High school science teacher Jennifer Gray’s curriculum deviates from traditional teaching models – they’re flipped.
“This is a team assignment; you need to work together,” she said, pivoting between groups of four-person tables Feb. 6, during her chemistry class at Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Across the room, a student tossed his hand up.
“Did you ask someone to help you yet?” said Gray. When a group got stumped, she’d squat next to the students, guiding them toward answers, inspiring engagement and creativity.
Gray’s classrooms emphasize coaching, not lecturing. With 16 years of teaching experience, the educator encourages collaboration, peer support and inquiry, while coordinating quizzes only when content is mastered.
She follows the flipped classroom model. It leverages instructional technologies to compile electronic archives of video lectures. Digital innovations are transitioning assignments typically considered homework into classwork.
Colorado high school teachers Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams pioneered flipped learning in 2007. Gray has studied their concepts with chemistry, physics, history, calculus, foreign language, physical education and vocational teachers.
It’s her first year at Vista Ridge High School in Falcon School District 49, where she’s an established mentor for flipped learning. She previously spent four years at Falcon High School, where she organized efforts to flip the school’s science department.
“Teachers are always asking ‘how do I do this’ and ‘how do I do it well,’” said Gray, after opening her doors to educators interested in observing her flipped chemistry classroom.
Nick Schuetze, a physics teacher, and Mary Lougee, physics and environmental science, had their Apple MacBooks and curriculum open, along with social studies teacher Jennifer Scarselli, who had arrived from nearby Sand Creek High School.
“The classes where you spend a lot of lecture time are the ones to flip,” she said. “You shorten your lectures to just teach the content, and save the stories and discussions for face-to-face interaction.”
Gray advocates mastery learning, which assumes all children will learn under the right conditions. Benjamin Bloom popularized the term more than 40 years ago, advocating for the most powerful aspects of tutoring and individualized instruction.
“In the past, we couldn’t have every kid doing something different in the classroom – not very well,” said Gray. “But we’re now getting the technology to be able to implement Bloom’s ideas in our classrooms.”
“This moves us from being the person with all the answers to the learning coach,” said Gray, explaining that students who advance through lessons gain mastery by helping others grasp the basics. She establishes and assesses learning targets, objectives for every student.
“Students will take responsibility for their own learning,” she said, adding that those who are absent due to illness or extra-curricular activities, such as athletics or field trips, won’t get left behind.
“It helps,” said tenth grader Chance Hansen, 16, watching a 20-minute video presentation about chemical compounds, holding an Apple iPad and headphones. “If you missed something, you just hit rewind and find the answer.”
“You can just tune stuff out and watch the video,” said Hansen, who still prefers some lectures in the classroom, where questions are quickly addressed. “I like to switch it up – a little bit of each. Some days, I’ll watch a lecture in class.”
Schuetze, who recently moved from Oregon, is planning to apply the concepts to one unit this year, and flip more units next year. He’s excited about the individualized approach.
“I had heard about flipped learning before, but never felt I had been in a position to do it,” said Schuetze. “Having Jen here, I feel the confidence to get started. It seems like it’ll be useful for the kids who’re ready to get ahead, and they can help others.”
“It enables students to master a concept before they move on,” he said. “I am more of a resource… to connect with kids who need more attention. Classes are more reserved for labs and homework, when you’re practicing what you’re learning.”
Gray asks parents concerned about the break in tradition to visit flipped classrooms.
“You’ll see increased interaction and personalized contact time between students and teachers,” she said. “That’s important. We’re building the bonds of trust.”
Gray has hard data, too. The Colorado Student Assessment Program, an assessment of student performance required by the No Child Left Behind Act, showed results in science jumped nine percentage points at Falcon High School, after the science department flipped.
Overall grades in advanced placement chemistry surged from 73 to 84 percent.
“Pick one, pick one unit to flip,” said Gray, speaking with the other teachers. “I did that, and now I flip everything.”