Term 1 is the longest one for most of us, and by the end of it I’m in no mood to be trying new ideas. The winter holiday is a good chance to recharge and get some of that drive back. With that in mind, here are some of the things I want to try out as the new term gets under way in January:
(The times show where the ideas are discussed in the vlog)
01:37 Idea 1 – Scripting explanations
03:13 Idea 2 – The silent method
06:50 Idea 3 – Single image explanations
10:42 Idea 4 – Sketchnotes
12:53 Idea 5 – Revision skills lessons
14:20 Idea 6 – Student led lessons
17:05 Idea 7 – Ask for ideas on Twitter
This week my school had a twilight CPD afternoon with all sessions run by teachers. There was a timetable with four 20 minute time-slots, and a range of CPD sessions to choose from; teachers chose any four sessions that looked appealing and signed up (we have a huge school with hundreds of teachers so there was plenty to choose from).
I ran two repeat sessions on flipped learning. I get the feeling most of the staff here have heard of or tried flipped learning and know the basics, and I know that some of them use it regularly, so my session wasn’t so much an introduction to FL as much as an introduction to my take on it, how I approach it, and why.
I didn’t want to lecture to everyone for 20 minutes straight so I started the session like a flipped learning lesson: I gave out a QR code which linked to a webpage on my site, and on the site was a video about flipped learning and a Google Forms quiz with questions relating to the video. The staff in the session scanned the code and watched on their smartphone, then answered the questions.
It nicely demonstrated how you can get a lot of information across quickly (the video was around 3m30s long), so students are ready to engage in the content with higher order thinking when the lesson starts.
From there I gave some ideas for resources as well as my perspectives on flipped learning.
If you want to use it yourself go ahead, and note that I’ve converted the Google Forms quiz to a PDF version (because otherwise any responses anyone makes will come in to my gmail account).
Last week I did an activity with an A Level Biology group that demonstrated the concept of genetic drift. Genetic drift is the idea that in small populations, allele frequencies can change as a result of random selection, rather than only natural selection.
The activity uses two different colours of Skittles to represent different alleles. The population starts with a frequency of 0.5 for each allele (1:1 ratio), and as you run the model, selecting individuals at random to pass on their alleles, you find the frequency changes over a few generations.
There’s a worksheet I made with instructions for students and a couple of questions at the end. Download it here.
If you’re a teacher that’s been anywhere near Twitter in the past year you’ve probably stumbled across #FeedbackNOTmarking, which has been a major focus from @MrsHumanities. The emphasis is, as it says, on giving meaningful feedback to students rather than marking for a grade/score. It’s no secret that summative assessment generally offers little to students in terms of opportunities to improve, but feedback goes a long way to promote progress and learning.
I review students books and set based on their work, and the comments range in focus from things like adding labels to diagrams, to reviews of full learning objectives. Obviously, reviewing a class full of books and setting meaningful targets is a huge time commitment, and the vast majority of teachers know that from agonising first-hand experience.
My solution, based on an idea from a colleague of mine, is my target setting symbols sheet. I basically write symbols at the relevant places in the students’ books, and give them a handout that shows what the symbols mean. When the books are returned they go through and highlight all of the places that I’ve used a symbol, then in the next available space in their book, they write the targets that correspond to the symbols. This has two huge benefits:
Students have to engage in their targets. If targets are already written by me, they’re easier to ignore. However, if the students write the target, it’s a far less passive process.
It saves me HOURS!!!!! I can review a book in about a minute. Yes, a minute.
My sheet (useful for Science) is here, and I’ve made a blank template document that you can use if you want to use your own symbols and set your own targets (I recommend typing the targerts, printing the sheet, drawing your symbols, then photocopying that version).
So a little while back I was teaching a lesson on enzymes. For a Biology teacher this is pretty standard stuff and it comes up on the specification in a few different places in different key stages. At A Level we teach about 5 to 10 enzymes by name – they usually come up when talking about digestion and things like DNA replication.
Out of curiosity I asked the kids how many enzymes they think are used in an animal’s body. Some of them suggested numbers around 10 or 20.
The actual number is probably more like 75,000.
I like giving visual context so for fun I decided to research it a bit and stumbled across a list of all the enzymes used by a single eukaryotic cell. It totalled about 1,000 enzymes. I printed off the list on A4 paper (around 20 sheets!) and stuck them together end-to-end. When I stood on the desk and let the rolled up list drop I got audible gasps from the group (I know, right… enzymes?!)
It’s not easy to find ways to provide this kind of context consistently but given the reaction I got I’m going to try and incorporate it more into my lessons in future.
Hundreds of thousands of educators are out there every day making learning and revision videos for students, and all are making those videos using different styles and to varying levels of professionalism. By professionalism, I’m talking about that perceived production value (I say “perceived” because higher production value doesn’t necessarily cost any money).
A lot of educators watch someone else’s video and want to know how to give their videos that extra polished touch, how they can make them look more attractive and interesting for their students, and possibly others around the world.
Before you delve into these steps, just ask yourself, “What is my goal for my videos?”
If your goal is to share your videos online and grow a global audience over time, then you should definitely implement the seven steps recommended here. If you’re making videos that you hope will be re-usable for years to come every time you repeat your courses with new classes, then it’s also probably worth making them as polished as possible. If you intend to make hundreds of videos over the next year or so, then setting out on the right footing, using these recommendations, is definitely the right thing to do. Of course, if you’re making videos that will probably just be a one-off piece for a class, then perhaps focusing on the quality of the instruction (rather than the perceived production value) should be your priority.
If you are committed that you want to give your videos that extra polish, then here are some great steps to achieving that.
1. Get an external microphone
This is consistently overlooked and there is a reason I’m putting this at number one. This truly is the most important step you can take in improving your videos. The paradox is that most people don’t notice good audio quality, but they do notice bad audio. And there is no getting around it: the little microphone on your laptop is low quality.
The rule in video is simple: if no-one notices the audio, then the audio must be really good. A good microphone reproduces the sound of your voice more accurately, meaning the viewer can focus on the words being said, rather than getting distracted with how (bad) it sounds.
Before I make recommendations about which microphones, a word of warning. Be wary about what you search for online. If you type something like, “which microphone is best for me”, you’ll need a serious budget for the recommendations you’ll get. Honestly, professional audio is a VERY expensive world where most people who make recommendations consider anything less than professional studio quality to be virtually unusable. Professional microphones sell for thousands of pounds (and into tens of thousands), so when people refer to a microphone as “affordable”, they’re probably using the term differently to the way you and I might.
The main benefit of an external microphone is that you can get close to it. The closer you are to it, the louder your voice will be relative to any background noise (including that nasty echo/reverb sound of the room). If you’re trying to do this on a near-zero budget, then consider getting a headset with a microphone attached (airline pilot style). Alternatively, you could get something called a lavalier microphone, which is the type that newscasters use clipped onto their lapel. You could choose either one of these options for about 20 pounds, 30USD, on Amazon. Of the two, a lavalier microphone will probably provide the best results in terms of audio quality – some of the headsets tend to have a bit of a telephone sound to them, though it really does depend on the brand. Also keep in mind that if you are filming yourself in your videos, the lavalier mic is tiny and goes virtually unnoticed, while the headset really stands out.
If you’re willing to spend a little bit more money, you’ll get a big jump in quality if you’re willing to spend around 60 to 100 pounds. For this price you can buy a basic dynamic microphone that plugs directly into your laptop via USB (note: only specific models of mic have a USB connection – check the specs while shopping). If you go down this line, you will definitely be impressed with the improvement in sound. The most common dynamic microphones you get are the basic handheld ones you see pop stars holding on stage. Dynamic microphones are good at focusing on the thing right in front of them (i.e. your voice) and eliminating the other sounds around the room (i.e. echoes, fans, people outside the room…).
There are also condenser microphones which are the slightly bigger ones, usually silver coloured, that you see if you’ve ever seen someone singing in a recording studio. Condenser microphones usually require more accessories (which adds to the price), and they pick up more background noise. If you research it some people might describe condenser microphones as being better quality, but just be aware that it depends on their purpose. Big condenser microphones do tend to capture sounds more accurately, but they will capture everything, including more of the background noise in the room you’re in.
Personally, I’d recommend the dynamic microphone if you can afford it and the lavalier if you want to keep it cheap (and portable). Only go for a condenser mic if you’ve spoken to someone in-the-know about these things who has recommended it for you personally.
If you still want more info, try searching online for something like, “Best microphone for beginner podcasters.” The types of microphones made for that purpose are generally appropriate for narrating presentations, and they tend to be more budget-friendly.
2. Photograph and film everything
You may intend to create educational videos that involve filming someone or something, or you may intend to just make a PowerPoint/Keynote presentations and narrate those. Either way, having supplementary footage really adds to the character of your videos.
As a Biology and Environmental subjects teacher, I focus a lot on nature and wildlife footage. I don’t start out with a plan for which video I’ll use the footage for, but I will store it on my laptop and maybe bring it out months later when the right topic comes up. I was in London a while back and I took some random footage of the crowds walking across a bridge, and a few months later I was making a video that discussed overpopulation. That footage with a crowd on it was the perfect way to illustrate what I was saying.
Don’t get too fixated on what you film or photograph, just shoot anything that looks interesting. You’d be amazed how often seemingly random shots can turn out to be very relevant in future. And don’t get fixated on expensive cameras: modern smartphones do a really good job for this and the best thing is, you usually always have one with you.
There’s no real way around this: if you want your videos to look good you need to get some editing software so you can cut and stick the right pieces of video in the right place. Even if you use only a narrated PowerPoint presentation with no additional footage, this is still a really useful skill to employ. First off, you need to remove that 1 or 2 seconds at the start and end of the video – you know, that bit where you pressed record, then waited to check it was working, or cleared your throat before speaking. What’s more, there might be little bits throughout the presentation where you possibly fumbled over the words a little, or left a long pause before continuing. Being able to remove these little sections will improve the quality of your content.
Once you know how to edit video, it’s really easy to start adding in those extra bits of footage I mentioned. You might not think it’s worth it, or maybe think it’s just making things more complicated, but it really doesn’t take long to add things in with good software.
A useful thing to note here is that there are places you can get stock video footage that’s copyright free, and free financially too! Check out Pexels.com – you can sign up for free and browse through a big selection of videos. There is a big collection of photos too – all free.
In terms of software, there is a lot to choose from and a lot of different price tags. For Mac, iMovie does the basics and, though it is very basic, it’s free. Filmora is a Windows movie editor, and I haven’t used it so I can’t speak for it, but it seems to have the basic features and it costs $40 USD per year or $60 as a lifetime fee.
If you want more full featured software that it will certainly cost you. Adobe Premiere Pro is one the industry standards and definitely something I would recommend if you plan to start taking video editing seriously. As a teacher you can get an education license for $20 USD per month, and that includes a bundle of apps including Photoshop and others.
When you start working with editing tools, you’ll probably find yourself experimenting with background music, sound effects, and even processing your voice to make it louder and clearer, but that’s all part of another discussion for another day. However, if you invest in more advanced editors, you’ll probably find yourself learning to use these more advanced tools as you go along.
One final point on editing: it allows you to easily add a logo and maybe even theme music to the start of each of your videos. Which leads us to point number 4:
4. Get some branding and identity
There are a lot of aspects to building a brand but the most important points, in my opinion, are getting a name, and a logo. I played around with a lot of names before I settled on Science Sauce, and I’m really happy with it. It’s got alliteration, and I like the play on words: Sauce is spelled like ketchup sauce, and it’s a “source” for flipped learning materials. It’s simple and catchy. A lot of teachers use their name in the title of their blog or Youtube channel. For example, a name like “Mrs Smith’s History Blog” is quite common. There’s nothing wrong with this; it says what it is. However, it’s not memorable. You don’t need to set out to make a memorable site or channel if you don’t want to, but if you hope to share your content beyond just your own students, you might want to consider something more catchy.
As for the logo, this is tricky. If you know graphic design, do your own. If you don’t, I recommend finding someone who does. I tried a few ideas and being quite inexperienced, I made some awful designs before I came up with the red and green circle design that I use now. Fortunately, I know my way around Photoshop, and I know the basic principles of design, so, although it took a few attempts, I was able to make my own.
If you are set that you want to do your own logo, I’ll be doing another post on tips on making your own at a later date, so check back for that or follow me on Twitter (@science_sauce) if you want to keep updated with new posts.
5. Choose a colour palette
This is hugely overlooked and makes a big difference to the look of your videos as a whole. If you choose a set of colours and stick with them, it will give a certain amount consistency within each presentation, and helps keep your videos looking recognizable if the same person watches several of them.
To choose your colours, start with any colour you want, perhaps just go with your favourite colour. Then use its complimentary colour. If you don’t know what that is, you can use a colour wheel to show you. Complimentary colours are just colours that go really well together. For example, if you’re favourite colour is blue, then you should aim to use orange with it. Purple looks good with yellow, green works well with red etc. If you use this method, you’ve got two good colours to stick with for the majority of texts, maybe textbox fill colours, slide backgrounds etc.
Next, choose an equivalent for white and black. You can simply use plan white and plain black, but in my opinion it looks better to use something slightly original, because it makes your work look a bit more original. A very dark grey is better than jet black, and a very, very light cream colour is better than white. You might not plan to use these light and dark colours in your presentations but you definitely will use them; often you have an image and you need a light colour to contrast against it, and your two main primary colours don’t work, so you would need your light colour. Sometimes you might use you main colour for a heading, its complimentary colour for the subheading, and then want something simple for the main body text – that’s where your black-ish colour would come in handy.
6. Choose fonts
Fonts, used consistently, add more character and originality to your presentations and the right choice will make your videos look more professional.
You have two choices with fonts. Choice one is to stick with something very, very basic like Calibri or Arial, something already installed on your computer. The second choice is to find something original online. The alternative to these, which I don’t consider an option, is to use other interesting fonts already on your laptop. Fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus, for example. These fonts are so over-used they’re cliché now, and using them is a sure-fire way to make your presentations look amateurish. Please steer clear of them.
If you’ve never downloaded and installed fonts yourself before, I recommend finding something via Google fonts (fonts.google.com). They have a relatively big range of fonts to choose from, and they’re open source, which means you don’t have to pay, and you can pretty much use them for whatever you want. They’re primarily designed for use on webpages using a little snippet of code, but if you look carefully you can see a little “download” button once you’ve selected a font, and it’ll install on your computer. From there you can choose them as a font in your presentation the way you would use any other font.
There is absolutely no substitute for practicing and gaining experience in making videos. The more you do it the more you’ll learn what works for you, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” for making good content.
Remember that you don’t necessarily need to make your videos more professional – what you need to do is make them high quality, and that means high educational quality, rather than high perceived production value. As a professional educator, your videos are probably already of a very high educational quality. Nonetheless, if you do hope to give your videos that polished touch, these seven steps will certainly get you heading in the right direction, and help increase your global audience size if that’s a goal for your videos.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: making learning videos is really easy if you want it to be. Sure, you can make things as simple or as complex as you want, and I won’t belittle the work that some teachers go to in producing content; some have spent years perfecting their skills and spent hours or days producing a singly high quality video. But, of course, not every educational video has to be an award winning high budget piece. What’s more, many educational videos don’t involve a camera or any kind of filming; converting a PowerPoint presentation into a video is quick and easy.
Even if the videos you start to produce don’t have a sparkly “high quality” feel, that doesn’t mean the educational quality of them is anything less than very high. Remember that when making videos for education, you are already a professional: a professional educator. Having little or no experience in video-making is not something that should hold you back.
So, if it’s so easy, how do you get started? Here are the tips I wish I had when I started making videos for my students.
1. Choose a topic, and keep it short
You want to share the information as simply and concisely as possible. The first video I ever made (which I introduce with “This is a quick presentation to describe the process of…”) was anything but quick. It ran for about 15 minutes – WAY too long.
Aim to make your presentation 3 to 5 minutes. And don’t be tempted to repeat anything for clarity. It makes sense to use repetition for re-enforcement in the classroom, but with videos the students can pause and replay easily (that’s one of the main benefits), so let them choose.
When it comes to choosing a topic, I strongly recommend keeping it bite-sized. It might be tempting to try and cover a full chapter/unit of work in one video, on the pretense that keeping it all in one video condenses the whole thing. This isn’t as effective as it sounds. Students will generally benefit from watching a video on a single individual concept. When they are learning or revising, they’ll be put off if they have to skip forward to a certain point into a 20 minute video to find the exact bit of information they want.
For example, a science teacher doing a unit on “forces”, should avoid doing a video summarizing the forces chapter, but instead do several videos with titles like, “What is a Newton”, “What is the gravitational constant”, “Calculating force using Mass and Acceleration” etc. A prep school English teacher might want to summarise “Grade 5 grammar rules” in a single video, but it would probably be better to do a series of 2 minute videos on each individual grammar rule. This is far more accessible for viewers.
2. Create a high quality presentation
If you haven’t ever made a video before and don’t know where to start, narrating a presentation is a great starting point. Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote both allow you record and narrate a presentation, then export that as a video. I won’t go into exactly which buttons to push because it changes with each new version of the software but generally you need to click “Slideshow” somewhere at the top of the screen, then click “Record Slideshow”. You won’t struggle to find it, whichever version you’re using.
Make sure you consider how your presentation will come across as a video. We all know what death by PowerPoint feels like, we’ve all had to sit through presentations where someone puts a block of text on the screen and reads it to us, so much so that it’s a cliché now. The rules for presentations for video are slightly different, but not entirely different. Here are the main things to remember.
– Your voice is in the video so don’t worry about relying on text.
– A picture (or diagram) is worth a thousand words. Videos are visual, so take advantage of this.
– Use lots of slides, rather than a few slides with lots of content on each. This makes the content look for sleek and clean, and means the viewer is focused only on the information you want them to focus on. Having a single slide with only one word or phrase on is perfectly reasonable.
3. Choose your animations CAREFULLY
By animations I’m talking about the way you can make text and images magically fly in and bounce around the screen. This is part of creating a quality presentation, but it deserves a special mention of its own.
Usually I would say don’t use animations in normal (non video) presentations; they’re overdone and cheesy. But with videos they are very useful. I strongly recommend making things appear when you want to discuss them, and not before. This is another way to keep the viewer focused on what you want them to focus on.
A good example is a labeled diagram: show the diagram, unlabeled, and as you describe each feature, make the label for that feature appear. The reason this is more important with video content is because you can’t point at something on the screen like you might in class. There are tools for using the mouse as a pointer when recording a presentation but I find them clumsy and hard to use, so I rely on animations.
Now, when I say use them carefully, I mean stick to one type of animation. If you’re first piece of text bounces in from the left of the screen, don’t have the second piece of text fade in with sparkles. This not only looks awful, it becomes distracting and takes the attention off your content. I tend to stick with a simple “fade in” effect on all my presentations, and only use anything different when there is a distinct, relevant, dramatic effect I’m trying to achieve.
4. Borrow free photos, and give credit
Plain text is boring, and as I’ve already mentioned, a picture is worth a thousand words. Add relevant images into your presentation to support what you’re saying.
I’m very careful with copyright when it comes to using images. I used to spend AGES searching for images online with the appropriate license that allowed me to use them. It gets complicated because you have to understand the type of license, and what the creator of the image expects of you. For example, some say you can use their picture for anything without limits, others say you can use it but must give them credit, others say you can use it but not modify it. Some creators are very specific about HOW you credit them. The point I’m making is that finding and using images legally can be a huge time constraint.
I really wish someone had showed me Pixabay and Pexels when I started out. These websites share photos with a Creative Commons 0 license, which means you can download them and use them in your videos (even if you’re making money from the videos), and you don’t need to give credit for the photo, so there’s no concern that you might accidently use something incorrectly and get a take-down notice.
For the sake of professionalism, I recommend having a “credits” section as the final slide of your video, and perhaps stating something like “Stock photography from Pixabay”, just as an acknowledgment that you’re not claiming that it is your own photography.
Also remember, plagiarism is a huge problem in this day and age, and it’s good to set the right tone with the students you teach.
5. Script it, then narrate it
When I started, I figured, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about with this topic, I’ll save some time on scripting the presentation and I’ll just wing it.”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Some people have a gift for winging it, and make it sound good. But honestly, I believe the vast majority of people need a script. I remember narrating a single slide, fumbling over the words, re-recording, fumbling again, practicing it, then trying again… and then on to slide 2. It became very time consuming.
Do yourself a favour, spend 5 to 10 minutes writing a little script or even just some bullet points (word for word isn’t really necessary), to save yourself 30 minutes of fumbling over your own words while narrating.
6. Share it
Get a Youtube channel if you don’t already have one, and make sure it’s future-proof. By that I mean, think about the direction you are taking the channel when you choose your name.
Maybe you are making grammar videos for your Grade 6 English class. You might call the channel “Mrs Smith’s G6 grammar”.
Well, first off, is it possible you will create content for grades 7 and 8 as well? Next, will it only ever focus on grammar? Or will you branch into other aspects of the course?
Don’t let me dissuade you from being specific; being vague in your channel name can make it unclear. For example, “Mrs Smith’s Grammar” is better than “Mrs Smith’s Channel”, assuming grammar is the only focus.
And, next are you sure that you will only make videos for your own students? What if your first video gets 50 thousand views and you hope to monetize it in future? In which case, do you want your name on it or do you want more of a catchy brand name like “Apostrophe Ess” (get it?!)? Either way is fine, but it’s a choice you need to make.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do is just get started and feel your way, because nothing beats actual experience, but if you follow the advice here hopefully you’ll find the whole process runs far more smoothly. If you’re just getting started with the idea of making videos for your students, then best of luck with your first video.
If you use my advice for your videos, please share it in the comments section and add in any advice for others that you might have gained from making your first video.
Flipped learning has become one of those pedagogy buzzwords over the past few years. I think it’s worth the hype and use it a lot with my students, but wish I’d had some advice on getting started before I began the process!
For those that haven’t really delved into this flipped classroom idea, here is the summary: teaching using a flipped classroom approach involves students learning content at home in advance of the lesson, and then they spend the lesson doing activities that allow them to engage with the topic in more depth.
For any teacher who’s willing to try it, it’s really easy to get started with flipped learning, and it doesn’t need to take any more time than planning a regular non-flipped lesson.
You’ve quite possibly seen a few similar posts to this one, other articles or podcasts along the lines of, “X number of steps for a great flipped classroom”. It seems to me that most of these focus on making a presentation to share with your students. There are lots of resources you can use as the pre-class task for flipped learning, and presentations made into videos are one of the most common ways, but for the purpose of introducing flipped learning (and keeping it fast and simple), I’m assuming you’re NOT making your own video content (yet). My focus here is on the lesson as a whole.
So here are five easy steps to creating a flipped learning lesson:
1. Find your input task
The input task is the part where the students get the facts. Examples include online videos, listening activities, research, or sometimes just reading a page from their textbook. The main aim is to make sure all of the knowledge objectives of your lesson are covered. You’ll rarely struggle to find the content you need on Youtube, so have a browse and see what you can find. If you do choose to use videos, my advice is to choose ones that are five minutes in length or shorter. Try to consider your students’ attention spans.
Recent news articles or educational podcasts can make for interesting tasks if having something current is important in your learning objectives. In my lessons I cover a lot of contemporary environmental issues with high school students and so news articles on things like the effects of climate change provide quite a wealth of material. The content you choose will depend on the subject you teach and the age group you work with, but I don’t think you’ll find it difficult to get good educational content online in this day and age.
Remember that the idea is to give students all of the facts they need via this input method. Sure, facts and rote learning are not something you’re focusing on in the grand scheme of things, but view this in the context of Bloom’s Taxonomy; “remember” is right there at the base level, and the students aren’t able to access higher order thinking, like applying knowledge, unless they have those facts as a foundation. Make sure your input task contains good solid facts – the things you want to focus on for that lesson.
2. Create the engagement task
Once you’ve got the input task chosen, create some engagement work. The purpose of this is to give the students a focus while watching the video (or following whatever input task you set). I don’t expect my students to gain the knowledge from a video without having some sort of focus while doing it. Usually I think a question sheet is the best choice for an engagement task. As they watch the video or do the reading, they answer 5 to 10 questions based on it, which directs their attention to the main points, the points you hope to cover in the lesson. Question sheets also provide a good opportunity for you to give feedback at the very beginning of the lesson.
When you’re setting flipped learning homework, your instructions for students will probably be, “Watch the video and use it to answer this question sheet before next lesson.”
Remember that you would probably create a homework tasks for a non-flipped lesson anyway, so this doesn’t take any more time than making resources for a “normal” lesson.
3. Get a blog for sharing content with the class.
Flipped learning opens up a lot of doorways to the way you share information with students. You will probably end up using online videos, (online) newspaper articles, podcast episodes… all sorts of digital media. It’s great to reach the students in a range of ways, but it does get difficult to share this kind of content easily. It’s often impossible to share the web addresses for a specific video/article in class because web addresses can be lonnnnnnng.
A class blog is great because you can tell the students, “Watch the video and use it to answer the questions. You’ll find the link to today’s video on our class blog”. It saves a lot of time and effort in the long run.
4. Plan your class activities carefully for higher order thinking.
Think about Bloom’s Taxonomy here. Your students hopefully have reached the “remember” and “understand” levels of the ladder before they start the lesson. So what activities can you plan that help them reach higher order thinking? Here are some ideas I like to work with:
“Write a [pamphlet] about…”
Replace pamphlet with whatever is appropriate for the topic. As a Biology teacher, I could ask students to create a pamphlet warning about ways to reduce the transmission of disease (as part of a chapter on disease and transmission).
“Create a presentation to [a company/the local council] convincing them to [do something].”
This is very adaptable to many topics. The loose premise is to have students create a presentation proving that they understand the topic they did for homework, while reformulating their knowledge. Examples include presenting to the local council to convince them to use more energy efficient technology (for a lesson on renewable energy), or to a historical figure encouraging them to take a different course of action (for a history lesson).
“Teach the teacher.”
Tell the students that they are the teacher for the lesson and they have to teach you (role-playing the student for the lesson) about the topic. This is inherently differentiated because some students will only be able to re-iterate the main points of the lesson, while others will be able to reformulate and create new ideas based on the content, which is very high order thinking. The lesson is accessible and beneficial to all levels. To make that is true, I would recommend setting your expectations very clearly on this before the students begin; make sure they know that reformulating the ideas they’ve learnt is a target for the task, possibly by giving a rubric or possibly by setting a new context. For example, if my lesson focused on conservation strategies for endangered species, some thing I do teach often, the “teach the teacher” task might be, “Teach me how to create a nature reserve here in this town to protect species X, Y, and Z”. From this, reformulating ideas and applying knowledge is more of a requirement.
Whatever your chosen activity is, make sure it involves some creative thinking on the part of the students, as well as analysis and application of the concepts they covered for homework. As I mentioned, it’s also really helpful to give students an assessment rubric for any work you set. Which leads us to point five.
5. Think about feedback and assessment
All types of assessment will change a little with a flipped lesson. The activities don’t lend themselves to traditional marking so assigning a grade or score can be tricky, and as there is often less writing, you have to think more carefully about what you will base your feedback on.
In my flipped lessons I minimize student writing time and solo work. This presents the problem: how do I assess the students, both formatively and summatively? First of all, the activities usually lend themselves to effective informal assessment (via teacher monitoring), but second of all, they are great opportunities for rubric-based assessment, and therefore feedback. Giving out the criteria to students before they start the activity gives the students a focus for completing their task, and the criteria can be used by their peers (and you, the teacher) to assess students (and assign a summative assessment score if that’s one of your goals for the lesson).
It may sound complicated at first but once you do one lesson you’ll realize two things. Firstly, it takes about the same amount of planning and effort to create a flipped learning lesson as it does to make a “normal” lesson, and secondly, it’s a lot more fun (for students AND their teacher) to have a flipped classroom. Good luck!
Recently I did a flipped learning lesson on enzymes for a year 10 (age 14-15) IGCSE Biology class. The results were fantastic, and the lesson was well received by the students. The content was covered far more efficiently than with a traditional (non-flipped) lesson, and students were obviously having a great time.
At this point I should mention that not all of my lessons are flipped; I think flipped learning is a positive paradigm shift in teaching and I aim to maximise its use, but I don’t think teaching is a one-trick show. I don’t think there is one teaching method that suits every topic, every teacher, and every student. (And the science supports this; students learn better when there is variety, but more on that in a later post).
The basic outline of the lesson went like this:
At the end of Monday’s lesson (Monday’s lesson wasn’t related to enzymes), I gave the students the worksheet on enzymes, and directed them to the video on Youtube that would give them the information to complete the sheet.
At the very beginning of the next lesson (which was on Thursday), students did peer checking to compare answers. The work wasn’t assessed as it was a learning task, not an assessment task, so students were told that changing answers is OK here, it’s not “cheating”.
After the peer review, we did a class review, then I took questions. The students were all engaged, and most of them took additional notes on their homework sheet as part of the group review. By now we were 10 minutes into the lesson and all students had covered all the content and reviewed it. Of course, the level of understanding each student had, and their ability to apply the work, was unknown at this point, but that’s OK for now.
Next, the students started the in-class task. They had to create a role-play to demonstrate enzyme function, including the effects of extreme temperatures. (For the non-science teachers: Enzymes change shape and therefore can’t do their job if the temperature gets too high, and this is an appropriately challenging concept to demonstrate as a role-play). I’ve used role-plays a lot in different types of lessons and for different topics. From experience I know that these can be quite non-inclusive as students who are shy, or possibly don’t fully understand the work, tend to say nothing and just do as instructed by the other students to complete the role-play. My solution for this was a staggered planning phase:
Students work in pairs to plan the role-play.
Students find a new partner and share their ideas again.
Pairs join pairs (to make a group of four) and then collaborate on the best way to do the role-play.
Repeat this until the group sizes are as you want. I ended up doing some extra re-shuffling and had groups of 6 for the role-play
By the time that large group work got underway, every student had had a chance to apply the work in a pair setting. Careful teacher monitoring is important here, and throughout this lesson, as a form of micro formative assessment to determine how much understanding and application there is. The room was a hive of activity and enthusiastic discussion throughout the pair-share sections. Keep Bloom’s taxonomy in mind here: the students “remembered” and hopefully “understood” before the discussions even began. In the pair activities some students had the chance to gain an understanding from their partner, while others were at the level of “applying” and “creating” as they came up with ideas for the role-play. Do you see the implication here?! Some students were reaching the highest order of thinking within 15 minutes of their first lesson on the topic!
The role-plays at the end of the lesson were really useful for me and the students. For the students, the role-play gave them a goal to pull everything together; the idea of performing a role-play to the class gives a healthy sense of pressure. But for me, this was a great chance for some formative assessment; the performances were a direct reflection of student understanding and highlighted any misconceptions. I was pleased to see, there were very few.
I can’t talk about all of the pros without addressing some of the cons associated with this approach. In the past I have taught this topic the traditional (non-flipped) way. Typically it would take around three lessons to cover the amount of work covered here. Over those lessons, new ideas would be introduced, and each time a new idea is introduced it would be presented in the context of what had already been studied. In short, students would have had several lessons to review and re-apply the key concepts of the topic. Does this flipped method race through the content and deny students important review opportunities? My instinct says, “no”. My long-term plan would be the same regardless of the teaching method: the amount of time I have available to teach the chapter on Enzymes is the same. The students may have covered most of the chapter in a single lesson, but that doesn’t mean this is the only lesson we will spend on it. The only consequence I can see is that I now have “too much” time available. This is never a bad thing. Here is the chance to fit in an extra practical activity or maybe try some other idea that I’ve wanted to implement for a while but never had the time to schedule it.
I rounded off the lesson by a quick show of hands from the students, asking how many preferred the “learn at home first” way and how many preferred the “learn at school” method. The results were 18 to 2 for flipped learning. There’s not too much to read into this because what a students wants, and what is best for their learning, are often two very different things. Nonetheless, giving students a chance to share their opinions on their own learning is always important, and asking these questions as way to tell students that their opinion matters. It’s good for rapport building at the very least.
If you want to try the Enzyme lesson describe here, all resources including the homework, video and lesson plan are available here at Science Sauce Online.