Tag Archives: Chemistry

The #Highered #Flipclass: Lessons Learned

I’ve been blogging about flipping at an open-enrollment college for about 2 years.  When I began flipping my general chemistry course 3 years ago, I made some huge assumptions about student learning.  Interestingly, I realized that I didn’t understand HOW students learned until I began flipping my course.

Every student learns differently and at different paces depending on the material.  Most students are not aware of how they learn, but yet think they know how to learn.  By flipping my class, I am now able to learn how each of my students learn and give them better support and direction to become more self-regulated learners.

Lessons Learned:

1.  ORGANIZED.  Be VERY organized in what students are to do at home.  Students need step-by-step instructions that are not only clear, but require the students to be active learners.

2.  REQUIRE note-taking.  Guide students in the note-taking process.

3.  FEEDBACK.  Collect the notes and provide comments on EVERY students’ notes.

4.  NOT “FLIPPED”.  I do not label my learning environment as “flipped”.  Tout the benefits and the past successes of students  who learned using this strategy.   I tell students that I have been teaching for 20 years and this “structure” has produced the best grades AND long term retention of material.

5.  GUIDE. I try to talk to every student during my face-to-face time.  My stronger students tend to want to monopolize my time, but I go out of my way to seek out my weaker students.  I encourage them to get help from me outside of class.  I want them to know that I want them to be successful.

6.  STUDENT CHOICE.  This is college… those students who don’t need my help and finish early, I tell them they can leave.  This is their time with me and they are paying for it.  If they don’t need help, they don’t need to stay in class.  This makes students feel like they are in control of their learning.  Most really appreciate this and end up staying for class.

7.  ACCEPTANCE.  Get students on board with the structure early on.  Tell them that you know this is new for them and that it will take some getting used to.  I make sure I tell students that my goal for the semester is for every student to earn an A.  I will do what I can to help them learn the material.

8.  CLARIFICATION.  Always start the class with an example problem or go over a “muddy point”.  It sets the tone for the class time and helps clear up any misconceptions.

I will never go back to lecture-only.  Some students say they do not “prefer” this method, but by the end of the semester, they realize how much they remember.  A student from the fall semester summed it up the best.  He told me that he could not believe how much he learned and that he hardly had to study for the final exam.  He did not have to cram because he knew the content.  In my years of lecture-only teaching, no student ever said this.

Strategies for Students who “Don’t watch the videos” #FlipClass

It’s been a few months since my last blog entry.  Since several students found my blog and were reading my entries, I felt it was not appropriate to comment or reflect on the teaching and learning.  Now since the semester is complete and grades are earned, it’s time for me to update my blog.

In a nutshell, I believe that this semester’s flipped classroom iteration was by far the most successful.  The “success” can be quantified using overall class grades and also my perspective in terms of student attitudes and perceptions of the flipped classroom.  Similar to the Spring 2014 semester, I did not label how I was teaching as the “flipped classroom”; I continued “Stealth Flipping”.  However, since many of the Spring 14 students indicated that they did not take notes on the vodcasts, or simply did not know how to take notes, I implemented a structured note-taking template based upon the Cornell note-taking method.  I also added “exam wrappers” which promoted reflection on student learning and preparation.

The addition of these two self-regulation tools seemed to have added to the success of the stealth flip structure.  As you can see from the graph below, the overall course grades were higher over all 4 student categories.

ClassRank vs Grades


Students who graduated in the top third of their high school class made the greatest gains in course success.  The results from students graduating in the bottom third of their high school class is a bit misleading as there were only two of the seven students graduating in the bottom third of their HS class enrolled in General Chemistry who completed the course.  One of these students earned an A, but had already earned a BS degree.  The low retention of the bottom 1/3 students is ongoing regardless of the learning environment.  However, it appears that the bottom 1/3 students withdraw earlier in the semester in a flipped classroom.  Learning in a flipped classroom requires a great deal of self-regulated learning and many just don’t want to do the work.

Interestingly, the bottom 1/3 students were the ones who consistently did not submit in class problems or notes from the vodcasts.  Nor did they take the online quizzes.  Many of these students just came to class and seldom engaged in the learning process.  Others did not even make it to class.  As an instructor, this is very frustrating, but I can only do so much and ultimately the student needs to decide become vested in their learning.

Overall, the addition of SRL tools helped those students who graduated in the top and middle third of his or her graduating high school class.  SRL tools also helped non-traditional students (or those in the “other” category).  I plan to continue teaching students how to take notes and reflect on their learning.  Hopefully many will see the advantages and continue to use SRL tools in all their classes.

My next blog will include student comments on the implementation of the Cornell Note-taking methods when viewing the vodcasts.

Self-Regulation Tools and the #Flipclass

The first test in General Chemistry has been graded.  The test assessed similar topics to the first test from the Spring 2014 semester except for the addition of naming.  The overall average from the Spring 2014 class was a 60%.  The Fall 2014 class average on Test 1 is a 76%.  Unbelievable!  However, I prefer not to look at overall class averages because the student population changes each semester.  Examining the student average in terms of High School Class rank (top 1/3, middle 1/3, and bottom 1/3) gives a better indication of achievement/success in different learning environments.

Here’s a look at the data:

Class Rank Fall 2014 Test 1 Average Spring 2014 Test 1 Average
1 89.4 68.4
2 71.5 58.25
3 49.8 49.25
Not Given/GED 76.4 61.1

The highest achieving students (top 1/3 of their graduating high school class) in the Fall 2014 class were almost 20% more successful on Test 1 than in the Spring 2014 class.  The middle achievers (middle 1/3 of their graduating HS class) were 23% in the Fall 2014 class more successful on Test 1 than in the Spring 2014 class.  Students whose class rank were not given (mostly non-traditional students) were 15% more successful this semester.  Interestingly, those students graduating in the bottom 1/3 of their high school class were not more or less successful this semester versus in the Spring 2014 semester.

What is different?
I believe asking students to take notes using the Cornell Note-taking method is the main reason students are much more successful in this semester’s flipped class.  From past observations and student comments, many students did not take notes, or did not know how to take good notes, or simply did not watch the vodcasts.

Another difference is that students are working in groups of four in class with tables in a square arrangement.  In past iterations of the flipped class, the learning space was in rows.  This group arrangement is conducive to peer instruction. I am also encouraging them to teach each other by showing data that indicates deeper learning when students explain concepts and help each other with problem solving.  Many of my students are making a conscientious effort to teach each other.  As a result, the students have formed a learning community with me as the facilitator.  The learning community is positive because there are mature students in this class who take responsibility for their learning.

What to do with the lowest achieving student?

Students graduating in the bottom third of their high school class show no difference in achievement in a flipped class with implemented self-regulation tools.  Ironically, these students have not submitted their Cornell notes.  Even with the self-regulation tools as a requirement, positive classroom environment, and peer instruction, students with little motivation in high school are not likely to change their habits or self-efficacy in college.  Not surprising.

The flipped classroom with Cornell Notes promotes a significantly higher level of success amongst higher achievers (students graduating in the top and middle third of their high school class).  Overall, the implementation of Cornell notes and group learning space has increased the Test 1 average by 16%.  I deem this a success!!




#FlipClass and #Cornell Notes: A perfect combination

The fall semester is 1/4 over.  I am teaching general chemistry again in a flipped classroom learning environment.  I continue to structure the class as I did during the Spring 2014 semester.  You can read about it here.  The structure seemed to be conducive to student learning in that most knew what was expected before class.  However, expectations and actually completing the activities were very different.  One of the biggest issues was that most students did not watch the videos, let alone interact with them in a meaningful way.  You can read about this here.

I decided to implement Cornell Note-taking method into my pre-class activities.  The Lessons templates were distributed during the first class and available to students upon request. These notes are then collected periodically and unannounced.  I have collected the first two chapters and was amazed that 85% of the students not only filled in the template, but took amazingly detailed notes.  Most students went beyond my expectations; highlighting and color coding ideas and topics.  The comments students have made to me have been very positive:  They like the structure.  It makes them take notes more carefully.  One said that knowing they would be collected is key.

As a result of taking good notes and completing the pre-class lesson activities, the in class sessions are more positive.  Most students are ready to do the more complex problems and are willing to help each other.  The questions students are asking are at a higher level which indicates a deeper level of understanding.  Now, this atmosphere may just be my luck of the draw.  I have a really dynamic, focused group of students who are willing to help each other.  But, I do think the implementation of the Notes template has solved the problem of the students not watching the videos.  In fact, “watching” is not really what the students are doing.  The are interacting with the content in meaningful ways.  That’s the piece of this flipped class puzzle I have been trying to find.  The flipped classroom is “not about the video”, rather it’s about actively interacting with the content so that knowledge is constructed.

My next blog entry will occur after the first exam.  I am cautiously optimistic about the students’ success.

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.

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.