This summer I was talking with my step-mom, a retired elementary school teacher, and I was expressing my feeling of impending doom about my next quarter of college. I had been procrastinating taking these dreaded classes, although they now try to trick me by calling the requirements “Quantitative Skills.” But I know that they mean math.
She was trying to reassure me and she mentioned a website called khanacademy.org that provides free math tutorials and that espouses the idea of “flipping the classroom.” I couldn’t really see how this would help me. In fact, spending time watching online math videos would just take away from my time spent watching clips of cats playing patty cake. And flipping the classroom? What? More on that later in this post…
But then I started hearing more about the Khan Academy. I started to pay attention now because we all know that even when you are in your mid-40’s, you still don’t believe what your parents say until it’s been verified by several other considerably less reliable sources. Like a little blurb about it that a friend of a friend of a friend “liked” on Facebook. Or overhearing a conversation about it in the Express checkout line at the grocery store.
Anyway, I was now on board to look into it. Plus, my Intermediate Algebra class started and I grossly misjudged my preparation for it. I took a placement assessment and “tested into” the class. My last math class was over 25 years in the past. I have such huge gaps in my basic skills that if my math ability was a boat, I would be desperately bailing out the water while eyeing the shore, contemplating abandoning ship and paddling for land while I still have the energy.
I needed some serious help so I decided to give the Khan Academy videos a try. For a few weeks, I watched the videos nightly to review those missing skills and quickly I saw my grades improve drastically and my confidence go WAY up.
The Khan Academy was started by Salman Khan who started making short videos explaining math concepts for his cousins. He posted them on YouTube so they could watch the videos at their own pace and repeat any ones that they didn’t understand. The videos are short, usually about 3 to 5 minutes long. He is clear, concise, keeps it interesting, and injects some humor at times. He makes it approachable and, sometimes, a little fun.
They have added hundreds of videos in many subjects that lend themselves to this style of teaching. In an effort to get kids more involved, they are developing a system where users earn “badges” to give it a game-like feel. I have to admit I get a little thrill when a new badge pops up. I have worked my way up from the “Good Listener” badge, to the “Great Listener” to my new status as “Awesome Listener.” I could list off my many other badges earned but that would just be bragging.
Sal Khan did a great presentation of “Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education” at the 2011 TED Conference where he explains more about their program and approach. They have implemented it fully into some classrooms and he discusses how that works.
You or your kids can use Khan Academy anytime. It's completely free and there is more than just math videos. There are some videos explaining economic and financial concepts like the Greek Debt Crisis. There are some Humanities videos and prep for tests like the SAT. And once you have watched the videos, there are practice activities that measure and track your proficiency with the concepts.
Flipping the classroom is pretty simple. One version of it has students spending the time at home that they would normally be doing traditional homework watching videos of the lectures usually delivered in class. Time in the classroom is spent working on the actual homework. The teacher become less a lecturer standing in front of 30 glaze-eyed students for 60 minutes and becomes a coach who is available for personalized help when each student needs it. So the lecture and homework are "flipped."
I know for myself this would make a dramatic change. I sit through hours of lecture and often feel like I have a good grasp of the subject. Then, when doing my homework back at home, I run into problems that I needed help with before I can finish the assignment. By flipping the classroom, my teacher and peers are right there in the room, ready to help with my questions. I would learn faster, experience less frustration, and feel much more confident with my skills with the immediate help and feedback.
I know my daughter’s math class is using a version of this approach. It’s not a new concept, but with advances in video and internet technology, it’s become an easy and inexpensive (often free) tool for educators. There are some hurtles to overcome, like students with lack of high speed internet access at home and schools that lack the computers needed. Flipping the classroom is just one teaching tool that can be adopted to complement and reinforce teachers' curriculum and can be worked around some of the challenges.
Here are a few links for anyone who wants to learn more about the concept behind flipping the classroom.
A little off subject (but at least it’s not a funny cat video) here is another TED talk where Sir Ken Robinson PhD talks about how our current education system stifles creativity. He is humorous and poignant as he makes his case about “if you aren’t prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.” If you enjoyed that, he did a followup TED Talk four years later.
What do you think about the idea of flipping the classroom? Have you had any experience with it? Please share!