Flip Out or Start Flipping: Why I Started Flipping Math Lessons


As the new school year approached, changing from second grade to fourth grade started to set a little bit of anxiety into my normally easy going attitude about the back-to-school season. It wasn’t the kids I was worried about. I had had most of them in second grade already. It wasn’t joining a new team of teachers, either. I already deeply respected this group of teachers. It was fourth grade math that had me biting my nails. I started studying the math curriculum during the summer, piecing out the big ideas and creating student “I can” statements. As I delved further and further into the curriculum, I noticed a common theme. The standards are challenging! Especially coming from the perspective of a career primary teacher. I knew immediately that math would prove to be an area of focus for this upcoming school year.

As my fourth grade students and I ventured through the first three chapters of the math curriculum I had two groups of students form in my classroom. The ones who got it the first time and the ones who needed more TIME. But, as you all know, TIME is a teacher’s biggest enemy! We have the inevitable forces pressuring us to rush through lessons and move onto the next chapter before all of our students have mastered the skill. This approach “leaves students behind,” but it sure does ensure every single standard was “taught” before that state test comes around. I am sure most of you reading this do not feel comfortable with this type of approach. Neither do I.

It was after Back to School Night, where several parents came to me to discuss math homework. Even after reassuring parents, “I have your child in my intervention small group” I walked away from the evening knowing in my heart something in my math program had to change. It had been sitting in the back of my head for the past year. I had known the answer all along. Just the thing that would help all of my students access the math content in the pace that was right for them. I had read about it. Followed chats on Twitter about it. I had even talked to the gurus themselves, Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman at ISTE12. The answer was to either to continue “flip out” and continue this pedagogy paradox, or flip my math lessons!

The weekend following Back to School Night, I recorded Chapter 4‘s math lessons on my iPad using Explain Everything, posted them on YouTube, and made links to the videos on my class website. I sent the email out to parents explaining the new change and held my breath. I was nervous about what parents would think. Most of them had never heard about flipped learning and I didn’t discuss this at back to school night.

The kids came to school Monday morning and I had a serious conversation with them. I asked them what they thought about the math homework so far. I got a variety of answers. “Its great,” exclaimed my highest math students. “It’s hard,” from some of my brave students. But many students said, “It takes me so long.” Many of them were going home and practicing their problems incorrectly and it would take me several days to undo that behavior. In addition, they were spending way too long to complete it! I asked them if it would be okay if I came home with them to help them with their homework. They loved this idea! They said I could have dinner with their family and everything. Then one intuitive student said, “How are you going to be at all of our houses in one night?” Ha! That was the question I was hoping for and that is when I explained to them how we are going to be learning math from now on.

Flipping in education can mean a variety of things. But the simplest definition is the idea that students watch instructional videos (made by their teacher) at night for homework so that students arrive to school ready to apply the skills they learned. In my flipped classroom environment, the emphasis is not only the videos, but more importantly, how I now utilize my time in the classroom with my students. And remember when I said, TIME is a teacher’s biggest enemy? The twenty to thirty minutes I would have traditionally spent teaching a whole group lesson now becomes time for me to work with students. We spend less time using worksheets to practice skills and more time working in small groups to apply the math skills to real world applications. My students are learning math by playing with math. They are writing about math. They are creating their own equations for friends to solve. They are applying all of those 21st Century skills we keep talking about in education: creating, collaborating, communicating, and using critical thinking skills.

But the question you should all be asking me at this point is, well, does it work? Here is my response to that question… Let’s look at the data. My formative assessment with chapter 3 (which was addition and subtraction) showed that 50% of my students had demonstrated mastery. Chapter 3 was a review chapter from third grade math, yet my students were not effectively mastering the skills. They were doing homework each night, I was teaching a whole group lesson, and allowing time for independent practice as I pulled small groups. However, when I started flipping my math lessons with chapter 4 I got different results. 90% of my students passed the formative assessment! I should also add the skills in chapter 4 are far more challenging as this is the first time students learn to use variables, parentheses, and this chapter has a heavy emphasis on problem solving skills. Additionaly, since beginning my flipped math class, I have had an almost 100% success rate with math homework!

I have had parents come to me thanking me for making the videos. Even parents of other fourth grade students (not in my class), who had heard through the grapevine about my videos, approached me explaining how the videos are really helping with homework. The students claim they love having the ability to “pause” me. Wouldn’t we all want to pause our teachers every now and then? But seriously, what they mean is that while they try to catch up in their note taking they can actually pause me and then press play when they get caught up! They love the power of being able to rewind me if they missed something, too. The flipped lessons allow them to work a pace that is appropriate for them and my students are becoming far more responsible with asking me questions about their learning.

I plan to continue this journey of flipped learning and the word is spreading! My fourth grade team wants to join in on the effort and help me create videos. So if you have been thinking, researching, or pondering the idea of flipped learning, I hope my blog post helps push you to the point where you realize you can either continue to flip out or start flipping!

Here is an example of one of my videos. I used the iPad app called Explain Everything to create this. There isn’t anything fancy about it; it is just teaching in the simplest form:

In the News: 

Here is my class on the Fox 5 News.

Here is an article in the North County Times.

To learn more about Flipped Learning

Read: Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student In Every Class Every Day by Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman

Follow #flipclass on Twitter!

By Jo-Ann Fox