American public education is a fairly new institution. In some ways, it has changed little since its inception two centuries ago. Students have always (much to the chagrin of radicals like Laura Montessori), sat at desks. They learn the same core subjects, and — though dunce caps gave way to detentions — they still get in trouble for the same cardinal sins of tardiness, idleness, or disrespect.
But in other ways, education has always been a hot-button issue. Parents, educators, and legislators constantly question what should be taught, who should be teaching, and how they should teach.
Many developments, such as the racially centered philosophies promoted during the 1960s, have fizzled out; others, like the U.S., attempted switch over to the metric system in 1975, have been deemed failures not worth repeating. Some practices have become commonplace. For example, the value-added system gives teachers grades based on how their students’ test scores change from year to year.
And so we have always balanced tradition and transition. Last year, Common Core hit Corona del Mar full swing, and a switch to block schedule seems on the horizon. Along with these polarizing changes came a stronger emphasis on technology. Teachers share syllabi on Google Docs, language students submit voice memo recordings of themselves, and, more often than not, hands-on learning means hands on an iPad.
But one innovation does more than enhance the classroom experience—it completely turns it on its head.
“A flipped classroom is when students watch videos or read the textbook before coming to class,” explained science teacher Heather Kroeger. “It is called flipping because what normally would be homework (like practice problems) gets done in class, while what traditionally happens in class (direct instruction by the teacher) now occurs at home.”
The flipped classroom may not be as radical as it seems. Many students already use online resources such as Crash Course and Kahn Academy to reinforce concepts learned in class. Teachers can integrate this into their curriculum by selecting videos made by others or making their own.
“This allows students to have access to the teacher and other students if they get stuck solving a problem and also allows them to re-watch material and take their time with the videos,” Kroeger said.
But, as with any method, classroom flipping has its drawbacks. For it to work, students must have access to technology.
“And since it’s technology” Kroeger added, “It can glitch.”
The student supplies one other crucial ingredient. They must discipline themselves to actually watch the videos and, to some extent, they are responsible for how much they retain. Today’s scholars are more accountable for their education than ever before.
Fortunately, most of them like it that way.
“I really like it because it gives us more time in class to ask questions and do labs,” freshman Hailey Glenn said.
More time—by next year, we may have two-hour class periods and extra days to do homework. But if CdM switches to block schedule, classroom flipping can roll with the changes.
“On block schedule, students then have a couple days to watch the videos, which give them more flexibility,” Kroeger said.
Since the block schedule means less class time in the week, when students have already learned the basic concept, it opens up time for more discussion in class.
It’s still unclear exactly how classroom flipping affects student performance — though Kroeger said her students’ AP chemistry scores improved dramatically. It raises many other questions, too.
Is this the future? Will teachers one day be obsolete, replaced by robots? Will students all learn from the comfort of their own homes? Will classroom flipping give us the edge over star students in China, Canada, and Finland? No one can say. One thing is clear: The world will always change, and America’s classrooms must prepare the next generation to change right along with it.