Learn how different teaching models can help your child get ahead in school.

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Looping, Flipping and Globalizing Classrooms


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Decades ago, going “back to school” entailed fairly homogenous experiences. With few exceptions, kids boarded school buses in autumn to return to standard schools with standard classrooms that followed standard formats.

How things have changed.

Now parents can choose from home schools, magnet schools, charter schools, year-round schools, modified-traditional schools and more. The education scene has broadened and, today, many Triangle schools are experimenting with new teaching techniques to inspire and encourage students. Here are some of the new classroom models possibly coming to a school near you.

Flipping for Homework Help

It’s the word that sinks the hearts of students everywhere, killing Friday night plans and creating battles between parents and children over “just getting it done.” Homework. It isn’t always busy work, either. Students must extend learning outside the classroom to fully understand topics briefly touched on during their fast-paced school day. Homework can frustrate everyone, especially when kids have questions parents can’t answer.

Flipping is one solution to this tangle. A concept created in the early 2000s, flipped (sometimes called “inverted”) classrooms turn the equation around.

Students use materials prepared by the teacher or a third-party source (like free instructional videos from Kahn Academy at kahnacademy.org) to learn basic concepts on their own at home. Then, during class, they work out problems — previously considered homework — or have discussions with the teacher. Teachers act as tutors or guides in the classroom to ensure students have a solid understanding of the material.

“When students learn the basic facts on their own through a reading assignment or by watching a video, that frees up classroom time for you to really apply those concepts together,” explains Ken Nagel, a teacher at Apex High School who uses the flipped model to teach Advanced Placement Environmental Science. “If they come to class already familiar with basic facts that they’ve learned the night before, you can get much deeper into those concepts and students can get a much stronger comprehension of the material.”

Nagel says he doesn’t expect his students to spend any more time working at home than they otherwise would. “It’s just different work they’re doing,” he says.

Instead of sending students home with a worksheet based on concepts he covered in class, Nagel has them learn those basics at home and then fill out the worksheet while he — instead of a parent who may not know the subject well — is available to help.

Sarah Echols, a sixth-grade teacher at Davis Drive Middle School in Cary, says flipped classrooms give students ownership of their education.

“By creating instructional video lessons of my own and allowing students to preview them before they come to class, I’m allowing students to take ownership in their own education. Students can retain the information easily by taking their own notes, rewinding and rewatching the videos at their leisure,” she says. “Once students in my classroom watch the videos, we can begin to have more meaningful conversations about the current math topics in the classroom setting.”

Unfortunately, not every student can participate in flipped classrooms. For the format to work, students need access to a home computer at a minimum and, most often, Internet access. Students must also be motivated and responsible enough to do the “home” portion of the class before coming to school so they can fully participate, or else class time is wasted while the instructor attends to students who didn’t do their “flipped” homework.

But when everything works as it should, flipped classrooms can produce exciting results. Clintondale High School in Detroit flipped its classrooms and reported that while more than 50 percent of freshman failed English class prior to flipping, that number plummeted to 19 percent after. The school also reported that the freshman math class failure rate decreased from 44 percent to 13 percent under the flipped classroom model. Dare we say it? That’s something educators can really flip over!

Looping Comfort and Productivity

Every school year, teachers face a new group of students they don’t know and must figure out the best way to reach each child. That’s why when the new school year starts, many teachers spend the first couple of days conducting “getting to know you” exercises.

What if a teacher already knew that Jared only recently mastered his multiplication tables at the end of fourth grade, or that Kaitlin struggles when writing essays?

Looping makes it happen. Using the looping model, teachers simply pick up where the class left off the previous year because he or she stays with the same group of students for several years before “looping back” to start with a new class. This makes for a seamless start to the new school year.

“You really hit the ground running,” says Lisa Spalding, principal at Turner Creek Elementary School in Cary, which follows a year-round calendar. “You know what the kids’ interests are, what works best for them, and you don’t have that transition period of relationship-building each year. Teachers love doing it because of how close they get with those kids.”

It can be a comforting situation for everyone involved. When students walk through the door for second grade, they’ll see the same teacher who taught them first grade. That can give the classroom a family-like atmosphere, because kids are familiar with their peers and teacher. And the teacher, being familiar with each child’s strengths and weaknesses, doesn’t experience a long learning curve to determine how best to reach each child.

Looping may not be right for every child (or teacher). If a class has bad chemistry, several years of being together can create unpleasant experiences. Also, looping teachers need to be sure they’re up for teaching material for different ages and grades, and sometimes very young students have trouble transitioning to a new teacher after they leave their looped classroom.

But when looping works, it’s hard to find an unhappy customer. Each new school year, Spalding gives parents the opportunity to decline looping their child. “I’ve never had anyone opt out, though,” she says.

Globalizing Communities

Thirty years ago, kids hid under the covers past bedtime with a flashlight and book. Today’s kids hide smartphones when chatting or gaming with pals in different time zones. That might not be bad (if they aren’t breaking house rules) since today’s kids, more than ever before, are part of a shrinking world where tolerance and understanding of other cultures can be the difference between success and stagnation.

That’s where globalized classrooms come in. Generally, globalization refers to the growing interdependence and interconnection of the world’s communities. Global teachers use technology and international connections to bring the outside world into their classroom.

An elementary school class might explore Chinese food or connect with a classroom overseas via email. An American high school class might regularly interact with a German high school class via Skype to discuss current or historical events from different viewpoints. The goal of the global classroom is to widen students’ perspectives as they work their way through class materials, helping them understand information as it relates to a larger community.

“Teachers look to the standards to decide how to incorporate aspects of different cultures into their classes,” says Amy Rickard, principal at Morris Grove Elementary in Chapel Hill, which offers globalized classrooms and has international teachers on staff. One of those teachers, Amanda Woodroffe of England, has been teaching in the U.S. for several years.

“What’s really interesting is not only introducing the kids to different cultures, but also helping them understand they also have a culture,” she says. “By learning about other people, they’re also getting a better understanding of their own heritage and traditions, and why they do what they do here in America.”

Globalization helps increase students’ sensitivity to differences in values and cultures and offers an opportunity to think about their position in and view of the world. That can translate into expanded options as they head out into the brave, global world.

“One of the things we’ve seen as part of the program is the growing confidence the kids have about other cultures,” says

Morris Grove Elementary teacher Alison Livingston. “They can travel and interact with members of the international

community in a positive and respectful way. That’s something they’ll always be able to use in today’s world.”


Kathleen M. Reilly is a freelance writer and mom in the Triangle.

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