Jonathan Bergmann, Pioneer of the Flipped Class Movement

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The flipped classroom has been an increasingly prominent subject in discussions of education recently, with articles appearing on the subject in venues ranging to Scholastic and the Chronicle of Higher Education — but what is a flipped classroom? In a traditional classroom, teachers spend the majority of the time lecturing and working through a basic understanding of concepts with students. Students then apply their understanding of the concepts to practice problems completed as homework. In a flipped classroom, students watch lecture videos online as homework and work through problems together during class, with assistance from the teacher.

Jonathan Bergmann is one of the pioneers of the Flipped Class Movement. Bergmann was a highly accomplished traditional classroom teacher before he ever considered “flipping.” He has 24 years of experience as a high school science teacher at Woodland Park High School. Bergmann received the Presidential Award for Excellence for Math and Science Teaching in 2002 and was a semi-finalist for Colorado Teacher of the Year in 2010. He currently holds the position of Lead Technology Facilitator at the Joseph Sears School in Kenilworth, Illinois. Bergmann has also co-authored a book with another flipped classroom pioneer, Aaron Sams, to be released in June, 2012.

What is so attractive about the flipped classroom approach that a successful veteran teacher like Jonathan Bergmann would abandon the teaching style he had practiced for years in order to try it? Flipping the classroom frees up many hours of valuable classroom time for teachers to work more closely with their students than is possible with traditional methods. Because the lecture videos are available “whatever wherever whenever,” as Bergmann puts it, students can also review the material as many times as necessary. This allows each student to work at their own pace, eliminating the necessity to teach-to-the-middle, and allows the teacher greater freedom and impact when he or she does decide to use traditional methods.

Bergmann has also said that flipping the classroom creates an entirely different classroom management dynamic. Because the teacher is no longer lecturing, the traditional challenge of engaging students and keeping them from behaving in a disruptive manner largely disappears. Instead, Bergmann says, the trick is to make learning a clear objective and to show them that you are an ally in that goal. This creates a culture of learning where most students work diligently with the support of their classmates and the teacher.

The transition from a traditional to a flipped classroom can be an intimidating one, and there are certain challenges that teachers should be prepared for. Bergmann notes that he sometimes has students working on four or five different labs at the same time in his chemistry classroom, because they are all allowed to progress at their own pace. This sounds like a lot, he says, but the labs run more smoothly because he does not allow his students to move forward until they have demonstrated real mastery of the material.

The most common concern Bergmann hears from “flippers” is that they don’t know what to do with all the free class time. Having activities prepared that allow students to engage with each other and to place what they learn in context is vital. He also notes that some lessons are more easily taught in the classroom than through a video and that teachers should not teach anything by a method that does not feel suited to the subject. The final, and perhaps the most obvious difficulty with the flipped classroom, is that it only works if all students have access to the videos; thus, for students without computers or internet access at home, special arrangements may need to be worked out.

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