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Flip your science classroom!

By Team ISTE
May 21, 2015
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Now that the flipped classroom approach, and its logical next step, flipped learning, have become widely accepted, leaders in the field are examining how to best apply the model to specific subjects.

By definition, flipped learning is a teaching technique that uses video assets as the primary means of delivering direct instruction to individual students — rather than lecturing to a classroom full of students. The approach frees up class time for more challenging tasks best tackled with the teacher present.

In science classrooms, those tasks include hands-on labs, guided inquiry, guided practice and online simulations, explains Jon Bergmann, who, along with Aaron Sams, has co-authored a series of books for ISTE on flipped learning, including Flipped Learning for Science Instruction.

But what do educators who are ready to jump into flipped learning need to know? And what specifics should they keep in mind when flipping specific subjects — like the science classroom?

Bergmann recently shared his thoughts with ISTE:

Can you explain the difference between “flipped classroom” and the second iteration you term “flipped learning?”

In the flipped classroom, direct instruction is done through video or some other digital learning object that students use individually before they come to class. It’s direct instruction delivered to the individual outside of class so there is more strategic use of in-class time for group work and individualized attention.

Flipped learning is the next step after teachers have flipped their classroom for a year or two. With flipped learning, teachers are able to take the flipped classroom and recover valuable class time to do more engaging things in class with students. This means approaches like project-based learning, guided inquiry, student choice, makerspaces, Genius Hour and mastery-based learning are more likely to happen.

By moving to flipped learning, teachers have bought back time for the things they’ve been wanting to do in class but couldn’t find time for — things like having students build documentaries and create content.

What is the most common question people ask, or concern they have, about the flipped model and how do you respond?

There are two questions we get regularly. What about kids who don’t have internet access? And, what if students don’t watch the video before they come to class?

In response to the first question, I believe lack of access is more than a myth than a reality for most students. When that is the case, teachers can provide access.

When Aaron and I started flipping in 2006, 25 percent of kids didn’t have access. We put the videos on flash drives, burned DVDs or downloaded them onto iPods. Today, some schools provide $20 MP4s and a set of headphones so students can watch the videos. You can put an entire year of videos on one device.

As for the second question, there are certainly students who won’t watch the videos, but there are protocols that can be used to help them watch the videos and to hold them accountable. The bottom line is that teachers are making it work no matter the grade level. The better training educators receive, the more able they are to get kids to participate.

How is flipping a science classroom different from flipping a multisubject classroom?

The key in the science classroom is that teachers can do more hands-on activities. In our new book, we talk about the deeply practical things they can do like experiments and online simulations.

High school teachers do tend to flip their whole science class, but elementary teachers may not flip every aspect of their classrooms; they may flip a subject or two.

There are teachers who have flipped everything to gain more problem-solving time and more tutorial time — and those are benefits of flipping any subject.

How might a flipped elementary science classroom look different from a flipped high school science classroom?  

I don’t think the two classroom levels vary much when it comes to flipping.

Teachers doing elementary science will have a lot more time for kids to get messy! By flipping their science classroom, elementary teachers will have more time to really do science.

I should also note that elementary-level videos will be shorter and the content level will be more general. And in some cases, elementary teachers don’t have students watch videos at home, they watch them in class using a centers approach.

In the high school classroom, students will have more messy time, more time to work out problems, more time to do experiments and more time to do online simulations.

Does flipping open the door to more engaging science projects — the kind students enjoy, remember and expand upon? How? 

That’s exactly what happens — engagement, engagement, engagement. Aaron and I have found that we were able to do 50 percent more experiments and were able to incorporate more project-based learning — another student-engagement amplifier. You simply have more time in class with students to do experiments, simulations and other activities to augment these learning approaches.

For a lot of teachers, flipped learning changes their view of the grading system. They begin to find different ways for students to show mastery. They are able to employ alternative assessment methods.

What can you share about student achievement and assessment outcomes for students in flipped science classrooms? 

The bottom line is that students are happier, teachers are happier and scores are up. There are a lot of studies out there and some say that scores on standardized assessments increase by as much as 20 percent.

I recently read a report about flipped learning at the college level that asked, Aren’t we over the idea of questioning the outcomes? Hasn’t that all been solved? All the evidence seems to be coming in very positive. It works.

Learn more about how to infuse flipped learning and technology into the science classroom with Bergmann’s and Sams’ new guidebook, Flipped Learning for Science Instruction.