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NMSI Blog

Flipping is a Fantastic Fit for Remote Teaching

Lisa Cumming has gone flipping crazy. At least, that’s what she calls it. For 12 years, Cumming has been teaching high school chemistry with a flipped classroom, and she sees it as a viable approach for remote and blended classrooms.

Flipped teaching emphasize active learning during class time. It’s opposite from the traditional class in which exercises and applications of instructional material are assigned as homework after a lecture or lesson when teachers and students are together. For example, Cumming assigns students to watch 3- to 5-minute videos of herself teaching lessons as homework for the week. In class, her students engage in assignments and labs that apply to those video lessons while Cumming circulates around the class to answer questions and assist the students.

For Cumming, there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing her class buzzing with activity, and her students genuinely involved in the material rather than passively listening.

But it didn’t all come together right away. In 2007, Cumming found out about a couple of chemistry teachers who had flipped their classrooms and were providing materials to help other teachers do the same. Cumming purchased their curriculum and materials and decided to give it a try, but not all at once. She started with one unit as a test run.

She wondered how the kids would respond. She wondered whether parents would accuse her of just not wanting to teach. There were plenty of what-ifs and questions, but she gave it a try.

“I got a few interesting emails from parents like, ‘My son is really supposed to be watching videos for chemistry? That’s not what I did when I was in school’ or ‘Johnny says you don’t teach anything,’” Cumming recalled during a recent talk with teachers in a virtual National Math and Science Initiative training.

By the end of that first experimental unit, the results were undeniable. Cumming flipped another unit the next semester. By then she was convinced, and she spent the next summer preparing to flip her honors and regular chemistry classes.

After 12 successful years, Cumming has observed several significant benefits of flipping her classroom. She sees much less time wasted in class by students being off topic or not paying attention. The students are actively working, learning and helping each other with the material.

For that reason, differentiation between students is much more manageable. Every student can move at their own pace, fast or slow, so no one falls behind, and no one gets bored for lack of stimulation. Faster students are engaged in tutoring and assisting other students, so everyone stays involved.

The flipped classroom also allows the instructor to monitor students as they complete their assignments, as opposed to traditional homework, which is easily copied from other students. All of this, Cumming says, shows that the students are actually learning, not just hearing you speak or looking up answers.

Perhaps most importantly, the flipped classroom engages students in critical thinking more than standard methods of instruction. By learning actively, students work together to find solutions based on the information they’ve been given. They are stimulated to solve problems, ask questions and teach each other, all engaging critical thinking.

“My philosophy, which actually drove to flipping the classroom is: Tell me and I forget; Teach me and I remember; Involve me and I learn,” said Cumming. “I think that last one is very important. Involve me and I’ll learn.”

Lisa Cumming teaches AP chemistry at Olmsted Falls High School in Ohio. She is among some 400 accomplished AP teachers who help deliver NMSI’s training for other teachers around the country.