How to Successfully Flip Your STEM Classroom
By Alan Oakman
When I was a student, I used to wish for two things: no boring lectures and no homework. The tides have changed and I have become a teacher now. But I can sense that even my students want the same things that I did, i.e., interesting lessons and no homework.
While I understand that my teachers had to stick to conventional ways of teaching due to lack of technological innovations, I realized I had to make the most of the boom in educational technology to create an interactive learning experience for my students. Once I opened my mind toward experimenting with teaching methods, I came across this unique way of learning known as flipped learning.
What is flipped learning?
To put it in simple words, flipped learning is nothing but role reversal between classroom learning and homework assignments. Students learn about a topic on their own by watching videos, listening to podcasts, and reading text away from the classroom. In the classroom, the instructor gauges the understanding of individual students by conducting a short quiz and later facilitates a deeper interactive discussion between the students that leads to an immersive learning experience. Flipped learning might sound counterintuitive at first, but it has worked wonders in improving student participation and understanding in many literature classrooms.
Will it work in a STEM classroom?
Flipped learning might work for an English lesson, but will it work for a STEM classroom? Since a STEM lesson has complex concepts, formulas, theories, and problems, expecting students to understand the lessons on their own might sound like a bad idea. But, on the contrary, flipped learning can work perfectly for a STEM classroom. If the study material is engaging enough to attract the students, they end up understanding more than what you think they can. Once you assign understanding a lesson as homework, it frees up classroom time that can be used for discussions, debates,
Flipping a STEM classroom
It is time to address the elephant in the room. How does one successfully flip a STEM classroom? There is no definite answer to that question as flipped classrooms can be implemented in more than one way depending on the nature of the lesson and the teaching style of the instructor. However, there are a few basics that one should follow to achieve flipped learning. I will take you through 6 basic steps that I follow by giving you an example of the lesson that I flipped a while ago:
The topic that I chose to flip was that of global warming. Let’s see how can you flip a simple classroom lesson on global warming:
- Be interesting and cite examples
No one likes to listen to, watch, or read a boring lecture. The first challenge that I had as a teacher was to make the lesson interesting for students. To make global warming interesting for fourth graders, I decided to tell a story of two penguins conversing about melting glaciers that eventually leads to the topic of global warming. The other thing that you can do to retain your audience’s attention is to cite examples. Instead of merely stating that greenhouse gases trap the heat from the sun in the earth’s atmosphere, give them an example of how plants are grown inside a greenhouse in cold countries.
- Use video editing apps to add effects and animations
One wonderful thing about videos is that you can edit them in such a way that they are appealing to the viewers. While flipped learning emphasizes video-based lessons, it is not necessary to just sit in front of the camera and explain the lesson. You can use visual aids like cool infographics, memes, gifs, and much more to drive home your point. There are plenty of video editing apps on the internet that help you add animations, voiceover, etc., to your videos. I used a video editor called OpenShot to seamlessly stitch my video with visually appealing gifs explaining global warming and memes about climate change that added fun to the lesson.
- Diversify your learning material
There is no doubt that videos are a wonderful medium to learn. But flipped learning is not just about video-based learning. You need to diversify your learning material in such a way that it has a mix of videos, audio podcasts, blogs, and textbooks. The reason behind diversifying the material is to provide different options for students. Some students might prefer reading over watching, while others might like to listen to audio clips on the commute to school to save time. Apart from the video lesson, I shared articles that ranged from explaining why global warming is a serious issue to why there is skepticism surrounding it.
- Give enough time for students to study the learning material
Once you have prepared a flipped lesson for your students, it is important to give them enough time to go through the learning material. If you have prepared content that will require at least 60 minutes of a student’s time, make sure that you give them at least 2-3 days to study it. Only when your students have watched or read your lesson can you conduct interactive discussions in classroom.
- Conduct a small quiz in class to gauge the students’ understanding
In flipped learning, it is important for the teacher to assess how much a student has understood. So conducting a small quiz will give you an idea about how well the students have grasped the topic. Once you know their level of understanding, you can decide the starting point of your next discussion or activity that you have planned for the classroom.
- Discuss, solve problems, exchange ideas, and conduct activities
This is the most important part of flipped learning as it actually broadens a student’s understanding of the subject. If your flipped lesson is about a topic from Math, you can guide your students to solve problems in the classroom. If you are teaching Newton’s laws of motion, you can conduct real life experiments of these laws in your classroom. Since I was teaching global warming, I conducted an experiment called ‘Global Warming in a bottle’.
To conclude, I would like to quote the famous saying, “Rome was not built in a day”. Once you have decided to flip your STEM classroom, don’t expect things to fall in place on your first attempt. Mistakes are welcome as long as you learn from them and prepare a better plan to flip your next STEM lesson. While the results of flipped learning might not be encouraging at first, if you keep at it, you will see immense growth in student engagement over a period of time.
About the Author:
Alan is an online STEM tutor, teaching K-12 students. His love for Physics has prompted him to start blogging. Apart from being a science geek, Alan loves jazz music and occasionally plays the guitar.