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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Flip the Classroom

There is growing buzz around a technique called "flipping the classroom" that financial literacy educators may be interested in.  One version involves creating video lectures for students to watch at home and then, in class, have students work on homework-type problems with the teacher available for help - essentially the opposite of the usual approach.

For example, you and I mostly sat in the classroom and watched a lecture on how to solve quadratic equations and then struggled on homework with one of our parents (who said they used to understand quadratic equations) as we did the odd problems 1 -30 (hopefully the ones with the answers in the back).  Flipping just turns the whole process around, and proponents even argue that it is a more efficient use of classroom time.

It fits in well with research I once saw that found certain ethnic groups achieved academically to the extent that family members worked on homework together.  The research found that some ethnic groups worked on homework as a family with the youngest and the oldest at the table and with the oldest helping.  For other ethnic groups, students go off on their own to do homework.  Maybe the missing link is that educators need to be at hand (I see the tutoring industry cheering wildly!) to get students over the inevitable roadblock challenges that problem-solving involves.

The well-known Khan Academy is based on this approach; and there is a much-anticipated book by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams due out that explains, in detail, their experience with the approach.

In reading about the flip, the classroom strategy, I am reminded of one of my outside-the-box approaches (at least for me) that I found worked better than expected.  A few years ago I was teaching online Money & Banking at the community college and had small classes - 11 max.  I decided, experimentally, to offer to interested students the opportunity to take tests in a group with open book.  Students faced with an open book test will mark up the book, highlight certain facts and passages, and generally read the material.  After all, they need to know where the answers are when test time comes.

In allowing students open book and group work on the tests,  I needed challenging questions.  To be successful, questions had to elicit discussion among the students.  Thus, a typical question would refer to a figure in the text and ask why interest rates rose over a certain period and how the Federal Reserve responded and was it a correct response and whether the student would argue that the Fed should have taken a different action, etc.  I would give fairly tough questions on risk-based capital that required some tricky calculating.  I would ask students to imagine Keynes and Hayek meeting today and having a conversation on the appropriate monetary policy to follow.

I sat off to the side, available to clarify what I was looking for but, for the most part, minding my own business and sipping my extra large coffee.  One of the students would typically bring donuts for everyone, including the teacher, to ensure that some extra credit was earned.

As I observed, I witnessed considerably more animated discussion on how to solve and answer the test problems than I had anywhere else in a typical classroom.  The poorer students learned from the better students.  They were explaining to each other what the text meant.  In essence, because it was a test, the degree of interest ramped up and the difference was similar to that between poker played for fun and poker played for high stakes.


  1. I think that is a fantastic idea! Takes the boredom out of homework!

  2. Want to see it locally? Go see TFA teacher Kevin Tame at work at Booker T Washington middle. He is doing a version very successfully! @kevintame on twitter

    1. His web site is really interesting. I wonder if education majors today are required to take a course in social media/technology. Someone creative like Kevin Tame would be perfect to teach it.

  3. Education..we have had the assembly line running for well over 100 years. Making structural changes are difficult but they can be done. A new approach is outlined in Inevitable: mass customized learning, authored by Chuck Schwahn & Bea McGarvey, they describe how it can be done.

  4. Looks interesting. Here's the link