More and more teachers are “flipping” their instruction—but what does that really mean? And does it work?
A University of Missouri team of researchers has received $450,000 from the National Science Foundation to study these questions over a three-year period. They’re going to be observing 40 Missouri algebra classrooms—20 that will be using some sort of flipped instructional tactic more than 50 percent of the time, and 20 that will be using the traditional classroom format.
Traditionally, teachers lecture in class and students work on problems at home. In a flipped classroom, students are assigned videos to watch at home in lieu of a class lecture, and class time is spent on hands-on activities and working on problems to demonstrate knowledge.
So far, there is no large-scale research on which instructional method corresponds with increased student outcomes. And Zandra de Araujo, assistant professor of mathematics education in the Missouri University College of Education and principal investigator on the study, said teachers mean different things when they say they have a flipped classroom.
For example, some teachers send home 6-minute videos on a particular concept, others send home 40-minute lecture videos. In class, some teachers use the time to have students solve problems individually while they stand by to help, and others use the time to have all the students working together to collaborate and solve problems.
De Araujo said she hopes the study will yield data on what flipped instruction tactics work best, so that the researchers can then support teachers with resources and professional development.
Right now, she said, “practice is outpacing research.”
De Araujo and Samuel Otten, an assistant professor of mathematics education at the college and a researcher on the study, said they don’t anticipate flipped instruction in itself being the driving determinant of student learning. Sound mathematics teaching practices, like purposeful questions and problem-solving, are still key, Otten said.
But “if aspects of flipped instruction help the teacher do that better, that would be a positive correlation,” he said. For example, flipped instruction may give teachers more class time to let students dig into rich problems.
Otten said that while more and more teachers have embraced flipped instruction, some are still reluctant.
“It is very time-intensive,” he said. “A lot of teachers feel the need to make their own videos to have their voice [represented] and connect with students. That’s a large time commitment, at least when they get started.”
Other challenges include ensuring that all students have internet access—something he said some teachers get around by having students download the videos while at school.
“It does seem like largely the teacher’s decision,” Otten added. “We have not seen that as a mandated thing from a district or a leader. It was always their initiative.”
That makes it fitting that this study will follow the teachers’ lead, the researchers said, instead of prescribing methods for the teachers to implement in their classrooms.
“It’s an opportunity for researchers to learn from the teachers,” Otten said.
Teachers, do you use any flipped instruction tactics in your classroom? Let us know how they work in the comments below.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.