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Don’t make these mistakes with flipped learning

From stale practices to no accountability, even flipped learning can fail students

learning-flipped-mistakesFlipped learning has taken off in classrooms across the country, but what many educators are realizing is that the new toy feeling of videos as homework is wearing off. The reason: You can’t re-package stale teaching techniques as something new.

To get the most out of flipped learning, the trick is in the design.

During a recent webinar on flipping the science classroom, Marc Seigel, a chemistry teacher at Middletown High School in Middletown, N.J., explained how four years ago, the concept of flipped learning was intriguing and just catching on.

“At first, I used a handheld camera to tape some lectures and post them on my website as a supplement for students. But I didn’t use them for instruction yet,” he said.

Seigel soon began posting podcasts on YouTube as homework assignments for students, and asked students to complete tasks in the classroom. According to Seigel, this worked for approximately one month before students lost interest again.

“I began to lose track of what day of the week it was,” he said. “It was sort of like a vacation where everything blended together because it was the same effortless things day after day. And that’s not good.”

According to Seigel, the students began to lose interest as well, and that’s when he realized he’d been making classic “rookie” mistakes with flipped learning—mistakes some teachers make with regular teaching methods as well.

(Next page: Flipped learning mistakes to avoid

“I changed the format but kept the content the same,” he said. “So I’d still have the same lecture and same homework, but it was just flipped. To get flipped learning to work, and to have your students engaged, you have to make the videos and the homework more meaningful—this is the true spirit of flipped learning.”

Mistakes to avoid

The first mistake not to make, noted Seigel, is keeping the content the same.

Not only does the video need to be more concise than a traditional lecture (think 10 minutes instead of 30 minutes) and be more engaging to students, but the video also doesn’t have to be created by the teacher.

“One myth about flipped learning is that it requires a teacher video for instruction. You can find clips on what you want to discuss on lots of other platforms—Steve Spangler, TedEd, and more—and even pull from clips in the news and media,” he explained.

Another mistake is to use the class time for traditional paper-and-pencil homework. According to Seigel, the class time should instead be used for more collaborative, inquiry-based learning.

“One teacher I was talking to said he loved flipped learning and was assigning students 45-minute college-level lectures to watch at home and then assigning them worksheets during class. Um…no. That’s not true flipped learning,” said Seigel.

For flipped learning to truly engage students in class, the period must be used for collaborative projects, inquiry-based learning, and higher-order analyzing. An example Seigel gave included a science lab his students completed involving baking soda and vinegar. Students were asked to fill a balloon with the chemical reaction caused by the two ingredients.

“I noticed this group of students giggling and messing around,” he described. “I asked them what they were doing, and they were actually filling the balloon with much more baking soda then I said to use. They said they wanted to see if they could make the balloon pop. Instead of telling them to stop, I said, ‘If you can write out the equation of how much vinegar it would take to react with the baking soda amount you used, I’ll let you try.’”

Seigel said the students never could get the balloon to pop due to unforeseen calculations in balloon stretch, but it was the time needed in class to think critically that produced the learning the flipped model aims for.

“When you’re not lecturing, it gives students the time they need to let their brains process and think,” he said. “And this is what all teachers try to go for.”

(Next page: Three more mistakes to avoid)

In the same vein, another mistake teachers make it to use the class time for completing other non-learning related tasks—for example, grading tests.

“During class time, don’t assign paper-and-pencil worksheets so that you can use the time for yourself. Your desk is a barrier to helping students learn. In fact, I am in the process of getting rid of mine!” he noted. “Just because students are working in groups or on hands-on projects doesn’t mean they don’t need your help and guidance. That’s what you’re there for!”

Next, teachers need to have an accountability system in place for flipped learning, instead of just relying on students to watch the video with no checks and balances.

As one attendee of the webinar explained, a good way to make students accountable for watching the video is to have them eMail answers to two or three questions after viewing the video materials—and describe two questions they have about the video or what they didn’t understand. Students should have this completed by a certain time of night.

Seigel said he uses a sheet that has a list of assignments, their assignment name, due date, and grade, and each student has one of these sheets. Each sheet also gives the student a timeline for when each concept must be learned.

“It’s also important that students know the objective of what they’re learning. This gives them responsibility for their own learning and lets them understand that’s it’s not just all about fun, or all about the dry process of getting an ‘A’ on a test; it’s about a larger objective,” he said. “I also create a set of expectations that every student can see, listing a spectrum from below expectation to beyond expectation and what each of those entails.”

The final mistake teachers make with flipped learning, Seigel said, is giving up on the model because some students might not have access to the internet or a computer.

“Usually students who don’t have a computer or internet at least have a TV and DVD player. Teachers can burn the videos onto a DVD. If the student has a computer, but no internet access, have students check-out flash drives. There’s a way to make it work.”

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Meris Stansbury

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