As I see it, one of the biggest benefits of Flipped Learning is that it gives me greater flexibility in how I convey content to my students. My students do not need to be sitting in my classroom looking at me in order to learn. They can learn from watching the videos that I make, or by completing an online activity, exploring the concept through an in-class inquiry lab, discussing the ideas with their classmates … the possibilities are endless. This is not something that only “flipped learning” teachers do – it is just plain good teaching to use a variety of strategies in your classroom.
However, I am not always been intentional in thinking about the content that I’m teaching and the best way to deliver it. I admit that I sometimes fall into a routine of “I taught it this way last year” or “this is how the other teachers for this course are teaching it” – partially because I get busy, partially because it’s easier to do what I’ve always done, and partially because I actually do a few good things already! But since it is summer right now, I have plenty of time to think and dream and brainstorm, and I’m currently thinking that some of my units could use a bit of TLC and creativity.
My Hopes & Dreams… & Challenges
The hard thing is that I have to “cover” the same curriculum as the other honors chemistry teachers in my school, and that curriculum is skewed toward calculations and algorithms (i.e. worksheets where they do basically the same problem with different numbers 10 times in a row).
I think I can persuade the other teachers to start developing students’ conceptual understandings and assessing those more frequently. But I will need to show them what that looks like – and I’m not sure I know exactly what it will look like! We will also need to cut some of the procedural stuff from the curriculum, because developing conceptual understanding takes TIME. But it’s always hard to agree on what can be cut because we all have our favorite things to teach.
The best next step is probably to spend some time studying the Next Generation Science Standards, since Illinois will probably be adopting them as our new state science standards in the next few years. I’ve heard that a significant amount of content has been de-emphasized for the sake of skill and concept development.
Once I decide what to cut, I need to figure out how to class time to help my students actually learn what they’re supposed to learn without being BORING. This is where I’ve been stuck for the last couple of years.
When I flipped, I basically just started doing the same worksheets in class that used to be homework. My honors students bought into it easily, because it wasn’t “flipping” their world too much – they would still get direct instruction (through videos) before they applied the knowledge (by doing worksheets or labs in class). As I reflected on it, a student could succeed in my class without having to do a whole lot of real thinking. And that is a shame!
So I have two goals:
1) Incorporate Learning Cycles
As I mentioned in my last post, I am going to try to use Mussallam’s “Explore, Flip, Apply” in my class this year, to create a healthy discomfort for my students before they are taught new facts. I’m planning to start small – maybe focus on one or two topics in each unit. I already developed a cycle for bonding types, in which students explore the conductivity and solubility properties of various substances in the lab to develop initial categories of bonding, watch a video about the scientific models for bonding, and then come back to class to apply what they’ve learned through peer instruction and another activity. This activity is adapted from the Living by Chemistry (link) curriculum that I use in my general chemistry classes. The curriculum is full of great ideas, so if you teach chemistry, I strongly recommend checking it out!
2) Turn Worksheets into Activities
There are just some things that students need to practice over and over. And worksheets are great for this, but they get boring when used too frequently.
I’ve made some math-teacher-friends this year, who also face the difficulty of teaching students skills that are best learned through repeated practice. They have shared a few ideas of in-class activities that can be used in place of worksheets. Some of them work better with shorter problems (which could be useful for molar mass calculations, or identifying the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons in an atom based on atomic mass and number) and some work okay with longer problems (like gas law word problems or stoichiometry calculations).
I would LOVE to have more ideas for how to do both of these things, so if you know of a book or website with strategies, please share a link! I’ll also try to share ideas here throughout the year as I use them.