November 24, 2013 by Eli Fisher
For students in in Kurt Borchardt’s Digital Electronics classes, “the dog ate my homework” is no longer a common excuse. Instead, they’re left with “I left my notes at home.”
Borchardt is one of a handful of high school teachers across the nation, including Saratoga Springs, that have implemented a teaching method known as flipped instruction in their classrooms.
“Teachers record video lessons, which students watch on their smartphones, home computers or at lunch in the school’s tech lab. In class, they do projects, exercises or lab experiments in small groups while the teacher circulates,” wrote Tina Rosenberg in The New York Times, describing this method.
“It started out as me making videos, and I would do direct instruction. And then if [a student] gets hung up, I would have a video for them to watch at home,” said Borchardt. He was happy with the results: “I saw the middle-level achievers increase their grades, because they can watch the video at their own pace; they can take high quality notes, where in the past they couldn’t.” He also said that while doing conventional homework assignments at the last minute (in math classes, for example) can be difficult, he now actually encourages students to watch videos the night before class, not earlier. Then, class time can be spent mastering skills learned through the video lectures, with the teacher there to help. With the new method, he added, “student engagement is much higher…they’re excited to be there. We had two kids sign up for Digital Electronics after the school year began because they heard it was cool. I’ve never had that happen.” Another advantage of flipped instruction is that students can pause the video and go back when they don’t understand something.
Borchardt said that at least five other teachers, including David Shanks and Jonathan Warner in the Science Department as well as Amanda Wismont in the Foreign Language Department and Kevin Crotty in the Social Studies Department have all begun at least some use of flipped instruction. Jered Marcantonio, the other Digital Electronics teacher, uses the method alongside Borchardt, who has taught other teachers how to use it in professional development classes. Borchardt acknowledged that discourse and debate in humanities classes can’t be replaced by a video, but there are still “some areas where you can make it work.”
“English,” he said, “is the first flipped class. ‘Here’s a book. Go home and read it. Come in and we’re going to talk about chapters 1 and 2.’ ”
Several teachers were worried about students without computer and internet access. “Unfortunately, there will always be students who are not able to complete their homework assignments. As flipped instruction also requires access to technology, we are further hindering students who may already have an economic disadvantage,” said English teacher Amy Totino. Another English teacher, Jeanmarie Gebhard, had similar concerns. “I teach students who do not have computer access or internet service at home. This would make it difficult for them to complete the lesson,” said Gebhard. Science teacher Theresa Newkirk echoed these sentiments.
But Borchardt said access to technology has never been as issue in his classes. “Most kids have phones…go to an inner city, and you’re going to see all these people that are clearly poor, but they somehow have smartphones…it’s kind of an interesting situation,” he said. Borchardt added that the school district would accommodate students that had issues with computer access for the videos. He also said that he found that students not motivated by grades were motivated by the peer pressure that came with “sticking out like a sore thumb” when they had not watched a video. This is what he considers to be the reason that some students don’t like flipped instruction: “it holds them accountable for their action or inaction.”
The Lightning Rod recently conducted an online survey emailed to 147 teachers at SSHS, to which there were 13 responses. When asked to state there opinion of flipped instruction on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being very negative and 5 being very positive, the average response was 3.69, indicating teachers had a neutral to somewhat positive view of flipped instruction. All respondents said they had considered using this method, but only three said they used it currently. When asked if they thought flipped instruction was relevant to classes in their department, most teachers were fairly neutral across the core academic departments.
Borchardt said that teacher’s reactions to the method he had seen were not all positive either. “There are teachers that think they know it, but they don’t…I hear reasons why they can’t do it, but I never hear them say, ’here’s how I can do it’…you can make it work for your situation…This is a huge change,” he added. “Every change doesn’t happen overnight.”