Last Updated: 4-9-20
This guide contains an outline of how I (and others in our department) implement flipped learning with our classes (A level maths). Although we have only begun to scratch the surface in realising the true potential of flipped learning, I believe that over the past few years we have started to establish what I see as 'best practice' (mostly by making plenty of mistakes along the way).
We have found that a flipped learning approach is an effective way to enable content to be covered in a more time efficient manner. Consequently, we get to spend extra lesson time exploring the more challenging content with our classes, rather than setting it as homework tasks.
Over the last 4-5 years, our department results have gone from typically ALPS 6-8 (1st to 40th percentile) to ALPS 2 (above 90th percentile). Considering our class sizes are around 22 (almost double the average post 16 class), we are very proud of the progress our students make (our intake is unremarkable in terms of factors such as social deprivation and prior attainment). Although flipped learning is not the sole cause of this, I nevertheless believe it is a significant factor.
What is Flipped Learning?
The A level maths specification is content-heavy. It can be a struggle to cover the entire specification in detail with traditional teaching methods. If content is covered too fast in lessons, weaker students often struggle to keep pace. Lesson time alone is insufficient to cover all areas in depth and it is necessary for the majority of students to complete a significant amount of independent practice in order to succeed.
The Typical Classroom
In many A level classrooms a unit of work is usually structured as follows:
- The teacher introduces new content during lesson time.
- Students write down notes and examples.
- They then attempt basic questions.
- Challenging content is covered briefly, either as an extension or as part of the homework.
The problem here is that often only the most able students get the opportunity to fully understand the more challenging content. Furthermore, students are left to tackle the tougher activities during independent study, where teacher support is less readily available.
If teachers choose to push on to ensure the more challenging content is covered in sufficient depth during lessons, weaker students may not have enough time to master the basics.
The Flipped Classroom
In the flipped classroom, the structure of each unit is reversed:
- Students are introduced to new content during their independent study time. This would typically be through online videos, but these are not used exclusively.
- Notes are made independently.
- Basic procedural techniques are practised.
- Challenging content is covered in lesson where more support is available.
How I Flip My Classroom
Flipped learning is difficult to get right. Below I will share some of the common pitfalls that are frequently encountered when teachers attempt to implement a flipped learning approach, along with some of the approaches I used to avoid them. I do not profess to have found the holy grail of flipping the classroom, but I do know that I am a million miles further along the road than when I first started.
Choosing Appropriate Content
The content chosen for flipped learning must be accessible with minimal teacher support. In general, the best content for flipped learning is procedural in nature. Explanations must be clear and concise and content should be broken up into manageable chunks.
Ideally, content should be specifically designed to introduce each topic from scratch. When flipped learning is done badly, 'revision' videos are often used, which are not thorough and make inappropriate assumptions about student prior knowledge.
An over-emphasis on passive content should be avoided. Example-problem pairs tend to produce better results when compared to straight examples as they encourage students to actively engage with the content.
If appropriate high quality content is not available, then it is usually better not to attempt to flip the unit.
Standardise the format
It is important that teachers check all flipped learning work set has been completed. The teacher time required to complete this task can be significantly reduced by standardising the format.
Here is an example worksheet that shows one possible way in which this may be achieved.
Where possible, provide students with a printed worksheet on which to complete examples. This ensures a number of things:
- Students have all the required key facts and examples written down in their notes, with an appropriate heading. Consequently, students can easily locate the work in their folder when it is needed.
- Work can be checked quickly as the teacher knows exactly what to look for on the sheet.
- Students cannot easily miss out notes/examples without it being obvious to the teacher.
- As students do not have to copy down every key fact and example question it is possible to cover more content in less time.
Check for Understanding
Checking student understanding during a flipped learning task serves three main purposes:
- Students are held to account. If they don't put in the effort to understand the content, the teacher will notice.
- Students who struggle with the flipped learning content can be identified and support can be provided.
- Flipped learning allows the lesson starting point to be shifted (more on this later). By checking for understanding, the teacher has a better idea about what is a more appropriate starting point.
My preferred way of checking for understanding is using the Dr Frost Maths (DFM) homework platform. In previous years, we have set online worksheets to be completed by students. However, this year we will be using the new 'Key Skills' section of the site. Here is an outline of how it works:
- Students are set a task consisting of one or more key skills (e.g. factorising a quadratic where \(a \ne 1\)).
- Students complete randomly generated questions on each key skill until the required level of proficiency is achieved (e.g. 3 out of the last 5 questions correct).
- Each time an answer is entered a detailed written solution is provided, enabling students to self-correct their work.
- The progress of each student can be monitored in the teacher interface.
In cases where a topic is not suitable for a DFM task, questions from a more traditional paper worksheet would be set. However, this does increase homework checking time.
Holding students to account
Setting flipped learning tasks is a waste of time if students do not complete the work. However, in my experience, it is not that hard to get students to buy into the idea of flipped learning.
For the past two years, every student in all of my classes has completed every flipped learning task (disclaimer: I do occasionally have to request that some tasks are re-attempted as they are not up to expectations).
In my experience, students are more likely to complete flipped learning than other types of homework tasks. There are numerous possible explanations for this:
- The tasks generally contain procedural questions, which are less challenging than 'end of topic' questions.
- Students quickly realise that they are at a significant disadvantage if they haven't completed the task before we continue with the topic in class.
If I have standardised the format, checking the work is usually quick and easy. Initially, I get an overall idea of the success rate from an analysis of results on the DFM platform. The colour coding of results means this can be done in seconds.
Upon completion of each task, I ask students to put the worksheet in the appropriate section of their folder (e.g. filed under 'Trigonometry'). During lesson I will circulate to check the work, usually during a starter activity. Checking a class of 22 usually takes me 4-5 minutes, including any conversations with students.
As the majority of tasks involve completing example-problem pairs and online questions (with solutions to self-correct), the tasks require no marking on my part.
It is vital that appropriate support is provided to students who tend to struggle. It is generally easy to identify such students using the tasks set using the DFM platform.
I have often found that some students benefit from a more formal independent study schedule. We typically timetable such students into a weekly support session. They are expected to have attempted the flipped learning work before the session and then this is followed up by support from the teacher.
Lesson Starting Points
Implementing flipped learning may require adjustments to be made to the lessons you typically teach. Students will have already spent time making notes and practising the basics. Covering this material again in lesson therefore serves no purpose.
I prefer to allow time to elapse between the completion of a flipped learning task and the continuation of the topic in lesson. This allows an opportunity to follow up with any students who have struggled and also gives students time to process any new ideas.
My typical approach to teaching content after flipped learning is as follows:
- Students are given a brief opportunity to attempt one or two questions similar to the flipped learning examples (such as a 10 minute starter activity).
- The examples completed in lesson cover content not explored during the flipped learning. Time is not spent 'recapping' the flipped learning or making notes.
- As the basics were covered outside of lesson, there is generally more time to focus on exam technique, method selection and problem solving, with the added benefit that students are already fluent in the basic procedures required.
Do you set any other homework tasks?
Absolutely! We expect students to complete 5 hours of homework each week. The flipped learning work will only be a small part of that.
Most weeks, we include:
- A set of self-marked exam questions.
- Two peer-marked homework tasks each half-term.
- Practice questions on recently covered topics (e.g. textbook questions).
- Additional more challenging questions / problem solving activity for students aiming for an A/A* (which tends to be the majority of students).
- An optional enrichment style activity. This could be careers related, or an interesting maths video/article.
If you are reading this part way through the academic year, feel free to check out the weekly homework tasks I have set my classes so far this year on the Year 1 Course Page (there are no tasks on the y2 course page this year as I have reduced my hours to focus on resource creation - the first time I haven't taught Y13 in 7 years!).
What happens if students don't complete the flipped learning work?
After the first couple of weeks this tends to be rare. By enforcing high expectations from the outset, students generally understand the importance of completing the work.
On occasions, we timetable students into subject support sessions. In these sessions, students work independently, but a maths specialist is available to provide support if required. However, these sessions are usually used to ensure students get into a routine for completing the more challenging sections of the homework rather than the flipped learning.
Any other questions?
Please get in touch if you have any other questions. Ways to contact me can be found on the About/Contact page of my site.