Flipping the Classroom...the Good, the Bad and the Ugly...





Every few years there seems to be some type of new technique that is developed that has hope and promise as an educational innovation. Currently, "flipping" the classroom has been getting much attention. Surely, the research will come concerning this technique. What you are going to read here is the brief story of an attempt by one teacher to "flip" things. You will get the good, the bad and the ugly.

What is flipping? Essentially, if you "flipped" your class, students would get the lecture at home on some topic through a video (usually online). They would take notes and use those notes the next day in class as you assigned the homework problems as work in class. They get the lecture at home and do the problems in class, hence the term "flipped". There are many places to get some decent videos such as Khan Academy, Tyler DeWitt, and Bozeman Science just to name a few. There may be others just as good. You can also make a YouTube station and do your own videos.

The Good.... First, I have found through experience that some items lend themselves better than others to "flipping". I prefer to choose topics lower on Bloom's Taxonomy and have videos in small "chunks". One example that I attempted was nomenclature. Some of the more in depth harder topics are better left for classroom experiments, demonstrations and lectures when we are able to have better answer and question time. You are the teacher. You understand your kids better than anyone and know the culture of the classroom and will be able to decide what items lend themselves better for "flipping" and which do not. A good length of time for the videos seems to be no longer than 10 minutes. Another trick is to have a question at the end of the video that students have to write down and answer. Their "ticket" to get into class and evidence that they watched the video is not only their notes but the question and answer.  If students take notes over the video and do the work in class, I am able to walk around and help kids who have questions about the problems they are working on. This, to me, is the real benefit of flipping. I get to have one on one time with the kids. They can ask me questions, I can ask them questions and as a teacher it is easy to quickly understand how students are doing without giving a formal test. This is also a place and a time to establish better teacher student relationships.

The Bad.... So you decide to "flip" a topic. You find or make the perfect video. You have some follow up questions, an assignment for class time...and then you find out that the kids who typically do not do homework still do not do their homework, even if it is just watching a ten minute video. You now have a class in which some of the kids at least have some idea of the problems they are doing and others, because they did not watch the video, are completely lost and are wondering why you aren't "teaching" them. Now what????

The Compromise.... I attempted a "work around" that I tried this week. I made a flipped assignment on nomenclature and I embedded it in a Google form. I found this had many advantages. First, the flipped assignment was made with some free software and edited on a free YouTube station. The nice part about this is that it is cheap, easy and someone can access Google or YouTube anywhere and anytime and on almost any device. The other part I like about this is the Google form. Kids have to enter their names and answer some questions based on the video. I keep the questions down to a bare minimum. Three works well. Google forms always creates a Google sheet with responses. Before the kids come in, the teacher can, at a glance, see if students got most of the questions correct or not. It is like a mini formative assessment. The teacher can also see a time stamp of when the student submitted the response. Did they do it at 11 p.m. or 2 minutes before class? I can then come up with a plan for students who did not do their homework and I have simple documentation to share with parents. We also followed up with an in class assignment which was a POGIL on nomenclature. I was able to go a bit deeper than a 10 minute video and I could tell by the comments that students were thinking about their answers.

Down and Dirty Action Research... We did a few flipped assignments this week. I took a straw poll and asked students how they felt about the assignments. I told them that we would not do it all the time but maybe they might see a few every so many units. Most kids liked it and seemed to appreciate something different.

The Myth of the Silver Bullet... If there was a perfect "silver bullet" tool that would fix all of a teacher's problems and allow every kid to learn, we would have found it by now. In my opinion, like anything else, "flipping" is just a tool. It can be a great tool or a terrible one. It depends on the circumstances, the culture and the teacher. It seems that with every new educational innovation, there are new promises of amazing learning. These promises don't seem to last long. Sometimes we forget, the most important advancement in educational innovation.....you the teacher. There seems to be a myth among some that if we do teaching online, once the activity is created, the teacher is done. I really think that we are hardwired to learn in communities. There is ample evidence to suggest that yes, we can learn things on our own, having a supportive mentor/teacher helps immensely.  Which brings me to my next and last topic...

Don't give up... the work you do is important.... I know that teaching is overwhelming. There are probably a huge stack of papers on your desk, 100 emails, and you actually have a personal life. Why would you be reading this blog? A part of you cares about students and how they learn. Don't give up. You do amazing work and are an amazing person for choosing to care for kids. Next week, an attempt to take a "cook book" lab and make it a bit more inquiry...