When education consultant Jon Bergmann says he worked side by side with fellow teacher Aaron Sams to pioneer the “flipped-classroom” teaching model — which inverts traditional teaching methods by providing lecture material via video and using in-class time for hands-on learning — he means that literally.
In 2007, Bergmann was teaching chemistry in Room 313 at Woodland Park High School in Colorado, and Sams was next door, in Room 314. The high school is in a rural district, and students who are involved in sports and other extracurricular activities, like chess tournaments, often have to travel long distances to events. One day Bergmann and Sams were discussing how much time they spent catching students up on classwork. “We were helping kids after school all of the time because they missed the last two classes practically every day — we had very active kids,” he said. “We like to help kids, don’t get me wrong, but it was a huge problem.”
Bergmann and Sams solved the problem of needing to catch students up individually by recording their lectures for students to watch them on their computers. It was 2007 and YouTube was not yet popular, so the teachers used screen-casting software, which recorded their PowerPoint slides with audio. One afternoon, the district’s assistant superintendent was complimenting the pair on their innovation, and happened to mention that her daughter, a student at a state university, loved the video lectures that some of her professors supplied, because that meant she didn’t have to attend class anymore.
“That was the statement that changed everything,” Bergmann said. “Aaron and I looked at each other. We said, ‘Well, what’s the value of class time if you can just skip class and watch a video?’”
From there on out, he and Sams prerecorded lessons for all their students and used classroom time for interactive learning. Their experiment ignited a global movement — thousands of teachers in U.S. classrooms and around the world have adopted their methods, reporting rising performance levels and test scores. Bergmann is no longer teaching in the classroom, but instead trains teachers and institutions worldwide in his and Sams’ method.
No More Talking Heads
The essence of flipped learning is not its methodology, Bergmann told Convene, but a question that’s relevant to teachers and meeting planners everywhere: “What is the best use of face-to-face time?”
There’s no formula for what that might be. “The argument that I’m making is that it’s not a talking head — whether that’s in a classroom or in a convention,” Bergmann said. “If you’re a K-12 teacher, you’ve got 44 minutes every day, or whatever it is. If you’re at a conference, you’ve got whatever the session is, from 1 to 2 p.m. or whatever. If I’m a kindergarten teacher, I want the kids to be practicing their letters. If I’m at a convention, here’s what I think some of the answers would be: things like networking discussions around topics that are pertinent and important; the networking and the connections that you make with people.
“That’s not to say there’s still not a place for the presentation of content — one reason I’m at a conference is I want to hear some new ideas,” Bergmann said. “I go to lots of educational conferences, and I love to sit in the sessions. But I want to interact and engage in a conversation about it. I don’t want to just sit and hear somebody talk at me.”