I picked a unit that only had four sections; the first one didn't really lend itself to video, so I created video lectures for the last three sections.

The students weren't as thrown off by the videos as I thought they would be - I had anticipated that a lot of the students would object that they couldn't do the assignment because they didn't have a computer, didn't have internet access, etc., though I was ready with alternatives for them (they could watch the videos after school in my classroom, in the school library, or in a public library).  For the most part, however, everyone just kind of shrugged and accepted that this was the assignment.  Out of my class of 28 students, I had eight who weren't able to (or just didn't) watch the first video, and five who didn't watch one of the other two; this is about the same number of kids I have on any given day who don't do their homework.

In fact, I was probably more thrown off than they were - Not having to spend class time on lecture really did leave me with a lot more class time to do "other stuff" but I found that I wasn't entirely sure what "other stuff" to do.  I'm as big a critic of lecturing as anyone, but when suddenly faced with 90 minutes of class time and no need to lecture, it was simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying.  What was I supposed to do now?  I ended up using that time to have students work more problems at the board, do more whole class call-on-individual-students type practice problems, and do more working problems at their seats with partners while I walked around answering questions.

It was this that I found most intriguing.  There was a noticeable increase in the amount of time the *students* spent actively working math problems, and a noticeable decrease in the amount of time *I* spent actively working math problems.  Which makes sense.  There was no lecture time at all, and lecture time is, kind of by definition, time that the teacher is actively involved and the students are passively involved (at best).  So with no lectures, the format of the class almost forces more active engagement by students.  I'm still new at this, but I'm looking forward to seeing how flipping my classroom will provide more opportunities for actively engaging the students.

More info:

You can find some great how-to videos on flipping your classroom here, including instructions on creating your own boards, making the video, uploading the video, creating a simple website, etc.  You can see my current class website here; click over to the "Geometry Assignments" page for more of my class lecture videos.

Image by Photo Extremist via Flickr.

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