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Teaching model gains in popularity

11:05 AM, Aug 17, 2012   |    comments
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(WXIA) -- Now that students throughout metro Atlanta are back in school, parents may be noticing a few changes in the way their children do homework.

More school districts are trying out the flip classroom model. Cobb county has received the most attention, formally testing it out on 8th grade math students at three of its middle schools: Smitha, Dodgen and Pine Mountain.

"What you traditionally have always done as homework, will now be done at school. And what you've traditionally done in the classroom will now be done at home," teacher Ashley Miller explained to her students at Dodgen Middle school in Marietta.

The idea is to have students watch the lectures at home so they can use class time to focus on interactive exercises that make the lesson stick, or simply to get hands on help with their homework. Students already seem sold on the idea.

"Sometimes in class I have trouble focusing or I just don't get it at all and I can't really rewind a teacher. But at home I can rewind it as many times as I need to," said Maddie Sell.

Other students say their parents don't understand their homework, so it's hard to get help at night. The other benefit is since the lessons can be played on a computer, smartphone or tablet, they're mobile. That means students can watch them at home, in the car or even waiting at a doctor's appointment.

While Cobb county is just getting started, teacher John Willis has been using the flip model in his classroom for three years. He says it didn't start as an assignment from the district, but as a request from students.

"It was really by accident. Students initiated it," said Willis. "They were asking me, 'hey, Mr. Willis, can you record some of the lectures that you're doing in class?'"

Willis teaches at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Lawrenceville. He says he recorded videos informally for about two years, before officially incorporating them into his lesson plan.

The idea isn't new. Language Arts and English teachers have done it for decades. Remember that reading assignment you had to do at home to prepare for the discussion the next day? That's a version of the flip classroom. The real difference now, is the technology that has expanded the types of subjects that can do it.

Willis admits there's no research he can point to proving the flip classroom can flip test scores.

"But I can say for sure student engagement has gone through the roof. And I think student engagement is correlated with student achievement," said Willis.

On the day we visited Willis' 9th grade Physics and Engineering class, students were reinforcing the concepts they had learned in a recent video, by creating a power point presentation on it.

Willis says he's learned a lot about flipping a classroom in the past three years. He says students stop paying attention and retaining the information in the videos after ten minutes. It helps to ask students questions along the way, to make sure they're processing what they hear. And quizzes nudge students to take the time to watch.

But there are some downsides to the flip classroom. It takes time to design the classroom activities and videos. So a teacher that hasn't bought into concept may not use it effectively. Plus, not every child has access to the internet, the main method of distributing the lessons.

Cobb county teachers say they will burn their lessons onto a DVD so students can watch them on their television or put them on a flash drive for those with a computer, but no internet. There will also be computers available to students before and after school.

But Willis and Miller both agree the extra work is well worth it to engage students and build the kinds of relationships that will help them learn.

"It's about bringing that human relationship back into the classroom where you're not distancing yourself from the student. You're right there with them," said Willis.

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