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Teachers, parents say students thrive in ‘flipped learning’ classrooms

In Mr. Brown's third grade class at Fryelands Elementary School in Monroe, students utilize computers to watch their daily instruction. The flip gives Mr. Brown more time to work with students individually throughout the day. ( (Photo: Kim Shepard)

It’s a typical day in Mr. Brown’s third grade class at Fryelands Elementary School in the Monroe Public School District, but there’s nothing typical about what this group of 8 and 9-year-olds is doing.

They’re learning in a “flipped classroom.” It’s a new model of education where teachers leverage technology to spend more one-on-one time with their kids.

In a traditional classroom, teachers spend a majority of their time on lecture and instruction. In a “flipped classroom,” most of the class period is spent on working directly with students.

To achieve this, veteran teacher Randy Brown has recorded his instruction onto video. His students get their lessons each day through the class AVRS, Audio Video Recording Studio, then take their new knowledge back to their seats to practice.

“This is the single most powerful overnight transformation you can do in education,” says Mr. Brown. “It literally makes two people in the room. There’s the digital, video recorded me, and then there’s the live, in-person me.”

His class is split into three groups of about eight students each. While one group receives video instruction, a second group is working with Mr. Brown and a third group is working in another area, often with a parent volunteer.

The system allows for more direct contact with the teacher and more immediate feedback on class work. It also gives students the flexibility to re-watch videos at home if they’re having trouble with a particular lesson.

“Last year, I was very shy,” says Emma.

She says she was too shy, at times, to raise her hand and ask questions in the middle of class.

“When the teacher comes up in front, usually they don’t repeat it. You can go and watch videos over and over again. It makes it a lot easier to understand.” says Emma.

Students can also watch videos ahead of time to prepare for a trip and they can keep up with class work when they are out sick.

During my visit to Fryland’s Elementary, the Rowland triplets were on vacation in Hawaii.

“The kids tend to get up early, so it’s the perfect opportunity to do our homework for the day,” says mom, Tiffany Rowland, via speaker phone.

Rowland says the flipped model gives her children more ownership of their education. Other parents agree. Not only are their kids thriving, the videos are helping them to help their kids learn.

“We get to watch them at night if we don’t understand the homework.” says Jerry Martin.

“We are not smarter than third graders,” says Dee Brown.

For the kids, the best part may be the homework. They get most of it done in class so they have more time after school for extracurricular activities, family time, and just to hang out and be a kid.

The idea of flipping the classroom isn’t just for younger students. Lupe Fisch teaches Spanish at Lakeside School, a private high school in Seattle.

“The proof is in the pudding. Those of us that are doing this are finding that our students that struggle are more engaged in class, and the ones that are ahead of the curve appreciate that they’re not wasting this time going through things that feel like jumping through hoops,” says Ms. Fisch.

She has used a flipped classroom model for the last three years. Her students learn new vocabulary through videos at night, so they’re ready to practice through conversation in class.

Students who have a broader background in Spanish are able to speed through the instruction, while those that need more support can slow down. Ms. Fisch says it doesn’t matter how much time they spend, just as long as the students come to class knowing the information.

“Then, when they come to class, we can jump into more interactive and interesting activities,” says Ms. Fisch.

Mr. Brown and Ms. Fisch agree, the hardest part is the first year. Making the videos can take hundreds of hours.

“It took a while. I didn’t just naturally know how to make all these videos, but once I figured it out I told myself, ‘Wow. We’re onto something here,'” recalls Mrs. Brown.

After the initial work is done, they can use the videos year after year. They can also share them with other classes.

A few teachers at Fryelands Elementary are already using Mr. Brown’s videos to help students who are struggling, and the district has asked him to teach his technique over the summer. So, there’s a good chance even more classes in Monroe will be “flipped” when school starts next fall.

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