My Flipping Realities and Possibilities

[Author’s note: this will have mixed tenses, meaning my grammar is going to be appalling (sorry Mrs. Parsley), as this is a combo of what I was thinking when I went with this and some of what I observed after and during the doing of it.]

I flipped my courses this past semester.  I realize flipping the class is not a silver bullet that will magically cure the ills of what ails every student in their acquisition of knowledge and application of learning.  What it does offer, though, is 24/7 opportunities for remediation, one-on-one help with problems or concepts with me and each other, increased opportunities for applied learning, and greater student accountability.

The biggest advantage in using screencasts is the pause button:  the student literally determines the pace of information flow.  What this allows the student is time: time to process what is heard and seen, time to process questions for clarification, and time to research on their own using their books, the Web, whatever, to construct and build their understanding.  Moreover, the ‘time’ is not one day’s worth, it is available over the entire course for students to either play catch-up or review as necessary.  The time is not just a benefit for the students either, but for me, as now I have the opportunity to help some students through the frustration of, ‘It made sense in class, but when I got home, I didn’t get it.’  Now, I, and their peers, are available to help, coach, and/or tutor each other through the problems.  This shared frustration helped coax some of my students through the challenges of Chemistry.  Plus, as a teacher, there was nothing like the feeling of being replaced by the students when they explained what was going on or how to do something to each other, helping each other ‘get’ the material, improving their own understanding along the way.  I loved hearing the ‘light bulb’ moments.  I actually think the flipped model allows more intellectual independence in and interdependence between students.  There were more opportunities to discuss and explain and ask questions without pressure; it was liberating for many.  The perceived negative reality of lecture as homework (as it’s still homework) means the students, now more than ever, have to keep up with their homework.  An Achilles heel I suppose.  However, the same students that did not do this homework for my class, were not doing ‘traditional’ homework in other classes.  As a teacher, I would like to ‘hook them,’ find that key to drawing them in, and help them discover authentic self-esteem (esteem that comes from their struggles and work through failure and success); but I also know I cannot abandon the rest of the class and stop doing what I know will help many with the material because of a few.

In addition, flipping also meant I still would have time for labs.  This requires a bit of clarification: I went from three 90 minute classes with a 90 minute planning per semester to four 78 minute classes with 60 minutes of planning before school which also had to include dealing with student issues, attending parent conferences and IEP’s, staff meetings, PD development, and PLC’s or department meetings.  The very real loss of planning and instructional time meant I was going to have to eliminate some labs and course material.  All Hail the Flip!  Really, I believed it would allow me to avoid making some of the hard choices about what to cut out while creating time to add in some new assignments (specifically case studies in Anatomy).  So, I did not cut like I needed to and, therefore, did not cover some important concepts; I ran out of time.

The flipped did allow me to find a regular means of incorporating the ideas of Just In Time Teaching (Mazur and Novak).  A component of the lecture assignment was a series of questions to answer after they watched it.  It was supposed to fulfill two roles for me: first, let me know who had ‘done’ their homework; second, point out issues the students had with the material.  I tried to vary the questions in difficulty and scope (and got better at this as the semester progressed) thereby enabling them to be more than a homework check and more than regurgitation.  These questions were hit or miss in fulfilling both purposes:  I did see some go back and work on them after class discussions; and I did see some never answer the questions, though, they had obviously taken the notes.

Next semester, I get a mulligan as I have all new classes.  I am teaching Anatomy and Integrated Science again, and I get to reinvent my Chemistry material for Honors Chemistry (because they use different books and have different course outlines).  This will allow me to tweak some of the lessons without being as overwhelmed.  I am also going to get to change the order and purpose of the flipped questions I used.  My plan, right now, is to have the students answer the questions before the lecture.  I hope to see improvement in, and get a better gauge of, their understanding which should allow more flexibility in how and what we do in class (and I think be more along the JiTT philosophy).  For the students, it should provide a purpose to the lectures; it should focus their attention.  I’ll also be culling through some of the material and changing priorities, the very thing I had hoped not to do, but is obviously necessary.  Then, I want to incorporate misconceptions, primarily through student generated content.  This could be instigated by demonstrations or videos or common mistakes…it’s just a thought for now, but I hope to flesh this out…for the purpose of having the students confront and analyze what they really understand and allow for real growth and learning.  Finally, for better or for worse, much of the material in my Chemistry and Anatomy classes, specifically, require time from the students outside of class.  The flipped does not replace studying or the need to study, but should provide an additional resource to the student pursuing understanding during his/her study time, allowing that quick review/reminder about a particular idea.

Once more into the breach.

[For more information on flipping the class check out these blogs – Jon Bergman, Aaron Sams, Brian BennettAndy Schwen, Ramsey Musallam; for critiques/concerns check out these blogs – Frank Noschese, Daniel Rezac article, and Derek Muller]

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