Wednesday, June 27, 2012

EduStat 2012 - Aaron Sams and the Flipped Classroom

Aaron Sams shares with the conference from San Diego, interacting with the crowd live via the IEN.
Our second keynote speaker of Day 1 of Edustat, Aaron Sams, gave an energetic presentation on his extensive experience with the flipped classroom concept. He joined and addressed the conference from San Diego, speaking to the crowd via synchronous video over the IEN.

Aaron has been an educator since 2000 and currently teaches Chemistry and AP Chemistry in a Colorado high school. Learn more about Aaron. He was eager to share his approach and connect with other educators. Write him an email (, follow him on Twitter (@chemicalsams), or  take a look at his blog (

Sams is a high school teacher, but sees the value of the flipped classroom model at many grade levels.

The biggest question of the flipped classroom model is: What is the most valuable use of classroom time? The answer, says Sams, is not what it used to be. Students used to go to school because that is where they had the most access to knowledge. Most of that information came from their teacher. Today, students have access to information around the clock, and resources abound. Simple lectures and worksheets do not capture a physical teacher’s value. Students can now access lecture information at home, then process that information and learn how to apply and use it in the classroom.

In this way, content delivery happens during down time, and a teacher adds value through face-to-face interaction with students. The flipped classroom often overlaps the blended learning model.

By archiving lessons and having students watch them at home, Sams is able to allow students to work at their own paces. But that instruction does not just have to happen at home, and it does not have to be delivered solely via video. Students can work through content at their own pace in the classroom as well, receiving special attention from the instructor when they have questions.

An instructional management makes it possible for students to work at different paces. The system allows Sams to generate random tests that prevent students from cheating or copying answers from their peers.

The flipped classroom is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it often looks different for different educators in different subjects and grade levels. Sams offered examples from economics to p.e. to demonstrate the flexibility of the flipped classroom model.

Sams also took the opportunity to address several misconceptions.

Misconception #1 is that the flipped classroom relies on video. In a lot of ways, the flipped classroom is not all that different from we have always expected from students in some subjects—for instance, reading at home in a literature class, then discussion with a teacher in the classroom. The flipped classroom works exceptionally well with a video format, but it is not limited by it.

Misconception #2 is that flipped learning creates a digital divide. Sams hasn’t found this to be true. For students how lack the internet, he has the lessons available on flash drives. For those without computers, he burns DVDs. Other students simply do the work in class.

Misconception #3 is that flipped learning propagates bad teaching (lectures). Sams and some of the examples he cites address this in several ways. They didn’t always choose lectures. Sometimes they drew from current events. They used other resources. They created engaging videos and played characters. In one example, two characters explain the lesson. One is the expert and one is clueless. The format allows for engaging banter and a question and answer format between the two characters.

For an easy association, Sams offered a relatable example from his own experience. His snowblower broke down. So he searched the internet, found a step-by-step repair video on YouTube, and fixed his snowblower. Kids do the same all the time. Why not apply that model to education? Watch the video, then practice in a classroom with the guidance and supervision of an expert—the teacher.

And that’s the value of the flipped classroom. It’s a new tool that maximizes the value of the teacher. As Sal Khan suggested during his visit to Boise, the flipped classroom only makes the teacher more important.  It’s not magic. It can’t replace teachers. But it can maximize the benefit of a teacher in the classroom.

The model even allows for what Adora Svitak advocated earlier in the day. Sams offers the example of, where students create math content videos to instruct their peers. Students love to teacher and share. It helps them learn better, and it motivates them because they know they have an audience.

As a concept, the flipped classroom harnesses new tools of technology to empower students and teachers in the classroom. 

Mr. Sams offered the following resources for those interested in learning more about the flipped classroom:

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