Symptoms, Not Solutions: A Case for Inspecting the Flipped Classroom and OERs

  • Symptoms, Not Solutions: A Case for Inspecting the Flipped Classroom and OERs

    By Levi Patrick, posted August 14, 2017 —

    I’ll begin with a reminder to the reader: My goal is to maintain a state of doubt (check) and to carry on systematic and protracted inquiry (forthcoming). As educators, we must inspect the basis that has led to these interventions, investigate the consequences, and envision new solutions.

    Promises. I believe flipped classrooms and open education resources (OERs) have become popular in the last few years thanks to a gap between our vision for robust teaching and our instructional practices and resources. The flipped model promises more time for our students to engage in the mathematical practices. OERs promise us a more engaging instructional resource when the textbook under-delivers. With funding for textbooks increasingly on the chopping block, this is good news. I believe it is worth our time to be skeptical of both interventions and wonder if they are solving their intended problem or simply glossing over it.

    More Time. In the argument for the flipped classroom, I hear something promising: Students should have more time to do mathematics in the classroom. In regard to intent, I’m way on board. In regard to underlying beliefs about teaching and learning, I’m less enthusiastic.

    Creating more class time for sense making is a noble pursuit. First things first, though; the idea that the flipped classroom is creating more time by shifting instructional time outside the classroom is just plain incomplete if not wrong. We cannot expect students to attend a virtual school day, where lectures happen to have a pause button, with any anticipation that they will show up to the analog school day any more ready to learn. I assure you, for students who have any responsibilities outside of the school day and those who do not have access to needed technology, the flipped model fails if even one other subject area takes it on. The honeymoon period will end for students quickly, and we’ll find ourselves wondering again: How do we make more time to do mathematics in the classroom?

    We need to be honest about our reasons for engaging in the flipped model. I believe that there would be no need for the flipped model if we positioned students as authors of their own mathematics learning and if schools created time for teachers to dive deeply into rich tasks with their students, rather than expecting teachers to cram an hour of learning into a 45-minute period.

    Better Resources. Supposing a teacher has (creates) time for doing powerful mathematics in the classroom, too often we are disappointed with current textbooks. Certainly, there are rich resources in the mathematics community that are just waiting to be found (thanks, #MTBoS!), but a searchable database of great resources isn’t the same as a thoughtfully designed, coherent, strategic curriculum.

    The current free-then-quality model relies on a vetting and adapting process to make available the very best resources. My thought is that schools, districts, states, and other organizations could work together to fund the development of great resources and then make them entirely free and editable to the public. I believe the latter model, quality-then-free, provides a vehicle for more productive lesson study efforts, aligned professional learning experiences, and an opportunity for increased collaboration within and across schools. We don't have time to reinvent excellent curriculum in every classroom across every district.

    Frankly, even if we did, the risk of increasing disparity of instructional resources is too great. Students deserve a systemic solution to ensure they have an excellent curriculum from which to learn; it cannot be built on the backs of hard-working teachers on nights and weekends.

    Solutions or Symptoms? My intent is to raise this question: Are these solutions really solutions at all? I believe they are well-intended but are indicative of a greater issue we need to face: There must be an investment in the time and resources needed to engage students in the robust learning experiences that we hope for. Leaving that to chance will leave us wondering why our school system has yet to create real progress in bringing meaningful mathematics to all students.

    Do you see something promising in either the flipped classroom or OERs? Can you improve my critique? Do you have a perspective that might change my opinion? Can you envision a better solution? I hope you'll join me in disagreeing.


    Levi Patrick serves Oklahoma as the director of computer science and secondary mathematics education. He is the vice president of program for the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics and serves NCTM as chair of the Professional Development Services Committee. Patrick taught eighth grade, algebra 1, and geometry in Oklahoma City and in the Putnam City Public Schools, developed curriculum and mentoring programs as a mathematics specialist at the K20 Center for Education and Community Renewal at the University of Oklahoma, and has been involved in the development of the #OKMath community ( and the Oklahoma Mathematics Alliance for the past few years. He and his wife, Roslyn, also an educator, live in Oklahoma City with their Jack Russell “Terror,” Piper.