Flip Your Class

Over the years, I’ve done quite a few educational videos for math courses, from Math for Elementary Education, through Calculus and Linear Algebra, and Cryptography.  Originally, I’d intended them to be resources for my students, but unknowingly I had started down the path towards the flipped (or inverted) classroom.

What’s a flipped class?  It’s a brand new thing in education…that’s very, very old.  Back in the Good Old Days (which never existed, but that’s another story), students would seek out a teacher.  The teacher would say “Read these books, and we’ll discuss them next time.”  This had several advantages:

  • The student got into the habit of learning on his or her own,
  • The student got more personal interaction with the teacher.

So what are most math classes like nowadays?  The teacher spends an hour or so lecturing on a topic, then sends the students away to do homework.  The lecture is impersonal:  as a student, you’re one of many; as a teacher, you give the same lecture whether there’s one person or a thousand.

But let’s follow the student after the lecture.  Every student has experienced the following situation:  leaving a lecture, thinking that the lecture was brilliant, since everything made sense.  They go home, ready and raring to tackle the homework, and then…discover that they missed something critical, and can’t do half or more of the problems.  They can try to see the teacher during office hours, or ask questions during class, but even if they can, by that time a week has passed by and the class is on the next topic.

The flipped class alters the timing:  Students get the lecture at home, usually through some web video; then they go to class to work problems.  This works best when students take advantage of several key features of online videos, namely:

  • They can be played anytime, anywhere:  students can learn at their own pace.
  • They can be paused and rewound:  students can learn at their own pace.
  • They can be replayed:  students can review at their own pace.

When the students go to class, they work problems.  This works best when students take advantage of several key features of the classroom, namely:

  • The instructor is there to offer guidance and clarification,
  • Other students are there to discuss potential solutions and to cross-check work.

You’ll notice that the flipped classroom model is exactly the “Read these books and we’ll discuss them in class” model of education.  If you enjoy the teaching process, a flipped class is one of the best ways to experience it.

But be aware…there are pitfalls along the way.  More about this later…


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