Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reflections on my First Attempt at Flipped Learning

[I finally consolidated my notes in order to summarize my initial experience with the flipped class from last year.]
During the fourth quarter of last year, I tried a basic flipped class, where students watched videos at home and completed traditional assignments in class. But within only a few days, the class started to split into noticeable groups: those who could move on and learn at a deeper level, those who's pace matched my assignment sheet and those who needed more time to process the material. It also happened that some students missed classes during that week. I didn't know how to respond, other than just to let things go. I allowed students to watch videos in class if they didn't do it for homework or were ready for the next topic. It was actually pretty exciting. It felt like I was meeting the needs of my students. 

The unanticipated benefit was that I was able to hold students accountable for demonstrating knowledge. If students were working at their own pace, then why not make them redo unsatisfactory work and prevent them from going on to more difficult content, especially in a cumulative course? 

This accidental mastery model raised some interesting questions and issues. 

1) How was I going to manage kids ready for the test or quiz? How would I ensure test integrity if some kids saw the test earlier than others? 
  •  Since I had not planned for asynchronous learning, I decided to keep tests and quizzes on certain dates, perhaps pushed back a few days from originally planned to accommodate stragglers. In summary: asynchronous activities within each unit but an ultimate unit deadline. 
  • However, I decided to make online Moodle quizzes during the summer to accommodate mastery learning in the following year. The plan was to generate an exhaustive question bank to make each quiz attempt different from each other. Students can take exams early without ruining test integrity and make redos possible.  

2) How would I keep track of student progress?  
  • During the first three quarters, I used an assignment sheet with the aim, agenda and homework clearly laid out for each lesson. But that accommodation became obsolete as soon as the course became asynchronous. I decided on a stopgap measure: a spreadsheet organized by students and dates. I checked in with each student during each class and suggested a nightly homework assignment depending on their progress. Students who worked ahead did not get nightly assignments while others did. It was effective considering the "klugey" nature of it but seemed unsustainable for an entire year. How could I keep students accountable for homework in such a haphazard way? Next year, I needed a more effective method but wasn't quite sure of the solution. 

3) How would I approach labs and data collection? One of the historic strengths of the course was the collection of data-rich experiments. The way I achieved and emphasized statistical analysis was through repeated trials conducted by multiple groups. How could students who work ahead have access to a wealth of data if they were the first to collect data? 
  • I decided to minimize changes to lab procedurs between years and share data from previous years of experiments. Quicker students add to older data sets and can still draw conclusions.  The implication was slower students would have access to more data. 
  • I have to admit that setting up multiple labs was hard at the beginning, really hard! I had to be very organized. Biology teachers, who frequently work with perishables, understand the difficulty of this task. Imagine placing multiple orders for items, sometimes weeks in advance, some of which have a week or a less shelf-life; imagine doing it in a way that would allow students to conduct the experiment they needed on the day they needed it. Imagine trying to make these projections and accounting for unreliable shipment and students who change their work pace.  
  • I lucked out a lot in the 4th quarter; the human body lab materials were either easily purchased from a neighborhood grocery store or nonperishable. Had I conducted a DNA or fruit fly lab, I would've been in trouble.  
  • Truthfully, I still haven't figured out a great solution. 
  • So far, I plan to switch between asynchronous periods and synchronous activities. Right now, I'm thinking asynchronous 3 days then a break for synchronous activities, like labs, on the 4th day. It's not a perfect situation because labs ought to be relevant to contemporary content in the course. Students should follow up labs with relevant application. I wouldn't want students to complete labs before they're ready or so far after they learned the important background information. 

4) How would I hold students accountable for watching videos?  
  • The easy answer was mandate notes, like I did for assigned readings years ago. But I have to admit that the video notes were a disaster. I'm ashamed to admit that I took it for granted that kids could take notes from a video, especially considering that they can pause and rewind. In hindsight, this oversight is embarrassingly obvious. Students are used to passively watch videos, rather than actively take notes. I solved that problem by creating guided notes templates and collected them. The quality of notes tremendously  increased.

So what were the results of this experiment with flipping? 
Class was so much more enjoyable. I was excited to go to class. My students worked, laughed, collaborated, designed and redesigned experiments, volunteered to be test subjects, and argued about how the body worked. They edited previous answers to questions, quizzed each other, and explained ideas to struggling students. It felt like a community. I had tons of fun. Sometimes I joked around with a group of students, gave feedback, coached a student, or gave a mini presentation to 2-3 students at the board. Sometimes I gave an extra hand helping out a lab group, settled disputes, gave hints to frustrated students, and shared online resources. I even recall being a group's test subject here and there.  

Test and quiz scores were different between the two classes. One group maintained the same average since the beginning of the school year. The second group dropped by 8 percentage points. It's hard to make a conclusion about this data for several reasons. 
  • First, the final unit only had a quiz and a test, which is about 2 quizzes shorter than the other units. Not a great sample size. 
  • Second, the skills of inquiry were more prevalent in the flipped quarter but not greatly assessed. I used similar assessments from the previous years. It hadn't occurred to me to document the increases in inquiry skills emphasized in that quarter. 
  • Third, flipping was a new way of teaching. Video production was also new. It's hard to expect the same level of effectiveness when I've taught one way for a decade and the other way for a few weeks. The mistakes documented earlier in this post is enough evidence of that fact. 
  • Four, flipping was new to my students. This was the first time most of them even heard of that method. To make matters worse, they had to adjust midstream. Some students made the transition effortlessly while others did not. The students who were highly motivated, organized and independent had a great time, while the students who were slippery, disorganized and unmotivated, struggled greatly - which is probably true for any method.
I'm eager to compare my results with a group of students who were in a flipped course from day one. I'll be glad to write a blog post about my next reiteration of flipped learning a year from now.

What did my students say?
At the end of the year, I asked my students to fill out an anonymous survey evaluating the course. I added questions about the switch to a flipped class in the 4th quarter.  The responses were overwhelmingly positive and reaffirmed my desire to continue this flipped class endeavor. I also took to heart the cool feedback and planned for some changes (like having students fill out a Google form while watching the video to submit questions to me.)

The questions I asked and student responses are below: 

I'm encouraged by my first attempt at flipping the class. I think it worked well and the negative feedback was fair and not surprising at all. I've made some changes and now I'm ready for attempt # 2 (this year) in my flipped class!