Dublin High School Math Teachers on Flipped Classrooms: Benefits and Challenges
DUBLIN, CA–A flipped classroom comprehensively changes the class dynamic, eliminating traditional lectures in favor of short video lessons viewed by students at home, with class time spent reviewing concepts through assignments with constant teacher support. The flipped method was implemented in Trig/Precalculus classrooms at Dublin High School in 2011, after Precalculus teachers Barbara Hall and Lenni Velez (now an assistant principal at DHS) saw this concept work in an Honors Chemistry class taught by former Dublin High School teacher Kim Baumann.
“The challenge in the first year was to keep ahead of the students,” Mrs. Hall recalls. “Running the video program was hard. The first group of students didn’t like it because that wasn’t how they had been taught. By the next year, they were starting to think this wasn’t a bad idea, when they saw that at least they could get their homework done in class.”
I recently had the chance to sit down with the current team of Trig/Precalc teachers, consisting of Mrs. Hall, Ms. Kathryn Maurer, and Ms. Allison Mongold to learn more about the benefits and challenges of a flipped classroom.
Neha Harpanhalli: The main intent of a flipped classroom is to enhance student learning and achievement. How successful do you think you have been in achieving this goal of a student-centered classroom? How do you think it has changed your role as an instructor?
Maurer: “It does make the classroom more student centered, because they can watch and work at their own pace. If they don’t get the lesson, the teacher is still there to give targeted help, instead of just trying to answer general questions for 33 people. So it definitely focuses it back on the students, as long as they are responsible enough to ask for help when they need it.”
Mongold: “I agree. If a lot of students are asking the same question, we’ll stop and do a short, structured instructional period with the whole class. That requires flexibility.”
Hall: “Yeah, you have to be able to assess and adjust.”
Harpanhalli: Why did you select to implement this idea of a flipped classroom only for Trig/Precalculus? Do you have any plans on expanding it to other classes (like Geometry or Algebra II)?
Maurer: “I don’t actually think it would work in any other class besides Trig/Precalc. Geometry is so new, and Algebra 1 students need the structure and a strong foundation.”
Hall: “There are certain classes that you just cannot do it with. They’re not ready for it. Some concepts, like in Algebra II with Trig, are so new and so different, I don’t think they could handle it. There has to be a classroom where you still have the teacher there and they can teach when they need to. I think it has to be an upper-level class, where they’ve already got background in the subject.”
Mongold: “Yes, I feel like it works well with Precalc.”
Harpanhalli: After having taught the “traditional” way, what do you consider to be a significant advantage of the flipped classroom method? What is the most challenging aspect?
Maurer: “The most challenging aspect is when students aren’t responsible, and they don’t pull their weight. Then the fifty minute class period is kind of wasted, and not much learning gets done, either because they didn’t watch the video so they don’t understand what the homework problems are even asking, or because they’re just choosing not to work on the assignment in class.”
Mongold: “An advantage is that students can work at their own pace. We can help them individually or in small groups, by extending the concepts for some, and breaking it down for others.”
Hall: “Another advantage for students is that they can watch the videos in advance. If they know they’re going to be busy, they can take the notes beforehand and be prepared for class.”
Maurer: “And they can also prepare for tests this way, by going back to the videos.”
Harpanhalli: One of the biggest criticisms of a flipped classroom has been that students miss out on valuable personal interaction with the teacher, when learning a lesson for the first time. How would you respond to this criticism?
Mongold: “I think you get what you put into it. If the students have watched the videos, and are ready to work on the homework assignment, we’re more than willing to walk them through any questions that they might have. But if they haven’t watched the video, they will not be prepared to ask questions in class.”
Maurer: “It prepares them for after high school too. By the time students are in Precalculus, they should be on a college-bound track and also more mature. They need to get trained for that sort of atmosphere, instead of a classroom where they can interrupt the teacher at any time to ask their questions and get that personal interaction.”
Mongold: “They can’t ask questions while they’re watching the video. It’s an important skill to teach— to use their resources. They have everything available online, if they don’t understand something during the video.”
Hall: “We would run into the same problem if we were teaching. Some of the students aren’t going to raise their hands and ask questions anyway. Then there are others who would be raising their hands constantly, and we can’t even get through the material for the rest of the class. So I guess there’s all sides to it.”
Harpanhalli: Every student has a different pattern and pace to their learning. Flipped classrooms are often considered to be a “one-size, fits all” kind of concept. How do you ensure that every student still has the opportunity to differentiate their own learning, while keeping pace with the class?
Maurer: “I feel like it’s the opposite of “one-size, fits-all”. You can pause the video while you’re watching it, and take something down, or look something up on Google if you didn’t understand.”
Hall:” And then, in class, they’re not working on their homework at the same speed. They can check in with the teacher or the students in their group. One of the reasons why we implemented this is because students were complaining, ‘When I get home, I forget how to do my homework’ or ‘I have questions, but I have no one to ask’. Either we’re going to address them in a classroom, or we’re going to walk around and help them individually. We can’t do both. Somewhere we have to give.”
Harpanhalli: Flipped classrooms heavily rely on student motivation. How do you keep your more reluctant learners engaged and motivated?
Hall: “Motivation is tough, but those same students would probably be the ones that wouldn’t take notes in a traditional class. The students that aren’t motivated in a regular setting are going to be tough to motivate now. Students should be motivated at this level, since most of the kids that take this class are going to go to college. The main motivation is that if they work hard in class, they can get most of their homework done.”
Maurer: “It’s easy to procrastinate on stuff, if you don’t have a checkpoint of some sort. So having a CFA every week is one thing we did implement, so that at least by the time they take it they should be prepared with the previous lessons [that they will be tested on]. And having tests that are rigorous enough, so that students feel that they actually need to spend some time learning the material, is important.”
Harpanhalli: In the traditional method of teaching, you can gauge student comprehension just by looking around the classroom. How do you evaluate student understanding of a lesson with the video-based lectures?
Maurer: “I have a warmup to start class, that lets me know at the beginning of class whether I need to focus on something in particular. If people get the warmup done in five minutes, they probably understood the video and are good to start working on their assignment. If they can’t get the warmup done, that means they obviously didn’t understand: either they didn’t watch the video, or the concept didn’t click for them.”
Mongold: “I’m generally just circulating and checking in on homework. If they have nothing done on their homework paper, either they didn’t watch the video (which is something I can’t help with) or they’re just confused.”
Hall: “Or if they don’t have notes out and they keep flipping in the book. I like to do student problem presentations in class, so I’m getting a feel for how students are working out problems.”
Mongold: “And they’re pretty good about letting me know, too, if something was really confusing or needs to be gone over. We also watch the videos and check if there is material that we would like to cover during the class period the next day.”
Harpanhalli: How has the response been from parents and the student community at Dublin High School?
Maurer: “Mostly positive. Actually, I don’t think I’ve gotten any negative response. At Back to School Night when I explained it, a lot of parents were like: ‘Thank you. That will help my student spend a lot less time on homework.’ Now it’s one less thing for them to have to worry about. They just have to focus on learning.”
Hall: “When students go home, and their parents can’t help them with what they don’t understand, they’ve got a problem on their hands. So this way, we can answer the homework questions [in class]. And I think that’s what parents want… any parent that’s come up and talked to me has always supported this idea and are thankful that we are doing it this way. Most of the students are 10th and 11th graders who’ve been in high school for a while. They have a lot of activities after school and outside of school, so this allows them to ease their stress and plan ahead.”
Harpanhalli: Finally, having now taught using both the traditional and “flipped” methods, do you notice substantial learning gains in your students after the switch to a flipped classroom?
Hall: “The preparedness for Calculus always depends on the topics we cover, not how we’re doing it. I don’t really see a decline in the learning. In fact, it’s better, just from the standpoint that students are happy when they can get their homework before they are home. And that’s true for all students.”
Mrs. Barbara Hall is the Math Department Lead Teacher at Dublin High School, and has taught at DHS for nearly 25 years. After having taught various levels of math at Dublin High, Mrs. Hall considers Trig/Precalculus to be her favorite class to teach.
Ms. Kathryn Maurer currently teaches Algebra II with Trig and Trig/Precalculus at Dublin High School. She attended MIT and UC Davis, and majored in Mechanical Engineering.
Ms. Allison Mongold teaches Algebra 1, Algebra 1B, and Trig/Precalculus at Dublin High School. She received her BA in Mathematics from University of the Pacific and her teaching credential from Sonoma State University.