Reflections on my Flipped Learning Experiment

Note: For a quick intro regarding the basic flipped learning model, view this. There are also other iterations of the flipped model.

This past November, after much research and debate with my inner voice, I decided to take the leap and implement the “flipped learning” model of teaching in my second-semester Grade 9 Academic Math class. My reasoning was three-fold:

  1. I wanted more time in class to assist my students. I strongly feel that immediate and personal feedback is critical to successful learning. Also, students learn much more from “doing” than from “watching.” So, the idea of having an entire 75-minute period for me to talk to students and for students to work after watching a video lesson the night before was a huge plus.
  2. I wanted non-traditional homework. From my experience teaching at inner-city schools, I have learned that a significant proportion of students are not willing/able to complete traditional homework. Therefore, I felt that if homework involved watching and following along with a video on YouTube, something that many of my students already do, it would increase the likelihood of students completing the task.
  3. I wanted to level the playing field. Historically, students at my school have performed far below average on the provincial standardized assessment of mathematics. This is due to a myriad of reasons, many of which come from the fact that my school, Westview Centennial Secondary School, has the second-neediest student population of any high school in the Toronto District School Board. I felt that the nature of the flipped learning model could help close this achievement gap, particularly for students at the lower end of the academic scale.

So, for the next few months, I spent hours at a time preparing video lessons and planning class activities now that a greater amount in-class time would be allocated to students actively working and learning. I organized my content on Desire2Learn, fully equipped with quizzes that students could try after viewing a video as a self-assessment tool. In my mind, it was all going to be glorious, and for the first week, it was going great. Every student was watching the video and some were taking the online quizzes, but everyone was coming to class ready to work on problems and participate in class activities. However, after this honeymoon phase, I realized that my glorious plan was starting to crumble. Fewer and fewer students were coming to class prepared and almost no one was trying the quizzes, so students had to watch the videos during class time and hence defeating the purpose of flipped learning. I didn’t want things to become punitive (and I’m not that kind of teacher), so I just continued to encourage everyone to view the videos and come to class ready. After two months, and things seeming to hit a wall, I took a step back and evaluated the situation. I came up with several conclusions:

  • Flipped homework is still homework. Even though the homework was watching a video on YouTube, some students still came to class without completing the task. If a student doesn’t complete the traditional homework of practice math questions, at least they probably learned something while in class. However, if a student doesn’t complete their flipped homework, they haven’t learned anything, and they arrive in class knowing nothing! Needless to say, this was extremely frustrating.
  • The flipped learning model works really well for students with high motivation to learn, and doesn’t work very well for students with low motivation. When I went around asking students if they enjoyed the flipped learning model, the biggest supporters were the students whom I would describe as highly motivated to learn and succeed. Students who were lukewarm or opposed to flipped learning were those who struggled with other subjects in school. From my observations, the students that regularly came to class unprepared were also those who weren’t likely to complete traditional homework, which leads me to believe that the flipped model may deepen the divide between engaged and disengaged students.
  • Some topics are better taught in-person. After many consecutive weeks of flipping algebra, I decided to teach scatter plots in-person because I had prepared lessons from a year ago that worked very well. This time, they worked very well! From that experience, I realized that maybe I shouldn’t flip all the time, and only flip when I feel that I need more time in class to further develop a topic.

Where I stand now: I’m usually not one to abandon ship, but after reflecting on how the past few months have played out, I am going back to my teaching ways prior to flipping (which I think was pretty good to begin with :)). Maybe I’m not doing it right, but I believe that the flipped model just doesn’t jive with my group of students as a whole. However, my next plan is to try the flipped model with a Grade 12 Data Management class. Why? I feel that a more mature crowd will embrace the benefits of flipped learning more. Also, my primary goal is to create a curriculum for the course that revolves around social justice issues, so I feel that more time is needed in class to discuss those themes, and the flipped model can provide me with just that.

What do you think? What are your experiences with flipped learning? Have you made flipped learning successful in a school with a lower-income population? Let me know! I’d love to get your feedback.

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4 thoughts on “Reflections on my Flipped Learning Experiment

  1. I would encourage you to possibly stick it out. We found that it took many months of working with our students to get them to buy in. Sometimes a shorter experiment doesn’t work because the kids don’t think you are committed to it. I would be glad to chat with you some more if you want.

    1. Thanks very much for the feedback, Jon. I think many of my students haven’t been asked to take ownership of their learning prior to this class, which upon reflection, should really be one of my goals as a teacher. I still think that flipping is a good idea, but I’m skeptical of its ability to engage students who don’t even see school as important or who have low motivation and grit. How can I get those students to buy-in?

  2. Excellent post, Jason – thank you so much for sharing. I’m trying a new format for my math classes this year too (MCF3M last semester and MFM2P this semester); while not a true flip (being a rural school, a good number of my students don’t have access to the Internet at home), we’ve done away with traditional lectures and have moved to more proficiency-based learning from videos, online tutorials, etc.

    I’m finding the same thing you are – the students who were unmotivated before are still unmotivated and don’t make much progress, while the students who had good work habits before are thriving. I encourage you to stick with it, even if it’s intermixed with traditional teaching methods to keep things fresh. I try and make sure there’s a mix of independent and group learning, hand-on inquiry and drills, tech and non-tech activities to keep them interested. You’re doing great things, and teaching your students so much more than “just math.” Keep innovating!

    I teach MDM4U as well, and love the idea of flipping it and approaching it through a social justice lens. I’d love to hear how that works out!

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