Teacher and coach

Using video to flip my classroom

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.

4 Responses to “Using video to flip my classroom”

  1. bledsoe says:

    I’ve been pretty impressed with the Khan Academy videos that I’ve seen. I have it on my list to add links to some of his videos on my class website (an “additional resources in case you want to hear someone else explain it” kind of thing), but I haven’t gotten around to it.

    Also, did you know that there are several schools around the country that are actually designing their math classes around Khan Academy videos? Check out http://edudemic.com/2012/04/how-12-schools-are-using-khan-academy-right-now/

  2. Laura Brown says:

    This makes so much sense to me. We are developing a training program at work and I want to adopt this model. Instead of scheduling a one-hour webinar with the bulk of the time devoted to didactic presentation, I think we should direct trainees to view the recorded presentation prior to the Webinar and use the Webinar for facilitated discussion and/or small group work.

    I think my kids would really respond to this model. We’ve used Khan Academy a bit this past school year when one of them didn’t understand something that had already been presented in class but needed to complete homework. If their teachers would post lesson plans in advance, they could review a video before the material is introduced in class.

    Thanks for posting, Lance!

  3. bledsoe says:

    The way I know whether the students have watched the video is whether they come in with their completed “Notes” the next morning. At the end of the class period, rather than sending them home with a worksheet of practice problems which I check for completion the next day, I send them home with a set of “guided notes” which they have to complete for homework, and the way they complete the notes is they watch the video. So as I go around checking homework at the beginning of class, I’m now checking for completed notes. I don’t use the threat of a pop quiz, but if they haven’t completed their notes they get a zero for that homework grade. (The students can also print off a copy of the notes that go with the videos; there’s a link on the class website right next to the video.)

    Something I noticed was that the number of kids who watched the videos was higher when I did this at the beginning of the semester. I’m guessing that the newness of watching a video for homework played in to that; when we did it again this past week, I had a lot more kids who didn’t watch the videos, and for most of them it’s not because they don’t have internet access at home.

    I was worried that having a bunch of kids who didn’t watch the videos would mess up this whole approach, but so far at least it appears that hasn’t happened. Since they’re in groups working practice problems, they’re working together trying to figure out how to do the problems, and each group usually has at least one kid with a complete set of notes. Also, I have computers in my room that they could use to watch the videos (they’re only around 10 minutes long), but mostly they just try to figure it out amongst themselves. (Plus, they can always go and watch the videos some other time.)

    And bottom line, if the kids can figure it out without watching my video, more power to them. I want them to learn the material and pass the test, and at some point they’re going to have to do the cognitive work in order to do that. If they can do it by asking a classmate for help, copying somebody else’s notes, getting it from a textbook, etc., that’s all fine with me.

  4. browse says:

    How did I miss watching this when you first posted it?
    I love it, on many different levels. I’m tickled to hear how you walk through material that I tutor on a weekly basis. I’m fascinated by how the subsequent classroom experience must unfold, if the students come in having watched the video. And I’m also astounded that you sound, write and mostly look exactly how I remember you from high school. 🙂

    I’m having a hard time separating my interest in the material itself (“Oooh, I woulda said this differently”, “Nice, I like how he keeps precisely demonstrating the right vocabulary as he goes.”) and the pedagogy of teaching by video. Do you have a way of enforcing that students are watching the videos? If there are insufficient questions or discussion the next day, do you hold the risk of a pop quiz over their heads? Or is using testing as a “threat” like that counter-productive in the long run?

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