“I don’t watch the videos” in #FlipClass

As the Spring semester winds down, I started to ask students for input to improve the flipped classroom.  I have yet to label their learning environment as a “flipped classroom” and plan not to ever put a name to how I teach.

To my knowledge, this semester of flipping has produced the least amount of complaints.  Several factors have contributed to this and as a result, I have less to change for the Fall semester.  One of the biggest issues, however, is that students are still not completing the before class activities including watching the vodcast. This is confirmed by their responses on the Gate Checks and lack of foundational knowledge to begin the problems assigned for in class.  Most students are just filling out the Gate Check to get credit without actually completing any of the activities.

The research that is emerging  about the flipped classroom indicates that students like the pre-class recorded lectures and complete the activities. A recent article by Long, Logan, and Waugh (2013)  indicated that students find the recorded lectures beneficial.  Long et al. reported that 78.4% of the students found the recorded lectures beneficial.  I assume that 78% of the 51 students are viewing the recorded lectures.  My reality is not aligned with these findings.  Those who actually watch the vodcasts find them useful, but only about 10% of the students are viewing them.  I feel like I am constantly trying to find ways to “make” students do what I ask them to do.  I know I should not do this, but frankly, very few students would not do anything outside of class if it was not graded.  Why do so many of my students NOT view the recorded lectures?

I asked his question to those students who I know do not view the vodcasts.  They say that they “don’t like learning from a vodcast” or they “don’t have time”, or they “can’t learn this way”.  I tried to probe this response by asking them “why don’t you think you can learn from a vodcast”?  They respond by saying “I just can’t”.  I’m not sure how to convince them to try to learn this way.  However, I think I need to show and guide students on how to learn.  To this end, I plan on asking students to keep a separate notebook that includes notes from vodcasts/readings, problem solving examples clearly written, and before class problems completed.  I will check these entries periodically and randomly so that students feel the need to keep up and I don’t have to spend time collecting and grading everyday.  The student has to be in class in order to submit the notebook. In addition, I will ask those who are successful in this class to give advice to the Fall semester students.  Perhaps student testimony and advice will help.

My next blog will include student responses from a survey about the vodcasts and the flipped classroom learning environment.  I am looking forward to reading their responses.



Refining my #FlipClass

As part of my teaching position, I am evaluated by my school dean once every 3 years.  Even though I have “tenure”, we are continually observed in the classroom.  I welcome this opportunity as a way for me to get input from an outside observer.  I am very fortunate that my dean has several decades of teaching experience in both higher ed AND K-12.  He is a master teacher in mathematics and has been discussing the flipped classroom with me for several years.

His observations were aligned with my observations.  The in class activities (solving a list of problems) became more like a study hall.  Every student was working on their own even if they were grouped.  There was little conversation and this only occurred if someone didn’t get the “right” answer that was listed in the text.  I had to run around answering and guiding individual students sometimes repeating my response over and over.  The more prepared students finished quickly and either sat there or worked ahead.  The students who struggled could barely finish the assigned problems or stay on task.  The more prepared students didn’t want to spend time explaining to the struggling student nor did the struggling student want to ask them for help.

So my dean gave me an idea that he had observed another instructor do.  Each student got a number (1-4).  All number 1’s moved to meet together and work on two problems.  Each #1 student was responsible for knowing how to solve their two problems.  The numbered students returned to their original group tasked with teaching their group mates how to solve their two problems.  All students left having the information to solve all 8 problems.

I tried this today.  Students were at first resistant; giving me that look of “please don’t make me move”.  Once they were in their groups, they resorted back to doing the problems independently.  I had to stop at each group, question, and “ask” a member to explain their answer to their group members.  Then I heard it….   talking, teaching, and learning.  They asked each other to explain and heard my most quiet students explaining to others.  Everyone was on task; no phones; no straying conversations.  When the numbered groups finished their problems, I asked them to move back to their original groups.

In their original groups, each numbered student had to teach their group mates.  This also went very well as each was confident in their answers and were able to explain.  Everyone left having completed the same problems and feeling confident in their answers.

I am going to try this again.  It seems MUCH better than the “study hall” environment.  I also don’t have to run around and answer the same question 20 times. I can address one problem with four students.  I also think having a whiteboard with each group will help the students explain to their peers more easily than on paper.

The next issue is how to group students in their original group.  It was suggested that group them according to ability…. all weak together, middle together, and high together.  This seems counterintuitive to me.  I did attempt to place a low, middle, and high together last fall.  This didn’t work very well as the high performing student didn’t want to take the time to help a low achieving student and the low achieving student didn’t want to admit they didn’t know something or were not prepared.  How do you group students?

The next issue is the number of assigned “in class” problems.  Is less more?  I observed that most students do the problems to get the done rather than understanding them… rushing through them to “check off” that assignment.  Should I assign less problems so that students spend more quality time on them?  Maybe give “extra” problems for those who are motivated to do more?

I am determined to find the right balance and practices for implementing the flipped classroom.  I will not give up on this…  Just the other day a student asked me if (M1/M2) * V2 would give the same answers as M1V2/M2.  I would never have had this conversation with the student had it not been for the opportunities to talk with every student, everyday in the flipped classroom.

#Flipclass not for Every Student

Throughout my entire journey to the flipped classroom, I maintained that the most important aspect of flipping is that the instructor can reach every student in every class.  I love teaching in this environment.  Currently, I am able to help those students in the class that are struggling.  But, I have two classes of about 16 students.  In the fall semester, my class size will again be at about 50 students.

Here lies the problem:

Because my institution is open-enrollment, there are many students who lack the study skills needed to reach high achievement in college.  Many of my students graduated at the mid- to bottom-third of their high school graduating class.  Additionally, the math level of most entering the college was at or below College Algebra.  Like many learners today, my students face learning disability challenges such as ADD and ADHD.  However, placed among these students are well-prepared, self-directed learners with the foundational skills needed to be successful.

My current students are really trying hard.  Most do what I ask them to do:  view the vodcast, read, complete the Gate Check, etc.  They are taking good notes.  They are respectful and really fun to have in class.  I absolutely love this group of students.  BUT…. they aren’t “getting it”.  I bring in relevance when I can…. “why they need to know this”….real-world examples of chemistry in action in healthcare and industry.  No help.  Many still don’t know how to convert grams to moles or that molecular weight is g/mol not just grams.

Many of my students get off-task.  They have a hard time focusing on the problems for 50 minutes.  Many of them need my help to the point where they want me to sit with them for the entire 50 minutes and guide them through every step of every problem.  I can devote time to them this semester because there are only 16 students in the class.  But, I won’t be able to give each student the time they need in the Fall when there are 50 students in one class (and no TA).  When the student can’t figure out a problem on his or her own, they turn to their neighbors who show them what to do.  They write it down, but don’t comprehend what they are doing.  OR the frustrated student sits there completely off-task doing nothing.  They become disruptive and bother those around them who are getting it and trying to focus.

I think the flipped classroom is dragging down those more prepared and academically motivated students.  And, honestly, the less prepared student isn’t understanding college chemistry any better in the flipped classroom. 

There I said it.

I am going to continue to flip my general chemistry class this semester because of the small class size and the ability to work one-on-one with the students.  But, come fall, I am going back to lecture (or a modified lecture) unless my current students really insist that they like this method of learning.

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.

New Beginnings #Flipclass

I wanted to wait a few weeks into the Spring semester before I entered a new blog post about flipping my general chemistry and Forensics classes.  As you may have read in previous blog postings, I had difficulties with the flipped class structure in my general chemistry class last semester.  Basically, most students hated it.   To that end, I decided not to label the learning environment as the “flipped class” and just let students accept that this is the course structure… it is not special, or new, or an experiment.  It’s a method I believe will provide them with the best instruction.

Even though last semester was VERY challenging (and even discouraging), I learned A LOT and took some student suggestions and revamped the flipped class structure.  This is what I am doing now…..

I broke each chapter into Lessons.  Each lesson consists of 4 activities and I advised students to do them in order.

1.  View the vodcast (s).  I made my own (10-15 minutes in length) and also provided vodcasts from the internet (Bozeman Science, Tyler Dewitt, and Khan Academy were my favorites).  I told students they could watch me, any of the others, or all of them.

2.  Section readings that correspond to the vodcasts.

3.  Virtual lectures which is from Mastering Chemistry and consists of a whiteboard and narrator explaining and showing problem solving.

4.  Problems that should be done before class (check your understanding) and a Gate Check (Google form that is both a self-assessment and place for students to write Muddy and Clear points).

I explained the order as this….  Steps 1 and 2 are knowledge acquisition.  Step 3 is step-by-step show how to apply knowledge.  Step 4  is a way for students to try problems and self-assess their understanding.  The Gate Check is a way for me to check whether they have acquired the knowledge, determine what needs to be addressed, and whether the student did what they were supposed to do before class.

I start each class by going over the Gate Check.  I am going to try to cut this time down as students told me that they don’t want to spend this much time hearing me talk.  They want to get to the in class problems.  In class, I give them more problems to solve in groups.  They work on them together and get help from me as needed.

When a student is finished, I check their work and let them leave.  They were initially shocked that I let them leave class early.  I told them that this is their time with me.  If they understand everything, got all the problems correct, and don’t need me to explain any concepts to them, they can leave.  They are adults and are paying good money to learn.  I am not going to make them stay if they finished everything.  The students LOVED this!  In fact, I am seeing that even though they are finished, many are choosing to stay in class to discuss more or just collaborate with their peers.  Giving them the autonomy to make decisions about how they learn, when they learn, and time spent on learning seems to be motivating them to learn better (autonomy support).

I also eliminated the “high stakes” chapter quizzes that were taken in class.  Instead, students will take a quiz online in the LMS.  I adjusted each quiz to select 10 questions from a pool of 50-100 questions.  Students can take a quiz up to 3 times with the attempt with the highest score counting.  I encouraged students to take the quiz 3 times even though they earned a high grade on their first attempt.  By doing this, the focus of this summative assessment has moved from performance to learning.  It is my hope that less focus on performance will lower the test anxiety.

So many changes in my approach.  I hope that I see a marked improvement on student attitude and perceptions of the flipped classroom.

#Flipclass #Reflections: Assumptions about #CollegeStudents

It has taken me a few days to really reflect on this semester’s experiences with the flipped classroom.  During the semester, I decided to make major changes next semester on the implementation of the flipped classroom and vodcasts based on student input and my observations.  I will give you the list of my changes after my reflections.

About half the class tolerated and saw value to the flipped classroom.  The other half vehemently (and I use this strong descriptor based on course evaluation comments) opposed this method of learning.  “Hate the flipped classroom”, “Horrible experience”, and “She doesn’t teach” are just a few comments from students.  Others saw value in the process, but stated that in class there were so many students off task and “not prepared” which resulted in class distractions.  Whole lectures had to be repeated because students did not come in prepared.  Yes, I gave them a quiz on the reading/vodcast upon entering.  This did not seem to encourage them to come prepared.  Students viewed the flipped classroom as my crazy idea and lashed out at me personally for making them learn this way.

The vodcasts were MediaSite recorded classroom captured lectures from a previous semester.  Students complained that they were “poor quality” and difficult to follow because of the student questioning in class.  Students said they were too long.  I ASSUMED that students would prefer a more authentic lecture… me in front of students…  rather than a “lecture” in an office.  I ASSUMED college students could pay attention for more than 10 minutes to a vodcast since they have to pay attention in other college classes sometimes up to 75 minutes.  Changing the vodcast presentation and length will be the biggest change in the upcoming semester.

These are the changes I plan on making:

I have two sections of gen chem with under 20 students in each.  With my one section, I will explain that this flipped classroom idea is not my crazy idea.  This is a national trend in education.  There is a body of evidence that supports this learning environment.  I am hoping this gives me credibility.  With my other section, I plan on being a “stealth flipper”.  No need to make it seem like this is anything new or different.  This is the way I teach because it is best for the student.  

Each chapter will consist of 3-8 lessons.  Each lesson will include a series of vodcasts, virtual lectures, section reading, before class problems, and a Gate Check.  This is a lot of work, but I will remind students that a 3 credit class = 1 hour in class/2 hours outside of class.

1.  Provide short vodcasts from a variety of sources (Bozeman Science, Tyler Dewitt, Socratic.org) as well as my own vodcasts.   I just don’t have the time between semesters to produce all the quality vodcasts I need.  I am still wrestling with a good way to produce these.  I am leaning towards using a pdf annotator and capturing using Camtasia.

2.  In addition to the vodcasts, the new textbook I choose includes Mastering Chemistry.  Mastering Chemistry provides short video clips of problems being solved on a whiteboard.  I included these as part of each lesson and labeled them as “virtual lectures”.

3.  I assigned a few problems for the students to attempt BEFORE class.  I call these “before class problems” (not very creative).  I did this a few times during this past semester in lieu of the vodcast quiz.  Students seemed to find this more valuable than a vodcast quiz.

4.  Provide students with a Gate Check BEFORE class.  I plan to use Google forms as a way to assess whether students viewed the vodcast lessons.  Within the Gate check, I plan on asking students to write their muddy and clear points on the Gate Check.  I will begin each class showing their anonymous, aggregated, responses.  It is my hope that we can focus on the content that is most confusing.

During class, students will work on problems in groups from the text and Mastering chemistry.  I have a 3 hour lab so I don’t think I need to introduce any “hands-on” activities during class.  I might try a few POGIL activities if time permits.  Since so many of my students did not come prepared to class this past semester, we fell behind.  Most did not complete the in class problems during class because they could not even begin them.

I will also collect the in class problems for a grade.  I did not do this this past semester as I ASSUMED college students would complete them.  I was reminded that unless an activity is graded, some students will not complete it.

I will not give up on teaching in the flipped classroom!  My husband is encouraging me to “just lecture.  It’s what college students expect and want”.  I have never taken the easy road… I was a chemistry major!  I believe in this way of teaching.  I want my own children taught this way.

Even though most did not like the flipped classroom, I believe my students learned how to study..  When I asked them this question on a survey (did your study habits change?), they stated that they “had to study differently”, “find information outside the text”, “learn to take better notes”, “learn information on my own”, and “studied for the first time”.  They hated the flipped classroom, but many changed the way they studied and learned (or learned how to study… which is what many stated).

I am not here to win a popularity contest.  I teach to help students learn how to learn and love to learn to learn.  Hopefully, the skills they acquired (grudgingly) this semester will be useful throughout their academic careers and lifelong learning endeavors.

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.