Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Just a Little Flip

Like so many other teachers, I have heard a lot recently about how flipping your classroom is the cool thing to do. While I admire teachers who have the gumption to undertake that challenge, I never really gave it much thought or put it on my list of things to do.

It wasn't that I thought it was a bad idea, I just had a lot of reasons I didn't really think it was for me. (Some of these reasons, I realize are based on my own misconceptions of what flipping actually is. It happens.)

*If I were to describe my classroom, it is unapologetically based on constructivism. My kids learn by doing. This is not to say they are not guided in their discovery or are left alone in hopes that they somehow learn something, but we really focus on what it means to understand a concept and how to understand that concept based on your own knowledge and observations, not just because the textbook says it's true.

*In my mind, watching a video at home is no different than reading a textbook at home, you just get to say that you have incorporated some technology into your homework. We typically don't use textbooks unless we need to make a ramp, so this was a big hurdle for me.

*I'm really not sure what people mean when they say "it leaves class time open for all that cool stuff we wish we had time for."

*I had no idea how to make a video.

*Even if I figured out a way to make a video, I don't have time to do it. Plus, I don't really have the personality it takes to make a good one.

Then I went to a SIDLIT distance learning conference, where I sat in on a session by Aftab Merchant, who has flipped his anatomy lab at the Cleveland Chiropractic College. Since my entire existence as a teacher is based on lab experiences, it was the lab part that caught my eye, so out of curiosity, I went. It took about seven seconds, and I knew this was something I was going to try this year.

What he has done is to take every lab that he does and video the pre-lab. He walks students through the lab, shows them how to make the incisions, shows them where to find each structure and what it actually looks like. He makes sure those kids know exactly what will be expected of them when they walk through the door.

This is something I have struggled with in recent years. Kids are coming to me with an alarming lack of basic lab skills. For way too long, I had this assumption that they knew all of those things that should have been learned in the lab. What does a beaker look like? I know, but way too many do not. I know how frustrating it is for me, but it took me awhile to realize how frustrating it is for those kids.

So I tried it. Yesterday, I gave my chemistry class the assignment to watch the pre-lab video* of our Mass and Change lab. They were to come in today with any questions they might have and be ready to head to the lab.

Now, I fully anticipated kids not doing their homework. Shocking, I know. So our librarian was expecting a good number of them come down if they had not watched the video. In my first section, only four of the twenty had watched it. So off they went to watch the video. The other four started on the lab. Some finished the lab some did not. Those who need to finish will be in here during seminar catching up. They are not happy, but my feelings aren't all that hurt over it. We had a little chat about how very little homework we get in this class and how important it is to actually get it done when it is assigned. Apparently, word got out because everyone in my second section had watched the video.

Not gonna lie. This lab went so smoothly I can't even believe it. Last year, I spent about twenty minutes (longer than the video) going through the pre-lab and answering questions. And more often than not, I forgot something in at least one section. This year, I showed them where the beakers were located.

It was amazing.

Even the kids thought it was a good idea. Some even got stuck on part of the lab and pulled the video up to watch it again.

I like it. I am going to keep it.

I hope. The first video I made took me most of a Saturday, so it's not something I can churn out at a very high rate, but I am thinking that I will get better at it. Now that I at least have an idea of how to set it up, the whole process should go a little more smoothly and with any luck I will be able to stay far enough ahead that I won't stress over it too much.

So what about you? Do any of you do anything like this? Or do you do something different?

*Don't laugh, this is a terrible video. Hopefully this will get better as I go along!


  1. I really like this idea! I could definitely see being able to implement this in my class.

  2. Nice strategy and very well said. I hope your attempt to flip will go well. Good luck with your new school year!

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  3. Thanks Stephanie! I've always liked the idea, I just never thought it would work for what I expect my kids to do. Now to get the rest of them done :)

  4. I like the idea of doing one small part, as doing this in addition to all of the things I have to do on a daily basis, is simply too much. I've been thinking about ways to beef up my pre-labs anyway (we see students only 2 days per week, the rest is study at home). This strategy fits beautifully! Thanks!

  5. Thanks Paul!

    Rose, what I am finding is that this is PLENTY for me. What they really don't tell you is that it takes a LONG time to make a video. Maybe I'm just doing it the hard way, but I spent most of yesterday working on two. If you were trying to do something for everyday, I think it would quickly become overwhelming.

  6. Firstly, can I steal your prelab video? I've already got this exact flipped lesson written into my plans for the beginning of the year, but I haven't made the video itself yet!

    I've been flipping for a few years now, and of my many iterations, using the flipped model for these basic procedural scenarios has been the most effective for me too. As you mentioned, so many people have a preconceived idea of what flipping is based vaguely on Kahn Academy, but to me, flipping is just a strategy for most effectively managing students' cognitive loads. Well structured flipped lessons reduce the amount of "housework" we have to do during class (how to organize a lab report, how to sign into Edmodo, straight-forward definitions etc...) by placing the burden on students to take care of it on their own time at their own pace. And let's be honest, showing students how to organize their notebook isn't the most exciting lesson the world, and most students get bored. Really bored. Especially when Johnny asks the same question for the third time. And they start to act out and then you end up wasting 30 minutes on something that should only take 10. Do they really need you to be there for that? Or can they just watch a video and hit the rewind button a couple of times if they missed something? Additionally, because these assignments are typically so straightforward their perceived threat is low, so students are more likely to complete the assignments. This frees up so much more class time to help students understand the actual class material and challenging concepts; it's extremely liberating.

    Lastly, "flipped" doesn't automatically mean "video" to me. I've assigned GoogleSlide presentations, brief readings and interactive tutorials--especially when I'm running low on time. My latest discovery is (formerly, which allows you to "blend" a huge variety of resources into one easy to navigate flipped lesson.

  7. Hi Hailey
    Absolutely you are welcome to it. I am on my third one now and just can't believe how much simpler things are when kids come in. We do a short summary before the lab just to refresh them on the details, but for the most part, just like you said, it saves so much time. I am definitely going to check out the blendspace!

  8. Take 2-

    I'm doing the mass and change lab tomorrow with my general chemistry students (Read: ICS) and I'm so excited to show them this! It's much more interesting than going through the procedure the way I was going to do it.

    Thanks! Kristin

  9. Thanks Kristin! Let me know if there is anything I need to change. I think I am getting better with the videos, but I am sure there is something I can make more interesting :)

    Since we have been doing this my kids at every level are loving it. Giving them time to really process what is expected in the lab has really made a huge difference.

    Good luck!

  10. Tracie -

    I loved this post! I recently posted on my own blog about flipped classrooms and some of my concerns with them. I'm glad to see that flipping made some positive changes for your chem students!

    As a TA for a mentored lab techniques course in college I made similar pre-lab videos...I can't believe it never occurred to me to use that as part of flipping. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  11. Thanks Rachael! The more I do this, the more I like it. I have noticed that the labs run much more smoothly and I really think we are getting much more out of it when we aren't so worried about the procedure.

  12. Hi Tracie,

    I'm currently in school for a graduate degree for teaching high school biology. We've recently been discussing flipping, and I right there with you with hesitation/reservations. Throughout this term, we've had several guests showcasing different models of flipping a classroom. For most, the flipped portion has been a lecture. Students go home and watch a 15-20 minute "lecture", then arrive in class for exploration of the topics.

    I appreciated your post here. It seems like this partial flipping would work out quite well so students don't need to spend a large portion of class time going over procedures. Additionally, even if they do a pre-lab, most of them come in with no actual understanding of what they're going to do. A video gives a perfect visual and pushes you straight to content.

    Again, thanks for the post! If you're curious, check out my blog: No guarantees it'll get updated really frequently yet...but I hope to keep it up once I'm in a classroom full time.

  13. After Reading Your Opening, I Realized That I Had Similar Concerns About The Flipped Classroom. You Presented A Great Way Of Easing Into It. I'm GoingTo Try It This Semester. Wish Me Luck.

  14. David and Mary K
    As with most things I have found about teaching, this is something that is best eased into! I have been struggling the last few weeks because I just got swamped and my later labs are a bit harder to video without actually doing the whole thing. But I do still love this set up and have just resigned myself to picking up the stragglers next year. Good luck!

  15. This is great Tracie, thanks for sharing. I am often asked to talk with faculty (high school, undergrad and grad school) about #flipclass and your post gives me some ideas for answers to many of their questions. This video is fine and I see you have made many more since then.

  16. Yay! You got unstuck! Don't let the video making stop you. It doesn't have to be perfect!

  17. I'm a big advocate to putting the "points of pain" on video. When students ask endless questions about something, or I know a task will be challenging and that they will need to hear instructions more than once, I always put it on video.

    Also, making videos gets SO MUCH EASIER the more you do it. I'm also a fan of making super simple videos with ShowMe. Take pictures of everything, then narrate and annotate over them.

    Glad you gave flipping a chance, and I'm really glad you joined us for the first Flash Blog of #flipclass chat!