On The Potential and Hurdles of the Flipped Classroom: An Interview with Flipped Learning's Jonathan Bergmann

August 7th, 2013 No Comments Other

This week we talked with Flipped Learning’s Jonathan Bergman; teacher, writer and educational coach who is passionate about helping educators figure out what is best for their students in their classroom.

Bergmann has over 24 years of experience as a high school science teacher and in 2002 he received the Presidential Award for Excellence for Math and Science Teaching. He also serves on the advisory board for TED-Ed, an online educational video platform.

His blog was started as a way to educate others about the flipped learning method, and in 2012 Bergmann co-wrote “Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day,” with the goal of showing other educators why flipped learning works and how the technique can be applied in their own classrooms.

So what is flipped learning, how does it work and what are the main benefits of this teaching and learning method?

“This is not an easy question,” says Bergmann. “Most people think of Flipped Learning as video lectures as homework and then in class students work on worksheets.”

“Although this is one form of the flipped class, it is not the whole thing. We actually have decided to label this definition as ‘flipped class 101’ and what is a deeper and richer pedagogy as ‘flipped learning.’

Our definition of flipped learning today is this: ‘Flipped Learning occurs when we move direct instruction from the group learning space into the individual learning space.'”

Bergmann believes that flipped learning enables students to take ownership of their own learning and allows for more interaction time between teacher-student and student-student. It also means the class becomes student centered, rather than teacher centered, and makes the class easier to differentiate.

He and his colleague Aaron Sams first began experimenting with flipped classrooms in 2007. What they discovered was that students demonstrated a deeper understanding of material when learning this way, and test scores started to go up.

“Aaron Sams and I had a discussion in the spring of 2007 about what was best for our students. During that conversation we asked: ‘What is the best use of our face-to-face time with our students?’

We concluded that it was not us delivering lectures to our students. Thus we made a commitment the following school year to create videos for all of our direct instruction for both our Chemistry and AP Chemistry classes. That was when our version of the flipped class was born.

We knew we had stumbled upon something revolutionary when we were asked by a school district nearby to conduct staff development for them. 

The teachers were skeptical at first but when we got done they were enthusiastic. One teacher who had taught for twenty years said this was the best staff PD he had ever done.

Students reported that they were enjoying learning this way and our test scores were going up. We saw students signing up for harder science classes and being successful. It was truly remarkable to see the growth of individual students.”

When it comes to flipping a classroom, Bergmann believes that smaller is better, as this makes it easier for teachers to interact with each student in their class on a daily basis, which is a big part of the flipped learning method.

“We still think smaller is better, especially since we moved to what we call the Flipped-Mastery model. 

In this model, the students work through the content at a flexible pace and must demonstrate mastery before they move on. Teachers talk to every kid in every class every day. If classes are larger this becomes more difficult. 

We still believe strongly that good teaching is by its nature a social contract between the teacher and the students. Thus, we don’t encourage increasing class sizes. Though this changes the role of the teacher from a content disseminator to a learning facilitator, it does not mean we should increase class size.”

So what has the student reaction to these types of lessons been like?

“The vast majority of students like this model. One student said: ‘Finally, a teacher who teaches the way I learn.’ That said, there are some students who don’t like it. 

I would classify those students as ones who want to be spoon-fed and not motivated to learn. This model forces them to be learners not spitters back of content.”

When it comes to parents and teachers, Bergmann points out that it’s often just a matter of having the method explained to them properly so that they truly understand how valuable it can be.

“Once [teachers] hear the method explained well, the vast majority embraces it, or at least realizes that it is a valuable tool in their arsenal,” he says.

“The growth of this movement has been truly viral and ever growing. Our social networking site has about 13,000 members and growing.

Parents at first [can be] skeptical, but when it is explained well, they jump on board. Every parent was once a student who sat in a class they didn’t understand. They see the value of their children getting the individualized help that they need.”

Technology plays an important role in flipped learning in the form of videos and online instruction, and this may present an extra challenge for schools with a large percentage of children from low-income families who often have little or no access to technology at home.

However, Bergmann points out that although access may be an issue for some schools, it can be addressed with proper planning and the right tools.

“Clearly there is a tech piece here,” he says. “But with today’s penetration of technology this can be done by any socioeconomic group. There are schools with low SES who have used this model successfully.”

When we started in 2007 we had 25% of our students with no internet access at home. For these students we either provided a flash drive with the videos or a DVD with the videos. The DVD was one that we burned and the students could put in their TV and push play. We burned it to the format of a DVD player.

The biggest challenge is in the mind of the teacher. They have to “flip” their thinking about what a class should be and look like. That is THE biggest hurdle. The other issues are simply details.

Bergmann says other issues to consider include things such as:

  • What do you do if students don’t watch the video?

  • Do you have adequate tech to make the videos?

  • Should you use other people’s videos?

  • Where will you post the videos?

  • How will you ensure that all students access the videos?

  • How will you change your room set-up because of the videos?

In closing, his advice for teachers who are interested in experimenting with the flipped learning model for the first time is to simply start doing it and take it from there.

“One thing about Flipped Learning is that it is scalable. One teacher can flip ONE lesson. She can also flip a chapter, or a unit, or a class. A department at a school can flip, or an entire school. I have seen a district flip and I see one country (Iceland) possibly flipping their whole country’s educational system.

So, [my advice] is to start by flipping a lesson. See how it goes. Then try a chapter or unit. One other piece of advice: Go visit a flipped class. See what is happening. Ask the teacher. You will be amazed.”


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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