Teachers turn learning upside down

“The main idea behind the ‘flipped’ classroom is for teachers to be available when students need them most. If I lecture for 30 minutes … in my chemistry classes, that would leave me about 20 minutes to assign homework and let students start on it,” he explained.

At that point, he said, students were left to their own devices to finish their homework and come back the next day for something new. What he found was that when students left his class, many either chose not to do the homework or gave up as soon as they ran into something that didn’t make sense.

“Then we would spend the next day going over questions instead of moving on. So what I was doing was using up valuable class time to lecture and then leaving them to figure things out on their own. That seemed like a very inefficient use of class time to me.”

Spencer began to create screencasts of his lectures using Camtasia the day before. Those screencasts then became the homework—and class time was for doing “homework,” or answering questions and doing labs/demos.

“I have now reached the point where, because of the screencasts, my students are all able to work through the curriculum at their own pace,” he explained. “Since I’m not lecturing in class, and students can access the information whenever they need, I can now spend that ‘extra’ time helping students one-on-one.”

Because many of Spencer’s students lack high-speed internet access at home, Tebo received a grant for Spencer to get a classroom set of iPod Touches, which Spencer checks out to students who need them.

Like Spencer, James Yoos, 2010 Washington State Teacher of the Year, teaches science. Specifically, he teaches two sections of honors chemistry, two sections of AP chemistry, and one section of bicycle maintenance at Bellingham High School in Bellingham, Wash.—a school known for its low dropout rate, high test scores, and multiple awards. He has an average of 28 students in each class, ranging from freshman to seniors.

Yoos, who prides himself on being a “hands-on” learner and teacher, began his career as a bench chemist for a small biotech company. Though he enjoyed the experience thoroughly, he found himself teaching.

“I decided on a career change that would let me pursue my passion, and I’ve never regretted it,” he explained.

According to Yoos, it’s imperative that students learn the thinking process that gets used in STEM subjects.

“We are entering into a new era in which proficient problem solvers that can communicate and collaborate are absolutely crucial not only for our country, but also our world. Students need guided practice in developing problem-solving skills. However, chemistry also requires a specific tool box of skills that they need to apply in problem-solving scenarios,” he said.

“There’s only so much time in the day,” he continued, “and I noticed that I was running out of time in class helping students practice and develop their understanding.”

Yoos explained that although lecture was necessary, not all of his students could be engaged through this process. Therefore, many students were trying to modify their inherent learning styles to meet the lecture format.

“It simply was not meeting the needs of my students,” he said.

Three years ago, Yoos decided to condense his lectures into 15-20 minute vodcasts that students watch for homework. They are expected to watch and practice with him when they are ready to learn the information.

Meris Stansbury

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