Flipping (Part 2)

Today our guest blogger continues his discussion of Flipping begun last week. Bobby Barber is a mathematics teacher at Millville Senior High School in Millville, NJ. In these two posts he shares his experiences with Flipping his AP Calculus class. He asks that you reach out with questions, suggestions and stories of your own. Use the comment button at the end of the post. Bobby may be contacted directly at robert.barber.jr@millvillenj.gov 

Tips for Flipping…Things I’ve Learned Over the Past 9 Semesters

Start out slow. Flip one lesson, one chapter, one unit, one class…just flip SOMETHING. I have talked to a lot of teachers that say they need to try flipping, but they keep putting it off because they don’t know how to get started. Flipping is going to be outside of your comfort zone when you start, but you can’t be afraid to fail…it will get easier, and you’ll figure out what works for you and your students.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the video is the most important thing…it’s not. The most important thing is having a plan for how you will run class now that the lecture portion has been removed (or at least drastically reduced). There is plenty of information out there to get ideas and I suggest you look for some, but the best ideas for your kids will be modifications of other people’s ideas that you come up with after giving it a try.

Videos are still important! There are a few things to consider when choosing the video(s) your students will watch:

1. How long will the video be? There are a couple of ideas out there on this concept. Some people suggest no more than a minute per grade level. Some say the same thing, but per age of the kids. Others say never over 10 minutes. I’m not a big fan of rules, but I would suggest the following guidelines: about 5 minutes max for elementary, 5 – 10 minutes for middle school, and under 20 minutes for high school students. I have found 10 – 15 minutes best for my high school kids, but I do have a couple of videos over 20 minutes. I talk to my class when I assign those videos and let them know that I need them to be ready for a long video and plan accordingly.

2. How do you know if your students watched the videos? Again, I have heard of many different ways to assess this and have tried several myself. Some people just watch their students doing the problems the next day in class and feel it is pretty obvious who watched the video and who did not. Others require students to show their notes at the beginning of class. I used to give a quick quiz to see who watched. I would ask a few basic questions and a couple that they couldn’t know without watching, like “what color was my shirt?”

An effective and useful way for many others and me is through an online class management system. There are many of them out there, but the best by far is EDpuzzle (www.edpuzzle.com). I have tried others and none compare. It allows you to embed questions in any video, yours or ones you found online. You can assign due dates for the videos and see how many times the students watched the whole video or specific parts of the video. I have been using EDpuzzle for a year and it has made my flipped classes twice as effective.

If you would like to see an example of a video on EDpuzzle, create a free account at www.edpuzzle.com. After signing in click, on EDpuzzle on the left and then search for “Bobby Barber” under videos. This will bring up all of my videos. The ones with me in front of the screen (in the middle of the videos that come up) are the ones I created.

3. How do you make sure every student has access to the videos? This is usually the cause of the most concern among potential flippers. Just because you teach in a low-income district, doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to get your videos to your students. A good number of your kids are going to have internet access. This means you can post your videos on EDpuzzle, YouTube, your teacher website, or some other medium. If students don’t have internet at home, they often have smart phones with Wi-Fi access. If your school has Wi-Fi, have the students download the videos to their phones in class through YouTube, iTunesU, or some other medium and watch the videos at home. You can also put your videos on a USB or DVD for students to take home. I have a couple of students every year that either go to the school library or come to my classroom and use my computer either before or after school or during their lunch or a study hall.

Even if students don’t have reliable internet, many have computers and more have DVD players or video game systems which allow them to play USB/DVDs. Finally, if none of these options work for one or more of your students, let them watch the video in class. More than likely, this will be a very small percent of your class. If you let them watch the video on your computer as a small group or have a laptop cart or other option available, you can differentiate instruction   to meet the needs of all of your students. Let the ones with the ability to watch the videos at home get started on problems or activities and have the others watch the video and finish their problems at home. You will have to cater this to your class/students, but I believe it will be worth it in the end.

4. What happens when students don’t watch the videos? I believe this is another problem that has different solutions depending on your situation. If a student is capable of watching the video and chooses not to, there must be a consequence. I know some elementary teachers that will make the kids watch the video in class and do worksheets instead of doing the more engaging activities the rest of the class does that day. I also make my students watch the video in class if they didn’t do the homework, and have them jump into whatever everyone else is doing when they are done. They still get a zero for their homework grade, but I like to minimize missed opportunities. Some teachers start class with a group share-out so students that didn’t get to watch the videos get to at least hear a summary from the ones who did in a small group setting.

5. Using Videos vs. Making Your Own: I started out using videos that were already made. There is so much to figure out when getting started flipping that spending the incredible amount of time to create quality videos may not be worth it at first. If you are using a video, you must watch and know every detail of it. You must also know exactly what you want your kids to get out of the next day in class and prepare a lesson that combines the information in the video with your own presentation to accomplish that. Spend your time on lesson planning early.

That being said, I have a lot more success and buy-in when students are watching my own videos. For them and many of their parents, it still feels like I’m teaching the class. It took me two years to create my videos, partially because I wasn’t sure flipping was going to work and partially because it takes a long time to create a good video teaching calculus or any other type of math. I create my videos exactly like I would teach a class. There is a camera in front of me with my presentation projected on the board. Many people I know refuse to be in front of a camera and do a screen cast. If you are uncomfortable putting your face/body on camera, I have two bits of advice. 1: get over it…you’re in front of your kids every day. Who cares if it is in the classroom or on their computer? 2: if you absolutely can’t get over it, make your video as interesting as possible. Voicing over a PowerPoint isn’t going to grasp the kids’ attention. Some people put pictures of their students doing problems. Others insert funny or interesting videos throughout the presentation. Whatever you do, ask yourself “Would I be able to watch and learn from this video?” before you expect your students to do it.

6. Classroom organization: I have put a lot of thought and a pretty good amount of research into how I set up my classroom. The most important aspect of my classroom is the whiteboard on every wall. The picture shows my students working at the whiteboards during class one day.Notice that all the students are involved.

Barber 2

I have also found that the kids are less worried about making mistakes on the whiteboards because they are able to erase mistakes and wrong answers quickly. With all the research I read on activity vs. learning, I don’t know what I would do without being able to have all my students actively doing their work at the boards every day.

I have always enjoyed teaching, but since I started flipping, my love of our profession has grown dramatically. I have been able to cover more material than just what is in our curriculum and dig deeper into all of the math that I teach. My students have been more successful on standardized tests and their confidence and interest in math has grown dramatically, in my opinion. If flipping is something you think your may be interested in trying, then figure out a way to give it a try. If you do, remember that there are no rules for flipping. As you look into what others are doing, find a variation that you think will work for you and adapt it to fit you and your students as you go.

If you are looking for help, suggestions, or advice on flipping your class, there are a ton of people who flip and I bet most of them would be happy to help. I certainly would be. For those of you on Twitter, the hash tag #flipclass is great and there is even a chat on Monday nights.

Thanks for reading this and good luck,

Bobby Barber


Today I am happy to welcome a guest blogger. Bobby Barber is a mathematics teacher at Millville Senior High School in Millville, NJ. In this and the next post he shares his experiences with Flipping his AP Calculus class. He asks that you reach out with questions, suggestions, and stories of your own. Use the comment button at the end of the post. Bobby may be contacted directly at robert.barber.jr@millvillenj.gov 

What is a “Flipped” Class?

A flipped class is one where the traditional lecture and note taking is done outside of class time; usually by having students watch a video lesson. The students can re-watch all or parts of the video if they don’t understand something without worrying about interrupting the teacher or having the rest of the class know they don’t get something. Students then do practice problems that would previously be done for homework in class with peer and teacher support. Other projects, explorations, and activities are also done in class. Hence, the traditional in-class and at-home routines have been “flipped.”

Why I Flipped:

I started teaching AP Calculus in 2010 after 8 years of teaching regular level math classes. During my second year teaching, our school went to an integrated math curriculum (IMP) for our regular math classes.Bobby Barber The classes were discovery-based and very interactive and I loved teaching them. (Why we never used this for our advanced classes, I will never know.) I was one of two teachers that taught primarily IMP classes and we both had a lot of success with our students, both on local and state assessments. When our AP Calculus teacher changed positions, I was asked to teach the class.

I teach at the same high school that I attended, and my AP Calculus teacher was very popular and had a reputation as being a great teacher. I got a five on the AP exam when I was in his class, so I figured I would model my class after what he did: homework questions, lecture, examples, practice, homework, repeat.

Within a couple of weeks, I realized some things. First, I hated lecturing. Second, I wasn’t getting to know the kids at all, being that I was in the front of the room the whole time. My biggest problem, though, was that I was spending about half of each class going over homework problems. Almost every student was doing the homework and asking legitimate questions about it, but most of the questions had simple solutions. They messed up a sign, or a distribution, or some other arithmetic/algebraic concept that caused them to get the calculus question wrong. This gave them a negative attitude towards calculus, which they didn’t deserve.  I thought that if they could get help along the way to avoid these types of mistakes, they would enjoy and appreciate calculus more.

I decided to let them watch videos of the concepts at home and do problems in class.  During the summer that I thought of this, I found a lot of information on people already doing this and calling it a “flipped” classroom. I decided that I was going to try it during the next school year.

How I Started Flipping

Even though I was hell-bent on trying the flipped class out, I wasn’t sure how to do it. I teach in a Title 1 district where many students don’t have access to computers/internet at home. (This has improved drastically, but wasn’t great when I started). Also, no one had ever tried this at my school and I wasn’t sure what kind of support I would receive from the administration. I had other ideas for improving my classes, especially AP Calculus, so I decided to try them first. I had some success with these changes, but I still wasn’t convinced I was getting the most out of my time with the students, so I decided to give flipping a try.

I started by watching videos in class with the students. I would project the video and have the students take notes, then do a mini lesson afterwards highlighting and adding what I thought was necessary. I continued this for a chapter. The students seemed to like it, so I took it a step further and assigned videos for homework for the next chapter. I would post the videos on my website and e-mail the links to the students for them to watch at home. Students who didn’t have access would watch on my computer at the beginning of class each day. We then did problem sets in class and students helped each other and used me if they couldn’t figure something out themselves.

I was extremely happy with the results (just intuitive, but I knew I was on to something), so I went to my principal and guidance supervisor to request that I run my class like this permanently. Neither of them had heard of flipping, but once I explained what I wanted to do, they were both all for it. From some of the stories I have heard from colleagues in other schools and on social media, administrators can really ruin a school. I am in the exact opposite situation. My principal lets us try pretty much anything we think will help the students. Once I had her blessing, I ran with it and never looked back.

Benefits of flipping

I have seen a marked improvement in AP exam scores since I started flipping. I think there are several reasons for this improvement. Since flipping my class, I am able to cover way more material in class. On top of covering more material, I am able to cover that material at a deeper level. I have time for explorations, discovery, and quality student discussions in class, where I never had much time for that before because I was always rushing to get through the curriculum and answer students’ homework questions.

The one benefit that a flipped classroom gives me that I don’t know how else to get is the interaction with my students. I get to circulate and talk to every one of my students every day while they are doing math. I get to talk to them about their thought process with the math they are doing and about other things going on in their lives. I really get to know my students over the course of a semester and that helps me help them. I don’t know how else you can develop relationships with 50-75 kids seeing them for 85 minutes a day for 90 days (or whatever schedule your high school is on). These relationships are the biggest benefit of a flipped classroom. The students and I get to know and care about each other, which gives us extra motivation to work hard for each other.

Continued in the next post scheduled for Wednesday July 1, 2015