Photo Jonathan Bergmann, pioneer in the flipped classroom model

Jonathan Bergmann: How to Turn the Class Around


Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on August 01, 2017 – Click here for the Spanish version

The traditional model of education where the teacher stands in front of the classroom talking while students listen and hope to learn and memorize has been flipped. The Flipped Learning Model is a different way of educating minds, where students can take full advantage of class time, their teacher and classmates.

Jonathan Bergmann, a high school chemistry teacher, along with a colleague, decided to flip the traditional classroom model by embracing the technology that was available to them, with the goal of enhancing student learning and success.

In essence, the Flipped Model consists of the following:

  1. The teacher videotapes short micro videos for each subject so that students learn in an interactive and simple manner.
  2. For homework, the student watches the micro video, takes notes, and writes down questions.
  3. The teacher then takes some classroom time to answer any questions students might have on the theory, and according to that, the teacher divides the class up into the students who still need to understand more fully, those with a solid understanding, and those in-between.
  4. The teacher prepares different activities for the entire class such as labs, quizzes, and discussion groups where students can interact with each other and with the teacher, in order to better understand the subject matter at hand through a hands-on approach.
  • Could you please share a brief explanation of the Flipped Classroom Model?

It’s a simple idea. The best way to understand it is to think of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is a pyramid, and at the bottom is knowledge, which is also the one with the biggest space in the graph, and then understanding, application, analysis, evaluation, and creation are at the top. Most teachers in the world spend most of their time delivering content at the knowledge and understanding level, so most of the class time is used in content delivery and very little is used in the application, analysis, evaluation, and creation. The flipped learning model moves the direct instruction and the content delivery to the personal space, so the teacher delivers the content through short micro videos that the students watch on their own time, and class time is used for hands-on learning. So essentially, Bloom’s Taxonomy is flipped, so you spend less class time in the learning and understanding level and use it to create, to evaluate and to generate analysis. That is the idea of Flipped Learning in a nutshell.

  • What do you think is the main problem in education today?

We’re stuck in this model where all the knowledge and information have to come from the teacher, and we live in an information age where you have to actively engage with students. People often ask me why Flipped Learning works, and my answer is that because, number one, it makes the group space or the class time an active place of learning, and all the research out there shows that active learning is what makes the big difference. Secondly, and something that I think is very overlooked, is that it allows students greater opportunities to have better relationships with their teachers. Again, the research is clear on this: When a student or a trainee in a corporate setting has a better relationship with their teacher, to that degree they will be more successful. We are relational humans.

  • And how do you think technology has changed education? What are the benefits?

I think technology is not the answer to education. Many people think that if we throw a computer in front of somebody, it’s going to make education better, but it hasn’t. Once again, that is pretty well researched. But, technology can enhance learning. One thing I know about Flipped Learning is that it serves a good purpose for technology because good education really happens in a group space, to engage and enrich in meaningful activities during that class time. A rich and engaging activity is not sitting and having somebody talk at you. But in order to really have a rich, meaningful experience, you have to know something about the subject matter beforehand, so that is the point of the flipped part, where students still receive information, but in a different time and manner.

  • And what do you think are the setbacks to using technology in education?

We definitely have a culture where people have too much screen time. We don’t want to enhance additional screen time. In terms of using technology, I think we have to be cautious about how we use technology and not over use it, but also realize that it’s an amazing tool. We have the world at our fingertips; We can have access to any information that we want by just asking Siri or any other bot you want to use.

  • If you could create your own school, and change the entire educational system, how would you structure it so that learning is really enhanced?

Obviously, as an advocate for Flipped Learning, I think that the places where I’ve seen the best results are the entire schools that have become Flipped Learning Schools. That takes a big process. You have to find people who are willing to work outside of the box, such as educators, teachers, administrators, students, and parents. It’s amazing what I’ve seen in these Flipped Schools, what they have been able to do, the amount of active learning that is taking place, the innovation that is happening in those schools, projects that the kids have been able to do has been mind-blowing. I really think that Flipped Learning should become the new foundation of our schools. Flipped did not originate with me, the concept came from Dr. Robert Talbert. He says that we have to think of Flipped Learning as the operating system of education; A computer has an internal operating system, Mac or Windows, and a phone has Android or OS. On top of that, the device has other things, it has applications. So, if we think of Flipped Learning as the operating system and on top of that, the apps might be project-based learning, mastery learning, inquiry learning, etc., those are the things that you can add to, but you need the time to explore in a group space these other apps and Flipped Learning gives you that. Which “apps” a teacher uses depends on what type of content they are delivering. Throughout this process, we have learned how to take the schools through the cultural change that involves going from being a regular school to a Flipped School.

  • What is your view on the current grading system? Many students are unmotivated by the need to get certain grades, while others do just fine but aren’t really learning the material, they just seem to do what they are told. Would you agree?

I was a very traditional grader before I flipped my classroom, and I believed in it. As I began to flip my classroom, I realized that we needed a paradigm in assessment. I moved to more of a standards-based grading system where you either pass or you don’t, and I think that is the way we ought to go. And I do believe that one of the biggest problems in education is our assessment system, whether it’s by letters, numbers or percentages – I don’t think that helps students or schools. I think that a student should get a passing or a failing grade, and they should only pass if they show proficiency. The point of school is to learn, not to get by with a below average grade without truly learning.

  • Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses and learns differently. How can a school remain economically viable, have a number of students, and still provide a personalized education?

The beauty of Flipped is that that is exactly what it does. It reduces the class size, in a way. For example, if the students see the micro videos ahead of time, before class, if the student has a 45-minute class period, teachers have that entire class period to individualize, personalize and differentiate for each kid. The students who have understood the material go on to do experiments and activities, while the kids who are struggling a little more make a group where they can discuss along with the teacher. This way, the class is divided into two or three groups, and the teacher gets to spend a certain amount of time with each group and talk to every kid individually to see where their understanding level is, and what they need help on. As a teacher, you can’t really do that unless the class is Flipped.

  • What is the importance of the Flipped Mastery Model?

The Flipped Mastery model is the apex of the model. Flipped 101 is where the kids watch a video and the next day they do an activity in class and then repeat it. In that model, all the students see the same video on a certain day. But in a Mastery Model, students can move at a flexible pace, where throughout the semester they can move as fast or as slow as they want, considering that they have to finish by a certain time in order to finish the course. All over the world, people are moving to the Flipped Mastery Model. After the unit or topic, the student has to take a summative assessment to prove they have achieved mastery – which means that they have understood the model – if they can pass it they can move on, and if not, they stay in that unit until they learn it. The beauty of this is that the students actually learn stuff. In most classrooms, the class comes to the end of a section, students take a test, and however they do, the class moves on. For those students who are lost, they get further and further behind without understanding the subject material. The traditional educational system wants to get every kid on the same page at the same time, and that’s not how it works. The Flipped Model works because, in a traditional class, the teacher has to move on, they can’t wait for every student to catch up while the students who do understand just wait. But in the Flipped Model, those who understand just move on to the next subject matter, and those who don’t, can learn the topic well so they don’t fall behind with the more complex issues. As we were talking about before with Flipped being the operating system, Mastery is an app like Project-Based Learning. There is no one way to do it.

  • Why has the traditional model not been through any changes in such a long time? Why have generations upon generations learned the same way?

Education is slow to change. I think we are seeing the change happen right now – It’s a matter of time before it will change. I think that the power that we have in our pockets with our phones has changed the game because information now is cheap and easy to find. From the poorest kid in Argentina to the richest kid in Spain, students are getting access to these devices. I visited a province called Misiones that is completely adopting Flipped Learning within 5 years. Misiones is poor, the kids are poor, and it seemed like every kid had a cell phone in their pocket with a data plan. I asked how these kids could afford these cell phones, and they told me that they always find the way. So, these schools in Misiones built an app so that the kids can access it at school; They can download the videos they need so they can see them at home, even if they don’t have Wi-Fi. Education is going to be disrupted whether they like it or not. If anybody gets opposed to it, they are going to be out of the job, eventually. But it’s exciting, we are in the most exciting time of education as it goes through this transition, from the 19th-century model to a more active learning model.

  • What will you be talking about at BbWorld17?

I’ll basically be saying that Flipped Learning has to be the new operating system. The title is Teaching and Learning in Unprecedented Times. I’ll talk about Learning 3.0, which means things are changing so rapidly, with even some of the political realities that are happening in our world, we need to really rethink what education should look like.

  • What do you think is the future of e-learning?

I like online learning – I teach classes online – but I also understand the limitations of online learning. Often times, online learning can mean a little bit less connection or relationships. It can be done, however. I’ve seen it happen with a Blackboard Collaborate room where you can have a proper discussion with your students, but my preferred model is Flipped. I think the future of e-learning is that it is going to keep growing, but hopefully with a blended approach that allows students to have that connection to the teacher and make it more personal.

  • The life of a teacher can be hard. They have to repeat lessons every day and they have to be at the front of the class ‘performing,’ and most people don’t understand that. What can be done to make teachers’ lives better?

The Flipped Model really changes the dynamic for the teacher. Instead of being ‘on stage,’ they become a guide alongside the student, and those teachers who have embraced flipped learning have really seen a dramatic change in the way they interact with students and in the way they interact with content. As many as 95% of them will say that they will never go back to the traditional model, because of the engagement that they see with their students, with the success. Typically their test scores even go up, and this is the new paradigm we need for education.

  • You say that you talk to every kid, every day, in every class. Why is that so important?

The foundation to a good education is relationships and connections, and to the degree that you can have a deeper relationship with your students, it means that the student is going to learn more from you, is going to perform more, is going to be willing to take risks – And there’s nothing better than to see that. That is why (hopefully) teachers get into education – because of the impact and the way they can change lives – they don’t just want to deliver content.

  • How do you get students motivated to learn and to go to class?

I think the best way to motivate a kid who is unmotivated is to let them know that you are there, that you are on their side. That is the best way to motivate a kid. Flipped is the ideal for that because instead of having a lecture of 30 minutes each day, where you only have about 20 minutes left to interact with kids, in a flipped environment, you get the whole class time to work on motivating and encouraging kids to learn.

Jonathan Bergmann continues to teach, record, and publish his videos on his YouTube page, and gives conferences to convince others about the power of this model of education, which he believes to be the best available and which truly accomplishes the goal of teaching: getting kids to learn and to love to learn.

Photos by: AFP Joshua Lott.