Flipping the classroom

Editor’s note: This article is the last of a three-part series on the implementation of technology in Hamilton County schools.

When the Webster City School District rolls out its new one-to-one iPad program, it will change the classroom environment for all students and teachers. However, High School Science Teacher Ayn Eklund has been flipping the script on the traditional classroom for several years in Webster City.

For her freshman general science and sophomore biology classes, Eklund hosts a flip class. Essentially, students enrolled in the class are tasked with listening to lectures and taking notes outside of class and then meeting in the classroom to do their homework.

“We’ve taken how we went to school where the teacher would lecture during class and then send you on your way with your homework and just flipped it,” Eklund said.

This is the third year that Eklund has held a flip class at the high school. Before the class began, Eklund said the school received a grant for 30 iPad tablets. The question then was what to do with the new technology. Eklund proposed a flip class which was first designed by two science teachers in Colorado.

“We are always willing to change and do something new. We’re continually evolving and modifying what we do,” Eklund said.

The freshman general science course was the first to be flipped. Students were given 15 to 20 minute lecture videos they were expected to watch outside of the classroom. Last year, the sophomore biology class was also flipped. This year, Eklund said she’s trying to condense the classes so the lectures are no more than 10 minutes long. She said that length, according to her research, is ideal. As the lectures exist in a digital format, students can also watch the lectures as many times as they want at their convenience.

Learning online

The video lectures Eklund uses offer picture-in-picture and in the videos she reads her lecture while examples of what she’s talking about, traditionally written on a blackboard, appear on the screen with her. She also goes around Webster City taking pictures to show examples of what students are learning. Those videos are then uploaded to YouTube and the link is then shared with students.

For instance, Eklund made a video on Newton’s three laws of motion for her freshman class. With her iPad, she shot video of a baseball resting on her desk in her classroom. The ball sits still until her hand knocks it away, demonstrating Newton’s first law. She usually shoots these short videos during the high school’s lunch period and then uses provided video editing software to finalize it.

Overall, Eklund said the student response to the class has been positive. The benefit of such a class, according to Eklund, is that students can ask questions as they do work to apply what they’ve learned better.

“They like the idea that we did homework in class so if they had questions they weren’t stuck at home late at night not knowing how to do something,” Eklund said. “Also, if kids are gone or sick, it’s easier for them to catch up on the content and they really like it being online for review since all of the material is right there for them.”

Those options offer students flexibility in their learning. Eklund said that students have a few days to watch the lectures before the class meets. The accessibility of the material, which can be watched at home, on the way to a sporting event, on the bus or at any time they like is beneficial, according to Eklund. While the iPads for the flip class have only been available in the classroom, the one-to-one program will make them available at all times for students.

Taking ownership

Now that the mid-October iPad rollout is near, Eklund said other teachers may flip their classrooms as well. Eklund is currently the only teacher in the district who offers a flipped classroom. However, she presented at summer professional development days about how she flipped her classes and how others could do the same.

She’s not sure if those teachers will create flip classes, but she said the interest and possibility is out there. Some classes have used similar elements to the flip class. Eklund said a math teacher at the high school has created video tutorials on mathematical concepts.

“So, if you’re missing the idea or you just transferred from another school and you’re not up to speed with everyone else, they can make videos now so that kids can be more in charge of their learning,” Eklund said.

The nontraditional environment that a flip classroom offers can be taken further. Eklund said that, ideally, her classes would become what’s called a flipped mastery classroom. There, the students are even more self directed. Eklund said the class would have students come in at the beginning of the year, receive the assignments that they would have to complete by an end date and work on it entirely at their own pace. With such a classroom, Eklund said those proficient in science can work faster through the content and those who might struggle can still seek assistance from her.

Before a class like that would be held, Eklund said she’d have to build more confidence that such a program would succeed. With the iPad roll out coming soon, Eklund said it might be a year or two before such a program is implemented.

“It takes a ton of planning on the teacher’s end to have a whole semester of stuff ready to go at the beginning,” Eklund said. “We’re getting there. We’re getting the groundwork laid with more kids now getting iPads.”