October 25, 2013


New technology breeds new teaching styles. Carroll High School Spanish teacher Kim Lee and science teacher Angie Emerick have embraced these possibilities.

At Monday night's board of education meeting, Lee and Emerick presented a teaching philosophy called the "flipped classroom," in which students watch videos and lectures before class so that they can work on problems and practice concepts in class. The two teachers brought the concept back to Carroll from a conference they attended in Stillwater, Minn. in June.

"Our classrooms look very different from what you would traditionally see," said Emerick.

Before flipped, class consisted of Emerick lecturing for 45 minutes and handing out an assignment in the last five minutes with instructions to "figure it out." Now, her students watch a video of a traditional Power Point presentation with an accompanying audio track in which Emerick talks through the information, the same way she would during a lecture.

However, with no pauses for questions, or to allow everyone time to write the notes, the lectures take about 15 minutes instead of 45 minutes. The students are able to stop or rewind the video if they miss or don't understand something. Then they can come to class and ask questions, enabling Emerick to review specific concepts with those student who didn't understand, and explain parts of a problem if a student gets stuck working on an assignment.

The students can watch the video the night before class or in a study hall. Meanwhile, the increased class time available also allows Emerick to incorporate more labs and hands-on experiments into the course.

"I'm using more quality time with the kids," said Emerick. "It's less of just me talking and them zoning out with their eyes glazed over, and more productive, more interactive, a lot more engagement in my classroom."

Lee agreed, explaining that her classes use a blended flip format, which still includes some face-to-face lectures.

Before the flip, students would be writing down notes for the majority of class time and complete a take-home assignment, which usually ended up in the trash five minutes after the students received the grade, she said. Now, the students receive a presentation before class, and Lee reviews their notes the next day, but does not review the presentation in class. Instead, the students work with partners to review concepts while Lee walks between groups and helps with pronunciation, sentence structure, vocabulary and other elements of the language.

Lee also said using less class time on lectures allows her to pull in "more authentic, real-world materials." For example, while studying natural disasters in fourth-year Spanish, Lee was able to incorporate videos of Spanish news clips. Assignments include reviewing Spanish websites. Lee also uses a blog format that enables students to communicate with each other in a written Spanish format outside of class. There are also plans for her students to Skype with counterparts Spain.

"Class time is a little bit more precious," she said. "Because they're not wasting their time copying down notes, you can use it for really valuable opportunities."

Lee said she can already see students "getting it" through the new method.

"I wouldn't go back," she confirmed.

Two high school students attending the board meeting nodded in agreement.

Trent Grundmeyer, assistant to the principal at Carroll High School and a proponent of the flipped classroom, said Lee and Emerick were leaders in the high school who had "truly embraced" the potential of the flip, and have been successful getting their students on board.

"(The kids) were ready for a different approach, and have just grabbed onto it," agreed Carroll High School assistant principal Tammie McKenzie.

Lee and Emerick said that the flip wouldn't have been possible without the one-to-one Chromebook initiative that started this year.

"The student has to take ownership of their own learning," said superintendent Rob Cordes. "School is not a spectator sport."