I never saw the flop coming.
I’d been teaching chemistry for just about 20 years when “flipping” the classroom started to take off. So I decided to look into it. I did my research. I got Flipped Class Certified. I chose a platform, built my course, and introduced it to my students. I felt empowered, excited to be at the forefront of a new movement using technology to improve students' learning.
I thought my students would like the freedom to learn when and where they wanted. Instead they griped about not getting a daily lecture. I assumed they’d prefer to watch videos of lab techniques on their computers instead of peering at me from across a room packed with 35 other student bodies. But I got complaints that they didn’t like teaching themselves how to use equipment. In fact, I had both parents and students essentially complaining that without a PowerPoint lecture during class, learning chemistry was impossible.
“Why are you not requiring my daughter to read any chapters in her book?” read one email. In reality, the students were still being assigned screencasts of those “valuable” PowerPoints as well as readings from the textbook. I was puzzled.
When I received the first complaint about quizzes being given online--instead of in the classroom "where they belong"--I knew the dam had given way. Parents were talking and phones were ringing: Ms. Fruin was doing a bad job.
With the warning lights ablaze, I had to back peddle to make sure all was not lost. I considered myself a skilled teacher in tune with her students. But the frustration had appeared fast and furiously. What had I missed?
Fixed mindset behavior
After I introduced the concept of flipping a classroom, my students’ first questions were about how submitting work online would impact their grades. They had been trained to find and define bold words in the text, copy down notes verbatim from a lecture, and work with classmates on assignments. Hitting a submit button without any prior feedback from peers or an instructor was a first for many of them.
Immediate burst of emails from parents
Although I had explained how the course would work in class, the communication from students to parents was like a bad game of telephone. I had parents telling me that it wasn’t fair to ask their children to log onto a computer to learn chemistry. They had no faith that the Internet could do anything but regurgitate information; it was for the instructor to simplify and interpret that information for the students. Without this “middleman” delivery, they were certain their kids were bound to fail.
Downright rebellion in class
I had students literally disregard my directions. This was a first for me. I believe one of my strengths as a teacher is building trusting relationships with learners, but I suddenly felt like I was in a lion cage with strangers. I wasn’t the fun teacher anymore; I was the enemy expecting my students to hold themselves accountable for their own learning. It made me realize how much of an enabler I had been, allowing students to do the minimum to earn a grade. And believe me, I was not an easy A.
Hostility was mounting; I had to do something and I had to do it fast. This was a large suburban school--where the majority of students had very involved parents--and discontent could spread fast. Thankfully, I had a very supportive administration as well as encouragement from my virtual partners, colleagues from across the nation with whom I’d connected online. Being as transparent as possible, I went into fix it mode and began to rebuild the community that had splintered during what one parent dubbed my “experimental learning fiasco.”
Fixing the Flop
Validate student concerns and fears
I set aside a class period to build back the broken connection between me and my students. I guided them through a question and answer session, asking what worked for them and what improvements they’d suggest. A good, honest heart-to-heart helped them understand I really did have their best interests in mind, both with the course content and their future capacity as learners.
Share growth mindset information
I took the time to share Carol Dweck’s ideas with them. (A must see for all educators is her TED talk.) Not surprisingly, they identified with many of her findings and could see themselves and their behaviors in her writing. After this “come to Jesus” session, everyone felt more familiar with the tools a good student needs to grow into more difficult content and varied learning environments.
Teach them more appropriate responses to frustrations
I also helped these young learners understand that this probably wouldn’t be the last time they didn’t like or respond well to a particular instructional style. We took the time to brainstorm more effective methods to communicate their confusion and learning needs.
Things eventually got back on track. I continued to use flip learning--and still do today. And because I believe whole heartedly in its instructional benefit, I now develop courses and degree programs focused on blended learning and many other instructional technology strategies. But I never forget the importance of building a trusting relationship with my students right from the start.
Sometimes great ideas just don't go as planned. My advice is to go ahead and laugh at yourself and model the resilience for which classroom practitioners are famous. In the end, your students will remember the stories you tell them and the feelings they had in your class, but probably not the atomic number of oxygen. (8!)