Is homework still “homework” if you don’t do it at home?
CU Denver alum and 28-year educator Jon Bergmann thinks he has the answer. He is making the real work happen in the classroom, not at home. It’s called a “flipped classroom,” and it’s already gotten the attention of both The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In a flipped classroom, students learn the lesson at home and then apply their learning in the classroom— upending the traditional style of classroom lecture followed by homework. With his colleague, Aaron Sams, Bergmann has been working for nearly a decade to fine-tune this “flipped learning” pedagogical approach, which relies on multi-media technology to allow students to learn at their own pace, as slowly or quickly as that may be.
“Why does every kid need to be on the same page at the same time?” asked Bergmann, who graduated from CU Denver’s School of Education and Human Development in 1991 and taught at Eaglecrest High School south of Denver for 15 years. “We had a crazy idea: What if we pre-record these lectures, so that what they did at home, they do in class and vice versa?”
At Colorado’s Woodland Park High School, where Bergmann and Sams were teachers at the time, they tried flipping their classrooms—and good things happened.
Watch and Learn
When Bergmann “flipped” his teaching style, he watched test scores go up and up. Since then, case studies of the approach have demonstrated dramatic success.
“In my first 19 years of teaching, some students did well, but some didn’t really learn the material and ended up failing the test,” Bergmann said. “Once I flipped my classroom, kids were deeply learning the subject. It was just amazing.”
So, while educators across the country compete with iPads and smartphones for students’ attention, Bergmann has been directing their attention right to these devices—where they can view his video lectures anytime, anywhere, as many times as they need.
“I keep hearing stories about lives changed [by flipped learning],” he said. “A low-income school in Detroit, Mich., wasn’t making adequate yearly progress. They flipped their high school, and the school completely changed, test scores increased and kids became actively involved at the school. It’s been magical seeing those kinds of things happen all over the country, the world, even.”
The YouTube Generation
Bergmann and Sams implemented the approach in their chemistry classes, but they soon realized that it worked in all subjects. It took some time to persuade teachers to devote the extra up-front time to creating the videos and to convince parents and administrators that the approach was effective. But the kids adapted right away.
One of Bergmann’s students said of the flipped learning approach, “Finally, someone teaches the way I learn.”
“Kids like them, because they’re short and they get to the point,” Bergmann said of the 1- to 10-minute video lessons. “We’re teaching the YouTube generation, so we’d better own up to the reality of the world we live in.”
With decades of teaching under his belt and a passion for the flipped learning model, Bergmann has shifted from a classroom teacher to a movement leader. He and Sams created a nonprofit organization, the Flipped Learning Network, and co-authored the book, “Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.”
Flipped learning is gaining a foothold not only in schools but in professional settings, too. Corporations around the world are contacting Bergmann to run staff trainings and employee development sessions.
“My dream is to use a teacher coaching model to spread flipped learning everywhere,” Bergmann said.
The Honor of Teaching
In 2002, Bergmann received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, which earned him a trip to the White House to meet the First Lady. He was also a semifinalist for Colorado Teacher of the Year in 2010. But, for him, the biggest honor is the work itself.
“I’m constantly amazed and honored to be a teacher in the world, because you have the opportunity to impact so many lives,” he said. He credits his CU Denver education with launching his teaching career.
“CU Denver helped me become a bigger thinker and develop a more nimble mind,” he said. “They broadened my thinking and challenged me to find different ways of teaching and push the envelope in education.”