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Taking the "Home" Out of Homework

Greg Green with students

Greg Green-Principal of Clintondale High School





At Clintondale High School, students review video lectures at home and do homework in the classroom with teacher guidance.
Regularly failing 35 to 40 students per semester in his world history class, social studies teacher Andy Kastel says it was time for a major change at Clintondale High School.
"What we were doing wasn't working," Kastel says. "The number-one reason my kids would fail was that they weren't doing their homework. We'd ask them why and they'd say, ‘Well, I don't get it.' We had to do something different."
The Clinton Township school ended up doing something very radically different: administrators "flipped" the school, so that students review video lectures at home and work on homework in the classroom with their teachers' guidance. Clintondale principal Greg Green says the model was inspired by teaching styles usually reserved for athletics.
"We try to look at it as coaches do," Green says. "Why are students sometimes not successful in the classroom, but they're successful on the athletic field? We thought it could be because of the amount of support they get in the classroom. A coach sits out there on the field and talks everyone through the plays and what they're going to do. So why don't we do that in the classroom?"
But the transition wasn't quite as simple as it might sound. As one of the first schools in the nation to implement a flipped program, Green says there was no model to follow.
"There was no school that looked like this," he says. "So there were no lessons learned and nobody you could sit down with to ask how it worked."
The school tested the program for the 2010-2011 school year by flipping its entire 9th grade, as well as an 11th-grade math class. Okemos company TechSmith contributed thousands of dollars' worth of technology to the program--most importantly, screen-casting programs like Jing and Camtasia. A core group of about five teachers were the first to "flip" their classes, creating short screen-casts of narrated slideshow presentations for their students to watch at home. Autumn Flynn, now a junior at Clintondale, was one of the first freshmen to have her classroom experience completely flipped. She estimates that she spends around an hour a day watching digest-length lessons on her computer or phone.
"I didn't like it at first," she says. "I was thinking, ‘Why are they going to change the way we're learning now?'"
But Flynn's attitude changed when she noticed her grades changing from a mixture of Bs and As to all As. Her experience matches a larger trend at the school. Green says failure rates among the flipped freshmen dropped from about 40 percent to 10 percent, and Michigan Merit Exam math scores rose 10 percent for the juniors who'd had the flipped math class. He says it's easier for students to access and review lessons at their own pace via smartphone or computer, and most importantly, they have the opportunity to delve deeper into the material in the classroom.
"They can ask questions and get immediate answers," Green says. "Parents sometimes struggle because they haven't been in school for a long time, so they can't help kids with their homework. I don't get any more complaints of ‘My kids are 
failing and you're not helping,' because the kids are getting one-to-one tutoring now."
Clintondale implemented the flipped model for all grades starting with the 2011-2012 school year. The 9th grade's dramatic drop in failures held true for the rest of the school, and Clintondale's success has become a model for other burgeoning flipped schools. Green says that hundreds of schools from around the globe have visited to observe the process, or otherwise contacted Clintondale for input on the flipped model. Most recently, one of those visitors, Illinois' Havana High School, made the flip itself.
Green says the enthusiastic international response is "crazy good," but he's still got his mind on improving his own school's efficiency. He lists off eight different pieces of software the school has employed so far in the flipping process, and he says the school still needs to boils those bits and pieces down to "one single platform."
"We ask teachers to do grades, to take attendance, to check emails, but when do they actually have time to spend with the kids?" he says. "Technology has kind of created noise. We have all these tools and all this data, which is great, but how do you do it so that you're not pulling the teacher away from the kids?"
Although there are still kinks to be worked out, Clintondale students and teachers seem extremely enthusiastic about the school's new direction. Flynn says she would "absolutely" recommend the system to other schools. As for Kastel, he says he fails only around five students per semester in world history these days. And beyond the hard numbers of student performance, Kastel says working in a flipped high school is a motivating shot in the arm.
"Every day is different for us," he says. "It's brought a new level of excitement for the students and the teachers. It's refreshed me and brought a new level of energy to my teaching, and you can see it in the kids' eyes too."

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