My flipping chemistry class…

Caryn Harward is the Head of Chemistry at St Mary’s Calne. Here Caryn shares her Lightning Talk topic about Flipped Learning, and how it is applied in her classroom.  Caryn comes from a background in research and industry she is passionate about science and science education, and is constantly on the lookout for opportunities that might extend or enrich her students’ experience. Add to this her own love affair with learning and the result is an intense interest and investigative approach to all aspects of her own teaching practice… and very little time with her feet up on the sofa. 

 

©Growth of Flipped Learning
©Growth of Flipped Learning (EdTech Review)
I will begin by saying that I am not a fan of educational fads. Being confronted by a classroom trend with a snappy title is often enough to deter me from anything more than a cursory investigation into the research behind it (no mention of Brain Gym® please).

When I came across “Flipped Learning” (FL) I was initially fairly sceptical. Not particularly new, ‘flipping’ has been around for some time now; but to me it just seemed like far too much time spent planning, making videos and developing new activities. If I am honest, anything that is going to make significantly more work for me is a non-starter as far as I am concerned.

At its core FL is really just setting school work for home and doing homework at school. This allows students to cover the basic ideas and key information (direct instruction) at home so that they come to lessons prepared, with a rudimentary understanding and questions about anything they struggled with. Once I understood this it made perfect sense. Why should we cover the easiest bits of the course in class with an expert available to help but then send students home to struggle with the application of the content alone?

Fast-forward a year and my A level classroom is a different place. We are not pushed to complete the curriculum, in fact we have freed up time to work on other projects. During lessons I do very little ‘chalk and talk’, instead students undertake tasks to identify misconceptions, apply their understanding and extend their knowledge. We are able to have more in-depth discussion and spend much of our time solving problems, with a significant increase in the amount of 1:1 attention given. My policy on testing is ‘small and often’; regular topic tests using exam-style questions, with plenty of prior practise, ensures that students have covered the curriculum with understanding and know what will be expected of them in the examination – but this is only one small part of the overall classroom aims. Students appear to make faster progress, despite the learning process being largely self-driven; and the onus for learning is transferred from teacher to student. At the risk of sounding trite I am now more a facilitator of learning than an imparter of knowledge.

Of course nothing is without its pitfalls, and there is a series of checks and balances that have to be maintained in order to ensure that preparation is completed. My students write notes, complete and mark summary questions, possibly watch a relevant video and complete an on-line quiz prior to starting a new topic. All of these I check, and the quiz is timed (I use Edmodo©) to ensure that it cannot be completed by looking up answers in a text book. Students soon realise that insufficient preparation leaves them unable to participate in lessons and looking a bit foolish. It does not happen often.

The down-side of this teaching style is that the initial set-up takes a fair amount of effort. Not just planning the schedule and setting tasks for student preparation but identifying an appropriate range of in-class activities to fill the time I would previously have spent standing up front waffling on about electronegativity and the like. Another requirement is support from up on high and I have been very lucky to have an enthusiastic and progressive line manager who has been willing to give me plenty of leeway to “see how it goes”.

There is a wealth of information and resources available for those wanting to flip their classroom, a lesson or even just a single activity and having seen the benefits I have every intention of tweaking activities, improving resources and moving forward with my flipping chemistry class. A tweet from FlipCon16 (Flipped Learning Network, 2016) caught my eye and sums up reasons to flip better than I ever could: “I love it: ‘If kids can Google it, I should not be teaching it in class!’ Teach application and understanding not, facts.”