January 18th, 2012
07:45 AM ET

My View: Flipped classrooms give every student a chance to succeed

Courtesy Troy Stein by Greg Green, Special to CNN

Editor’s note:  Greg Green is the principal at Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Michigan.

I’m a principal at Clintondale High, a financially challenged school near Detroit. I’m in charge of doing my best to make sure that Clintondale students get the best education possible when they walk through our doors.

There are constant hurdles to making this happen. We are a school of choice, so not all students come in with the same skill levels in reading, math, science or other subjects. Almost 75% of our students receive free or reduced-price lunch because of today’s economic climate, and a large part of our student population commutes from Detroit, which often times takes an hour or longer, especially if the bus is late.

Every year, our failure rates have been through the roof.  The students weren’t paying attention, they weren’t doing their homework, they were being disruptive, or they weren’t coming to school at all. Sadly, these issues are not that uncommon, particularly in this economic climate, where the percentage of students who fall into the poverty category is increasing by the day.

It’s no surprise that these issues are happening in our schools. Everyone from politicians to parents admit that our educational system isn’t working, and we’re all screaming for change.  But no one gives advice on what changes are needed to improve education. The time has come to realize that the problem isn’t simply lack of effort or money, but the misalignment of our school structure.

To watch this happen every day, where it is your responsibility to try to provide the very best you can for the students, is beyond frustrating. It’s heartbreaking.

Our staff agreed that our failure rates were not good. But how do you go about addressing these issues with no money, no additional resources and no clear solution from the experts who already know the system is broken?

How do you get your staff on board with change you want to implement, but no one else has ever tried it on a mass scale? How do you get your students excited about learning when they’ve never shown much interest before?

You flip it. Here’s how it works:

At Clintondale High School, our education model wasn’t working, and the people suffering most were students. We recognized that a change was needed and applied for a grant from TechSmith, a local company that makes screen and lecture recording software. They provided us with some technology licenses and helped us create a flipped class structure, which we first implemented in the ninth grade and eventually put into action for the entire school.

Our flipped school model is quite simple. Teachers record their lectures using screen-capture software (we use Camtasia) and post these lecture videos to a variety of outlets, including our school website, and YouTube. Students watch these videos outside of class on their smartphone, in the school computer lab (which now has extended hours), at home or even in my office if they need to. Now, when students come to class, they’ve already learned about the material and can spend class time working on math problems, writing about the Civil War or working on a science project, with the help of their teacher whenever they need it. This model allows students to seek one-on-one help from their teacher when they have a question, and learn material in an environment that is conducive to their education. To change the learning environment even further, we’ve used Google Groups to enable students to easily communicate outside of class, participate in large discussions related to their schoolwork and learn from each other.

In addition to flipping the classroom, we wanted to give our students the opportunity to learn about each subject or topic from someone who is a recognized expert in each area. So we decided to team with other schools across the country and world. Now, some of our calculus students are able to watch video lectures from a math teacher in a private school in Virginia, and our students learning about the Holocaust can watch videos made by a teacher in Israel who just brought her class to Auschwitz. This type of learning network will enable us to close the gap of inequality that schools are subjected to because of their financial standing, and provide all students, no matter what district they’re from, with information from the best teacher or expert in any field.

At Clintondale High School, we have been using this education model for the past 18 months. During this time, our attendance rate has increased, our discipline rate decreased, and, most importantly, our failure rate - the number of students failing each class - has gone down significantly.  When we first implemented this model in the ninth grade, our student failure rate dropped by 33% in one year.

In English, the failure rate went from 52% to 19%; in math, 44% to 13%; in science, 41% to 19%; and in social studies, 28% to 9%. In September of 2011, the entire school began using the flipped instruction model, and already the impact is significant. During the first semester of the year, the overall failure rate at the school dropped to 10%. We’ve also seen notable improvement on statewide test scores, proving that students’ understanding of the material is better under this model.

Our schools have long been structured so that students attend class to receive information, and then go home to practice and process this information. When many students go home after school, they don’t have the resources necessary to understand, and sometimes don’t complete their homework. Many families are not able to provide the expertise and technology needed to help with their children’s homework, so when we send kids home at the end of each day, we’re putting them into environments that are not capable of supporting their learning needs.

By reversing our instructional procedures so that students do their homework at school, we can appropriately align our learning support and resources for all of our students, and eliminate the inequality that currently plagues our schools. When students do homework at school, they can receive a meal and access to technology (during a declining economy), and an overwhelming amount of support and expertise. When students do their homework at school, we can ensure that they will be able to learn in a supportive environment that’s conducive to their education and well-being.  For the first time in history, we can provide a level playing field for students in all neighborhoods, no matter what their financial situation is.

As we continue to expand and improve the flipped school model, it’s important for educators to come together and work with each other toward a common goal of fixing our education system through teamwork and collaboration, so all students can have access to the best information and materials. Instead of placing blame on each other, we need to recognize the solution, which has been right in front of us the whole time.

It’s time to change education forever.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Greg Green.

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Filed under: Practice • Technology • video • Voices
soundoff (580 Responses)
  1. Name*Dr. Connie Davidson

    I am currently in the process of getting the word out about the flipped classroom in the Oakland East Bay area of California. The capacity to change and connect to students differently is difficult for many of my teachers to understand. Thank you for this article, because it addresses the greatest roadblock–access for all.
    I will be using this article in future PCs as evidence to address this concern.

    January 29, 2012 at 11:38 am |
  2. Gail

    Is Green going to get credit for Khan Academy's model?

    January 29, 2012 at 5:44 am |
  3. Matt

    Awesome idea – this is the future for sure and teachers are going to start enjoy teaching again. They wont be as pressed for time preparing new lesson plans and they will get to focus on the individual. It's exciting to see schools take these steps without government interference, however, it would be great to see the schools get more support. This is basically how most top universities work now as well.

    January 28, 2012 at 12:08 am |
    • David Frederick Baldner

      Matt, can you please elaborate on 'most top universities'? I'd be interested in the data, thanks!!

      January 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  4. janelle

    But, if the issue is mass poverty, where do these kids get smart phones and computers to watch these lectures outside of the classroom?

    January 27, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  5. Holly Peterson

    Genius!!! This is much closer to the Homeschool Model. Nothing will ever be as good as home education- but what a huge leap in the right direction! I am thrilled someone thought of this and ACTUALLY SUCCESSFULLY IMPLEMENTED IT. Yay!

    January 26, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  6. Sharon Blizzard

    What a wonderful way for the students to learn. In our ever-changing, global learning world it makes sense. Congratulations to your school district!

    January 23, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  7. DavidinTEXAS

    The real problem is "There's oo much learnin going on in schools!" We need to give these kids basic math courses, basic reading courses and basic life skills then teach em the real skills they're going to need such as athletics, drinkin, kissin the bosses beehind and how to climb the social ladder at work.

    January 22, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Michael M.

      I agree what your saying but please consider that our last governor changed school studies like no other. I never had to take four years of Math in High School. Simple math is out, very hard college math in High School is in. Taking this homework home only frustrates both the student and the parents because they are lost.

      January 24, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • wendy

      that is so true!!!!!

      January 22, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  8. An2d

    great for those kids who have a hard time paying attention in class to others talking as well. the best learning is active learning, so great job.

    January 21, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Early intervention

      This is not a new idea. In 1967 I took a course at U of Wisconsin, Madison and the history prof had us listen to his lectures in the "listening lab". Class time was pure discussion of the material. One of the most informative, engaging learning experiences I have ever had.

      January 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  9. Harry Keller

    I've seen this model work in a much more limited setting. A high school in NYC with a 60% poverty rate changed their science labs into homework. Students did real experiments (not simulations, not animations) online at home or in the school library. A few student slackers didn't do their labs, of course, but some not only did their assigned labs but did some unassigned but available labs. These labs used prerecorded real experiments with highly interactive data collection by students. No data were predetermined.

    As a result, the pass rate on the state science exam rocketed from 50% to 66%, an improvement of 1/3.

    The time otherwise spent setting up lab equipment, doing tedious lab technique procedures, and cleaning up was no available to discuss the lab in class.

    "Flipping" science labs works but only if the experiments are real and not simulated. You also gain better records of student activity because a central server saves all student work including data collected, assessments taken, and lab reports written.

    Can you afford this service? The students in NYC cost the city about 25 cents per lab under a special negotiated citywide contract.

    So, don't just flip your class lessons, flip your science labs too.

    January 21, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • aflarend

      So how can it be a real science experiment and be done online? What is the real experiment that they are doing in the library- dropping a book or a computer of the table to see how long it takes to fall? Not sure if the librarian will approve of that!
      This is not a real experiment since part of conducting an experiment is manipulating the equipment to get the best data you can, determining what and how to measure the data and working with others to divide the labor and come up with ideas. I know the type of labs you are talking about and I would not call them real experiments. The students may get data (and yes that data is predetermined since the student at home is not deciding on how to make the measurements) but they are not learning how science works. This is doing a HUGE disservice to these students.

      January 21, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Carol Centrone

      I I teach Living Environment in NYC HS. I would like to know more about this. Can you send information?

      January 21, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  10. David

    It would be interesting to know exactly how much content is expected to be watched/researched/absorbed in an evening, so for a child in 5 classes (Math, English, Science, Social Studies, Elective/Language/etc) – how much home learning would be required?

    January 21, 2012 at 7:26 am |
    • kb

      even though students may be taking 5-7 classes in high school, the amount covered in class is minimal. it would take a class a week, maybe a week and a half, to cover a chapter in a textbook. In comparison with college, this is pretty relaxed. this might prepare kids to self learn before they go to college

      January 21, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  11. cathy

    "Greg Green is the principal at Clintondale High School in Clinton Township, Michigan. " Very, very proud of you Mr. Green. Thank God for an educator that thinks outside of the box, and understands the point. The point is that they are learning and not failing. Bravo!

    January 20, 2012 at 11:04 pm |
  12. cathy

    All you whiner's who just want to be against something for the sake of "I'm against that," just because "We ain't neve done that before," you all need to go back, read the article, slowly, use that head for something besides a hat rack, AND look at the stats. Duh! It's clear that our educational system does not work. The other countries that are surpassing us in science and math prove that. Some people can't see the forest for the trees. Get on board or be left behind! To the educational inovator's who got the point, (and the point is that they are learning, not just that they are on the hamster wheel everyday) by doing things that are commensorate with the 21st century: Bravo!!! Good for you! Thinking outside the box. I admire you! Yay! No child left behind!

    January 20, 2012 at 10:57 pm |
    • aflarend

      I challenge the whole international comparison argument. First of all, if you go by rankings, then the comparison is misleading. The US is average in PISA scores of other OECD countries (Google PISA 2009 results). Do not let rankings fool you. They do not tell you how the school is actually doing. If I get a 98% on a test, but 4 people score a 99%, then I am ranked # 5, even though I did fantastic on the exam. The Steelers may only be ranked # 6 by ESPN, but their players, like all pro football players, are great at football. A rank lower than # 1 does not necessarily mean a country is failing, especially if it is a contest between good players or schools. Also, these rankings have been around since maybe the 80s and we have never been at the top.

      If want to really improve education and not just tinker, we know what to do, but it will be unpopular. Research has overwhelmingly shown that poverty is directly linked to school achievement. If you look at the childhood poverty rates in the top “ranked” countries, they have low poverty rates compared to ours which is over 20%. Related to that, is school funding. Our US model involves more local funding of schools, resulting in schools in wealthier to be better funded which leads to better teaching/learning conditions, less teacher turnover and more opportunities for teacher professional development. The countries which “rank” higher than us have equal funding for their schools.

      Finally, the results given here are useful, but by no means unproblematic. Since your comment about country comparison is based on standardized testing, you should want to know the results of Michigan’s standardized test results. As I wrote earlier, if students were not doing their homework before, then a large part of their grade would have been zero. If there is no homework now, then that zero no longer exists. To put numbers to it, if you average the numbers 88, 75, 0, and 80 and then average those same numbers without the zero (88,75,80), the average will be much larger ( 81 compared to 60). Of course this assumes that there is no accountability for the students watching the videos, but no information was given about how the students are held accountable for watching and learning from them.

      Many of the critiques here are thoughtful and raise issues that need to be addressed. There is a lot more going on here than just watching videos at home. The critiques show that people are carefully and deeply considering the model. That is productive conversation.

      January 21, 2012 at 7:30 am |
  13. Recent High School Graduate

    I recently graduated from a relatively new suburban high school in North Carolina. I'm currently attending a state university. I struggled through all four years of high school, not due to coursework difficulty but lack of engagement by teachers. Of the 25 or so teachers I had during my high school career, I would say that 5 of them were honestly effective instructors. I learned most of the material on my own, reading textbooks and performing well on exams. I am lucky to have always had an easy time understanding things, doing well on exams without having to study, but many of my peers struggled greatly due to the inefficient, poor teaching methods that were employed. The idea this school is using sounds superb to me. I would've loved to attend this school, and think that the method would work well for students across the spectrum of academic ability.

    Overall, the American public school system is in shambles. Attendance, graduation rates, and "standardized" test scores are all abysmal. While this may not be the "wonder solution", it's the best idea I've encountered, and most definitely better than the same outdated pedagogy that is clearly failing to properly engage and educate current students.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  14. steve

    other countries having longer school years, longer classes, and parents who push and demand good grades.

    poor students with smart phones ? really.
    too easy for many to get distracted with texting and reality tv viewing.

    January 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
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