Several weeks ago, I had the honor of visiting our extraordinary lab-stuffed upper school science department, and in the process, I learned a lot, including: rollie pollies prefer rough surfaces; lab report writing takes explicit instruction and precision; and, take heart all of us who were traumatized by labs when we were in school: there is no such thing as “wrong data”- your data is your data, plain and simple.
By a stroke of divine fate, I happened to visit Rebecca Bernhardt’s fifth grade science class right around the same time, and noted that, while the gulf between fifth and twelfth grade science may seem gargantuan, there was actually one distinct similarity: both featured faculty that integrated flipped classroom into their teaching practice. I decided to interview Krissy Rehm (12th science) and Rebecca Bernhardt (fifth grade science) to learn more. What I found was that there are many flavors of flipped, but all of them have implications for more than just science instruction. (Note: For a storehouse of flipped instruction resources and examples that originate outside of our campus, check out this storehouse of articles, videos, and blogs from Edutopia.)
Julie: What is flipped classroom?
Krissy: Students do the note-taking and lecturey type stuff at home and then when they come into the class they do activities and labs where they have to work on applying the material that they learned at home.
Rebecca: So instead of the traditional model of the teacher bringing the students to class and then saying “now we’re going to talk about this new topic” and then assigning practice as homework, the topic is introduced via a homework assignment (it could be a video, it could be a reading, etc.) so that they come to class with that prerequisite knowledge. I was originally introduced to it ten years ago by my little cousin who is a bit of a prodigy. She’s now 14 years old taking college courses, but at the time was 4 or 5 and doing Khan Academy . . . It was such a novel idea: kids are getting introduced to the lesson via video and then they’re practicing it with their teacher.
Julie: Why did you choose to implement it in your classroom?
Krissy: As a scientist I learned that the best way to learn science is to actually do science. There is so much content that we have to cover in AP Biology. We would never get through it all if I had to both deliver basic content AND do problems/activities/labs in class. I wanted my kids to spend the most amount of time doing things in class where I can directly help them (and there peers can help them). If they’re doing problems at home I can’t help them, their friends can’t help them, and they certainly can’t do labs at home. Students can answer any question they have with a simple click on their computers, so it’s not necessary for me to tell them basic definitions. Instead, it’s up to me to show them how to apply that knowledge. I deliver my at-home content through my YouTube channel. So this is a way for them to get on Youtube and use it in a good way, to actually learn things to see there are videos out there that can help you learn information.
Rebecca: If they can get new content at home, that gives us time for more hands-on activities in class. They’ve been front-loaded and we can immediately start applying it and do the hands-on stuff which is fun, and it gives me a chance to see if they actually understand. It’s also a great way to give that introduction from someone who isn’t me. There’s a certain amount of trust that’s built between me and the student. They’ve learned they may not get it the first time. They are getting more comfortable saying “I don’t understand X, Y, or Z in the video.” Some of them just need one-on-one for these concepts. So it’s a great evaluative tool for me. . . if they aren’t getting it from two different flipped videos, even when they can rewind and rewatch, they need another way. That’s been really, really valuable. The facts don’t lie. I gave the exact test last year [when my class wasn’t fully flipped] that I gave this year on observation/inference and there was an on-average ten point increase.
Julie: So you both clearly see the value, but what do your students think about the experience of flipped?
Krissy: Mostly positive. The first year kids were more skeptical, but I think they bought into it after they saw I wasn’t going to budge about it. My first year here the videos were awful. I redid all my videos the second year. And this year I’m redoing a lot of them again to make them shorter and including fewer figures I find in a book and making my own figures and building things like that. So the first year they had a little bit of a struggle with it, second year much better, third year kids were like “these are the best things ever!” Kids seem to really like it. “Oh- I gotta go back and watch that video again!” . . . and “Oh- I missed that- let me rewind it” . . so they have it with them all the time and can look at it again if they need to. I commonly hear from students that I write letters of recommendation for that the format of my classes helped them see the value in taking control of their own learning.
Rebecca: Students are eager to do these assignments. They enjoy breaking the monotony of having to practice problems at home Students consider the break-down of homework- the difficulty versus due date versus desire-and even though the novelty of flipped classroom has worn off, they still ask me, “Can I do your video assignment now?” The kids are craving it . . . they were nervous at first because it wasn’t what they were used to. I’ve explained to them the philosophy behind flipped classroom and why I choose video assignments, and there’s a lot of self-correction that happens. To quote some of my students, “at first I didn’t know how I’d like flipped classroom. It was a little nerve-wracking doing a homework assignment in which I didn’t understand afterward, and I thought you were going to grade me poorly because I didn’t understand something in a video even after I rewound it. But then we came to class and you broke it down, and we practiced it, and when we started speaking about it, you reminded me of those things from the video, and if I went back watched the video later when studying it, all of a sudden it makes sense.” They like that. I always leave videos accessible at any point so they become an invaluable study tool. Instead of me teaching a concept one time, they get to hear other experts in the field many times.
Julie: So what does this actually look like in your classroom?
Krissy: I teach seniors, so I’m not very hand-holdy. I expect them to [watch the video before class]. Sometimes I give them pop quizzes and they can use their notes if they’ve done it. We will do worksheets in class, so they will have to use things from the video. If they haven’t watched the video, it’s usually not a huge deal (unless we had a pop quiz). Most of the work we do in class is in groups, so a friend can usually help to explain things. This benefits everyone – the student that watched the video is now having to teach the material to someone else and the student that didn’t watch the video is learning by listening and asking questions. Everyone is responsible for the material on the test. There are some [platforms] you can use to put your video and put your questions in it. It shows you who watched the video or not. I’m with seniors. They aren’t going to [have these checks] in college. My job is to get them ready to use their time wisely – even when the teacher isn’t going to check to see if you did the assignment.
Rebecca: Generally I will introduce a topic via flipped classroom a day to two days before I formally address it in class, and so it slowly starts integrating into class. Full comprehension usually happens several days after they’ve gotten their lesson. For example, I assigned a flipped homework assignment on calculating the volume of rectangular prisms. The follow-up class was yesterday where I passed them out 1 cubic cm unit cubes and had them measure the length, width, and height and then calculate the volume of one of them. Then I asked them, “How many different rectangular prisms can we create using 27 cubic cm.” We had some time to manipulate numbers and visualize volume, and that moved into today where they’re actually taking different rectangular figures like boxes and books and calculating the volume of them. Ultimately, they are taking that video knowledge and applying it in class and lab settings.
Julie: What platforms do you use to make flipped happen?
Krissy: I use Camtasia. I can make a video, edit it, if I make a mistake I can put a little call out with “oops- I meant to say . . .“ If I make a huge mistake I can make the video over again. I bought it with my budget from the first year. There are other free ones that others use (e.g. Screen-castify).
Rebecca: Playposit’s pretty cool because I can upload any video, and I can pull from Youtube or really any video source. But I can also add interactions to the assignments to check for comprehension. One of their assignments they had over their weekend is a video about measuring volume. As the video introduces a concept or an equation or something of that sort, I can insert a question to check for comprehension. (For a preview of one of Rebecca’s Playposits, click here.) So in measuring volume, the video introduces what volume is and three ways to measure it. Before the video explains what water displacement is, I inserted an interaction that said “What do you think displacement means?” I can go back and manually grade open-ended questions like that. But I can also add multiple choice questions. I also add in discussions, so sometimes an interaction might look like, “Add to the discussion about what your current understanding of displacement is.” I’m trying to get them to think about where we are going with this. If the video gives an example, I’ll immediately pause and provide a similar example problem for them to solve, usually a little bit easier, to see if they can immediately utilize the same technique the video just explained.
I’ve also gone through Google Classroom and Google Forms. My videos are usually only 4-5 minutes max. In one case it was only a minute, so I created the assignment on a google form and embedded the video with a quick check below it. I also go through Brainpop; Brainpop doesn’t have videos with built-in interactions, but for lower and middle school students, the video content is top-notch, and there are great built-in quizzes, worksheets, and projects that I assign to check for understanding.
Julie: What are your thoughts on teachers outside of the discipline of science going flipped?
Krissy: It works SO well with science because we can do so many hands-on things. It doesn’t have to be on a video or anything like that. Some teachers will say “you need to read that chapter and take notes.” So that could be flipped.
Rebecca: I would be exhausted if I did a true lab every day . . that would be impossible, so they aren’t always doing a full-blown lab, but we are always doing some sort of breakdown and hands-on activity to practice the new content. In math, it’s “let’s watch a video about how to solve this problem and then in class let’s practice it.” If you are introducing a topic in class it’s eligible to be flipped. You can record your own videos, and I have for some of mine, but I guarantee somebody else out there already has quality videos on this topic if you want to dip your toes in the water..
Julie: What advice do you have for faculty that are interested in flipped but aren’t sure where to start?
Krissy: So if you want to get your toes wet, you certainly don’t have to make your own videos. I think the students appreciate that I make my own videos. But you certainly do not need to make your own videos. There are so many great videos out there for everything, so those should definitely be used to see if could flipped learning would work for you. I would recommend at some point doing a few of your own videos. I think the students kind of buy into it a little bit more if you have your own voice on the video. It’s like, “Oh- my teacher did this!” Sometimes I post a video by Bozeman Science (AP Bio series- science videos) or Khan Academy. Maybe the student needs to hear it a different way (or they are sick of hearing my voice); there are great videos so you don’t have to make your own videos.
Rebecca: Try it once. Come meet with me and let’s make a pilot lesson. Let’s flip one lesson, a lesson that you would normally introduce in class. The really fun thing to do that I did last year just to kinda get my feet wet: you often teach four sections of the same thing; do two flipped and two not flipped. Do a week of lessons, two flipped, two not flipped. You don’t have to have a full-time commitment to it, but just see the difference for a week and prove it to yourself. I mean, you can take my word for it, but until you’ve really tried it and the kids get used to it and you get used to it, that’s when you’re actually going to see the results. Assess student engagement and compare it with your traditionally-run classes; see if they are responding more appropriately to the material; see if you can get further with your classes. Because that’s what I’ve found. My timeline is different than it was last year simply because of this one component. And some materials I’m getting through quicker and some I’m going into more depth. I would say “try it out.” Come chat with me or any of the wonderful people in i2. You don’t have to make your own videos to do this. You can assign a video, something upfront that is not physical practice but is an introduction to something. You don’t have to take their word for it that they watched it. I can show you ways to check for comprehension before they come to class. Give it a try, and see what happens. See how you like it. See if it eases your stress knowing that they are coming into class with that prerequisite knowledge.