Exploring Flipped Learning with Marc Seigel, FLN Advisory Board Member
Marc is a high school chemistry teacher in New Jersey, and an early adopter of the flipped learning approach. Explore experiences, insights, tips, tools, and techniques with Marc and FLN Community Administrator Kelly Walsh in this lively, candid interview!
NOTE: The video includes some handy “time tags” so you can easily jump to different sections and explore specific topics. If you click through to the video on YouTube (URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFdwr6MpjQs) and then click on “Show More” below the description, you can access these handy linked time markers. This makes it a snap to jump to different sections of the video and learn about topics that may be of specific interest to you.
We have also transcribed selected, edited excerpts from the questions and answers for your reading pleasure (hopefully these encourage you to explore the full interview)!
Q: How did you first learn about flipped learning and what inspired you to try it?
A: I will never forget this … when I was doing my student teaching there was a moment where I was in the middle of a lesson and my cooperating teacher stormed into the classroom and goes, “You Gotta Stop!” She goes up to the shelf behind where I was teaching and pulls a binder off the shelf and says, “the Principal is checking lesson plans today.” She asked me what I was teaching, flips to the unit, erases the date from like seven years prior, writes the current date on the top, throws the binder back on the shelf and says, “if he comes around, show him that.” I said in my own head, “if I ever get to that point, I either need to radically change what I am doing or I need to retire on the spot”.
So fast forward ten years (to the fall of 2010): I walk in on a Monday morning and I go, “Oh yeah, what are we doing today? Gas laws?” I scrolled to the Powerpoint that I was going to be using that day. I didn’t think about teaching all weekend long, I didn’t think about my lesson plan … I had gotten so practiced that I could do it right off the top of my head … and that made me suddenly stop and think, “Woah, what just happened?”
About a month later, I ran across this article … by Jon [Bergmann] and Aaron [Sams] and it was talking about using video for instruction … they had so many athletes who were missing class time because of where the school was located and the videos where a way of getting those kids to stay up with class because they were missing so much. I looked at this and thought, “I could totally do this!”
I went to my supervisor and I pitched him the idea. He was really hesitant about it, so I said, “let me do it on a trial basis … I want to do this one unit, let’s see how it goes, if it flops I’ll go right back to the instruction that I was doing before.” He said okay, I could try it one time.
I was teaching honors, and only did it with my honors class. We got to the end of the unit … and I went back in the following unit to standard direct instruction, standing in front of the classroom and still teaching off the same Powerpoints. And the kids, after one day, were like, “we need to go back to … that other way, this is not working for us.” The flexibility allowed in the classroom was the first time they had ever seen that and they loved it. They loved the idea that they were able to do something over two days instead of only doing it for one because they needed that extra time to learn and practice it.
I went to my supervisor and said, “I’m not direct instructing [in that class] anymore.” I spent Christmas break and the next month making videos like a mad man and I always felt like I was one day ahead. I was like my first year of teaching all over again. That was my first real jump into flipped learning.
Q: Is your school environment supportive of your innovative efforts?
A: When I got to the school they were not innovative, I remember very distinctly when I walked in the building and the first thing I saw was a sign that had a kid with a hood and his hands on a desk and [it said], “No Cell Phones – No Headphones – No Hoods.” When I went in for the interview and saw this, I thought, “if I get this job, that’s the first thing that’s gonna change.” I couldn’t come to a place that was “No, No, No.” I didn’t try to change the mindset to “you have to integrate cell phones”, it wasn’t about that, it was about removing the word, “No.” There are ways to say things without saying “No.” I wanted to just change the mindset.
When I got hired, the first things I did was a QR code scavenger hunt all around the school that required the use of cell phones. This was six years ago. I had to make special, laminated passes for my kids to carry with them at all times. They still got in trouble with people all over the place, but they were doing a QR code scavenger hunt for chemistry. They would have to take pictures of chemistry in the world around them. I remember getting called down to the main office because a kid got written up because he took a picture of an aluminum can that was in the recycling bin in his math class, and because he pulled out his cell phone, he got written up. I went down, I defended the kid. I said, “he’s got a pass, this was all approved.”
Slowly but surely, things started to change. Now there are cell phones being used in almost every single classroom. We’re a Google Apps for Education district with 1-to-1 Chromebooks. So much has changed, but it required a shift in the mindset. I had met with a lot of colleagues who were like, “no, you can’t do that”, and now, yeah … they’re doing that. It just takes time. I always say, it’s like chipping at an iceberg.
For all of you out there just starting, think of it as an iceberg … you’ve got to chip a little bit each day, a little bit each year, you get one more person here and one more person there to jump on, saying, “you’re right, homework has to change, worksheets need to change …, something needs to change.” You get two people and they get three people [on board], and all of a sudden that vocal majority which was saying, “no, no, no” is now the very silent minority because there are so many people going, “yes, yes, yes, we can make this happen.”
Q: What are students in your class expected to do outside of class?
A: Any time I assign a “work to be done at home assignment” (as opposed to “homework”), it’s about finding chemistry in the world around them. In the second half of the year, the chemistry is very real world. We’re doing solution making, we’re doing gas laws, reactions involving heat. So their assignment for Thanksgiving weekend is: find an example of a chemical reaction occurring in the world around you. That may be in the kitchen, in a restaurant, wherever it’s going to be.
Now that it’s starting to get nice, we start talking about balloons, and solutions, and why is there salt on the roads, why is my car getting rusted? I tell them to go out and take pictures of these things and post them for everyone to see, not just me, because that is what chemistry really is. It’s a chemical world.
Problem sets? Worksheet? I want them doing that in class because I want to see if they truly understand it. Kids today cheat, but they always cheat in the same way … it’s when they don’t find meaning in the assignment. My kids can’t cheat on the work to be done at home because it has to involve their face. They have to show themselves doing the chemistry.
Q: Do Your Videos Need to be Perfect or … No?
A: I tell my kids from day 1, I’m gonna sneeze in mine, there’s one video where my cat is meowing in the background, a clock chiming somewhere; it’s just part of the process. I think my students like that better … they’ll say to me, “Who made your video?” I’ll tell them, “I made my video.” They’ll say, “This one, specifically, because you didn’t sneeze or anything in that video?” Well that was the one where I took some time editing it, but they like the down and dirty videos because that’s who you are on the classroom. I’m gonna sneeze in a lesson, so what’s the difference then?
Q: How do you work with students moving at a difference pace in your classroom?
A: When I first started flipping, everyone was at the same point all the time. The first day of the unit was this, the last day was that, and that’s it. Everything had to be completed in that time frame. It’s been seven years now flipping, and I’m much more comfortable with an asynchronous environment. But it’s based on the students too, and what they do each year.
When you’re in the classroom and you’re told what you do every day, and you’re a kid who doesn’t have a passion for math or science, but you have an aptitude in science or math, you get bored really, really fast. You look around and wonder, “how can these kids not understand what the teacher just said?”, but you can’t go any faster because the teacher won’t let you go any faster. This [flipped classroom] allows that group of kids to move more at their own pace.
There are other kids who have the exact opposite [situation]. They look around the room and think they’re stupid because they look at everyone else working and they don’t have a clue what the teacher just said. That kid can also now ask me extra questions because I’m not standing in front of the room taking up 25 to 30 minutes of their time. I [start off by] saying, “hello, this is what we’re doing now, this is your job for the day, go to it.”
What I’ve done is adjust different policies and practices to support both sets of learners. I’m process driven, not content driven. I have four versions of every quiz, homework, and test available for my students, so they can do up to four versions of any one assignment. The quizzes are 1 question, they’re worth 5 points. Why does the quiz need to ask the same thing four different ways? All of the quizzes use the same process. Even though it’s one question, they can do up to four versions of the quiz, so they get that extra reinforcement. I have some students who do 4 of everything, and I’ve got other kids who say, “I’m going to do the bare minimum” and they do one for each of the required assignments.
I have a kid right now who has a 97 in my class, he does 1 of everything. He walks into class, he asks, “Can I start the quiz immediately”, I ask him to wait until I’m done with my little spiel. I finish my spiel, he walks up to my desk, grabs the quiz, sits down, does the quiz, turns it back in, gets a 5 out of 5. He knows exactly what he knows, and then he sits down and watches a video, like Netflix. He does everything on the day it’s due. He does the tests, and he has a 97 in my class. What should I say to this kid, “No, you have to do more.” Why? He’s proved that he can do it. Why should I force kids to do problems when they don’t need it?
Now other kids, I push multiple versions on them. I say, “look, it took you 40 minutes to do one question on a quiz, maybe you want to do a second version or a third version before moving on to the next assignment.” I highly encourage them, but I don’t force it on them. Some of those kids will do it, and some won’t. Any kid who falls behind has to come outside of class time to get their work done. If they don’t get it done by the due date, that means they’re going to have to come in outside of class time to catch back up with the rest of the class.
Explore all of these great questions and answers by watching the video. Here is the full set of questions covered in the interview (there are ‘time tags’ available in the video’s full description that let you jump to any one of these):
- Tell us about your background as a teacher
- How did you first learn about flipped learning and what inspired you to try it?
- Discussion about being an early adopter
Did you have challenges with students being able to access flipped content?
- What are students in your class expected to do outside of class (“chemistry in the world around you!”)?
- Is your school environment supportive of your innovative efforts (“removing the word ‘No'”)?
- “Chipping at an iceberg” (getting others on board)
- Supporting other teachers with tools and techniques
Favorite tools for making videos (Camtasia, Powerpoint, tablet PC, Snagit)
- Videos don’t need to be perfect!
- Making your own videos, or not (and … “making it your own” if you use someone else’s videos)
- “Using videos for homework”
- Flipping “other” subjects (not just math and science!)
- How do you introduce students to your flipped and flexible classroom? “Shifting the mindset”
- Working with students moving at a different pace
- Any words of wisdom for those new to the flip?
- What’s next for you in your classroom (lava lamps and grilled cheese!)?
- Marc’s online activities – marcseigel.com, @daretochem, #chemisawesome