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Learning Library Blog Wanna flip? Math class is logical place to start
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Wanna flip? Math class is logical place to start

By Team ISTE
August 11, 2015
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So you want to try flipped learning but don’t know where to begin? One subject that lends itself well to the adjusted pace and additional practice time that flipping offers is math.

In fact, one expert calls flipping math “the world’s biggest no-brainer.”

“The math classroom is the best place to start flipping. It really, really works here,” says Aaron Sams, who, along with Jon Bergmann, has co-authored a series of books for ISTE on flipped learning, including their latest, Flipped Learning for Math Instruction.

Many educators’ first foray into flipped learning — where students watch the lecture on a video and do the practice in class — is, in fact, the elementary math classroom where time to cover all of the how to’s and control of pace are crucial. “There’s lots of one-on-one assistance from teacher to student,” Sams says, “so there’s time for kids to do math with more support.”

After all, math is a subject that calls for sequential learning and lots of practice. If students can watch a video lesson at home, class time can be spent on practice problems with help from the teacher.

Sams says he’s discovered a golden ratio for flipping math that can guide how classroom time is used. “The sweet spot is 70 percent math practice and 30 percent project-based learning or a creative option.”

This ratio also addresses the concerns teachers express about not having enough time for such learning pursuits. “They (teachers) hear about labs or simulations in flipped science classrooms and they feel guilty that they aren’t doing more projects or creative things.” Flip math and lose the guilt, Sams advises.

Potential pitfalls

Despite the no-brainer nature of flipping the math classroom, there are pitfalls to avoid – the biggest being allowing your new-found approach to get stuck in a rut.

Your instinct might be to deliver the lecture on a video for students to watch at home and then have students complete worksheets during class time and then take an assessment. Beware the video, worksheet, test routine, Sams warns.

“Explore other pedagogical options and keep a balance,” he suggests. This could include reinventing lessons, using class time for PBL or giving time back to students to work on math-related concepts they can research on their own.

Sams interviewed one teacher who offered students a genius hour on Fridays during which they learned things like coding and how to solder electronic components.

Impact on achievement

Flipping math class may seem natural, but does it advance student learning? Sams says teachers’ experiences provide the proof.

Consider the work of a group of math teachers in Byron High School in Byron, Minnesota. They compared math classrooms where traditional, flipped learning and flipped learning plus peer instruction took place. The flipped classroom had a slight increase in exam scores and the classroom that took the flipped approach and added peer instruction saw significant gains.

And students and teachers in the two types of flipped classrooms said they were happier with the course overall.

Another benefit – students say they have less anxiety about math class because they have access to the support they need during class time and aren’t sent home with work they are unable to complete.

Tips for getting started

If you’re a teacher who’s gotten up the gumption to flip math, Sams has three tips to get started:

Figure out your toolkit. There are lots of resources for those ready to flip and they generally fall into four categories: how to make a video, where to put it, how to build in interactivity and using a learning management system (LMS). Find out what tools you want to use and put them to work early on.

Figure out your workflow. Flipping requires a lot of up-front time creating videos and adjusting habits. Be sure to have strong lesson plans in place and leave time to create content (videos) and put them into your LMS.

Have a plan and stick to it. There may be pushback to the change. Prep students and parents for your adoption of flipped learning. Tell them how class will work, where the resources are and assure them that you are still teaching their child.

“And don’t bail out when it gets hard. Once you’re over the activation energy, every teacher I speak to says they could never go back because they can do things in their classrooms that were the reasons they got into teaching in the first place,” Sams assures. “It reinvigorates teachers.”

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