In the early 2000’s, then-high school chemistry teachers Aaron Sams and Jon Bergmann taught in adjoining classrooms. Sams recalled their impromptu brainstorming sessions on how best to convey complex concepts to their students. “We said: What if we had students watch pre-recorded lessons, then used classroom time to take kids deeper into the content?” They decided to give it a try.
“Students latched right onto it,” Sams said. “We realized it was a more efficient model for them.”
What Sams didn’t realize at the time was that he and his colleague had just landed on the foundation of an instructional strategy that would stretch far beyond their Woodland Park, Colo., classrooms. In 2012, Sams and Bergmann co-authored Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day and founded the Flipped Learning Network, a nonprofit designed to share with educators information about the practice.
The sudden shift to remote learning during the pandemic has illuminated the benefits of technology-driven educational strategies like the “flipped” classroom, whose use has soared since March 2020. Within the first two months of the pandemic alone, weekly videos recorded by educators on the video messaging tool Loom—commonly used by teachers to create videos for their flipped classrooms—surged from 71,500 to more than 1.5 million, according to company spokesperson Emily Busse, and the company’s employee ranks grew from 40 to more than 210 people in 2021.
Educators’ use of technology won’t end when the pandemic does. Last spring, the EdWeek Research Center captured nationwide data in which 64 percent of teachers said they are more effective providing remote learning now than they were at the onset of the pandemic, and nearly 9 of every 10 educators surveyed said they’re likely to continue ensuring that students have the technology necessary to do schoolwork from home after the pandemic ends.
But for some teachers, it didn’t take a pandemic to embrace tech-driven learning strategies like flipped learning. Education Week recently caught up with three teachers who started using the method in their classroom well before the pandemic.
Angela Barnett teaches 3rd grade in the ABC Unified school district in Lakewood, Calif., and has been teaching remotely for the past two years; Lisa Leaheey teaches 9th and 12th grade English at North Providence High School in Rhode Island; and Marc Seigel is an educational technology specialist at Middletown High School South, in New Jersey, who teaches a 9th grade seminar class which incorporates social-emotional learning, Advanced Placement physics, and introduction to engineering.
The conversation with Barnett, Leaheey, and Seigel has been edited for length and clarity.
Why did you start using the flipped teaching method?
Leaheey: I was called for jury duty. I was about to start “Hamlet” in my 12th grade class, and I was wondering: How on earth is this going to work? I was convinced I would get called to a jury and be gone for two weeks. I had heard about flipping; I put the whole thing together with assignments for two weeks, and the night before, jury duty got canceled. I decided: I’m just going to run with it.
Seigel: It started accidentally in a chemistry class with an example problem on the board. A student turned to me and said, ‘It would be awesome if I could watch that when I’m at home doing my homework.’ I borrowed a video camera and a tripod, aimed it at the computer monitor, recorded the monitor as I wrote out all the problems, grabbed a headset and did a voice-over, and posted it to a website. That was 2008. Then I stumbled across an article about these two guys from Colorado teaching chemistry [Sams and Bergmann] who were using videos to provide instruction. I said: That’s it. I’ve never looked back.
How have your students responded to flipped learning?
Barnett: Overall, the consensus [on flipped learning] is very positive. In their minds, they are spending this quality time in the classroom. Now I have all this collaborative time in the classroom with my students.
Leaheey: With ‘Hamlet,’ it was an in-class flip. I had them working in groups—setting up various questions, various benchmarks they had to meet, discussion questions they had to answer and post. They really liked the novelty of it. It was something very different than what they had ever done before.
What do you do when students fail to complete the independent portion of the flipped lesson?
Leaheey: There have been a couple of stragglers who, when there was at-home work to do, they would not do it. In class, they were grouped in teams of three, sometimes four. If one person hadn’t done the work, the other two were like: Get on it, because we can’t do this [assignment] until you’re ready to go.
Barnett: Students who don’t do the work or can’t do the work would be in a group with me.
How do you prepare your students for this different way of teaching?
Leaheey: I train them using a video on how to create origami. In class, I’ll start the instructional video; everybody has their little square of paper. I don’t stop the video. When we’re done, I have a discussion with them. How did that feel? How could that have been better or easier for you? Invariably, they say: I want control of that video. I wanted to pause it. And I’ll say: Wouldn’t it be cool if you could pause your teacher? And that starts the discussion.
What are some of the skills that flipped learning helps students develop?
Leaheey: A lot of my class is based in choice. I spend a number of weeks training my students on how to look at their assignments due on Friday–I post them on Monday. This gives them ownership of their pacing and their learning.
Barnett: It sets them up with skills they need. My 3rd graders can download reports, upload them to Google Classroom, create PDFs. They are using Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Sheets—individually and collaboratively.
Have you had any surprises teaching this way?
Seigel: Yes. I had a student who’s a star wrestler, and he missed three blocks in a row. He came back, and is right on pace with everyone else because he watched the videos at home, he took the notes, he did as much as he could on his own.
Leaheey: The idea of pacing is no longer one-size-fits all. Students can work at their own pace. It’s working to actually understand the work as opposed to just reaching for a grade.
Which students benefit most from this strategy?
Seigel: I’ve done this [flipped classroom] with students with IEPs, students in a college preparatory chemistry class, with AP chemistry … it works at all levels. The AP kids don’t need me that much. It’s the kids who are at the low levels of understanding who you spend all of your time with. Now, these kids can get what they need, and everyone wins in the end.
What’s it like as a teacher to use this method?
Seigel: I’m like a hummingbird—I never stop moving in the class the entire 80-minute block. I speak to every one of my kids, multiple times, every block. Where are you? What’s going on? What do you need from me? Did you get this done? I provide immediate feedback on all assignments. They know exactly where they stand in the class. And we can always move forward.
Barrett: It allows you as the teacher to know where your students are, to increase that student engagement. You can help students who might need extra adult help if they can’t get it from their peers. In my room, classroom management and engagement are key. Because you have that time, instead of just lecturing, you’re able to build those relationships and positive safe environments where students will ask for guidance not just from their teacher but also from their peers.
Leaheey: I couldn’t go back to traditional teaching if I tried at this point. It just wouldn’t work for me or my students.
A version of this article appeared in the March 23, 2022 edition of Education Week as These Teachers Are Sticking With Flipped Classrooms