Flipping the Classroom

by Brett Sallach

Sitting at home working on an assignment and thumping your head against the wall in frustration, have you ever said to yourself, “This seemed so easy when the teacher did examples in class!”? This has been a common occurrence during my educational journey, and it is common for many students. This also seems like it is the time when students decide “I’m not good at math or science” or “I don’t like math and science”. The idea of flipping the classroom is a technique hoping to end these frustrating experiences.

Flipping the classroom is an idea that is a key component of Salmon Khan’s Khan Academy. The idea is that lectures are available in short (8-12 minute) videos online that students access on their own, outside of class. Homework, or practice problems, are completed in the classroom. In my experience, when I’m doing practice problems, I get caught up with some minor error, like an incorrect negative sign, or a mislabeled variable. These are easy corrections for a teacher/coach to correct and get quickly on my way to understanding the greater concept.

This opens up an entirely new dynamic in terms of teacher-student interactions. In a traditional lecture, students take notes on concepts presented by the professor. Hesitant to ask the professor to pause, students scramble to take notes on the lecture and may not understand key concepts. In a flipped classroom, however, students take the wheel and steer their own learning. If a concept is more difficult to understand, the self-guided learner can re-watch a video as many times as needed to master a concept. Can you imagine rewinding and replaying a lecture as often as you wanted? In class, students can actively ask questions of the instructor because the topic isn’t new. As a result, students can master a concept in class. Learning then becomes a self-paced journey supported by group work. We all know that teaching a concept is the best way to master knowledge. This system gives opportunities for increased quality interactions between students and teachers as well as students and their peers, so that students are actively acquiring knowledge rather than passively sitting in a lecture and hoping they understand the concepts being taught.

This summer, the MSRE program will be instituting this flipped classroom approach for a few of the weekly seminars. Scholars who actively participate in the flipped classroom will make the most of group sessions. Take advantage of this system! Watch the videos when you’re mentally prepared and in a place to soak in the material. Watch videos before the session to prepare. Find a time and a place that you’re free to focus on the task at hand and can avoid distractions. Watch the videos, and practice the concepts taught in them. Then, bring your questions to the session.

If you’d like to learn more, click the link below and watch Salmon Khan’s TED Talk about this innovative approach to learning. I guarantee you’ll be excited about learning when you get done. Additionally, I’m challenging you to be an active learner this summer. Take advantage of this system and see if it changes your learning experience!

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