Flipped Classroom: A New Approach to Learning


Art by Elisha Verbes

Elizabeth Alton

If you were to ask most people what they would tell their pre-pandemic selves, besides suggesting a shopping trip for toilet paper and hand sanitizer, an investment in Zoom might be at the top of their list. Who would have thought that all of our habitual morning routines and commutes to school, would be reduced to opening our laptops? Either way, in this strange new environment, adaptation has been crucial in making sure that learning isn’t sacrificed during the transition. One way that WESS teachers are adapting to this new learning environment is by adopting flipped classrooms. You may have heard the term “flipped classroom” here and there since school started, so I wanted to take the time to look deeper into what flipped classroom is, and how teachers are planning to utilize it this year.

So what is flipped classroom? To answer that question, the best place to start is to look at the model of a traditional classroom. A traditional classroom structure focuses around the teacher presenting new information to students during class time. After they’ve learned the content in class, students then spend time at home applying these new skills through problem sets, essays, etc. Flipped classroom turns that model on its head. In a flipped classroom learning environment, teachers instead give students the resources they need to learn new content outside of the classroom. Class time is then reserved for discussions, and collaboration surrounding said content. At its core, a flipped classroom shifts the role of the teacher and the students, transitioning to a more “learner centered” approach, where class time is reserved for approaching topics in more depth, allowing students to become more active in their own learning.

If you’ve taken AP World at WESS, the term on the right probably looks at least a bit familiar to you. In basic terms, Bloom’s Taxonomy encompasses the six basic steps through which students acquire and interact with information. In a flipped classroom environment, where the location of the learning environment is as presented in the diagram, a more “active” approach to learning emerges, wherein students more directly engage with their own learning process. At WESS, even before the pandemic, we already engaged with a lot of different elements of active learning through assignments like think-pair-shares and socratic seminars. The difference between the work that we’re already familiar with and a flipped classroom model is that those “active” elements take up the vast majority of class time in a flipped model versus the role they play at the end of our mini-lessons now. In a flipped classroom model, there is also more time for students to directly engage with peers to grow their learning, but also with teachers, where they can receive more individualized help and instruction. In addition to all of this, flipped classrooms have been found to be statistically beneficial in increasing students’ understanding of topics, and success in classes. In addition to a few other studies, Carl Wieman (a Nobel prize winning Physicist), found that flipping his college classroom in a controlled experiment drastically increased student engagement, as well as their performance on the test at the end of the experiment

Because now students are doing most, if not all, of their learning from home, collaborative work is more important than ever. In general, the social interaction and education that students get from school in general is critical. That said, collaboratively focused models like a flipped classroom are so important in ensuring that this interaction persists throughout an online learning environment. 

Teachers at WESS are already using flipped classrooms in our virtual spaces in order to make online learning the best experience that it can be for as many students as possible. One example of such is Wendy, our highschool Geometry and Pre-Calc teacher. Through her take on a flipped classroom model, Wendy has been able to offer students in each of her Pre-Calc classes the option of taking one of two different courses (Statistics and Pre-Calc) within the same classroom space. 

After finding out that statistics wouldn’t be offered as its own course, Wendy said, “I had to alter where my thoughts were with the Pre-Calc class. I knew I had students that didn’t want to be in there, students who were at a perfect level for Pre-Calc and then I knew  had students that really were ready for the challenge of moving even ahead of Pre-Calc.” On top of that, “the way that we’re doing it with the flipped classroom and with Khan academy, people can almost move at their own pace, so everybody is getting challenged all the time no matter which option they choose.”

All of this said, flipped classrooms can be hard to engage in for students. Travis, our AP Chemistry teacher, described it as “productive struggle.”

“In class,” he explained, “it’s very easy to know that the lifeguard is there. Like in class you’re going from the shallow to the deep end of the pool and you’re learning how to swim, but you have that life guard there on duty which is the teacher, but when you’re doing flipped classroom, they’re not there. I think a lot of students think they’re drowning, when in actuality they’re not even in the deep end, they’re in the shallow end and they just have to sort of paddle around.”

So, while flipped classrooms can present some difficulties as students try to grapple independently with new concepts, it’s definitely worth a try. And using flipped classrooms doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s in use 100% of the time. There are definitely ways to mix and match flipped classrooms with traditional learning to create the best space possible. That said, a flipped classroom space maximizes the amount of time where students can engage collaboratively with their peers, and engage in active learning, which is more important now than ever, and it’s definitely worth a shot this year.