Radical Flip at Macomb County School Getting Results

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(The Detroit Free Press)

Clintondale High School senior Dominique Moody, 17, of Detroit takes notes this month from a classroom lecture video assigned to his class. He does homework in class instead.

Fewer freshmen are failing at Clintondale High School, one of the state’s worst performers. Discipline referrals are down. More students are passing the state math exam.

Principal Greg Green credits a novel program that literally “flips” around instruction: Students watch short online videos of lessons at home and do homework in class with their teacher’s help.

“Flipping” is a radical change gaining steam across the nation, with the Clinton Township high school the first in the country to try it school-wide, Green said. The early success has sparked interest, with Green lately lecturing to often packed rooms at education conferences.

“The flip about offering support to our kids,” he said. “That’s key.”

The videos are mostly created by the district and led by the best teacher on a topic. And when kids do homework, they’re getting help from their teacher, rather than parents at home.

“I have to be honest: When he’s doing math homework, I’m taking a backseat,” said Allana Wilson, whose son Dominique Moody attends Clintondale.

Teachers say the method frees up time to make sure students understand.

“It’s made my job a lot easier,” said Chris Carpenter, a social studies teacher. “I do like this model, because what we’ve done for the last 10 years just wasn’t working anymore.”

Changing how students learn: Macomb County school flips education on its head

Dominique Moody had just arrived home from a long day of classes at Clintondale High School in Clinton Township. Within minutes, he was sitting in front of the family computer, watching an online video lesson on relations and functions for his Algebra II class.

Dominique, 17, listened carefully, laughing when the teacher made a joke or quietly mouthing, “Right,” as the lesson was explained. Afterward, he took notes to reinforce what he heard and to be ready to ask questions in class.

“There’s a lot to have to learn on this video,” said the senior from Detroit.

This is the way he likes it — watching his lessons at home, then going to class the next day and doing his homework there, where he can ask the teacher for help.

It’s a relatively new method for the students and staff at Clintondale High, called “flipping the classroom.” It has shown early success where it has been used at the school, including fewer freshmen failing last year and more juniors passing a state standardized math test.

“I’m working on a 3.0 for the first time in high school,” said Dominique, who previously earned mostly C’s and D’s.

The school has experimented with it for two years, first with just two classrooms, and last school year with all the freshmen. This school year, it became a school-wide initiative. “This is what we feel is best for our kids,” Principal Greg Green said.

One expert cautions it might be too early to say whether it’s effective because there hasn’t been enough research at the K-12 level. Still, he’s optimistic.

“It has to be done in a way that the teachers are not just leaving the students to fend for themselves,” said Jeffrey G. Smith, a doctoral student at St. Mary’s College of California who is completing research that, in part, examines flipped classrooms.

Green said flipping allows the school to put the best expert in front of students at all times. The best teacher on a topic makes the online videos, so one teacher can reach hundreds of students.

And when kids do homework in class, they’re getting help from their teacher rather than parents who might struggle with the material. Teachers say flipping at times quadruples the amount of time they spend working directly with students — ensuring students have a firm grasp of the lesson.

The initial success has gained Clintondale and Green some notice in national education circles. Green’s a hot ticket at teacher conferences and has been speaking to packed rooms.

The real test for flipping comes when students take the Michigan Merit Exam. The early results are already promising. Last year’s junior math classes were flipped, and when those students took the exam in the spring, the number passing the math section increased 10 percentage points.

Meanwhile, the number passing other subjects either declined or were flat. The merit exam is the state’s high school standardized test that includes the ACT, a college readiness exam.

Students like Jahya Dunbar are already strong believers. She said she likes watching the video lessons because it allows her to scroll back and replay the material, something that isn’t easy in the classroom.

“Clintondale has really stepped up its game,” said Jahya, 14, a freshman from Clinton Township.

An obvious challenge is that students need a way to watch the videos online. They solved that problem at Clintondale — where 75% of students are considered poor — by stretching the school day an hour before and after so students who don’t have Internet access can use the library or any place with a computer.

Teachers also allow students to view the videos during class, if necessary, Green said. Many students also watch videos — which vary in length but are typically about 10 minutes — on their smartphones.

‘A very big challenge’

There’s a lot at stake at Clintondale High. For two years, the Macomb County school has made the list of the state’s persistently low-achieving schools, requiring it to come up with a plan to turn things around. Its scores on the Michigan Merit Exam are well below the state average.

“They’re up against a very big challenge,” said Bruce Umpstead, state director of educational technology and data coordination at the Michigan Department of Education.

Umpstead said the flipped model is allowing Clintondale to use technology in different ways. Instead of removing teachers from the equation, he said, Green and his staff are “embracing this use of technology to increase the amount of time teachers spend with students.”

The term “flipped” is trendy right now, Umpstead said, but some of the ideas embraced by the method have been around for years. Nonetheless, he said, it’s one of those concepts that schools are looking to learn about.

“Greg presents to standing-room-only crowds at tech conferences,” Umpstead said. “He’s in high demand.”

Many colleges began experimenting with a similar model in some undergraduate courses within the last decade, said Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University. One research project found that with physics classes, it gave students a deeper understanding.

Using it in a K-12 setting has promise, he said, if it’s replacing a classroom setting where teachers are mostly lecturing. It wouldn’t be so promising if it’s replacing a setting in which a teacher already is interacting heavily with students, Floden said.

‘Radical but refreshing’

Sophomore Amber Penny said her grades have improved. When she attended Chippewa Valley High in Clinton Township last year, she earned a C in Algebra II. So far this year, she’s pulling an A+ in Geometry. The same is happening with other subjects, she said.

The key is doing homework in class. In the traditional setting, she would get stuck doing homework at home and would have to wait until the next day to clear up confusion that she might have with the material.

Some teachers would give her partial credit for attempting the homework; many others wouldn’t.

Now, “instead of sitting at home and being confused and not knowing what to do, I can ask,” said the 15-year-old from Clinton Township.

Classroom time is also more productive, because students come prepared to get help on specific issues, said Briana Reynolds, 16.

“It’s not like we’re going to waste time and go over what we don’t need to know,” said Briana, a sophomore from Detroit.

Another benefit, students and teachers said, is it gets students collaborating more and learning from each other.

Social studies teacher Rob Townsend described the experience flipping his classroom as “radical but refreshing.”

“You’re doing the same thing, but you’re using new tools, new techniques. It’s energizing,” he said.

Another benefit, he said, is that it addresses the way kids today learn.

“They’re on the phones all the time, they’re on computers, they’re on Facebook. This is their world.”

On a recent morning in his U.S. history class, he had divided his classroom into groups to read reports. He weaved through the classroom, answering questions and keeping errant students on task.

“If you have questions, I can help. If there’s something you don’t understand, I can help,” Townsend told the students as they dug into the work.

He wasn’t part of the freshman pilot last year, but he decided to flip his classes on his own. He said resistance to the change has been minimal for a main reason: “We knew something had to be done. You can’t keep doing things the same way and expecting different results”

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