Friday, September 14, 2012

Should I Flip?

Today was frustrating.  Once again, I spent way too long covering content and left little time for students to engage in what I saw as the "true" learning activity of the day.  Last class, we learned about different research methods in Psychology-- descriptive studies, correlation studies, experiments.  I covered basic elements of each before students were placed in groups and given the task of generating a hypothesis based on a common proverb or piece of folk wisdom, then creating a research study to test the hypothesis.

I didn't fully cover experimental design, assuming that after three to four years of science, the students would already have know it.  As I moved around the room checking on groups, it became clear that only a few of them understood the purpose of control groups or how identify an independent and dependent variable.  They had fun working together, but the finished products were quite shallow.

Today, I spent more time reviewing those concepts before we moved on to Ethics in research.  After discussing guidelines for using animals in research, students formed "Review Committees" and read case studies to determine whether the studies met ethical standards.  By the time we got to the activity, we only had time to cover one of the four cases before getting cut off by the bell.

Throughout the year, I let this happen.  We spend too much class time covering content that is readily available in the textbook and elsewhere and leave little time for interactive problem-solving and discovery.  But, when I make the time, students aren't prepared.  What do I do?

That's a perfect lead in to "flip the classroom."  I've considered it.  I'm considering it.  I think I want to.  But...

I teach AP Psychology, an elective.  Each year, over one-hundred students (almost all of them seniors) take my class, by choice.  They enjoy what we do in class enough to spread the word to friends, and every year the course fills.  They learn.  AP scores are good, and I hear from many of them later about how the class helped them in some of their college courses.  But I know they can do more.

Two weeks ago I lost my first student.  "We met with a college advisor who said I'd have a better chance of admission by taking AP Statistics.  I don't want to drop, but I can't take both."  Then this week, another, "I'm really sorry, but I've got so many other hard classes and I'm working two jobs.  I just don't have the time."  Over the course of the year, I'll probably lose two or three more who wanted to give it a try, but with too much going on in their lives, my class is usually the least necessary for graduation, therefore, the first to drop.

I'll also watch several other students working like crazy to keep up the grade in AP Calculus, AP Government, and AP English among other classes.  Their grades usually start out well, slide toward C in the middle of the year when the workload hits full stride, until it drops too close to the unacceptable range, then they'll double down on effort to bring back up to par.  Some of my other students work struggle all year.  For many kids who don't take AP courses, this one is very accessible.

On the whole, I'm satisfied with my students' achievement and I'm confident in their learning (through more than just the test score even).  But I know I could push them harder.  I know that we could learn deeper skills and concepts in the classroom if we didn't spend so much time learning content.  Should I do it, should I flip?

What if it means that fewer kids are able to take the class because they're already working as hard as they can?
What if it means that my class is not accessible to kids who leave school and spend a few hours at practice, then go to work, and then get home and get down to schoolwork?
What if it means that a student who wants the challenge of an AP course can't take it because the workload has increased?

Almost all of my students seem extended to their full capacity.  They enjoy what they learn in my class, and they're willing to put in the twenty minutes or so required each night to complete assigned readings and work.  But they are not going to prioritize this elective course above English, Government, or other "core classes."  I've actually had to recommend to a few students in the past that they drop AP Psychology because of failing Government or English.  How can you let a kid put time into your class to do well while they fail the courses they must pass to graduate.

I could hold them more accountable for nightly reading, require more written work to demonstrate understanding and comprehension of vocabulary and facts.  When I remember Psych 101 in college I remember reading the text, three hours of lecture a week, one hour in a discussion session with thirty other students and a T.A., and four multiple choice tests to determine my grade.  I think I'm already doing better than that in my course.

So I'm torn.  In theory, flipping my classroom sounds like a great idea.  It would just require that students spend more time at home preparing for my class than they already do; but in class we could engage in much more authentic work.  In practice, I worry that my students, many already with a full schedule, extra-curricular activities, and jobs, might find the requirement more than they can handle and give up.

In the end, is it o.k. that they want to come to class and learn about Psychology because they don't have the time outside of school to really get into it.

So what's the decision?  Should I flip?


  1. I have found you to be flippant

  2. Better to be flipped on than flipped off.