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Peek Inside a Flipped Math Classroom

One teacher shares what he learned when he tried a different approach to teaching and learning.

Nathan Pfeiffer | March 9, 2015

I’ve been toying with the idea of flipping my math class for a while now, and this summer, I took the plunge, planning out how to make it work. I had high hopes it would, as well as some fears, but I’m so glad I was willing to try new things. I want to share with you what I’ve done and what I’ve learned.

My research and planning revolved around three questions. Here are my results.

1. Where would I get the resources to use for the video?
If I'm going to have my students watch videos for homework, I need to make sure the videos are high quality and cover the specific concepts I need. I was pleasantly surprised with our district’s new math curriculum, envisionMath, which includes a short video for each lesson. I supplement that with LearnZillion, which has thousands of great short video clips on Common Core concepts, and Khan Academy, which has videos covering every concept imaginable. 

2. How do I actually get the kids to watch or know that the kids have watched the videos? Also, what do I do for students who don’t have Internet access at home?
When I was in middle school, if a teacher assigned me a video to watch, there was a slim chance I would actually watch it. I knew I had to develop an accountability system for the students. At the beginning of my research, I read a great article on that suggested I practice watching the videos with my students and develop a question and answer sheet for each video. This helped me overcome my fears.

For the first week of class, we watched and talked about the videos together. We also spent time discussing and practicing how to complete the video response sheets that cover what they learned as well as any questions that they might still have. This showed the students exactly what I was looking for and gave them an easier transition into what was going to be a big switch for them. At the beginning of each school year, teachers invest time establishing our classroom routines; this will just become part of my new school year routine.

As for the students who don't have Internet access at home, I make laptops, Chromebooks, and iPads available to them first thing in the morning so they can watch the video before class starts. I was surprised to discover that, even at my Title I school with 50 percent of our students on free or reduced lunch, the number of students without Internet access is surprisingly low. I'll occasionally have a student who doesn't watch the video the night before for another reason. In which case, I have them simply do it first thing in the morning as well.

3. If I do get the students to watch the videos, what does my class time look like during the lesson?
Since I don't introduce new topics in class, we have more time to discuss, practice, and master the concepts. My class follows this outline.

  • We start with a five-question review of the previous lesson. This is a quick, informal assessment to show me who still gets it and who needs a little more practice. Students then trade these with a partner and we check them.
    • Anyone that misses none or only one moves to a station that is also based on the previous day’s lesson for more and higher-level practice.
    • Students who miss more than one problem meet with me in a small group for a re-teach. When they show me they understand, they move to a station.
  • Then, using their video response sheets, we discuss vocabulary and key skills or ideas they got out of last night’s video. That is pretty much a five-minute discussion that used to take the majority of my class time.
  • Next, we get into working with the concept. We usually do three to five problems together so that we are all on the same page.
  • Then I assign some independent or small-group work. I monitor students I think may be struggling or are asking for help.
  • Finally, students complete a practice page that I check. If they pass it, then they go on to a station to end the class based on today’s lesson. If they don't, I go over some mistakes before having them go back and try it again.
  • Every lesson ends with a quick review of terms or big ideas before assigning the next video for them to watch.

Overall, each student practices many repetitions of the same concept in my presence so that if there's a big misunderstanding or struggle, I am right there to help. This takes the burden off of the parents at home who haven’t encountered these concepts in a while or aren’t familiar with the terminology we use in our classes today.

I was nervous to change the setup of my class so much from what I was used to. Looking back, I'm glad I gave it a shot. I feel it has given me more control over how the students are doing and more time working with students who need a little more help. I wish I had done it sooner.

Photo: "Math (31/365)" by Tony Kamenick. Used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.