Flipping the Classroom for Latter-day Saints

Originally published on June 28, 2011 on nashru.wordpress.com.

June 28, 2011 – This post contains religious content.

Salman Khan talk at TED 2011: Salman Khan talk at TED 2011 (from ted.com)

Salman Khan (Khan Academy) has a video on his website from TED 2011 (see link above) in which he speaks of flipping the classroom: students doing what was traditionally considered homework during class and what was traditionally considered the lecture or class work at home. This concept has been on my mind heavily in recent months, and more especially in recent weeks.

In the April 2010 general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, addressed members of the Church and taught, among other things, the following:

“Component Number Three: Inviting Children to Act

“In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are “things to act and things to be acted upon” (2 Nephi 2:14). As children of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity and power of independent action. Endowed with agency, we are agents, and we primarily are to act and not merely be acted upon—especially as we “seek learning … by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).

“As gospel learners, we should be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). Our hearts are opened to the influence of the Holy Ghost as we properly exercise agency and act in accordance with correct principles—and we thereby invite His teaching and testifying power. Parents have the sacred responsibility to help children to act and to seek learning by faith. And a child is never too young to take part in this pattern of learning.

“Giving a man a fish feeds him for one meal. Teaching a man to fish feeds him for a lifetime. As parents and gospel instructors, you and I are not in the business of distributing fish; rather, our work is to help our children learn “to fish” and to become spiritually steadfast. This vital objective is best accomplished as we encourage our children to act in accordance with correct principles—as we help them to learn by doing. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God” (John 7:17). Such learning requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception.

“Inviting children as gospel learners to act and not merely be acted upon builds on reading and talking about the Book of Mormon and bearing testimony spontaneously in the home. Imagine, for example, a family home evening in which children are invited and expected to come prepared to ask questions about what they are reading and learning in the Book of Mormon—or about an issue that recently was emphasized in a gospel discussion or spontaneous testimony in the home. And imagine further that the children ask questions the parents are not prepared adequately to answer. Some parents might be apprehensive about such an unstructured approach to home evening. But the best family home evenings are not necessarily the product of preprepared, purchased, or downloaded packets of outlines and visual aids. What a glorious opportunity for family members to search the scriptures together and to be tutored by the Holy Ghost. “For the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; … and they did all labor, every man according to his strength” (Alma 1:26).

“Are you and I helping our children become agents who act and seek learning by study and by faith, or have we trained our children to wait to be taught and acted upon? Are we as parents primarily giving our children the equivalent of spiritual fish to eat, or are we consistently helping them to act, to learn for themselves, and to stand steadfast and immovable? Are we helping our children become anxiously engaged in asking, seeking, and knocking?” (See 3 Nephi 14:7.) (Ensign, May 2010).

I don’t want to take Elder Bednar’s teachings out of context, so even though I could have been more selective in the material I quoted above in making this point, I left it as is. The idea of flipping the religious education of our youth, or “invit[ing] and expect[ing kids] to come prepared to ask questions about what they are reading and learning” (ibid)—as opposed to their arriving only for a lecture or some prepared learning activity—is something that I am very curious to explore in my teaching.

I don’t know if Elder Bednar, an experienced administrator and educator in business and religious settings, would endorse Salman Khan’s concepts of flipping traditional classroom environments, but I think they have both taught important principles. I further think their principles resound with one another and capture far more than what educational technologists are calling 21st century education, but what I believe is ancient, divine education.

Latter-Day Saint scripture reads, “And as all have not faith, seek  ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118)

In February 2006, Elder Bednar addressed religious educators in the Church and expounded on the idea of learning by faith. He taught:

“A learner exercising agency by acting in accordance with correct principles opens his or her heart to the Holy Ghost and invites His teaching, testifying power, and confirming witness. Learning by faith requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception. It is in the sincerity and consistency of our faith-inspired action that we indicate to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, our willingness to learn and receive instruction from the Holy Ghost. Thus, learning by faith involves the exercise of moral agency to act upon the assurance of things hoped for and invites the evidence of things not seen from the only true teacher, the Spirit of the Lord” (Ensign, Sept. 2007).

I understand this to be the doctrinal, or spiritual foundation that resounds–at least to an extent–with Khan’s concept of flipping the classroom. I believe his concept works because: 1) it is based on a true principle, 2) today’s generation of young people (in and out of the Church) want to learn, and this approach facilitates that desire, and 3) this approach enpowers these youth to learn on their own and not feel entirely dependent on others.

Again, I’m curious to explore these concepts in my teaching next fall. Seminary is appropriately bound by a pattern of sequential scripture teaching, so this kind of flipping in our classes will look different than it would in secular classrooms. Still there is always room for the application of true principles.

Author update: Feb. 1, 2014 – This was not an assigned post for my EDTECH 501 coursework, but a reflective piece that I shared on my learning log and have included on this page to document my thought processes at this early stage in my graduate education. The citation format in this post is not consistent with APA formatting, but with the style guide for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The original post also did not have the direct link to Salman Khan’s video.

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