Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Flipping" from Teacher to Coach

Buzz words these days seem to get created overnight. In looking over my RSS feeds, I found an interesting article about the idea of “flipping” the classroom. After I read that article, I was off on a web search about the title which caused me to spend a good portion of my Sunday morning reading watching and gaining as much information about this new buzz word in education. For many of you educators out there, this may be just another fad but for me it seemed to formalize some small ideas that had been brewing around in my head for some time now. That’s what happens when a buzz word  has meaning to you. It is no longer just a buzz word and it becomes part of your every waking moment of thought. An idea to test.  A lab experiment that may just become a major component of your educational philosophy.  If it works for you…

Most articles that I read have mentioned that the idea of flipping your classroom has been around for a while but advancements in educational technology have made this even easier than before. Flipping a classroom means changing the traditional time usage of a class and making the class time more student centric and less content delivery. The content or lecture portion is done as homework and the class time is spent by the student completing exercises or by working on some project either collectively or individually with the help and guidance of the teacher. Most flipped classrooms are tied to the notion of digital delivery of content by many different means. Screencasts and lecture videos seem to be the common delivery method.

In essence an example would be in an Algebra class, the student would go home, fire up YouTube and watch the instructor or some other resource deliver the knowledge necessary to balance an equation. The student can stop and replay the video at any time and can choose to watch as much or as little as needed to understand the material. If they are using an outside source such as the ones found at Kahn Academy (, then they can take a quick quiz on their own as well to check for understanding. Once they enter the classroom the next day, the teacher will then provide a class work assignment or a project for the students to complete and the teacher would then help the students work through the assignment to check for learning.

Although this idea has many different concepts of merit, the change in role for the teacher is the one idea that I think is the most dramatic. In this new world, the role of the teacher being the “sage on the stage” is dead. Content delivery is best handled outside the classroom and now the classrooms of the new world are practice fields where students can learn by doing. Teachers are now coaches - Guiding the student through the motions of learning. Teachers observe students doing and then make small one to one adjustments based upon what the student is showing. This concept seems to work well in most athletic programs across the country, why wouldn’t it work in the classroom?

Could you imagine trying to teach an athlete how to play hockey just by giving a lecture on the finer points of edge control on skates? After the lecture, the athlete goes home and tries it on their own without the coach. They come back the next day,  placed in a game to test their progress. The game does not go well (they flunked their test because they couldn’t skate). OK – Let’s show them how to shoot a slapshot now in the same pattern. After weeks of content delivery, non-guided practice and assessments, the hockey player is ready for the big game right? After that process, the athlete is probably ready to go back to watching TV and quitting the sport. Reminds me of my Algebra I class in 8th grade…

I have the luxury of being able to test out this new flipping approach this year with my 18 and 19 year old students. It will take some adjustment on both of our parts but I am really excited to see what can happen when you make a switch of this nature with students who have been taught in a traditional manner for so long. Many things are working in my favor though. For one, many of my students are familiar with the coach-player relationship. I have an interesting sport (class) to coach and a wonderful arena / field (technology) to utilize. I feel confident in my coaching staff (computers) and I am looking forward to big success from my team.

To me, flipping makes sense because it puts the student first in the education process. Once content delivery is taken out of class time, the relationship between teacher and student becomes stronger because it is a one to one relationship now. Time is spent by truly helping the student to fill knowledge gaps they may have and coaching them to become better students. The role of the teacher in all of this becomes clear. Let’s make sure our students (athletes) can effectively execute the skills needed for success to win the big game of life (to become life-long learners).