Explore – Flip – Apply: Introduction

This is my 5th year trying implement an effective model of the flipped classroom (Lage, Platt, & Treglia, 2000) in my AP Chemistry class. I say “trying” as that is exactly what the past 5 years can be reduced down to: an attempt. While class-time was opened up for student problem-solving, and the video responses and reflections were amplified via the use of a google form as a tracking device, students seemed to be passively learning the material, at best. For all the benefits of flip teaching with respect to class-time, I now realize the HUGE negative was not flip teaching as a pedagogy, but simply the order of learning activities. Students come to my class with a rich and diverse prior knowledge, derived form 17 years of living “in” the subject. In the previous model, while my focus was on using class-time effectively, I failed at giving my students an opportunity to access their prior knowledge, tackle their misconceptions actively, and work to construct their own meaning FIRST. Derek Muller explains this extremely well in his video Khan Academy and the Effectiveness of Science Videos.

To address this issue, my first step was to RE-ORDER the way my class is structured and give students an opportunity to construct their own ideas and models BEFORE learning anything directly from me. Because, I still passionately believe in the time-shifting benefits of flip teaching (added classroom time, catalog of basics, focus on problem solving, etc.), my goal was to merge inquiry learning with flip teaching to promote knowledge construction, while also opening up class-time by off-loading any aspects of direct instruction as homework via annotated screen casts. I am definitely a rookie in this regard, and given the pace, content, and high stakes nature of an AP Chemistry class, I decided to make a list of all things factual, mechanical, and low level (definitions, equations, few examples, etc.) and create instructional videos around those ideas only. All other forms of learning are incorporated in a Explore-Explain-Apply learning cycle. Because the “explain” portion is off-loaded to the homework setting, I refer to the cycle as Explore-Flip-Apply. Mayer (2004) articulates the goal of this process well: “Students need enough freedom to be cognitively active in the process of sense making, and students need enough guidance so that their cognitive activity results in the construction of useful knowledge.”

Basically, there are still things that I, as the instructor, want control over teaching. I just won’t be using class-time to teach those concepts. I fully accept that this is where the model diverges from a truly strident-driven inquiry learning cycle. Even though I do play an active role in the “flip” phase of the cycle, not front-loading students with content, as I did in the past, but rather giving them at least one opportunity to form their own models first, has felt like an effective merger of both pedagogies… for me. Anecdotally, my students seem to be much more invested in the laboratory activities, and more motivated to apply their knowledge towards complex problem solving given an initial phase of exploration. A student approached me today and I feel his comment sums this process up well. Word-for-word quote: “Mr. M. In all my other classes, we learn all this complicated %&$* first, then do boring labs. In this class, the labs kinda make me think, and then you help me understand during the vids. I guess it helps me understand what my answers mean, or something…” Beyond the Napoleon Dynamite esque lingo lies for me, subtle evidence that I am working towards a model of Flip Teaching that I feel is sustainable, effective, and respects the way my students naturally all “want” to learn.

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