If everything you do in your class can be replaced by a YouTube video, you should be replaced.


I have been thinking a lot about the Flipped Classroom model lately. Two weeks ago, I attended a one day unconference on The Flipped Jewish Studies Classroom, sponsored by The Lookstein Center with a grant from the UJA Federation of NY. I had the privilege to be joined by 5 of my fellow teachers and administrators from The Frisch School including 3 Judaic Studies educators and 2 math teachers. You can read one of my math teacher's reflections on this experience here. Today, as a part of my first day at the ISTE Conference, I attended a session in the Flipped Classroom by two of the trailblazers who first developed this model, Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams. You can read my notes on this presentation here.

One point that was emphasized repeatedly at both the Lookstein unconference and today's session was the importance that flipping lessons not be about the video you create but what you do after the video. For example, my friend Avi Bloom when presenting at Lookstein began with Ken Robinson's famous Ted talk about how schools kill creativity. The message was clear. If you just flip your lessons, but then do not change anything you do in the classroom after the videos, then you have accomplished nothing. The key is to utilize the videos to foster more creative activities in the classroom. The challenge is how to do this.

Julie Schell, who was the keynote at the Lookstein event, presented a very practical approach to both the videos and the classroom follow-up which she called Just In Time Teaching. In this model, students are assigned to watch a flipped lesson or do an outside reading prior to the lesson which she calls a coverage assignment. This is followed by a short assessment which asks them two feedback questions to assure that they did the assignment. She grades this assessment not on whether they got the "right" answer, since often there is no right answer for this type of question, but on a 2 point scale for responding to the question and giving a rationale for their response.

Class is where the fun begins. Now that they know a bit about the concept, the teacher engages the students by posing a real-world problem based on the reading and having students vote on different possible solutions and then fight it out.

What makes this flipped classroom model so attractive to Jewish educators is that, although it is based on modern research, at the same time it closely matches the Talmudic method of learning that has been the hallmark of Beit Midrash study for millennia. First one learns a mishna or simple halachic statement. The Gemara then poses a problem, a contradiction, or a new scenario to compare it to. This is usually followed by a dispute. An effective teacher would have students take sides in this dispute to actively engage them in the halachic process. Then this is, sometimes, followed by a resolution. Often in the Gemara it is not and students can then seek out a resolution and gain a knowledge of the halachic process by looking through the codes like the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Berura etc. The "Flipping" in this case is the outsourcing of the easy content knowledge, perhaps the reading of the Mishna or Halacha, to the video and checking for understanding so once students enter the classroom they can immediately delve into the deeper dispute.

I had an interesting discussion today on this point with Asher Yoblak, a rebbe who I just met for the first time face to face at the conference but who I feel I know quite well through our many interactions on social media. We were discussing the Flipped Classroom model in Judaic Studies. I pointed out that I and many others in Frisch had a great deal of success using videos to present a basic reading of the Mishna, Gemara, or Tanach text being studied. He said that he knew many rebbeim who were afraid of this because they said if they just put their simple reading and translation onto a YouTube video then what would they do with the students in the classroom. I responded that if all they did with their students was read and translate then there was obviously something deeply flawed with their teaching methods. Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams made a very similar statement at today's presentation when they said, "If everything you do in your class can be replaced by a YouTube video, you should be replaced."

Looking back at my own odyssey into the Flipped Classroom model, I see how I have undergone a similar learning curve. When I first started creating flipped videos some three years ago, I focused solely on the video. I was trying to gain an approach to make videos, to outsourcing the simpler part of my teaching, and I experimented with different methods. I created videos connected to Google Forms so, like Julie Schell described, I could easily assess what they gained from the video. However, I still had no idea how to transform how I taught my regular class based on the simple content knowledge that I outsourced to the video.

As my methodology matured, I began to use the videos to support more creative classroom activities. I already conducted a great deal of classroom discussion and debate about key concepts in the text. I thank Nechama Leibowitz, the master teacher who I had the unique privilege to learn from in the last year of her life, for impressing this model upon me in my teaching of Tanach. But the videos allowed me to quickly get to these deeper understandings since students already knew the basic text. The videos also supported Project Based Learning. One example of this was my Jeremiah on Trial project in which students were able to learn two difficult chapters of Jeremiah mostly on their own with the help of various library resources and a playlist of 6 videos. I outsourced the simple reading of these chapters to the videos so students could focus in their projects on the bigger ideas.

I also began to "Flip" the Flipped Classroom with students creating videos to illustrate their understanding of difficult concepts and teach each other the material. This can very easily be done from a technical standpoint using free iPad apps like Showme and Educreations. Students used these videos to create a review that illustrated their understanding of the Navi (for example look here and here). Others created videos as a summary of what they learned in Jeremiah for a culminating project.

They key to this odyssey in my own teaching practice was the safety net that the flipped videos provided. I knew that I could stretch my students to deeper levels of analysis since they always had the videos to fall back on to gain the more basic knowledge and skills. It is my hope that teachers continue to adopt this model, not just in creating videos, but in leveraging them to foster creativity in our schools.