Flipped classrooms have pros, cons
By Nick Longworth
Last fall, two Park Rapids teachers began using a new method of teaching. Tom Ahrendt and Nic Lembcke have been using what’s called “flipped classrooms” for their 7th grade math classes.
Essentially the classroom model allows students to do their homework during the school day, while watching lengthier lecture videos online on their own time at home or elsewhere.
The method is one that’s also gaining national attention, as districts across the nation try to balance technology and efficiency for the ultimate benefit to a student’s academic career and future.
A year later, Ahrendt and Lembcke continue to use the method and are reassessing the strengths and weaknesses of the model, hoping to iron out any kinks they may have encountered along the way.
“It went good,” said Ahrendt referring to the first year using the model full-time. He has been a 7th and 8th grade math teacher with the district for nearly two decades.
“If you really ask the kids if they learned something, I think they did,” he said.
When it came to parental feedback of the program during parent-teacher conferences, both Ahrendt and Lembcke found that parents liked their increased ability to be more involved in the learning process, actually being able to watch tutorial videos with their student.
“Parents liked that they could actually help their student with their homework. They would sit down and watch the video with them, and now they’re able to help,” Ahrendt said.
Lembcke also saw value in the method, allowing more flexibility for students to plan their homework around extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs.
“I can give them the list of videos on Monday and they can plan around them if they have a game on say Tuesday or Friday,” Lembcke said.
Some negative feedback, however, did come from some students who struggled to secure a reliable internet connection, making it hard for them to complete assignments on time.
“People who didn’t have high-speed internet (had problems), because you have to have internet to watch (the videos); that was a drawback,” Ahrendt said.
Both elaborated that they only had a handful of students affected by this problem. Those that were, though, were given additional empathy by both Ahrendt and Lembcke when it came to completing assignments.
“We’ve got the internet here, so in study hall’s we can pull them, and they can kind of plan it around their schedule since we only do videos around twice a week,” Lembcke said.
The two teachers also faced some technological complications that may have hindered the program’s first year success initially.
“With technology, it takes a lot more time for us when it doesn’t work. This year we have been trying to find the videos and they changed the site on us so it’s been rather time consuming. We’re working on making our own,” Lembcke said.
“It’s been difficult,” admitted Ahrendt, “The technology – it can be a pain - because when it doesn’t work we’re stuck; they’re stuck.”
Both teachers agreed that “time” was the only remedy to fix some of these issues.
As far as the teaching method’s effectiveness when everything is working, both have said that they have already seen results.
“My feeling was that it took those ‘middle of the road’ kids and brought them up. It took the kids that were struggling and got them to the middle of the road,” Lembcke said. “I only had one kid in the entire 7th grade that didn’t pass the math Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) test and in my class over 50 percent had a score that exceeded the state average.”
When those students were in 6th grade 40 percent passed and in 7th grade 61 percent passed.
Students have mixed emotions on the new method of teaching, offering advice on what could be changed to better fit future classes.
“I liked that we could know what we were doing before class started and we could get our homework done in class,” said Katie Eischens, an 8th grader at Century Middle School who participated in the program during its introductory year.
“The downside is that not everyone has Internet at home and if you had a game and didn’t get home until late it was hard to do them,” she said, adding that she would “find less boring videos.”
Another student, Kinley Nordin, also said, “If I had any questions on the video, I would have to wait until the next day to ask about it, and then sometimes I would forget to ask.”
Even with technology issues, transitional growing pains and mixed reviews aside, both Ahrendt and Lembcke are steadfast on the “flipped classes” method, saying any headache is far outweighed by the potential gain by the students they are teaching, which is what it’s all about, they say.
“I feel like it’s worth it to get those scores,” Lembcke said. “It’s a lot of extra time up front to get this kind of cemented where we want to. We want to start creating our own videos. We want to get it to where we want it, and once we’ve got it there, the rest of it shouldn’t be as difficult or time consuming to set up.”
“I think one of the key things is in a traditional 7th or 8th grade class we would lecture and they would take notes whereas in this case they’re not following what we’re telling them to do, but they’re actually learning how to learn,” Ahrendt said, saying that he thinks the method allows students to further their learning.
“They’re actually teaching themselves how to learn, and they’re becoming more powerful learners.”