Category Archives: Teaching and Learning

Learning theories and practical applications

Exam Wrappers = Great Reflection

One of the most important aspects of guiding students in the learning process is reflection.  However, many instructors either don’t know how to incorporate reflection or just don’t understand the benefits.  Grant it, some courses lend themselves more to reflection.  STEM courses normally do not.

Flipping my classes has given me more opportunities to talk to students one-on-one.  Our conversations have given me better insight into their learning processes.  In addition to not knowing how to take notes, students spend even less time reflecting and summarizing what they learned and how they learned what they learned (or didn’t learn).  In a recent publication, I came across the idea of Exam Wrappers.   I used information from both Purdue University and Carnegie Mellon University to design an exam wrapper that will help students “learn FROM the test”.  Here is what I use as my exam wrapper.

After a test is graded, I return the test along with an exam wrapper.  I print the exam wrapper on colored paper so that students are less likely to lose it.  Students are directed to complete the wrapper by the next class meeting.  I review the exam wrapper and give students up to 5 points on the test for completing it.  The more reflection, the greater the points.

I make copies of the exam wrappers and write the test score on each copy of the wrapper for future reference.  Many of my students really find it beneficial not only to guide them through the test, but help them know what to do to prepare for the next test.  Here a few comments from the first test exam wrappers.  The first comment is from a student repeating the course.

2015-02-18 09.10.04  2015-02-23 12.08.072015-02-18 09.10.14

The exam wrappers are also a huge benefit to me.  Students are given the opportunity to give suggestions to me.  Instead of waiting until the end of the semester for feedback, I hear it from the students during the semester and I can address any concerns now instead of later.  I am able to give the student feedback on the exam wrapper about their learning.  Exam wrappers are a win-win for both the student and me.  If you haven’t thought about student reflection, exam wrappers are a great tool to try.


Different class, Same #FlipClass story

So excited about flipping my classes this semester!  Not sure what is causing the differences, but so far the overall atmosphere in the classroom is positive. I just read Robert Talbert’s blog post “The Inverted Calculus course” this morning in The Chronicle and found his story eerily similar to mine.

The changes made from last semester have been very well accepted by students.  As I told the students, they are good students.  Now I want to make them great learners.  What is the difference?  My students are good at coming to class, asking questions, doing what they are told to do…. all attributes of a good student.  They are preparing themselves well for the in class sessions of the class.  BUT, I have found that they don’t really know how to learn and prepare for those high-stakes assessments.

Test 1 was graded and the overall median was not very good.  I had a sit down discussion with them to try to figure out how they approached their learning.  They did what I told them to do prior to every class… watch the vodcasts, pause, rewind, take good notes.  Try the Gate check and before class problems.  In class, they worked collaboratively in groups on the assigned in class problems.  All these steps were directed by me, the teacher.

Then I asked them what they did to prepare for Test 1.  Almost every student told me that they re-watched the vodcasts, looked over notes, and read the textbook.  NOT ONE SINGLE student actively reworked any of the in class problems (the problems normally assigned for homework).  In other words, the students repeated the content acquisition yet none of them worked on the problem solving.  I was astounded!  I assumed they knew to do this.

As a result, I challenged the class to work together to improve the overall class average on the next test.  If the class increased their overall test average by 10%, I would add 10 points to each student’s grade on test 2.  They responded well to this.  I am trying to get them to support and work with each other collaboratively rather than against each other.  I also hope with this “team concept” for learning, they focus less on the grade and competing and more on the learning.  

The overall class atmosphere is very conducive to learning.  I am loving the positive interactions and working with these students.  I believe they really want to learn the material, they just didn’t know how to approach preparing for a high-stakes assessment.  I hope the “team concept” helps.

Final exams and #flipclass

The day has come… the final exam day in Gen Chem.  I am very excited to see how much they know and remember.  The class average going into the final exam is a 80%…. much higher than in previous years when I only lectured.  However, I doubt many students perceive their grade as high.   If the students have learned anything from gen chem and the flipped classroom, I think they are learning how to study and learn.

How do I know this?  I gave a “reflective” type of assignment last week that asked students to develop a strategic plan for preparing for finals (gen chem in particular).  You can view the assignment here.  Then I asked them to view the Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on Grit.  I asked students to reflect on grit in a personal way… do they have grit?  how do they react to a less than ideal situation?  The responses were amazing….and enlightening. About 90% of my traditional students indicated that they never had to study in high school.  They freely discussed how they had to change the way they learned.  Bingo!!

Another great take-away from their responses was the fact that those students who talked about grades and needing to learn for a grade were much more anxious in class and about the flipped classroom.  Those who expressed the desire to learn the material for their future careers and/or interest were those who are more successful and seem less anxious.  These responses clearly indicate that motivation towards learning–learning for the grade versus learning for the sake of learning– influences a student’s performance and overall satisfaction with the learning environment.

I replied to every student who submitted a response to the Finals and Grit assignment.  I gave many of them advice on how to approach their learning or confirmation that their approach was working!  Several students told me that they were not happy with the assignment at first (more work near the end of the semester), but thought it was the “best assignment ever” and I should “do this every semester”.  Many shared the TED talk with friends and family.

I love teaching in the flipped classroom.  But, what I love most about it is the relationships I now have with all of my students.  I know every single one of them in a meaningful way.  To those who are open to new learning strategies, I can give advice as to how to study because I know how they learn best.  The flipped classroom has provided me with the time to build those meaningful relationships and a learning community.  More than chemistry knowledge, it is my hope that their new learning strategies and Grit will serve them well in the years to come.

Success factors in the #Flipclass: #Grit and #Motivation

The semester is winding down and I am becoming a bit reflective.  I will post a final “semester of flipping” reflection in the weeks to come, but thought I would reflect on this last week in terms of student grit.

The end of the the semester reveals a student’s personality.  How does a student handle stress?  How does a student deal with life weaving into schoolwork?  And most importantly, how does a student communicate (verbally and using body language) with the instructor and their peers?  This week revealed several interesting observations.

The students who have been most successful in the flipped classroom are appear more calm, communicate well, and overall have a great attitude–they are still smiling.  Those who have been less successful are skipping class, appear angry in class, and are not completing the assignments or taking shortcuts when completing them.  

What does this all mean?  Well, I have indicated in previous posts that level of motivation seems to effect success and satisfaction in the flipped classroom.  I believe that is true as those who are intrinsically motivated (self-regulated learners, learn for the sake of learning) versus extrinsically motivated (not as self-regulated and learn for a grade), are performing better.  But, there is more to this:  the Grit Factor.

Grit research is fascinating and I wish I would have come across this prior to designing my dissertation study. Grit really encompasses many theories:  self-determination theory, goal-orientation theory, learning strategy theory, etc.

Grit is simply “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly).  “Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.  The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that is it time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course” (p. 1087-1088).

After Thanksgiving break, I plan on asking students to view the Angela Duckworth TED talk and reflect on how they plan on to approach final exams and their upcoming semesters. Success in the flipped classroom or even college is not about intelligence.  It’s about the amount of grit in a student.

Success with Solutions in the #Flipclass

Wow!  Just as I was doubting the efficacy of the flipped classroom in an general chemistry class at an open-enrollment college, Test 3 results squelched my doubts.

Test 3 consisted of solution chemistry.  Topics included electrolytes, precipitation reactions, net ionic reactions, molarity, solution stoichiometry, redox, and titrations.  The emphasis was primarily on problem-solving.  I was nervous as many of my students were not very comfortable with taking a “word problem” and converting it to a mathematical statement to solve.  Further, there was only about 3 weeks since the last test.  But, I had record numbers of students attending office hours this past week which gave me more time to spend talking about problem-solving.

And boy did their efforts pay off…. The median on Test 3 was an 81%.  35% of the students earned an A on Test 3!  The grades ranged from a 29-100%.  Compare this to the lecture class from Fall 2012 where only 16% of the students earned an A on the same test.

However, about 35% of the students earned Ds and Fs on Test 3 in both the lecture (Fall 2012) and flipped classroom (Fall 2013).  From this, I will go out on a limb with this conclusion:  The flipped classroom is helping the higher performing students (more self-regulated, directed learner), but not the less motivated/prepared/struggling student.   I am not seeing an increase in success for the less motivated student.  In fact, the grade distribution is more polar and has an almost inverted bell-curve.  View the graphical results here.  

I plan on asking the students for feedback regarding how they prepared for this test compared to previous tests.  There was not as much “memorizing” information like naming, molecular geometry, etc.  Maybe they just buckled down and studied harder.  I’m hoping they will be candid with me.

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks as we wrap up the semester and prepare for the final exam.  I hope they see the benefits of the flipped classroom and are willing to tell me what works and what doesn’t work.  I love to learn from my students and continue to change what I do based on their input.  By the time I’m ready to retire, I might perfect this thing called teaching.

Making connections in the #flippedclassroom

We had a really good day in gen chem.  Instead of assigning a vodcast quiz with notes, I asked students to view the vodcast and/or read the textbook and complete about 7 problems from the text.  These problems were fairly simple problems that a student could do after reading or viewing the vodcast.  My office hour immediately before class was packed!  So many of the students sought out help with the problems.  I was able to give these students one-on-one attention and they came to class really “getting” solution stoichiometry and titrations.

As a result, in class these same students were able to progress more easily through the “in class” problems and tutor their peers more effectively.  I noticed excitement in the class as a whole.  They were gaining confidence in their ability.  Students were making connections.  Finally!

On a different note…. a friend of mine works with high school students.  I had presented the flipped classroom idea to a group of teachers from my local school district.  Two teachers (one science and the other calculus), started flipping this year.  My friend said the group of HS students were saying great things about their flipped class experience.  They love it and think they are learning so much more!  This is a quote taken directly from Ms. Persun’s (Calculus teacher) email to me and school administrators.

“Good morning!  I wanted to share the results of the student survey on the flipped classroom.  The students completed this survey late September.  I will probably do another quick survey after our next test or at the end of the nine weeks to see if any thoughts have changed.  If you click on the link it should take you to the results.

Some of the responses are very interesting.  I think the thing that stands out to me the most is that from the students perspective the vast majority like the flipped classroom.  I have one very strong opinion the opposite direction from a student and maybe one or two more that are not 100% sure.  Also you can see that 91% of the students feel that working on the problem sets in class increases their comfort level for problem-solving and 87% feel like their problem solving skills have developed.  No one said that it doesn’t help them!  Another important aspect is that 91% said that they pause and rewind the video.  By far I think this is the best thing about flipping.  They can hear and see the content as many times as they need!

Also after analyzing our first test compared to the three previous years the average was up a few points, not drastic results.  But any improvement is good as far as I am concerned”.

We need more educators who are “risk-takers”. We need share our ideas and best practices and find what works with our students.  I’m so excited to be a part of the flipped class movement.

The results are in….

Test 2 in the #flipped general chemistry class has been graded.  The median was a 75%.  The grades ranged from an 8%-100%.  14% of the grades were below a 50% and of those below a 50% over 2/3rds did not do the homework that was assigned.  The median is not statistically different from the lecture class, but again, the range of grades is quite different.

Grades from test 2 in the lecture class from Fall 2012 ranged from 39-94%, but only 4.5% of the students earned grades below 50%.  I do have 10% more students in the flipped class section who entered college at the remedial math level.  But, I don’t think math level entering college predicts success in a flipped classroom.

What I do see is that students are doing less problems outside of class.  Since we primarily work on problems in class, I don’t think many do problems outside of class to reinforce the concepts.  In fact, I don’t think many are reading or viewing the vodcasts either.   I give vodcast quizzes to “make” them view the vodcasts, but even this does not seem to motivate them all of the students.

I have made other interesting observations from both my forensics and gen chem classes.  I assigned groups based on performance on test 1.  I assumed the best group dynamic would be a high, middle, and lower achiever.  Wrong!  Most of the high achievers only want to work with high or middle achievers. They are getting frustrated and seem to not want to waste time explaining the concepts.  The middle to low achievers are intimidated to work with the high achievers because they don’t want to appear to not know anything or the high achiever moves too quickly through a problem.  My best group/partners are like achievers. Interesting……  Although, this observation may not have external validity.

Another observation is the lack of note taking when powerpoint slides are available.  When checking student notes, these “notes” in forensics consist of just the ppt, nothing added.  I have a few who will add to the notes (and those students have earned higher grades… surprise).  As a result, I have decided to NOT provide ppt files to my students.  I will let them take notes the old-fashioned way:  writing the information down.  I may need to give a lesson on note-taking.  Anyone already have this lesson as a vodcast?

There are only 4 weeks left in the semester.  I hope to continue to post my observations.  I will be administering a survey about the flipped classroom in both forensics and gen chem.  I am looking forward to reading the results.