Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

A Chemistry Teacher’s Reflection on Flipped Classrooms


Maybe the most important and authentic parts of teaching and learning practices are from the reflections of teachers and students. Without these reflections, pedagogy theories are only theories, nothing more. This is a reflection from a high school chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam on his flipped teaching (flipped classroom). (a great site full of information about flipped classroom)

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On-The-Go Responses

Recently, a huge philosophical debate regarding the efficacy of flip teaching (i.e., inverted classroom, reverse instruction, blah blah blah…) as an instructional pedagogy has dominated the blogosphere. This post by Aaron Sams sums it up well. Personally (see previous post), I am very encouraged with initial results seen in my AP Chemistry classroom as I attempt to merge guided inquiry instruction with aspects of flip teaching. With that said, this merger works well for me, I think, for two reasons:

  1. Good science instruction should inspire students to construct their own knowledge.
  2. I teach at an urban catholic high school, and although improving, our schedule is still very limited (primary reasons include: additional school holidays and lack of athletic facilities that require students to miss class often).

Given this reality, in order for me to make it through an entire AP chemistry curriculum AND encourage students to construct their own ideas first, I must strike a balance between inquiry and teacher facilitated instruction. If I had it my way, and perhaps when I become a more experienced and well versed instructor, I will be able to move through an entire AP Chemistry curriculum in a way that completely removes any direct instruction from the picture.

In the meantime, rather than stepping in to fill in knowledge gaps and address misconceptions in class, doing this via annotated and narrated screencasts works very well for me, and for my students. (See “Explore-Flip-Apply” model below).Students get an opportunity to struggle with concepts in a collaborative and hands-on fashion first, and then use the homework space (only a few times a week at most) to learn key phrases, definitions, and models from me, that I feel push them through the curriculum at a good clip, in my voice and my handwriting.

Thus, it is VERY clear, that the above process is more a function of MY situation than anything. A lot of great information, knowledge and wisdom can be found when sifting through the past month’s debate, and for me, I was able to develop a model that I feel is working. But (deep breath…) that’s relative to me. For all interested in flip teaching, I encourage your to reflect on your own practice, what works for YOU, who YOUR students are and what resources they have. Then, perhaps aspects of flip teaching could help address a few of the road blocks you might encounter.

So, why am I writing this, and why is it titled “On-the-Go Responses? To be honest, going back and fourth about pedagogical differences, efficacy of flip teaching, etc., has totally burnt me out. Given this, I have been asking myself lately: why did I begin to do this in the first place? The answer is simple.

One day, 6 years ago, before Dan Pink even name dropped the term “flip”, I was frustrated with the time it took to go over homework in class, and decided to post video solutions on line. This led me to a fascination with mastering the tools needed to make this happen in a fluid and clean way for students and teachers. Done. I got super nerdy about the technology, and how it saved a few minutes of class time for me, and that was that.

So, lately I have been thinking about a similar thing, and rather than surround myself with debate on a grand scale, I thought it would be fun to get back to the nerdy tools that fascinated me in the first place. I got an email from a student asking for help on a problem while I was in the car yesterday (yes, like an idiot I looked at my phone while driving, I regret this…). I pulled over, and started typing out a long explanation. Then, I remembered a post form Kyle Pace on twitter about the new VoiceThread iPhone app.

I pulled up the app, and immediately realized I could only annotate over pictures. So, in an attempt to turn VoiceThread into Screenchomp, Replaynote, Explain Everything or Showme (iPad programs that allow you to record video tutorials on a blank white screen), I took a few pictures of a white sheet of paper I had in my car and recorded solutions to the problem over those images. In five minutes, not only was I able to send the solutions of to the student, but on their end, they received an explanation that is not only cataloged for other students to watch but, like all good instructional videos, maximized their audio and visual working memory channels. 

Simple, but quick, and without an iPad. I think I’m going to use this method to respond to all student inquiries regarding difficult problems while I’m away form my computer. Below is a simple tutorial I created for how to do this. I used BoardCam (an iPad app that turns the iPad into a doc camera) to record this tutorial. It was my wife’s iPad. Ignore the music at the beginning of the video. Forgot to turn Pandora off…

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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