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Faculty Innovation: The Flipped Classoom

Sarah O'Neill
Tilton School is proud to be at the forefront of changing education. While remaining true to our roots and traditions, we also adapt and move forward, often times workshopping educational trends ahead of many other institutions.

A great example of this is the recent work of classroom teacher David Sheehy. As a member of Tilton’s mathematics faculty, Sheehy found himself searching for a different, more efficient way to communicate lessons with his students. Harkening to his past as a student teacher, he kept coming back to the idea of a “flipped classroom” dynamic.
With a flipped classroom, there is more ownership by the student to successfully learn each unit. Teachers film their lessons which students watch at home. They then come into the classroom and complete an assignment that would normally be designated as homework.
 
“I had experienced a flipped classroom a couple of different times in the past. When I was student-teaching, the mentor teacher I taught with had a fully flipped classroom. That was my first experience with it, and I could see where it might have some benefit,” Sheehy said. “I’ve also seen a lot of video lessons, like Khan Academy, where if students need support, a teacher will say 'go watch this video.' There’s some benefit to that but I also see the flaws...so I’ve been collecting ideas and working on my own version.”

Sheehy focused on a more self-paced version of the flipped classroom, which he put to the test in his pre-calculus class during a Graphing Rational Functions unit. In Sheehy’s experience, this unit is often one of the most difficult. With a flipped classroom inspired model, students were provided with everything they needed from the start of the unit with a specific due date for each section and assignment. Students watched the video lessons and took notes on the videos outside of class, and completed the assignments in class. To measure their progress, Sheehy introduced multiple mini-quizzes to help him evaluate what the students were comprehending throughout the process. At the culmination of the class, students will be tested, but all work from the beginning to the final class was done at their own pace.

According to Sheehy, students were extremely hesitant at first.

“I asked them not to complain about it but to give it a fair shot, to try the unit as I’ve presented it, and then give me their feedback at the end,” he said. “They were grumpy towards the middle because it can be a lot of work. Getting assignments turned in regularly and getting those mini-quizzes were frustrating to them but in the long run, they received more feedback from me than they usually do, and knew more accurately along the way how they were doing. So, by the final test they weren’t second-guessing their knowledge, they felt really good about it.”

When the unit came to a close, the students' test results overall were the best Sheehy has ever seen. They also felt confident about the unit, because they recognized that ownership had been fully on them. While Sheehy was the facilitator, all of the work could be contributed to the students.

In the end, he would call his first flipped classroom attempt a success.

“I always feel like I’m never grading enough or I could always be doing something better. The flipped classroom had been something lingering in the back of my mind for a long time that I wanted to try,” he said. “The results were so good, that now I’m trying to find other places to try it with pieces of flipped units and self-paced content. Although I can anticipate complaints in the future, I know it will be worth it for the students.”

As for changes he’ll make in the future, Sheehy says he will have more frequent due dates in the middle of the unit to keep students on track, as well as more classroom activities and changing the way he films his videos using different technologies. While flipped classrooms have been used in a variety of different subjects, utilizing this technique for math courses seems to be a natural fit.

“A lot of students say 'I don’t know how to study math. I don’t get it.' You’re trying problems, you’re practicing,” Sheehy said. “I also think it’s important that, with this unit, they could go back to any video if it’s something they didn’t understand. Students had more feedback on their tests and assignments that they could look back at. So, in the end, they felt more confident in their knowledge and skills.”

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