Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Flipping Biology

Last spring I went to a regional CUE conference in the East Bay and was placed in workshop that I didn't sign up for.  I was bummed, but sucked it up and went anyways.  And I am SO GLAD that I did.  I went to a workshop on flipping the classroom.  I had not heard of the concept before, but after spending a few hours learning about it, I knew I wanted to learn more.  I was intrigued by the idea of being able to talk to my students individually each day and spend less time spewing information at them in lectures.  I wanted my students to take control of their learning and be able to stop, rewind, and replay screencasts of my lecture any time they needed.  I thought that I would try out a few screencasts with my students the next school year.

Then, over the summer, I saw that there was a book that had just recently came out, Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day, by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Samms. I ordered it and read it right away.  I knew that I could do the traditional flip, by having students watch the screencasts at home, and then spend more class time doing hands on labs and other higher level thinking activities in class with me present to help and guide them.  I loved the idea of students going at their own pace and mastering a concept before moving on, but I couldn't envision how that would work in my biology classroom with all the labs that my students do.

In August, I attended a CUE day long Flipped Teaching workshop led by Jonathan Bergmann and some California teachers who have been flipping their classes.  I decided that I would flip 100% of my lessons this school year and got some great ideas of tools to use, such as having students fill out google forms after watching the videos and posting my videos on so I could include the videos from my textbook publisher in my screencasts (I made a closed class so only my students had access to the videos, and I wouldn't be publicly posting the textbook publisher's videos).

First semester, all of my videos were online, and students watched them for homework.  It went well, most students had internet, and those that didn't were given flashdrives with the videos.  Even if they didn't have internet, they could watch the videos on computers, xboxes, and playstations.  Everyone had access is some way.  After students filled out the surveys, I was able to see where they needed help and clarification, and I planned the next days assignments to cover the information in the video.  Sometimes they worked in groups answering questions about the video.  Somedays they made their own screencasts taking the information from my lectures and explaining complex topics.  

But it wasn't a complete success.  Even though I felt that the students were learning the material better, they were going deeper into the content, not all students were on board.  The same students who were not doing homework before, were not doing it now.  I decided it was time to move to the Flip Mastery type of classroom (Fiip 2.0 as described in Samm's and Bergmann's book), and students would do all work in class.  There would be no more homework, unless a student was absent or got too far behind.

So after second semester, students were given choices.  They were given a unit plan with objectives.  Some assignments and labs were still required, but with many of the other activities, they had choices.  I provided different types of assignments that addressed different learning modalities and students had a choice to use or not use technology to complete these activities.  Everything was accessible online, and students turned in all assignments online.  I used the LMS Schoology, and students upload typed docs from their Google Apps for Education accounts, or they would take pics of their handwritten work in class using the iPads and then uploading it to Schoology.  Students could work at their own pace.  

The students loved the freedom and the ability to choose their activities.  They liked being able to show what they know how they wanted to, either by writing an essay, creating a podcast, creating an interactive book, or even a screencast.  Students who never had a passing grade in science were amazed when they now had As.  They loved that if they got something wrong, we would talk, they would get help from their group or me, and then they would fix it.  And still get 100%!  I wanted to know that students understood the topic, and if they mastered it, no matter how long it took, they would get full points for the assignment.  The problem was that some students got so far behind, and they wouldn't come in at lunch to get help or finish it up at home.  So at the end of the unit, they were missing a big chunk of the assignments.  

For the next unit, I am going to have scheduled progress check in meetings weekly with each student.  That may make it a little harder to check in with each student daily to help with understanding, but I am hoping the check in meetings will be quick, and I can still get around to talking to each student daily.