Teachers are flipping over hot new way to engage students

By on April 5, 2015


Manteo High School Student Fletcher Casey uses his chrome book during pre-calculus class. (Michelle Wagner)

Picture a school where you can push rewind when you don’t understand what the teacher just said. If you already understand, you simply hit fast-forward.

You are engaged instead of bored, discouraged or distracted. You move at your own pace — not at someone else’s.

Imagine that you never again had to walk into math class only to realize you did every single math problem wrong the night before because there is always a place you could go that would walk you through the work.

If you are out sick, that doesn’t mean you fall behind.

Here, your teacher is there to help you with what has traditionally been homework. And your homework is what was once done in the classroom — instruction and lecturing.

It’s called flipped instruction, and Dare County high schools have embraced this brand of teaching that has educators nationwide viewing the classroom in a whole new way.

“It’s hot right now, and everyone is talking about it,” says Manteo High School Principal John Luciano of the new tool that many in academia say “is turning education on its head.”

Flipping instruction, educators say, frees teachers from hours of lecturing so they are able to provide individual instruction when students need it most. And for the most part, the rest is saved for out of the classroom.

While local high school teachers have been prepping to flip for a number of years, a key to using the new tool in has been personal laptops issued to every high school student beginning this January.


Manteo High School students use their class time to work through difficult math problems. (Michelle Wagner)

“Students can now be actively engaged without their teacher’s presence,” says First Flight High School Principal Arty Tillett. “That is hard to do without the chrome book. With a traditional classroom, our hands have been tied. Lecturing for 50 minutes we have found to be grossly ineffective.”

By flipping a classroom, students no longer are forced to go at the teacher’s pace, Luciano says. “They can now go at their own pace,” he says. “And they can do it with a snack, while they are relaxing and comfortable rather than sitting in fifth period.”

Teachers, for the most part, have welcomed the idea. Katie Neller, a 33-year veteran in education and AP biology teacher at First Flight High School, admits she was reluctant to embrace flipped instruction at first, but it didn’t take long to change her mind.

“I love it now,” she said. “It allows the students to work at different paces and for me to answer questions independently.”

Neller regularly assigns a lecture for students to listen to at home so that class time is reserved for lab work.

Manteo High School math teacher Suzanne Pack echoed Neller’s sentiments.


Wendy Lewis helps students in First Flight High Math II  work through a problem they received instruction on the night before.

“When the students have a lesson online at home, I am available when they actually need me,” Pack said. “It gives us a lot more working time in the classroom.”

There are numerous resources online that give teachers and students the tools they need to make flipped instruction happen.

Dare County Schools Superintendent Sue Burgess said implementation of flipped instruction in the schools has been fun to watch.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “With flipped instruction, teachers don’t have to make the same presentation five times. They can make it one time and do it really well. They then can use their time to help students with assignments or with the application of the lesson that was delivered the night before.”

Students seem to be just as excited about flipping things around.

Conner Hughes, a junior in AP Calculus at First Flight High School, says that because of the online tools he has at home, “there is nothing stopping me from completing a problem even when a teacher is not around.”

Senior Erin Hunt felt the same way about programs like My Open Math, which walks students through difficult equations and math concepts. “It’s like having instant feedback at home,” she said.

[adrotate banner=”419”]But not all students have seamlessly moved into the new world of flipped instruction. Manteo High School student Stephen Wheless is one of them. “I don’t like it,” he says. “I can’t watch a video. I like to have someone physically there to talk to.”

But Luciano said that even for the students who have a harder time adapting to the method, it is a type of instruction they will definitely see in college. “It is good they are getting a taste of it now.”

Math and science, educators say, are the best subject areas for flipped instruction, but it has seeped into all corners of the school building.

Administrators are quick to say that computers and flipped instruction are not going to take over education.

“It’s just another tool we have,” Luciano points out. “Everyone is talking about it now. It will eventually level off and if it’s good, it will be here to stay.”

He said he prefers the term “blended education,” which includes a combination of online learning and traditional instruction with paper and pencil.

For First Flight High School Media Coordinator Susan McFarlane, much of her energy recently has been to facilitate the use of technology for teachers so they can easily flip their classrooms, and she has seen the fruits of her labor.

“Within weeks, we saw students who were at a medium- to low-level of engagement become highly engaged. I call it authentic learning, because it is instruction that matches the way people learn.”

McFarlane added that a large number of free online resources and lectures are available for teachers to use, while some opt to record their own lectures for students to listen to at home.

One of those teachers is Christian Lowe, who teaches math at First Flight High School. “I think some students prefer to hear the familiarity of their own teacher’s voice,” he said.

Often he will record class time instruction so that a student can also listen on his or her own time. “This way students can rewind if they don’t understand, but it doesn’t hold up other students. Everything they need is right in front of them.”

And that is much of what flipped classrooms are all about, educators say.

“In the past, students had to go at whatever pace their teacher’s pace was,” Luciano said. “With flipped learning, they can finally go at their own pace.”




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