Recently I had the privilege of spending some significant time in Asia (Taiwan, Korea, and China) where I visited several schools. While there I met many teachers who have implemented flipped learning and I was impressed and moved by those who have embraced flipped learning. I heard their stories and saw their classes. As I have reflected I have five main observations.
There is a Huge Interest in Flipped Learning in Asia
While in Asia I was interviewed by major media outlets. I was on the front page of the main Taiwanese newspaper and was featured in the top Korean newspaper. It is frankly a bit weird and humbling, for me, a simple teacher, to have this opportunity. But more important than the media opportunities, I saw great interest from rank and file teachers. If education is going to change in the world, I strongly feel it must start at the level of the practitioner. Teachers who are in the trenches are the key change agents in a school. We still need innovative leadership and great policy makers, but teacher voice must be one of the key drivers in any educational movement.
Teachers are the Same Everywhere
The more I travel, the more I find that teachers are the same everywhere. The vast majority of them got into education because they care about kids. They went into education to make a difference in the lives of their students. Teachers have many of the same problems no matter where they are located: not enough time, large class sizes, pressure from parents, pressure from administrators, unrealistic expectations to fix societies ills, and a testing culture which is out of control.
Flipped Learning is Increasing Student Achievement
I heard on numerous occasions how flipped learning is raising test scores. Though I don’t believe that test scores are the only measure of student learning, they are a valuable measure. In Asia, test scores are very important. In each country I visited, students take a very big test at the end of their 12th grade year which determines if they will get to go to college and for those with top scores they have access to the best universities in their country.
Eunjung Kim, a 12th grade teacher in Korea reported to me that her colleagues thought she was crazy to implement the flipped classroom. Since her students were in the critical 12th year, the thought of her changing her main teaching strategy was a huge risk. But now other teachers are asking her how to flip their classes due to students increased scores. I met another teacher (pictured) in Chongqing China who also teaches students during the last critical year. Before he flipped his classes only 10% of his students qualified for the highest universities. After he flipped his class 20% of his students are now qualifying for the highest universities.
Flipped Learning Increases Relationships with Students
I can’t count how many teachers came up and thanked me for leading the flipped learning movement. As they told me their stories, they told me how they are able to get to know their students better; how when they got away from the front of the room they were able to connect to the students on a much deeper level which transformed their classes. (Name), a first year math teacher in Korea started teaching in the traditional manner and after 15 days of teaching abandoned the traditional model and flipped her class. She did this because she felt that she was not connecting with her students. Her father, also a math teacher, felt like he was not reaching his students anymore and asked his daughter to help her. In tears she shared how her father adopted flipped learning and how he discovered a new love for teaching. His students used to dislike his class and now they love his class. Teacher with kids
Flipped Learning is Leading to Deeper Learning Strategies
As I have discussed in other blogs, I see the flipped class as a way to transition to deeper learning strategies. Teachers often spend one year flipping their class and then teachers transition to something better. Jang Jihyuk, a 5th grade teacher in Gwangju, South Korea. Jang first started flipping his class in a more traditional way, with videos before class and assignments in class. During a training on best practices in Flipped Learning, by the Korean non-profit, Future Schools (futureclass.net), he learned about project based learning (PBL). Jang then took his students through a process in which they identified a variety of problems in their immediate geographic area. The students embraced the idea of project based learning, and collectively decided that they would better their community by designing and building a playground for the children in their community. This project was especially meaningful for these students because they were aware that one of the local playgrounds had been previously paved to use as a parking lot.
Jang devoted to this project about four hours of class time each week, for about six weeks. He used his regular math, history, art, and literature class time for the project, which he justifies due to the variety of tasks done by the students, that were necessary to the project’s success. Below are some examples of these tasks.
- Determine a location for the new playground (social sciences)
- Get approval from the appropriate authorities to build the project (social sciences)
- Design a playground where students would come (art, math, creativity)
- Learn and design safe playground equipment that meets local building codes (math, creativity, interacting with adults)
- Plot out the locations of the various playground equipment within the playground (math, creativity)
- Locate funding to build their playground (not in most curricula)
The class even designed a special game that uses a Korean myth as its framework. This creative game connected what they had learned in their history class to the playground, and provided a fun way for students to engage in literature. They were even able to find an organization to fund the construction of their playground.
Jon had a chance to visit this class on the day they were reflecting about the steps necessary to make their playground idea become a reality. He was impressed at how the students had truly taken ownership of their own learning, and how proud they were about their project. Jang facilitated this ownership by guiding the students through a process of learning by doing something meaningful, for them and their community. As a result, their class had been transformed into a place of excitement, purpose, and engagement.