Monday, 4 February 2013

The Flipped Classroom - finally more time!

This is the story of a typical high school science teacher who seemed to never have time.


I began my career teaching the grade 10 science classes. These classes were perceived to be the best for new teachers as there were no high stakes exams partnered with them - in Alberta, the grade 12 exams are worth 50% of the mark. I was given the textbook and program of studies and naively believed that the textbook reflected the curriculum well.

Fortunately, I had a colleague who was extremely organized and talented who set me on the right path for planning and aligning my lessons to reflect the program of studies and not the textbook material. After two to three years of teaching, the textbook became a reference book for the students and not a teaching doctrine. I began to realize that the textbook was generally a great reference but included significant material not found in our program of studies.

My teaching assignment diversified to include the grade 11 courses of chemistry, biology, physics and soon the grade 12 chemistry course. Again, I used the textbook to guide my lessons as I knew where I could find activities that aligned with the curriculum and practice problems for the students.  But over time, I found new resources, activities, labs and required the textbook less and less. Even for the high stakes courses, I didn't require the textbook. My lessons were dependent on students taking notes and then, if we had time, engaging in an activity where students would demonstrate their understanding.  Sometimes I felt that I rushed the notes just so we could get on to the "fun" stuff. I began to create more engaging activities and had students singing, writing, role playing, building, cooperating, etc. Unfortunately, "getting through the material" seemed to consume most of the class time.

After a few years, the school I was at opened its doors to grades 7-9.  So Grade 8 Science was added to my assignment.  I loved teaching those students, their excitement just entering the door was contagious.   I started to rethink how I taught my day to day lessons. I decided that I would challenge the students to develop inquiry labs from scratch and not use the labs from the textbook.  If students knew the answers, what was the point of doing the lab?

As Bob McDonald from CBC's Quirks and Quarks says, "Ask any scientist and the only thing they like  discovering better than an answer is a really good question."

So I found the time to complete an inquiry lab with the students once to twice a unit.  The students couldn't wait to get their hands on the materials and challenge one another with possibilities of how to develop their investigation. I would see groups of students completely engaged, collaborating within and between their groups (which I encouraged) and at the end of the inquiry lab there would be four to six labs created - all unique and all developed by groups of students working together (authentic, eh?).

Back to the Grade 12 high stakes Chemistry 30 course.  After a few more years, the school opened its doors to the International Baccalaureate program and its additional high stakes exam. Now I had less time to reach into my collection of engaging activities as I had two masters to satisfy. Notes and lecture became the mainstay of  lesson delivery and I became more exhausted each day as I was doing the "show" all day - the provider of knowledge.

Thankfully, the IB Sciences curriculum requires students to design their own experiment so I was able to resurrect the inquiry model periodically.  But the demands of teaching two programs forced this to be very occasional and not collaborative in nature.

So, notes and lecture seem to be the method of information delivery that most science teachers use.  We were taught in that manner and feel that it is the only method that will get the job done.  That may have been true even ten years ago.

However, with the ubiquitous nature of digital technology, science teachers finally have a choice.


Science teachers across North America have begun to "flip" their classes so that the lecture is watched at home (or at hockey practice, the bus, the gym etc.) and once students arrive in class, the teacher can spend the time engaging with students however they see fit!

Read my previous posts to see how you can flip your class to afford yourself more time to engage students, develop inquiry labs, and teach students to the mastery level. You may notice that your high stakes exam marks also increase as real learning occurs and not just cramming for the test!

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