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Flipping Out

December 11, 2014

Although Washington voters recently passed initiative 1351, which calls for reduced class sizes, the big question now is how is the state going to pay for it? One teacher in Monroe WA, just might have a solution. Randy Brown is an award winning third grade teacher who has successfully "flipped" his third grade class, and in the process, duplicated himself.

Lucy Cavener: I’m in geometry this year and it’s sort of hard because it’s a couple of grades ahead.

Third grade teacher Randy Brown records a math video lecture. Brown has created over 500 video lectures that he uses in his class on a daily basis.

Stacey Jenkins: Almost every night, 8th grader Lucy Caverner does her homework with the help of a digital tutor. She uses a free online tutorial series called Khan Academy
Cavener: I really like that you can hear the voice of narrating exactly what is going on in the video, but then you can also specifically see all the stuff that he does to figure out the problem. 
Andrea Jolles (mom): One of the things that Lucy has sometimes had difficulty with is that she needs to go a little bit more slowly – not because she doesn’t understand the concept, but she’s just not a snap snap snap quick quick quick. So khan academy was really a life saver.
Jenkins: The education videos on Khan Academy are not just being used for homework. They’re also being used as part of the flipped classroom trend. In traditional classrooms, teachers lecture at school, and problem solving work is done at home. In a flipped classroom, students watch the lectures at home on video, and do the problem solving work in the classroom. 
Randy Brown is an award winning third grade teacher at Fryelands Elementary school in Monroe. He’s created a flipped classroom for his elementary students, with some age-appropriate tweaks. 
Randy Brown: There’s no way this is a normal flipped classroom where kids watch the videos at home. They’re only 8 and 9 so I didn’t even want to go there and risk them getting on the internet. So what I’ve done because I have them all day long is that I’ve decided I’m going to have one group of kids, half my class, watch an instructional video, and then that frees me up to work with the other half.
Jenkins: Although Washington voters recently passed initiative 1351, which calls for reduced class sizes, the big question now is how is the state going to pay for it? Randy Brown’s innovative teaching approach might be part of the solution. 
Brown: I’ve literally reduced the teacher student ratio 50%. Last year I had a boy who literally would come to my desk 30 times a day – because he needed help on every question on every page. And I loved it I was so glad to help him -  I had all this extra time. In my regular class time you would never have time to go help kids who were this low-  you just wouldn’t. So that probably is the single most powerful benefit to what I’m doing is that the kids who need the help the most actually get the most help. 
Jenkins: And Brown is helping those kids by connecting with them on their level.
Third grade students at Fryelands Elementary watch a video lecture about math created by their teacher, Mr. Brown.
Brown: Whether we like it or not, these kids are digital natives. Anyone born after 1984 is a digital native. For people my age we’re digital immigrants. And so it’s very natural for them to watch an instructional video anyway – it’s not foreign or weird.
Jenkins: Brown started producing video lectures two years ago after watching a Khan Academy video online. After 30 years of teaching, Borwn said he realized this could free up time in his class for more personalized teaching. 
Student in the class: Part of the videos I like is that we get to learn a lot of stuff – multiplication, subtraction, addition. It’s helpful because at the same time he can help kids. 
Jenkins: Helping kids is Brown’s passion, and it shows in his flipped classroom. He spent his own money on a pen tablet, and taught himself video production by watching You tube videos. 
Brown:  And some 12-year old kid on you tube taught me green screen technology from and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Jenkins:  He worked weekends and came in three hours early every morning before the start of the school day to produce over 500 online videos. 
Brown: And I don’t recommend everybody make the videos. The other third grade teachers in this school, they use my videos – they don’t make their own math videos 
Jenkins: Brown’s students aren’t the only fans of his innovative teaching approach. 
Travis Swanberg: You could log on to Mr. Brown’s site and print out the homework. So that way if you were out sick you bring in the homework and still be up to date and know what’s going on in the class, versus, oh I had the flu for three days and now I’m out. 
Casey Ponce: I believe that each one of the children in that classroom got individual time with Mr. Brown multiple times a day and I find that amazing
Brown’s third grade class is split into two – half the class watches Brown’s video lecture, while the other half does the assigned work and meets with Brown one on one.
Jenkins: The flipped classroom approach isn’t new. It’s been used at the college level for years. Tyler Fox is an Instructional Technologist at the University of Washington. Fox says that technology can help students meet their learning objectives, as long as those objectives remain the priority for teachers. 
Tyler Fox: What do you want students to learn? What do you want them to do? And then we can talk about how technology can enhance that, or not. Not every class needs to be using technology all the time. A good old fashioned discussion is really useful.
Jenkins: Technology combined with conversation sounds good to Lucy Caverner, the Hamilton International Middle School students says the flipped classroom could work in a lot of her classes. 
Lucy: If my classes were all like this I feel like it would be a lot more interesting and homework wouldn’t be as stressful for people and it would also just be a whole bunch more fun.



Made possible in part by

Stacey Jenkins

Stacey Jenkins is the managing producer of Spark Public. She is an Emmy-award winning producer who is passionate about pushing the boundaries of digital media and training the next generation of multimedia journalists. Stacey has been a Digital Content Producer at KCTS 9 for the past four years; her stories have been showcased locally on IN Close as well as nationally on SciTech Now and the PBS NewsHour's Art Beat. Stacey’s experience also includes working as a senior producer for KPTS, as an assistant media instructor and producer for Portland Community College and a TV news reporter for the CBC in Canada.

Fun Fact: Stacey’s guilty pleasures include over-the-top Halloween decor, eating sweetened condensed milk straight from the can and Maroon 5’s “Sugar” video.

More stories by Stacey Jenkins