In my opinion, the most rewarding aspect of delaying direct instruction (in the case of flipteaching, delaying the delivery of the video) is observing students construct, and in many instances, even master content, before I take an active instructional role. This week I introduced a unit on Electrochemistry, often the final unit in an AP Chemistry class. The outcome(s) was straight forward: students will be able to draw a diagram of an electrochemical cell given two different metals and calculate the voltage at standard and non-standard conditions. Before the week began, I planned out our standard Explore-Flip-Apply learning cycle, that began with a lab activity where students, with minimal guidance, worked in teams to construct an electrochemical cell with the highest voltage (Explore). I planned on following this up with an instructional screencast for homework that provided names for the various parts of the cell (e.g., “salt bridge”), provided equations (e.g., the “Nernst equation”), and solved one example problem (Flip). Basically, the video was meant to, and is always meant to, provide procedural information that students were not able to construct on their own during the course of the explore day(s). As an AP instructor, I enjoy striking a balance between respecting the need for inquiry and discovery, while simultaneously establishing a situation that appropriately prepares them for the exam in May. The cycle was to be concluded with a class period spent working past AP released electrochemistry problems, followed by an application problem where groups worked together to to determine the specifics of a 9V battery (Apply).
During the “Explore” phase, I noticed something interesting and also very encouraging. Because every single outcome (unpacked standard) was essentially “locked” into an inquiry learning cycle this year, unlike at the beginning of the year, my students appeared to be attacking the problem with an incredible sense of confidence and strength. A year of inquiry had, I hope, rubbed off on them, and observing them test and re-test the different metals, monitor their produced voltage, and explore a myriad of other intricacies I had not even hypothesized they would was extremely rewarding. Within a half-an-hour, students had not only figured out the direction of electron flow, respective charge of the anode and cathode, and how to determine cell voltage (at standard conditions), but more importantly, had fully construct the knowledge I had planned on delivering during the “Flip” phase. Instead of holding out, and requiring that they view the instructional screencast, I decided to test their constructed knowledge via a game of “Battery Relay.” I had each lab group report to the chalk board and with a chart of standard reduction potentials in hand, yelled out two different metals, and challenged each group to draw a battery. Randomly I would yell “switch” or “rotate” which would signal another group member to continue from where the other left off in the diagram.
Moral of the story, inquiry pays off, and although I had an elaborate plan of “filling in the gaps” via and instructional video, with a little time, space and guidance, students just might construct that knowledge on their own. Check out a video clip of our relay race below:
At Macworld this year, I was lucky enough to see friend and colleague Robert Pronovost share how he uses Idea Paint to create Whiteboard Desks in his classroom. I felt Robert’s technique could be very useful during the “Apply” phase of the “Explore-Explain (Flip)-Apply” learning cycle. During this phase, students are quickly working through various problems and sharing strategies with one another, while I constantly circulate assisting and challenging students. Students who have demonstrated “mastery” are also circulating assisting their peers.
Having a large surface on their desk to perform and create problems seemed like a perfect way to check for understanding and empower students to demonstrate critical thinking. Moreover, using their camera phone/video camera, groups could easily “hover” above the desk and record quick tutorials, bypassing the need for screencasting and tablet technology, iPads, etc. Despite the obvious benefits, my administration did not approve the painting of our classroom desk tops.
In search of a cheaper and less-permanent substitute, I stumbled across Self Adhesive Dry Erase Material. It is working like a charm! I purchased a few rolls, and measured out sheets that stick to the top of our classroom desks. The sheets can be removed at the end of the school-year, and for now, appear to work as well, or better than, a traditional whiteboard. See below for a video of a student in my AP Chemistry class working through a problem “on her desk” at the conclusion of a learning cycle on atomic structure: