Flipping Chemistry 1

Salpointe High School teacher Brenda Wolpa, at left, and Canyon Del Oro High School teacher Jill Christman create chemistry problems to use as examples for students who will watch the lesson via screen casting at home, which is a new form of teaching known as flipping.

Chris Flora/The Explorer

Not many courses in high school match the challenge that Advanced Placement Chemistry offers students. For teachers, finding enough time to teach the subject’s abundance of content is perhaps just as big of a challenge.

Jill Christman, a chemistry teacher at Canyon Del Oro High School, has worked in collaboration with Salpointe High School’s Brenda Wolpa to find a solution to both of these issues.

The solution is known as flipping.

“Flipping flips your class,” said Wolpa, who has taught at Salpointe for two years after spending 30 years teaching at CDO. “What students would have done in class, they do as homework. What they would have done as homework, they now do in class.”

Christman and Wolpa have found that this innovative method gives students a better understanding of the subject, while also speeding up the amount of content that can be delivered during the school year.   

“Test scores have gone way up,” said Christman, who has been teaching at CDO for 11 years. “I’m about a month ahead of where I was last year in course material.”

The teachers have also realized that flipping helps eliminate frustration and confusion that students experience when trying to solve the problems on their own as homework.

“Oftentimes, students aren’t able to do the homework because the teacher isn’t there to answer their questions. Now we have that time to answer their questions in class,” said Wolpa.

As homework, Wolpa and Christman prepare lessons about 15 minutes in length using screen casting software that students watch on their computers, iPads, iPods, or phones.

Each Sunday, Wolpa and Christman get together for a several hours to prepare the week’s lessons. Using a touchpad computer, Wolpa and Christman solve problems that pertain to the problems or labs that students will work on in class. Students are able to watch the examples from home so they are prepared for the next day’s agenda.

The method requires students to have some form of internet access, which the teachers say hasn’t been an issue thus far.

“We think this plays to their strengths,” said Christman. “It seems students like to be on computers. It seems they would rather do something on the computer than with a pencil and paper at home.”

 Christman and Wolpa say student response on flipping has been good so far.

“It’s really cool,” said  Christian Baker, a CDO student. “You get to write down all the notes at home, and when you get to class the next day we elaborate on them. When you get to class you get to do all the work immediately. It has helped me understand things better. It’s a lot simpler, but still gets the same amount of work accomplished.”

Christman and Wolpa decided to implement flipping after attending a technological conference on screen casting. The teachers agree the method has paid off greatly, but not without some hard work to make it successful.

“It’s a huge change. We have spent about 200 hours preparing videos,” said Christman.  “We can tell it is working though. You can tell students are taking time to think about what they have heard. They are formulating some phenomenal questions on things I haven’t even covered yet.”

The results have been so apparent to Christman and Wolpa that they say they are surprised more teachers are not implementing it.

“It’s big in the Midwest, but I don’t know of any teachers locally that are doing it besides us,” said Wolpa. “It’s very apparent that the kids have a better understanding of chemistry because of this.”

Wolpa and Christman attribute a big part of the method’s success to being able to spend more one-on-one time in class with students solving problems, since the lectures are given digitally. Because students have access to the lectures online, students who are absent can keep current with the lecture by watching it online.

“Kids have to take more responsibility for their learning,” said Wolpa. “In the classroom, we have noticed that kids are still being social, but now their conversations are about chemistry. I would never go back to a traditional teaching style, ever.”

Currently, flipping is only being offered in AP Chemistry classes, but Wolpa and Christman are looking to gradually expand it to their other classes.

(1) comment


Thank you for covering this story. Back in the 90s, when I ran a consulting company in Boston, I introduced several of my corporate clients to using blended learning that contained short, web-based instruction to deliver more training and knowledge in a way that employees would actually enjoy. This led to them talking it up ... effectively selling it to coworkers, making it easy for us to continue to implement change. The way that Wolpa and Christman are approaching their material is exactly what my colleagues and I hoped we would see happening in the corporate arena and in schools. Sometimes great ideas take time to grab hold. I'm still waiting for corps and school environments to embrace all the positive, measurable benefits of gaming (cognitive learning, memory improvement, motor skills, social maturation, etc.) Perhaps it'll take awhile yet. I hope Wolpa and Christman's work will encourage others to try more tools and break through their video- and game-resistant thinking to obtain similar improvements. Huge hats off to them!

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