Turning Education Upside Down

At Lake County High School in Leadville, Karl Remsen is turning things upside down. He's using a "flipped" classroom, a teaching technique that reverses the usual approach to teaching: Instead of listening to lectures in class and doing work at home, students watch short videos of their teacher's lecture at home, then work together actively in the classroom.

Flipped learning was part of a summer workshop on bringing technology to the classroom, led by UNC Mathematics and Science Teaching Institute outreach coordinator Jerry Overmyer. The method has been used at UNC and is the focus of FlippedLearning.org and the Flipped Learning Network, developed by Overmyer.

"In 2008, UNC's director of MAST, Dr. Stephen Anderson, asked me to figure out what's going to be the next big thing in education," Overmyer said

Overmyer found information online about a method Woodland Park High School teachers Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams were using. Because many kids were missing classes due to athletics, Bergmann and Sams started recording their lectures.

"The students liked it so much, they said, ‘Why don't you just record all the lectures, and we'll spend class time on homework?'" Overmyer explained.

It was one of those eureka moments. Overmyer met with Bergmann and Sams, and the method evolved and drew interest. In 2010, Overmyer developed a flipped learning professional development and social network as an online forum, expecting a few hundred people to sign on. The site now has more than 16,000 global members exchanging ideas, information and questions.

"I think with the advent of YouTube, and the ability for teachers to make or find a good video lecture, it's become very easy," Overmyer said. "Teachers can post instruction online and then use class time to really take advantage of the fact that students are together and the teacher is there."

"Flipped learning was definitely something I'd considered, but I needed a push, which is why working with UNC has been great," Remsen said.

Overmyer shares his knowledge of the method with teachers who then take it back to the classroom—whether it's a K-12 classroom, or college-level class. This summer, through a grant from the Colorado Department of Higher Education, Overmyer's workshop on implementing technology in the classroom drew 30 Colorado teachers, including Remsen, who is earning his master's through UNC's Teacher Leadership Center. He thinks that flipped learning makes him a more effective teacher.

"When you stand up in front of a class and just talk about math, kids aren't doing math," he said. "I'm much more effective one on two… than I am one on 25."

Overmyer adds that students also have greater access to their teacher's help than they would if struggling at home with a textbook or homework. But it's not a method without challenges, according to Remsen.

"About 10 to 15 percent of my students don't have easy access to the internet or to computers at home," he explained. "So that's something we're trying to figure out. Students can come to my classroom before school, after school and during lunch, and we have iPads students can borrow. I'll load the videos on them, and then they take the iPads home and watch the video on their own."

Equitable computer access is one of the challenges that teachers discussed in the workshop, and collaborating on solutions, tips and ideas that have worked for them.

Sharing ideas with teaching experts at UNC and with fellow teachers has been invaluable, according to Remsen.

"Jerry Overmyer and UNC have pointed me in the right direction," he said. "It was a great chance to explore different ideas with technology, figure out which ones are going to work for me and then have the confidence to take them forward."