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You Do The Math: Inside the Flipped Classroom

by Monica Fuglei What Happens in a Flipped Math Classroom?

Mr. Heimbigner calls my daughter’s fifth-class to the front of the classroom. He starts a countdown on the computer, hands the students back their notes taken while watching an online video the night before, and asks them what they need to know. Students don’t appear to have many questions, so he suggests someone completes a problem on the board. I worry that nobody will volunteer.

Witnessing student engagement in a flipped math class

Suddenly three-fourths of the hands in the room shoot up looking for the opportunity to complete a two-digit partial quotient in front of their peers. As the chosen student finishes, Mr. H turns to the class. “What do you like?” he asks. A classmate compliments the student at the board but follows with, “one question I have is. . .” Another student raises her hand, saying, “I have a question but can I show you?” Soon the timer dings. “Okay, students,” says the teacher, “I don’t want to take any more of your time.”

Students then move into different areas of the room, working in groups or individually as the teacher moves to address a small group of students who don’t quite understand the content. Sometimes a soft chime comes through the speaker to signal that the teacher has awarded a student points for their dedicated work; other times Mr. H quietly suggests students refocus on the task at hand.

Exit slips replace long assignments to demonstrate content knowledge

After about fifty minutes of independent and group work, students are asked to return to their seats to complete their exit slip, a single question that allows them to demonstrate content knowledge. Mr. Heimbigner explains to me that rather than correcting a lengthy homework assignment, exit slips allow for swift identification of students who don’t understand the content, who make simple errors, and who have mastered their content knowledge. This allows him to meet with content-insecure students the next day.

Student-centered learning is the focus of flipped classrooms

My daughter and her classmates are participating in a flipped classroom. This method takes the educator from the position of “Sage on the Stage” to “Guide on the Side.” This is student-centered learning in a digital era, where students engage new content outside of school and return to the classroom to ask questions and participate in individual or group activities that support their out-of-class learning. 

In essence, the education process is reversed; what used to be in-class lectures are now out-of-class videos and instead of homework, students engage the content in class in small groups, individually, or through working directly with the teacher acting as a guide with specific questions students have on the material.

Flipped classroom successes: Flexible pacing, startling improvement at a Detroit high school

The flipped classroom has some distinct advantages, one of which is that parents are able to watch lectures and refresh or learn content alongside their students. Additionally, students who might have been too fearful to ask for clarification in the classroom can watch the content at home as many times as they’d like, and are then encouraged by their instructor to discuss concerns or questions in the classroom.

In her column Turning the Classroom Upside-Down, Tina Rosenberg catalogs dramatic results from the new flipped curriculum at Clintondale High School in Detroit. She writes, “the failure rate in English dropped from 52 percent to 19 percent; in math, it dropped from 44 percent to 13 percent; in science, from 41 percent to 19 percent; and in social studies, from 28 percent to nine percent.” Rosenberg also notes that while MOOCs and other technology-based learning methods have faced criticism, there is fairly broad acceptance of the flipped-classroom structure among educators.

 

Identifying the four pillars of flipped classrooms

Concerned with the implementation of the flipped classroom broadly and aware that every classroom is different, several educator resources got together to identify The Four Pillars of a Flipped Classroom. The Flipped Learning Network, George Mason University, and the Pearson Center for Educator Effectiveness joined forces to produce a review of the literature wherein they identified flexible environments, culture shift (student and parent acceptance), intentional content, and professional educators as the most important pieces of an effective flipped classroom.

Flipped classroom challenges: Technology barrier, concerns about diminishing the role of classroom teachers

Some parents and educators remain concerned, and “The Four Pillars” identifies weaknesses in this new education system. One fear is that, with standardization through video lectures, teachers will become a dispensable piece of the education puzzle. This leads to the report’s support of professional teachers as guides for the flipped classroom.

Technology must be accessible for all students to benefit from the flipped model

Another concern is the technology barrier in disadvantaged homes created by inaccessibility to the internet and computers. This is a legitimate problem, particularly in districts that are not able to provide students take-home technology resources, open computer labs, or rely on libraries or other islands of technology. One final concern mentioned in the report and iterated by parents I’ve interviewed has been the time lag between the video-presented material and the opportunity to engage the teacher on the content. 

Fortunately, the drawbacks of the flipped classroom experience are not insurmountable, and the benefits are clear. As the flipped classroom becomes more popular, we will likely see additional advantages, including increased instructor collaboration, content sharing across districts or states, and an embrace of the rights and responsibilities of students in control of their own learning. 

 

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

 

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