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‘Flipped classrooms’ get mixed reviews

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Riverbend High School geometry teacher Julia Pense helps freshman Matthew Basso with a project during a recent class. Pense is one of a few Riverbend teachers using a method referred to as ‘flipped classrooms.’ / Photos by Peter Cihelka

Riverbend High School geometry teacher Julia Pense helps freshman Matthew Basso with a project during a recent class. Pense is one of a few Riverbend teachers using a method referred to as ‘flipped classrooms.’ / Photos by Peter Cihelka

During his geometry class with teacher Julia Pense, C.J. Beckett doesn’t listen to the lecture.

But that’s only because there isn’t one.

Pense’s geometry class, along with a half dozen others at Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania County, is “flipped.” Students watch videos and read at home to learn new material.

Riverbend sophomore Emma Ingle focuses on a tessellation project, work that might traditionally be done at home, during teacher Julia Pense’s ‘flipped’ geometry class.

Riverbend sophomore Emma Ingle focuses on a tessellation project, work that might traditionally be done at home, during teacher Julia Pense’s ‘flipped’ geometry class.

They reinforce that learning by doing what is traditionally thought of as homework, and projects, in school.

“I like this class,” C.J. said. “It gives me time to work. No one likes homework, but here we are able to do it in class.”

Along with his classmates last week, C.J. cut out tessellations—tiles placed together on a plane to form one or more geometric shapes with no overlaps and no gaps.

He used the shape to trace onto a square of fabric and make a picture.

The project showed the students how tessellations fit together, and after the fabric is decorated, Pense will have them made into a quilt that will be donated to a local charity.

Later in the class, students played a game in groups.

Flipped classes were piloted at Riverbend last year, and now a group of teachers offering the classes is studying their results and working to get more teachers involved.

NATIONAL TREND

Flipped instruction has become something of a buzzword in education during the last five years, and more and more divisions are offering the classes.

Clintondale High School in Michigan flipped completely in 2010 after experimenting with the classes.

After 20 weeks of flipping its first class, those students were outperforming their peers in traditional classrooms, according to a New York Times article about the school.

No student in the flipped class received a grade below a C-plus. That achievement was a stark contrast to the previous semester, during which 13 percent of the students failed.

In Clintondale’s traditional classrooms, there was no change in achievement.

Spotsylvania’s high schools don’t have plans to flip entirely, but teachers, including Pense, have reported gains in students’ test scores.

“The circle unit in geometry is the hardest, and my students achieved significantly higher scores on those tests this year,” Pense said.

Many of the classes, including Pense’s, are partially flipped, allowing flexibility for students who are used to the traditional lecture model of instruction.

A MIXED BAG

Gerald Mann, an art teacher at Riverbend, is in the teacher group studying flipped classes.

He said having students learn techniques at home frees up time in the classroom for actual artwork.

Before flipping, he spent most of his instructional time going from table to table and explaining the same concept multiple times, he said.

Jessica White, who teaches social studies and history, said her students don’t just learn facts through the flipped method. They learn why those facts matter.

White believes the method also allows her to be more creative with lesson planning. She said a lot of that creativity has been stripped away from instruction with standardized testing.

Teachers’ videos are available online anytime the students want to access them to study. Pense’s videos are silent but show how to work through geometry problems step by step.

“And now there’s a library of videos for the students to go back to,” Pense said.

Chemistry teacher Sue Catlett puts together similar videos for chemical equations.

“Flipping is really effective for these drill and practice disciplines,” Mann said.

Pense sent out a survey to all of her students asking what they like and don’t like about flipped geometry.

On a scale of one to five, the average score for whether students like the class was 3.5.

And while the written feedback was mostly positive—students said they appreciated time in class for remediation and activities and the ability to learn at their own pace—some consistent negative answers appeared, too.

Some students said they forget what questions arose about the material between watching the video and being in class. Others said their computers at home weren’t reliable and that students with smartphones and access to newer computers have an unfair advantage.

Some teachers are skeptical, as well.

John Moore, an algebra teacher at Riverbend, said his classes have not been as successful with a flipped model, and he has reservations about the practice, especially with special education populations.

Yet Pense said the time for practice in the classroom also gives her time to help students one on one.

She was able during class to stop by desks, like 15-year-old student Matthew Basso’s, to make sure their projects were going smoothly.

Basso’s tessellation looked like a cityscape, and he said he enjoys the class because “it’s different than just getting lectured.”

Pense also stopped to talk to Heidi Randhahn, also 15.

She made an ocean scene with different hues of blue on her fabric square and said she enjoys taking notes at home, even if she doesn’t always remember which questions to ask in class.

Savannah Dornseif and Sammy Dreyhaudt, both 15, worked on their projects together.

Savannah and Sammy are friends and agree on most aspects of school—except the flipped class.

“I don’t get the instruction as easily,” Sammy said. “I really benefit from a lecture.”

“I like it,” Savannah said. “I have questions with my homework and can ask them right away here.”

But Savannah and Sammy both agree that the online material helped them during the multiple snow closings this year.

“It was much easier to review,” Savannah said.

Sammy finished that it was like her geometry class didn’t miss school at all.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976

lestes@freelancestar.com

 

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