Monday, October 12, 2015

The Flipping Continues

This September marked my third year of flipping classes. Well, pseudo-flipping. I wasn't requiring or asking my students to front-load the material on their own at home, but I was turning the classroom over to them: students are choosing how they are learning the material, what resources they will access to do so, and choosing their pace of learning.

Most of my success so far has been in very skill-based courses like math. I've struggled, though, with how best to present a variety of resources when the learning goals are more broad (like in general science).

With my grade 12 Earth and Space science class this semester, I was ready to revamp things and try again. But there were also two new factors forcing me to up my game: firstly, I had made it my goal to introduce more rich assessment tasks and project-based learning into my science classes, and I wanted to follow through.

Secondly, I knew I had a student coming in who has been literally learning geology and fossils - particularly as they pertain to our local area - since the age of three. His knowledge is astounding; there would be no way I could teach the geology components of the course in the traditional sense and still keep him engaged. I really had to step back from the idea of being the expert in the room. Change was afoot!

New Format

After toying with the idea of layered curriculum (à la Kathie Nunley) or an equivalent point system, I decided to go with a rich assessment project that tied together the components of the units, and then choice boards for the individual lessons.

Here's what one of our lessons looks like:

Just the Facts

Each lesson starts with the learning goals, as well as materials for learning the basics. These include my PowerPoint notes (now uploaded to Slides, as well as Screencastified videos with me talking through them), textbook references, and a vocabulary list.


Students need to choose one activity from each row. They can do these in any order, and the options are usually open for them to complete the task however they choose (verbally, on paper, visual presentation, 3D model, online graphic, etc.).

You may notice that the rows are roughly themed. The first row is a check of the basic knowledge (Knowledge/Understanding in the Ontario curriculum, or an entry level in Bloom's Taxonomy), the second is Thinking/Inquiry, and the last row is more Application/Evaluation (or, a higher level in Bloom's Taxonomy).

Again, the students can do these in any order - some start with the synthesis tasks and then come back to the specific details, others choose to take the notes first, familiarize themselves with the vocabulary, and then tackle some of the larger tasks. A couple of students, for this particular lesson, loved the idea of creating an online model of a rock record in Google SketchUp, and jumped right in with that before looking at any of the resources. A great hook!

I'm seeing a good range in what the students are choosing, and I'm getting an excellent variety of projects - from the SketchUp files for the task previously mentioned, to a marker-and-paper design, to a pair of students who are reconstructing the rock record seen in one of our local waterfalls in a 3D physical model:

Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island
image labeled for noncommercial use by

Unit Project

The unit project is tucked away at the bottom of the document, but was available from the day we started the unit. Those who were interested (my in-house palaeontologist included), found it right away and jumped right in. Others waited until I pointed it out and walked the class as a whole through the idea.

Again, some students started brainstorming immediately after the class-wide discussion, while others waited until finishing the lessons (there were three in this unit, all set up similarly to this one) before starting. I have been super impressed by the creativity the students are applying to this project - some of their "futures" are hilarious! - and am looking forward to seeing how they tie the final product into what we have learned. 

This project was my first attempt at creating a rubric on my own using the method picked up from assessment PD in the spring, and I'm glad to see the students making use of it to fine-tune their work.


Overall, I'm very impressed with how this class is functioning. So far, I've been successful at both introducing more project-based learning and rich tasks, as well as meeting every student at their level: the students seem engaged, and students of all backgrounds are finding entry points and ably demonstrating their learning. 

It is a lot of work to frontload each of the lessons, but by opening up the class like this, I find students are taking more risks when they are ready for them:

Some are bringing in their fossil collections from home to identify and learn more about them, many are getting out and exploring their local area from a geology point of view, and one student - in the hopes of possibly teaming up with a local university to re-create the famous Miller-Urey experiment - even emailed a student (now Professor Emeritus) of Stanley Miller in order to find out more about the experiment. We are getting good at breaking down these classroom walls! 

I'd love to hear suggestions or comments - I'm always looking to make learning a great experience!


  1. Hmmm, seems more PBL ...

    Kinda confusing with a 'flip' title.

    Anyway to each their own, as long as it works for you :)

    1. I know exactly what you mean! I didn't call what I was trying "flipping" for a long time. It wasn't until I attended a session on the flipped classroom at ISTE this summer, that I discovered that ANY class structure where you remove the lecture-based, teacher-delivering-content format, and allow the students to access the material to learn when and as they like, is considered "flipped." I do have some students who take this format and make their notes at home, and then spend their time at school working on the practice skills and the higher order tasks which fits the traditional flipped model. Still tweaking, but whatever we call it, it's been great so far! Thanks for your comment!

  2. I've been following the flipped movement over the past couple years with some interest and there appears to be a variation of how people use the term. There's the awesome definition, which is when the necessary content consumption is shifted out of the classroom so that more collaborative, project and engaging activities can be done in class. I guess with this definition "flipped" here has more to do with flipping the nature of the relationship of the student to the content.

    However, I think the term "flipped" comes from the more-or-less terrible other definition of flipped learning that is often described as something like, "Do the lectures at home and the homework at school." So the students watch a video at home which simulates what the teacher would have done in class, and then they do the work that they would have done at home during classroom time.

    With this definition, it means taking two out-dated and poor teaching methods and reversing the order. Watching lectures and then doing homework. I think this is especially a terrible idea when the "at their own pace" idea is added and then the classroom has even lost the collaborative, teamwork, PBL stuff. It's just processing information.

    I'm hoping that the Flipped idea can be salvaged and corralled towards the better definition. A lot of learning does require some upfront knowledge consumption before moving on to more active learning and application and it's awesome if students can find that knowledge themselves and then bring it to the table in class to learn in community with others. As for the lectures-homework idea, I think that's the wrong direction. Just because a learning method uses computers and video, doesn't mean it's an improvement on the boring old teaching we've been doing for a long time.

    It's interesting that ISTE promoted a really wide definition of the term like that. That's very encouraging!

  3. I'm really intrigued by the choice board idea, and it seems to work well in a unit/culminating project. I hope to try to implement something like that either for the final project in my current course, or in my next course.


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