The administrators of the Los Altos School District in Santa Clara County, California, have decided to break away from traditional education methods. Every weekday at 8:30 A.M., elementary school students stroll into the classroom. Teachers usher them into their seats and instruct them to take out their laptops, to, strangely, start working on homework.
By working with students through homework rather than lectures, educators in the Los Altos School District are able to focus on those who need the most attention. Students collaborate on problem sets, while teachers provide assistance. Since the rise of MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses) and educational websites like Khan Academy, this “flipped classroom” alternative has been augmented by libraries of more than 3,000 videos that cover subjects including math, chemistry, and even the humanities.
Before the school bell rings, students have already prepared the subject material by watching recorded lectures at home. During class, they use what they’ve learned to complete practice exercises online while teachers observe their progress. Students who are struggling with challenging concepts can pause and rewind video lectures on sections they don’t understand, while those who are familiar with the material can jump ahead. Because the lectures are always available with internet access, this is also helpful for students who miss class due to illness, vacation, or other circumstances.
A similar approach was used in Macomb County’s Clintondale High School, previously in the bottom 5% of Michigan’s secondary schools. After 20 weeks of an experiment involving the implementation of different education methods, students in the flipped classroom were receiving higher grades and outperforming those in traditional classrooms. None of the students in the flipped classroom scored below a C+, while 13% of students had failed in the previous semester. On the other hand, the traditional classroom failed to show any changes. Ever since all classrooms at Clintondale “flipped” in 2011, failure rates in all academic subjects decreased by more than half, and the percentage of students attending college soared from 63% to 80% within two years.
One of the biggest problems regarding traditional public education is the concern that all students fail to progress at the same rate. People argue that top students are held back by those who don’t understand the material, and, even worse, those who struggle often have to skip over concepts they don’t fully understand. These students find it harder to move onto the next level without mastering fundamental concepts. However, the flipped classroom effectively tackles this weakness by allowing all students to learn at their own pace. With an electronic device, students have access to all their course and homework material from the Cloud. These online educational platforms also store massive amounts of data about students’ academic performance. This information can be used to track students’ progress and find better ways to educate them.
However, does the flipped classroom really level all playing fields? Proponents say that students of all socioeconomic backgrounds flourish in the flipped classroom, even if their parents are uneducated or are required to work evening jobs. However, this new education practice often cannot be integrated into school districts in areas with lower socioeconomic status without adequate funding. And not all students have access to mobile devices and the internet.
In addition, there’s a growing concern that students already spend too much time looking at a screen and should learn through physical methods, such as playing with coursework-related objects or engaging in outdoor activities. However, with recent advances in virtual and augmented reality, students can still have a great learning experience in the classroom. It’s now possible for students to take virtual field trips and study simulated three-dimensional diagrams, which is better than scrutinizing images from a textbook.
It is likely that the future of classroom education will be “flipped.” Although this practice is not without its faults, including its inaccessibility to areas with lower socioeconomic status, it is far more advantageous than the traditional classroom. In the flipped classroom, students can complete their education one step at a time with a teacher by their side. Teachers can reinforce material from lectures with interactive activities and discussion to ensure that no student is left behind. A newer version of the classroom is emerging where students can explore and learn about the world through a digital screen.