In this column, we take an in-depth look at one of the teaching techniques employed at Ursuline Academy. At Ursuline, teachers are encouraged to be proactive and purposeful in their choice of teaching methods, taking into account both the subject matter and the students.
“Flipped classroom? Say again?” Yes, you read that correctly. The “flipped classroom” refers to a technique that essentially “flips” the order of a traditional classroom paradigm by having the activities typically done at home occur in school, and the activities typically done in school occur at home. More specifically, rather than the teacher spending the majority of a class period lecturing, the students view instructional content (typically videos) at home, and spend the bulk of their class time applying the concepts, clarifying questions, and exploring the material in a deeper way. In a flipped classroom, teachers are “no longer the presenters of information; instead, we take on more of a tutorial role,” according to Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams (Flip Your Classroom).
This approach is being used in several classrooms at Ursuline Academy, particularly in disciplines that require students to practice and apply what they have learned to varied situations. Mrs. Jennifer Brown, Science Department Chairperson, uses the technique almost exclusively in her teaching, which includes AP Biology, Environmental Science, Anatomy and Physiology (A&P), and Biology 1. In a recent unit on the digestive system, her A&P students experienced the content in the following sequence over the course of several days:
At home: Students viewed a series of video teaching notes created by Brown on the parts of the digestive system and how they work.
- Advantage: Students can view at their own pace, rewinding and rewatching as necessary. While viewing, they note areas of confusion as well as questions.
In class: Students engage in an activity that measures the length of the various parts of the digestive system.
- Advantage: The activity reveals how structure relates to function, e.g., why the small intestine is so much longer than the other parts of the system.
In class: On Q&A days, students bring their questions and areas of confusion to class.
- Advantage: Since students have had time to review the material at their own pace, their questions go beyond first reactions to the material. The “what-if” questions that students bring often take the materials to a deeper level.
In class: Hands-on activity on “what happens to the food you eat?” Using ordinary materials and real food, students force the food through a simulated digestive tract. (See photos.)
In class: Students engage in a case study about a diabetic child with ketoacidosis.
- Advantage: Through hands-on application of concepts, students utilize higher-level thinking skills.
In class: Wrap-up and review
The advantages of a flipped classroom approach include:
- Increased personalized contact time between students and teachers.
- Students taking more responsibility for their own learning.
- The teacher can act as a “guide” rather than a “sage” delivering content.
- A means for students who are absent due to illness or extra-curriculars to keep up.
- All students are engaged in their learning.
- All students can get a personalized education.
“Prior to using the flipped classroom, I would have started out a unit on the integumentary system by lecturing on the different layers of the skin. Now, students can cover that material through the video notes, and they come into class and are very quickly applying their learning by building a model of the different layers of the skin using playdough, or by analyzing a case study of a girl who discovers a suspicious mole. They have to use their learning to figure out if the girl is at high risk for melanoma, and advise her on what to do,” says Mrs. Brown. By applying their learning in this way, students much more quickly exercise the high-level thinking skills of analyzing, evaluating, and creating, instead of spending most of their time acquiring and remembering knowledge.
“I would say that the biggest benefit of the flipped classroom is that I can get to so many more hands-on activities than I did before. I also interact with students more one-on-one now. In a typical lecture format, I would mostly hear from a few vocal students, but now I have a better handle on where everyone is at. Recent graduates have come back and told me that the activities they are doing in their college classes are ones that they did in my class here at Ursuline - both AP Bio and Anatomy & Physiology.”
Senior Cate McCluskey concurs about the value of hands-on learning: "By dedicating class time to labs, we are able to engage with what we are learning. There is always an 'aha' moment during each lab in which the concepts we are learning click with what we are doing, and everything makes more sense." And everyone would agree that the 'aha' moment feels good for both student and teacher.
Bergmann, Jonathan and Sams, Aaron. Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day. Copublished book from ISTE and ASCD: 2012
McDougall, Dan. http://docsflippedclassroom.weebly.com/
- in the classroom