Flipped Curriculum

By Jon Kimmel,  Middle School Math, History & Film Teacher

Several of us went to hear Eric Mazur talk to an ADVIS gathering on January 19 at Malvern Prep. Mazur is a Physics professor at Harvard who has become fashionable in recent years for advocating a blend of “Peer Instruction” and the “Flipped Curriculum.”  The success of this approach hinges on an effective cycle of formative assessment.

 In his setting, the “flip” implies that much of the instructor-presented new information is provided outside of the classroom; in practical terms, this means that he now expects his Harvard students to read their textbook, etc., without him lecturing the class about the textbook in class the next day. The more interesting aspect of his pedagogy is the Peer Instruction.

 As he modeled it for us in the workshop, PI looked this like this: He offered us a short description of some Physics concept and then posted a multiple choice question on a screen in the front of the hall. More importantly, it showed up on our individual laptop or tablet computers via a dedicated website. We were instructed to think quietly on our own about the question and then select our answer on our computer. The instructor’s computer kept score of all the answers in the room and gave him a sense of how many people went for each answer.

Without revealing the answer, Mazur instructed us to turn to a neighbor who chose a different response to the question. Our task was to persuade our new partner of the correctness of our choice. After some conversation (this was the actual Peer Instruction), we again selected our (revised?) answer on the computer. Typically, on this second balloting, the number of students with the correct response increases significantly. The differential between those who understood at first and who understood after the PI is the value added of this approach. After re-polling, Mazur would offer an explanation; students could then indicate electronically whether they “got it,” or “still don’t get it.” This process would be repeated as necessary.

A typical question pushes beyond the most recently presented material, perhaps bringing in some previous relevant material  to extend the students’ thinking. The question should require some thinking about an actual real world situation. The incorrect answer choices should reflect common misunderstanding of the material so as to expose and address them. Many of his answers followed a simple form of “a) it increased; b) it stayed the same; c) it decreased.” Mazur said that he has used this in non-science classes to good effect and gave us an example from an Ethics class that provoked much conversation. He reported that he has done a lot of research on the knowledge and comprehension gains from using this approach and the salutatory effect appears to be quite reproducible.

You can do this approach with various “clickers” or even with fingers displayed discretely on the student’s chest (so as not to influence peer answers in advance). For more in-depth feedback and gee-whiz effect, new technology offers us some serious data analytics. There are a lot of statistical tools to use with this pedagogy working via the proprietary software on Mazur’s website: https://learningcatalytics.com/ Go there to request an invitation. You can find some interesting stories about this approach by Googling Mazur or Learning Catalytics. I have been trying various combinations of all this with my seventh graders and would encourage you to explore on your own.

Erik Mazur “Interactive Teaching in Physics”   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBYrKPoVFwg

About Westtown School

Westtown School is a Pre-K through 12th grade Quaker, coed, college preparatory day and boarding school in West Chester, PA.
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