The flipped-classroom approach to education is undoubtedly popular, with consistent growth in the number of related books, conference sessions, and educator network memberships.1 Although challenges with the approach are reported, the advantages are far more widely claimed. Many of the advantages are related to pedagogical contributions, such as flexible learning, peer-based learning opportunities, and other active-learning strategies. Although active-learning may not be any more beneficial in a flipped classroom compared to a traditional classroom2, it is clear that a flipped class can increase the frequency of active-learning opportunities.3
In this post, we'll explore in-class activities, and address the following questions:
What are the most popular in-class activities used in a flipped classroom?
How can a class period be structured to make the most of class time and incorporate many of these activities?
In a 2018 literature review, Akçayir and Akçayir conducted a large-scale systematic review of the research on the flipped classroom since 2000.3 In this study, they explored the advantages, challenges, and categorized the types of in-class and out-of-class activities in flipped classrooms. They found that the most popular activities were student-centered, including discussion, small group activities, feedback, problem-solving, and collaborative group work (see table 1). Each of these activities falls under the umbrella of active-learning, which is different from traditional lecture-based learning. In more traditional-learning models, students are passively engaged with the content as the majority of communication comes from the instructor. During active-learning, students are much more involved in the learning process. They actively participate in thinking about the content and communicating their learning approach.4
Table 1: Frequency of in-class activities in flipped classrooms.
In the context of chemistry, I have found some of these activities to be more beneficial than others. Over the years, I’ve refined a framework to routinely incorporate many of these strategies into a single class period. Although I teach within an 80-minute block period, this model could be adapted to work in shorter class periods by splitting the framework over two days.
As a governing principle, consistency in assignments and methodology is critical. In a recent study about student engagement in a flipped classroom, Gilboy et al. found that too much variation of in-class will decrease their effectiveness because students tend to focus on the learning strategy instead of the content.5 Thus, I structure every week in the same way (see figure 1). I try to organize the content for a week within a broader theme. For example, molecules may represent a broad theme for the week, and each class period explores content that's related to that theme. For the theme of molecules, we would learn to draw structural formula, determine three-dimensional structure with VSEPR theory, and identify bond and molecular polarity. At the end of each week, knowledge is assessed with a quiz (I call it the Learning Check). At the beginning of the week, I provide students with a Practice Learning Check, which I believe is imperative, because it directs their focus on the essential knowledge skills that they should construct by the end of the week.
Figure 1: General weekly framework for a flipped classroom.
Similarly, each class period follows a general framework (see figure 2). Each class period includes the following components:
- Entrance Card
- Group Thinking
- Learning Tasks
- Exit Card
Figure 2: General class period framework for a flipped classroom.
Before class, students prepare by taking notes as they watch a video tutorial and/or read corresponding textbook pages. The related knowledge and skills are assessed at the start of each class period with a small assessment, called the entrance card. The entrance card is a short, 3-5 question quiz that consists of problems related to the topic for the day. Additionally, I usually include a question that reviews the previous days' content. Once everyone has finished the entrance card, students trade their papers, and we grade them together. The entrance card is valuable not only as a way to check that students completed their prep work but also as a form of instant feedback on their learning.
Next on the agenda is the group thinking activity. I subscribe to a social constructivist theoretical understanding of learning, which suggests that knowledge is best constructed within a cultivated social environment. Within this environment, peers interact by challenging and supporting one another as they process the content.6 Profitable group thinking activities are challenging and non-linear activities, causing students to think more deeply about the content and struggle in cooperation with one another. By design, strong students are compelled to assist struggling students.
As an example of a group thinking activity, when learning about periodic trends, I use a data analysis activity that is similar to the New York Times educational tool, What’s going on in this Graph. Students analyzed graphs that communicated ionization energy as it related to other variables such as the atomic number and the removal of subsequent electrons (see supporting information). This activity only took about 10 - 15 minutes to complete, and it prompted a conversation that defined ionization energy, discussed reasons why an electron’s proximity to the nucleus affects the ionization energy, etc.
After group thinking, we enter into a micro-lesson that I call the “Workshop.” This lesson targets misconceptions and reinforces key points. Students who score over 80% on the entrance card can “test out” of the workshop so that they can prepare for the next class period or work on practice assignments. In general, students who “test out” of the workshop, correct their misconceptions during the group thinking activity, and the workshop seems to be more impactful with a smaller number of struggling students.
Each week, students choose to complete tasks from a list of assignments. In general, the tasks come in two forms: (1) practice problems for students who need to spend more time on basic knowledge and skills and (2) POGIL activities so that students can develop a deeper conceptual understanding of the material. Although students have a choice, I prefer that they work in groups to complete the POGIL activities.
Finally, the class ends with another assessment called the exit card. The exit card is in a similar format to the entrance card; however, it is optional because I only keep the better score between the two. Students who want to improve their entrance card score opt to take the exit card. I find an average increase of around 50 - 75% between the entrance and exit card scores. Furthermore, I find that these scores are great data points when talking with students and parents about their growth in the course.
Although this format has worked well in my flipped classroom, I recognize that sticking to a consistent framework can sometimes result in a dull or rigid curriculum. I think that I balance rigidity with variety in the group thinking and learning tasks. However, I am interested to learn about how other teachers structure their flipped classroom. If you have thoughts or suggestions related to in-class activities, please leave a comment, I’d love to learn more.
- Network, F. L. (2014). Flipped Learning Continues to Trend. Retrieved from https://flippedlearning.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Speak-Up-FLN-2014-Survey-Results-FINAL.pdf.
- Jensen, J. L., Kummer, T. A., & Godoy, P. D. D. M. (2015). Improvements from a flipped classroom may simply be the fruits of active learning. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 14(1), ar5.
- Akçayır, G., & Akçayır, M. (2018). The flipped classroom: A review of its advantages and challenges. Computers & Education, 126, 334-345.
- The University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. Introduction to Active Learning. Retrieved from http://www.crlt.umich.edu/active_learning_introduction.
- Gilboy, M. B., Heinerichs, S., & Pazzaglia, G. (2015). Enhancing student engagement using the flipped classroom. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 47(1), 109-114.
- Palincsar, A. S. (1998). Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning. Annual review of psychology, 49(1), 345-375.