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Flipping classrooms: Is Japan embracing new educational paradigm?

By Preston Phro

When we imagine schools in the future, usually one of the first things that pops into our minds is students watching lectures on their computers. You might even imagine kids sprinting through crowded streets, late for school, with nothing but a simple LCD screen in hand instead of hefty spine-cracking backpacks. And, while many of us might have dreamed of learning straight from a computer, it never really seemed realistic, did it?

Well, it turns out that our sci-fi day dreams might be closer to reality than we’d ever imagined.

Starting this autumn, Saga Prefecture’s Takeo City will become the home of the first public Japanese school to try out the so-called “flipped classroom.” Though the idea isn’t entirely new, it is a bit surprising to see it taking hold in a country that many assume to be extremely conservative, especially when it comes to education. After all, Japanese students still clean the schools themselves and are renowned for their heads-down, nearly silent note-taking in classrooms. The idea of flipped classrooms taking over in Japan is nearly enough to boggle the mind.

But first, let’s take a step back and talk about just what a flipped classroom is.

The traditional classroom, whether in Asia, North America, or Europe, tends to be filled with lectures by teachers, with homework done at…well, home. Obviously, each area and each school has variations on the theme, but we generally think of teachers as standing in front of a room of students, explaining things. The flipped classroom, as the name implies, flips that idea – students watch lecture videos at home, do the selected work, and bring it to school for discussion and extra help when needed.

Flipped classrooms, as you might imagine, bring some unique challenges though. Teachers have to provide videos to students, and it’s also necessary to be sure they actually watch the videos. The solution that Takeo City’s school came up with is simple: tablets!

Since 2010, Takeo City has actually been supplying elementary students from fourth to sixth grade in two schools with iPads for use in the classroom, and they have plans to do the same for all elementary school students starting next year. In 2015, middle school students will be included in those receiving the devices. This puts the city in a distinctively advantageous position to test out flipped classrooms, and this November, one of the two elementary schools will try out the model for part of their science and math curriculum. From there, they plan to expand to the whole school for all subjects, all the while collecting data on the effectiveness of the method.

In schools with flipped classrooms, teachers have said that students tend to perform better and that it creates a better learning environment – slower learners can watch and rewatch videos at their leisure while quicker learners can zip through the easy stuff. At the same time, when students bring their digital homework to class, the teacher can easily glance at cumulative answers and see which problems were most confusing. This allows them to devote more time to clearing up issues that prove difficult for students.

Another benefit that the Takeo City Board of Education is looking to derive from flipped classrooms is group discussion. The hope is that this new educational model will allow students to practice and develop their communication skills. While they’re probably not imagining lively, outspoken debates, it certainly seems like a great experience for Japanese students. Much to the chagrin of English-speaking assistant language teachers across the country, Japanese children tend not to speak up in class–sometimes even when directly called on.

However, as we mentioned before, there are some potential problems. Students have to be self-motivated to study at home, and it will require greater involvement from parents to encourage their children to watch the lectures. At the same time, it may also prove challenging for teachers, who will be forced to reexamine and modify their role in the classroom. Another issue is the cost of tablets. Each student will need one, and the devices can easily run around 50,000 yen. Though parents will likely be expected to purchase a device when their child enrolls, schools will also probably be expected to help subsidize the costs.

Now, the question remains: Will flipped classrooms work in Japan?

Though the paradigm has been successful in test programs in other countries and even in some private schools in Japan, it remains to be seen if it will catch on in public schools. Aside from the challenges for teachers and extra costs, we imagine that many parents would be leery of letting their children take classes using very modern methods that have only been tested a few times.

There seems to be a lot of mixed reactions to the model among Japanese Twitter users:

-- I just found out about “flipped classrooms.” And it really does seem right–it’s the revolution we need in education.

-- Flipped classrooms look great. It seems a lot different from how I was educated as a kid.

-- This does seem advanced at first glimpse, but I think they’re going about this the wrong way. I think device manufacturers’ profits will go up much more than students’ grades.

-- Whether it’s “flipped classrooms” or classrooms sharing new problems through discussion, you need “debate.” But there is no tradition of debate in Japan. Is there?

Obviously, not everyone is excited about the program, but with an ever-growing number of institutions, from MIT to Tokyo University, providing online educational material for free, it’s easy to believe that this is just one step towards the future. And with the success of Khan Academy, where you can self-study nearly every major subject, there’s no reason to think that this would be impossible to implement.

But as for what the actual results will be…well, it might take a few decades before we find out.

Sources: Asahi Digital, Naver Matome, Twitter

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Novel Anti-Cheating Technology Surfaced on Twitter -- “Insect Touching Classes” to Teachers Who Are Afraid of Bugs -- Japan Considering Bringing Back 6-Day School Week

© RocketNews24

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A crack in the door of this educational prison . . .

5 ( +8 / -3 )

The key to this door of wonderment? Ask the children to ask questions. Five days a week, six hours a day, and leave them alone the rest of their day. If you're a Japanese education system 'expert' you wouldn't understand, otherwise, you'd recognize the personal value of independent (unsupervised) creative childhood activities. It's how they learn to get along, not how they're forced into homogeneity, that matters to our children's future happiness and satisfaction with life. They'll get neither unless you leave them alone to face their own devils. Standing at their backs, of course.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Perhaps I misread the intent of the concept, but shouldn't technology and innovation enhance classroom instruction, not replace it? Especially in primary school?

8 ( +10 / -2 )

As for costs, those backpacks are getting more and more expensive (for parents who want to show off), so if kids don't need them anymore, money saved can be spend elsewhere. But the problem is, how are they going to divide the time? Classes nowadays mostly run until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. And parents take advantage of this to have one full-time, one part-time working, so sending the kids home early is not welcome. This means the school would have to provide lesson-rooms where kids can watch their tablets to review today's material and study for tomorrow's. But to concentrate, there needs to be seperations. Cubicle offices and net-cafes come to mind...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan is the most backward place I have seen in terms of utilizing technology in the classroom. In most schools they still use chalkboard and have rows of wooden desks with up to 40 students all facing the same way.

The traditional classroom, whether in Asia, North America, or Europe, tends to be filled with lectures by teachers

Sorry maybe here but it hasn't been the case where I am from for a number of years. I went to a primary classroom in the UK a couple of years ago and I was amazed by the difference between it and Japan. Even when they do introduce the technology in Japan there is no training in how to use it imaginatively, so all that happens is that a teacher spends about 5 minutes loading it up to do something that could be done without any technology. You can't introduce technology into a classroom just for the sake of it, this sounds more like an experiment with a few inaka kids rather than any meaningful advance in educational philosophy or methodology. If they want to introduce new ways of learning it has to be done from the bottom up not directed from the top down, the entire way that teachers train has to be changed and that is why any project like this is bound to fail because it won't be implemented with the view to changing how things are done, it will just be lipstick on a pig.

Rocketnews really does publish the biggest drivel I have ever seen. It is always completely ethno-centric and devoid of any meaningful context whatever.

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

Jason RingSep. 29, 2013 - 08:05AM JST Perhaps I misread the intent of the concept, but shouldn't technology and innovation enhance classroom instruction, not replace it? Especially in primary school?

I think the problem you're facing is one of paradigm. You still refer to "classroom instruction". The idea here is that there is no "classroom instruction" (i.e. teacher -> students), but rather "classroom interaction" (i.e. teacher <-> students). Students come in with their homework and ask questions, the teacher reviews the homework to see common problem areas and clarifies areas of confusion. Classroom time is used for extension work, clarification, discussion, not listening to the teacher waffle on endlessly.

Yes, it is very different, but it moves closer to the idea of learning being interactive rather than passive.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

You still refer to "classroom instruction". The idea here is that there is no "classroom instruction" (i.e. teacher -> students), but rather "classroom interaction" (i.e. teacher <-> students).

But you can't just decide to do that with no background or training. You can't change a generation of teachers' values because it looks like a good idea.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

You need to mix it up. Students can prepare for the discussions at home by watching videos and reading. Yes! Reading. But they need classroom instruction on how to actually carry out a fruitful discussion. This is where teaching comes in to advise on language use, sociolinguistics, critical thinking, media literacy and group skills. A whole lot of facilitation is required for meaningful study.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Modern education is just another word for corporate brainwashing, need to produce those slaves! Also Western's education isn't any better so it's just kettle and pot.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Is Japan embracing new educational paradigm?

No. Soon six day per week of bollocks. Only new thing is more of same bollocks. Do not think, children! Only follow rules.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Nobody ever learned Algebra through the "derriere." On-line education is the future. Teachers need to be coaches, not the "sage on the stage." If a person wants a hamburger, go to Mosburger. If a person needs help with a subject, go to the teacher.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

You might even imagine kids sprinting through crowded streets, late for school, with nothing but a simple LCD screen in hand instead of hefty spine-cracking backpacks. And, while many of us might have dreamed of learning straight from a computer, it never really seemed realistic, did it?

Japan is behind the times.

Many PRIVATE schools in the U.S. ALREADY have their entire curriculum, worksheets, etc. on iPads. No textbooks required.

Saves the schools money also. One estimate at one school put the savings, from making copies alone, to over $1,000,000 a year. The students (or their parents) save tons of money on textbooks as well.

But this isn't even CLOSE to what's coming in the next generation. With most lectures, testing and accredation ALREADY being offered online, traditional schools are quickly going the way of the dodo bird.

I even read some article (here or somewhere else) about a Korean English teacher (in Korea) who's making MILLIONS by teaching online.

Schools in the U.S. are moving this way as well.

So, don't pat yourself on the back just yet Japan.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

So its not a "flipped classroom" at all; its the flipped methodology. Might sell better with more accurate name. In fact, losing the word "flipped" with all its negative connotations, is probably going to be a very , very good idea.

One thing that amazes me is that every school has a computer room, but I have no reason to think its being put to good use at all. Anyone know?

And probably the best use I have seen of the classroom TV is when the teacher put on anime during lunch. Unfortunately, not so many teachers here with the combo of imagination and stones necessary to do that.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Many PRIVATE schools in the U.S. ALREADY have their entire curriculum, worksheets, etc. on iPads. No textbooks required.

Most public schools in my region went in that direction a few years ago. The students take the pads with them when they graduate, too; they're not returned to the schools. Once a few districts were able to prove that it's a money-saver, the movement snowballed.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I do not get this notion at all. I have watched videos, I have seen presentations. I don't get why teachers and students need to be "flipping" anything. One guy I know spends HOURS setting up videos for his students online and asks them to watch them at home and then has them do stuff related. Fine and well IF the students watch it but what if they don't? Isn't the whole point of school to have them do things IN school? Teach them, allow them to do whatever it is with practise time, offer help after school if need be if they can't get it. What happens when some kid doesn't understand the at home work? Must they wait until class to sort it out? Sorry but I see it as more work for teachers than need be.

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

I even read some article (here or somewhere else) about a Korean English teacher (in Korea) who's making MILLIONS by teaching online.

Is that won or dollars?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I really don't see the point in following this. What if the student is completely stuck on the work and the teacher is not there at the present time to explain to them in a different way? They would have to wait a day and then fall behind on work when they eventually do get it. Plus, the education in the West, where I'm at the moment, are being ran by lazy students and incompetent teachers.

Is the education system that bad in Japan by Japanese perspectives? if not, don't fix something that dosn't need to be fixed.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Dollars Pochan from what I have also heard. I guess he "sells" lessons online - pay an dyou can login and also had DVDs.

Die, it IS that bad but rather than focus on why and how to change it, they'll jump at something and when it doesn't work, they'll blame the teachers, not the system itself. English in ele schools anyone??

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

There are two primary reasons for having classrooms, and they're millennia old - going back to the ancient Greeks, Chinese, and just about everyone else: group active learning and collective reinforcement - also socialization, but that's a bonus. The reason they're so often forgotten in contemporary attempts at improving our education systems is because they're so poorly employed in most schools - not because they're obsolete or ineffective.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Flipped Classroom: Teacher records lecture, students watch lecture outside of school. Both discuss in class. First year: Much work for teacher. Following years: Less work for teacher. Students who do not watch are quickly spotted.

When student says, "I didn't get it" means, "I played Minecraft."

1 ( +2 / -1 )


It was a joke

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Good luck with that. It's tough enough to get most Japanese students to complete their homework, never mind asking them to have the self-discipline to watch the video lessons, complete the homework, and do anything else associated with 'flipping' on their own at home. And what about working parents? Are they now expected to hire full-time babysitters or simply trust their 5 ~ 14 year-olds to be responsible little angels alone all day at home? Finally, there is the extensive technological training that will be required for the teachers. Not only will they have to create 'video lessons' for multiple courses, but will have to manage the virtual classroom technology as well. Most primary and middle school teachers are busy enough without adding this additional burden. Why were none of these things addressed in the article?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Works in many countries. But I doubt it will here, example J High school at clean the school time played a music tape for 45min. This required 2 students, one to press play, one to press rewind - the tape was only 5min long. I suggested looping it on to CD. But was told that would require meetings and anyway we have done it this way for more than 30 years. I was also told by staff that the computer room was the best place for a nap. Teachers will ensure this fails as its change and change is bad.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

To really understand the flipping you have to watch Salman Khan of Khan Academy. Would recommend the entire video but if you just watch this bit here ( http://youtu.be/1C7FH7El35w?t=21m ) from the 21st minute to 29:43

Wait for the line "... this all exists in Netflix, there's no reason why it doesn't exist in education."

You will then realize that education has not benefited from someone researching the teaching method that hasn't changed in hundreds of years. As Bill Gates mentioned, moving IQ points over to education from the hedge fund world has only benefited.

This is an awesome development for Japan

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Whether it works or not, this is the bold change that education has been yearning for. I really hope it works and if not, I applaud Saga Prefecture for trying something new.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


Interesting video. From what I saw in the video the point about starting from 1 plus 1 was very interesting, and exactly what I have witnessed in Japan, where the Maths instruction seems to very rigorous, but talking of having one school room for anyone is way too theoretical in my opinion when it comes to childhood education. As for this article what's it trying to say? That technology should be used more or that the flipped classroom should be implemented? You could just as easily give the kids a book and tell them to read it to discuss in class, hardly a novel idea but not practical, again especially in childhood education, and as said above the time at school is precisely when people expect to be studying, not to mention the fact that most of the best education systems int e world don't set homework anyway. I don't think you need better technology to make a flipped classroom work, if it could even work at all in certain areas of education.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Is Japan embracing new educational paradigm?

Obvious one to categorise under 'questions to which the answer is "no".'

1 ( +1 / -0 )

We have been in US education now for 4 months, after being only in J education so far. We are blown away. Daily computer classes, and all kids have ipads - in a PUBLIC school. This particular school district is renowned for its education levels, but even so - a loooong way from my eldests Japan classroom. And I also think elementary school in Japan is good. Just in different ways.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Interesting idea. Personally, I dont think ipads at home should replace kids coming to school to learn... not completely anyway. Education is much more than just about learning math, science, and history. If kids are learning from ipads at home they are missing out on the valuable lessons of social interaction with other kids and adults at their schools. Although I personally do not like many of the methods at japanese elementary schools, I do think we should have students gather and learn together. We live in an interdependent society so we need to learn to work together with others at school and not just at home alone.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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