Flipping for Beginners - Tips and Tricks

1 0 2,912

Introduction. I wrote this post primarily for professors that might be considering flipping their classrooms. The tips and tricks below I developed while teaching General Chemistry to freshmen for eight years at Angelo State University. Of course, some, if not most of these tips would apply to upper division classes as well.

First Tip. Bookmark Flipped Chemistry. It is a great resource for classroom flippers.

First Day. Explain yourself. Most freshman students have never seen a flipped classroom. So it is a shock. Explain how it works, but as importantly, explain why you are flipping. I found that the students tolerated the approach better if they thought it would improve their grades. Tell them that the process of learning is on them, that only they can put in the effort to learn the material.  Assure them that you are there to help them and that you want them to succeed. You are there to coach them and to provide them with exercises and help. Go over their sources of help. List them explicitly: you, the book, on line tutuorials or videos from the textbook company, videos that you have produced, tutorials run by you, office hours, the tutor center, the library, the internet, Khan academy, and so forth. See my post, Hello Class.

First Day Quiz. Give a them a basic math and chemistry quiz on the first day. See what you are up against. I gave a first day quiz that was about half simple math problems and half basic chemistry problems. The quiz mostly helps to identify students with math troubles (see It's That Chemistry Algebra). I once gave a more extensive chemistry quiz on the first day and tried to correlate it with final grades. There was no correlation. Gumption trumps prior knowledge. For more about what I am calling gumption see Brandon Tenn's post Developing Grit.

Videos. Make the videos mandatory or not, in either case assume that the student do not watch them and plan accordingly. Alternatively, use technology to ask questions during the videos. Be sure there are points at stake and that the students can't continue without answering the questions. See my post To Video or Not to Video on my website.

Before class. The important thing is to try to get the students to engage the material before coming to class. Videos might do it. Reading might do it. I assign reading and provide links to videos when I can find them. I also assign online homework before every class. Usually, the students skip the reading and go straight to the homework. If they can't work the homework, THEN they go to the book or the internet. For more about using homework in the flipped classroom, see my post Homework as Engagement.

Group Worksheets. Absolutely have the students work in groups. Do not let them turn in one worksheet per group. This encourages the slackers to talk about football or relationships while the only motivated student actually does the worksheet. If everyone has a stake in the worksheet there is at least interest in finishing as many questions as possible during class. If you haven't got your own worksheets, I have posted all the worksheets I used for General Chemistry I and II on my website. Here is the link to my Flipped General Chemistry Page, which contains a description of how I flip and a link to the worksheets. You need a password for the worksheets. Send me an email at JohnOsterhout<at>JohnOsterhout<dot>com with a link to your professional page and I'll send you the password.

Choosing Groups. When I first flipped my classroom, I made up groups randomly at first. After the first exam, I choose one student from each quartile of the class for each group. This was a disaster because the top student would do all the work while the others slacked off. The method I settled on was to make up the groups by major. Honors students were together, as were pre-meds and pre-dents, regardless of major. Mostly, the motivated students were in the honors/pre-med/chemistry major groups. The other groups were at least all in the same boat. Since their majors were all the same, they were having about the same experiences in their classes, and had the same motivations (mostly get through chemistry.) For more on groups, see On Groups.

Homework. I have noticed that many professors using a flipped classroom still give homework as a summative exercise. Since you are essentially doing homework every day in class, it seems a better idea to use the homework daily to prepare students for the material to come and to reinforce the ideas the day after the class. See Homework as Engagement, which I alluded to earlier in the "Before Class" section. Exceptions that I make to the daily use rule are to give online homework as a review before exams and to use online homework for bonus exercises.

Keep Up the Heat. Try to get the students to engage the material multiple times. I try for 1) the reading, 2) the online homework before class, 3) the daily quiz at the beginning of class, 4) the worksheets, 5) homework questions on the next days assignment about the previous days material, 6) exam reviews, and finally, 7) exams.

Quizzes. Use daily quizzes at the beginning of class. The idea is to put a premium on preparation. I usually allow the students to take the quizzes as a group. Group quizzes engender discussion. I sometimes spring an individual quiz on them to encourage them to keep on top of things. The students hate the individual quizzes after they have done a few group quizzes.

Worksheets. I use paper worksheets. The students work on them in groups during class and I post the answers immediately after class. They are required to turn in their worksheets the following class day corrected and complete. The get a check (100%) credit or an X (0% credit). I know some of the students copy the answers and don't think about it. However, I know from the number of mistakes that get caught that some of the students are using the worksheets to understand the material. I did not find the perfect approach.

Large classes. I have been lucky in the last six years to teach classroom sections of thirty two students. If I were required to teach large classes I would consider using classroom responders to do the "worksheets". One could do a series of problems in the usual fashion or give the students a worksheet accessible on the web and let them enter answers at their own pace. I would also try to find students to serve as in-class helpers.

Summary. Be interested. Be kind. Be helpful. Be fair. There is no perfect way to flip. Give it a try. Enjoy!

About the Author
John Osterhout received his B.S. in Biochemistry from Rice University and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Texas at Austin. John was a member of the Rowland Institute for Science in Cambridge Massachusetts for thirteen years before moving to the University of Arizona. Since 2008 John has been Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. John's research interests are in protein folding, Trojan horse inhibitors for HIV and snake venom proteins. He teaches general chemistry and biophysical chemistry. John uses flipped classrooms for both courses.