Spotlight on Teaching: The Flipped Classroom

Learning science requires that students acquire a good amount of scientific content.  It also requires that students do a good amount of science and experience how content explains the world around them.  Doing science involves students creating, messing around, inquiring and talking about science.  Doing science helps students develop practices critical to understanding, such as evidence-based reasoning, questioning, arguing, and communicating.  Throughout my years of teaching chemistry, I found that I structured most of the class time around learning content.  We focused so much on it, that we never had enough time to actually apply it.  Realizing the imbalance in preparing my students to be scientifically literate, I knew that I needed to find more class time devoted to doing science.  The solution was to flip my classroom. 

Flipping a classroom rearranges the use of class time and home time.  At home, students learn scientific theory, the content, through video lessons.  These lessons incorporate scientific vocabulary, as well as visuals and animations to help students conceptualize invisible objects like atoms and molecules.  They also provide step-by-step approaches to solving specific types of problems related to the unit.  The videos themselves provide a more accessible way for students to learn content.  With the one-to-one iPad program at the high school, students watch the videos during their free periods, on the train, or at home.  They also watch the videos together, stopping at various points to take notes or to discuss what they just saw.  When working in class and preparing for tests, students re-watch the videos to review the content and reflect on how it applies to the work done in class.  The videos are always available when students need them.

Class time is then used for hands-on, open-ended investigations and labs that ground the content and help students build scientific practices.  With the expectation of doing science during class, students are pushed out of their comfort zone.  They have to work together, use new equipment, solve problems, and make evidence-based conclusions, just as scientists do. 

Chemistry involves learning how to represent and communicate using chemical formulas and symbols, and it involves the application of math.  Both of these aspects can be difficult for students, but with the flipped classroom, I can spend time with students, practicing how to write and interpret chemical formulas and mathematical computations.

Flipping my classroom has allowed me to assess my students’ understanding of content more readily and address misconceptions and confusion immediately.  As students work in groups, I can see and hear how they internalize and rationalize the content.  In that moment, I can clarify, support, and deepen their understanding and answer questions.  Grades now reflect how students are thinking, using resources, and communicating through discussing and writing, instead of memorizing the right answer.  The flipped classroom not only creates the time and space for doing science, but it also makes the classroom science experience more productive, supportive, dynamic and enjoyable.

The flipped classroom has had dramatic impact, transforming the way my students participate in science.  They are no longer passive recipients of knowledge, but they are active doers and producers of science knowledge.  They can become better rounded science students, engaging in practices and thinking that mimic the scientific field.