Why I ditched the flip…and why I might go back

For the better part of 3 years, I curated online curriculum for the subjects of Geometry, Prealgebra, 7th Grade math, Trigonometry and Statistics. Videos, Note Guides, a website, all-in dedication to the flip. I checked student notes each night, did homework in class, encouraged them to re-watch the videos and worked with them to take control of their own learning. At times, I even assigned units to them, giving them a deadline for taking the assessment, but leaving it up to them how/when they got the videos, notes and assignments done. It was a lot of up front work, but I felt it was the right thing for them.

I don’t really know what changed, but about 2.5 years ago, I fell out of love, so I ditched the flip. I guess I let it turn into a simpler way to lecture and I grew fixated on the problems of students not watching the videos, note-copying and in class management issues with an open work environment. I just got tired of the  issues that came along with teaching learners to be self-motivated. Students were still working together in class, I was still able to circulate and answer individual questions, but I just did not feel that time was being maximized for learning, so I sort of jumped ship on the idea of the flipped classroom.

In the midst of all of this, I changed schools, and along with it, my classes. I now teach College Algebra for Seniors, a group notorious for skipping video lectures, copying notes and working harder at getting the answers than working to actually understand the problems I assign. This seemed like the perfect time to go back to the direct instruction method. Controlled classroom…check, elimination of frustration from lack of video-watching…check, no notes to look at…check, better learning environment for students…check?

Under the heading of “college readiness”, direct instruction and “drill and kill” homework assignments have become the norm. I know that they will be ready to take notes and learn from their college math professors once they get to a college or university. Once-a-chapter quizzes and end of chapter tests are my modes of assessment and learning is taking place, so there is no need to change necessarily, but I am constantly reflecting on the needs of my learners, so I want to try to do what is best for them.

My trepidation in my classroom, and the cause for this resurgence of “the flip” comes down to this…”work days”. Work days – simple enough concept, the lesson takes a day to get through completely and the material is difficult, so we have a “work day” the next day. Assignment due at the end of the period, students work the whole time, me available to help and answer questions – a day of great work. Suddenly, those students that have pristine homework and no questions accompanying their mysterious 100% on the answers from the previous night have questions and I get to see where they are struggling. I get to hear them articulate their issues and actually help them with their math instead of just talking at them for 45 minutes, naively believing that they found all of the zeros of that quadratic (real and imaginary) with no issue. We are talking about math with each other…actually talking about math.

And I loved it! It was reminiscent of old days when we would have discussions during the process of solving difficult problems in class and the students would brainstorm ideas about how to solve them. An atmosphere of problem solving, not just “answer getting” was evident in the room and it was a refreshing change from what I felt was going on with student homework. Over the first couple of months, I have sensed that student homework was more of a research project, a la

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than an exercise in problem solving, which led to comments like “I/they do so well on homework, but it doesn’t translate to the test/quiz”. To be clear, I am not accusing anyone of cheating or dishonesty, but solving problems is hard work, and when given the option to try and then look at the answer, one can fall into the trap of, “oh, yeah, I see where they got that” or “that makes sense” in consulting the answer before actually solving the problem. Doing problem sets in class is not a cure-all for the convenience of answer-finding (certainly having a peer/teacher tell you all of the steps to a problem can lead to a false sense of confidence in “knowing how to do a problem” just as easily) but the oversight and culture of problem solving that can come with working in class on problem sets is a step up from the work that occurs in the hallways of schools 15 minutes before the bell rings. With our backs to the wall, how does one get the job done? This is not to say that no students do their homework, or that some never do their work, but the ones who get it will get it whether they are in class or out of class.

In my six months removed from the flip, have the issues with students watching videos, not working in class or using others notes to get a grade for watching gone away? Certainly not. Products like Zaption or Educanon can help with the viewing part, and video lecture is still a lecture and a student is still a student. Will class still be a juggling act of oversight and culture building? Absolutely. I want students to respect both the process of learning (lecutre or not) and also the art of solving problems. In the current system, I feel that I am spending my valuable time with them doing most of the talking. To be blunt, I am the one doing most of the work. Students are left to the role of sponge in the seat, sent off with a list of problems to wrestle with amidst the pile of other homework that they are assigned. In my opinion, the most crucial part of learning, the doing, is left for them to do unsupervised and unassisted. Teaching grit and perseverance is difficult and celebrating success is marginalized in this system. I feel like I am teaching at a driving school and using my time with them to read them a book on driving so that they know how to drive when they get home.

So, why might I go back to the flip? In my mind it comes down to this -how do I want student to spend the valuable minutes of class with me, WATCHING me do problems or DOING problems? Is the flip perfect – definitely not, there are better ways to teach and I will explore them as the opportunities arise, but in my current situation, I am seriously considering spending my energy on the management, the oversight and the culture building in the flip system so that I can reap the benefits of more personal interaction with students and DOING math.

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