In the past few years at all levels of education, the flipped classroom model has emerged as one of the most promising educational approaches of the last century.
Educational researchers have argued that students are not merely vessels to be filled with knowledge, or exam factory funding units hell bent on 3 A*s. Yet many teachers and school leaders are still using older ‘chalk and talk’ teaching methods, despite much evidence of its lack of efficacy in the world we occupy today.
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Recent research by Stanford University, USA, has indicated that putting “practice” in front of the “tell”, a method known as constructivism, students develop higher critical thinking skills and have a better conceptual understanding of an idea when they can explore a domain first and then follow a more standard kind of instruction (such as attending a lecture, watching a video, or reading a textbook chapter) (Schneider, B., Blickstein, P., and Pea, R., 2013). This method is known as the ‘flipped flip’ since it adds a further element to the standard flipped model (in which students first watch videos or read at home, and then do projects in the classroom). During ‘flipped flip’ learning, students first engage in a practical activity (where no previous theory has been taught). They then learn theory at home from videos/reading, and finally they put what they have learnt into practice via exam questions, tests and quizzes, which are followed up by the teacher.
Researchers at Stanford carried out a controlled experiment in the lab and concluded that, “compared to traditional text learning, performance increased significantly with the use of these tangible, interactive tools”. In fact, they discovered that there was a 25 percent increase in performance when open-ended exploration came before text study rather than after it.
The Stanford University flipped-flip model supports what many educational researchers and cognitive scientists have been asserting for many years – that the “exploration first” model is a better way to learn. You cannot have the answers before you think of the questions. The Stanford results suggests “that students are better prepared to understand and appreciate the elegance of a theory or a principle when exploring the domain by themselves first and that new technologies, tangible toolkits and interfaces, in particular, are especially well-suited for that purpose” (Schneider, B., Blickstein, P., and Pea, R., 2013).
The flipped-flip serves another purpose in the classroom. It generally envelops the students in the use of tech, since the best flips allow students 24/7 access to the theory for their course. This is better served online via videos, presentations and notes.
The use of technology in the classroom is fundamental. In fact, a recent House of Lords paper suggested that digital literacy is taught as “a core subject alongside numeracy and literacy, embedded across all subjects and throughout the curriculum” (House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills 2014-15). The paper highlights a growing problem in the UK economy – that there is a shortage of medium- and high-level digital skills in the UK, which needs immediate attention if the UK is to remain competitive globally. It goes on to suggest that “to keep ahead of the international competition, the UK must ensure it has the necessary pool of digitally-skilled graduates and others at the higher level (the ‘digital makers’), to support and drive research and innovation throughout the whole economy. The long-term solution to the shortage of medium- and high-level skills requires action at all levels of the ‘talent pipeline’—primary, secondary, further and higher level education” (House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills 2014-15).
The report also suggests that digital education must foster creativity and innovation, and provide students with the opportunity to test and experiment with technology. It particularly highlights the paucity of women in technology roles.
A UK-Government post-16 skills plan further emphasises the need for embedding technology skills within the UK workforce, as it suggests that the current academic options for post-16 students are great in the UK, but that the technical career path is severely limited (House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills, 2014-15).
Digital literacy is an essential tool that underpins other subjects and almost all jobs. And flipped learning is essential in moving students from a ‘taught’ model to a ‘self-taught’ model with guidance.
About our flipped-flip approach
We trialled this approach in our Geography Department, which is part of a large Sixth Form College with approximately 1700 students. In the Geography Dept, we teach 80 students – 50 at A1, and 30 at A2.
We introduced the flipped-flip model to the A1 cohort in September 2016. Students had not previously experienced this model of teaching. Prior to implementing the ‘full’ flipped-flip, we had experimented the previous year with some flipping by introducing activities such as Challenged-Based-Learning, Enquiry-Based-Learning and P4C. These were successful, and during an Ofsted inspection, the department was able to demonstrate a Challenge-Based-Learning lesson which was unofficially rated ‘Outstanding’.
Although departmental results have improved (ALPS 8 to ALPS 5 between September 2015 and Summer 2016) we felt the need to empower students and introduce a far more powerful way of teaching and learning. Thus we came up with the following set of objectives:-
- Increase student engagement with learning
- Engender students with a ‘can-do’ attitude
- Empower students to take charge of their own learning
- Increase ALPS score from a 5 to a ALPS 3 by September 2017
- Increase student retention by making lessons fun and exciting
- Improve student employability skills by allowing the use of unlimited technology, teamwork, and problem-solving.
We had – and to some extent are still having – problems with the following:-
- Reticence from some managers to take a risk and allow the introduction of a flipped-flip
- Reticence from teachers to change their teaching style, and some discomfort when asked to do so
- Reticence from students not used to this new style of learning, and some discomfort (still ongoing – see feedback) on adapting to the new
We began a completely flipped-flip model from lesson 1 in September 2016 with the new A1 cohort. There was no partial model. This approach can be broken down into:-
- Theory provided via Padlet sites – eg https://padlet.com/ESBTEC/002tectonics
- Lessons which are practical, group-based and interactive. They are not teacher or theory-led. For example to teach a lesson on plate-boundaries, students were not provided with the theory of plate tectonics first, as in a standard lesson, instead students had a problem to solve in which they worked out what type of boundary had which type of hazard. At home they were able to match this hands-on knowledge with the theory of plate tectonics
- Homework, which tests the knowledge gained during the active lesson and after the theory, is given after every lesson (short tasks which test learning from that lesson and theory).
- On a weekly basis students are also required to submit ISP work (independent study pack) which is typically A level practise questions
We ask for feedback during lessons by asking student to stand on a ‘line of confidence’. Students are asked how comfortable they feel about the flipped-flip style of learning. They indicate their comfort by where they stand on the line. We then engage students in a discussion where those that are ‘totally comfortable’ suggest methods the others could use to become more so.
We aim to use Survey Monkey at Christmas, after 14 weeks of flipped-flip learning.
Student feedback is gathered here:- https://padlet.com/ESBTEC/flippingheck
This has been available for about a week, and all students have not contributed yet.
- General monitoring
Homework and Independent Study Pack work is monitored and compared to performance with last year’s cohort. Students also take mocks every half term where comparisons can again be drawn. In the October 2016 half term mock results were better compared with the same period last year.
- Social media
Students have be observed establishing their own channels to discuss learning, homework (HW) and Independent Study Pack (ISP) tasks. Teachers are now rarely asked for help – the students ask each other. Some of this student interaction is being recorded.
It is early days but:-
- Student engagement during lessons is 100% (recent observations support this)
- Student confidence is moving away from ‘feeling stressed’ to ‘totally comfortable’
- HW, ISP and mock results indicate that compared with last year, results are on a par if not better
- Students report having fun, learning lots, being highly engaged, and challenged
This is still a work in progress and the model is still being refined. We look forward to sharing our findings with you in due course.
Dept for Business Innovation and Skills with Dept for Education. Post-16 Skills Plan. July 2016.
Digital Skills – Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills 2014-15.
Schneider, Bertrand, Paulo Blickstein, and Roy Pea. “The Flipped, Flipped Classroom.” The Stanford Daily. August 5, 2013. Accessed October 18, 2016. https://www.stanforddaily.com/2013/08/05/the-flipped-flipped-classroom/.