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Classroom With Flipped Model

The weekly regimen for a handful of Manhasset High School science students drastically differs from last year’s, with in-class lectures and at-home reviews considered things of the past. Honors chemistry teacher Wendy Galfunt is replacing them with online videos and hands-on activities, piloting a thoroughly “flipped classroom”--in which lessons or lectures are delivered outside of class through video, so that teachers can spend class time helping students understand.

Galfunt previously struggled to balance class-wide instruction and personalized guidance in a given period, but thanks to the implementation of vodcasts, dedicates much of her time to the latter.

Galfunt created vodcasts, or a series of online videos, for each unit of her curriculum. Mindful of students’ extracurricular involvements, she typically posts a handful of vodcasts at once and asks students to watch them by a given date, usually several days later.

“Students, in essence, get to choose how much work they have per night,” Galfunt said. “All active learning is reserved for class time.”

She begins each period by clarifying questions that students transcribed while watching the vodcasts, and then transitions to labs or other hands-on tasks. Galfunt maintains that students can now perfect their lab techniques, practicing them until they attain success.

“In previous years, if a group performed poorly in the procedure of the lab, and therefore got poor data, I’d simply explain to them that scientists do many trials, and if we had more class time, they’d be able to do it again and fix it where they went wrong,” she said. “Now, I guide students to do it again and figure out where they went wrong.”

Galfunt also dedicates class time to completing worksheet and textbook questions, enabling students to request clarification in real time. “Answers to their questions are at their disposal while working on them,” she said, of assignments that were previously reserved for homework. “This puts the emphasis on understanding why the answer is what it is, as opposed to simply getting the right answer.”

While the Manhasset School District is not planning a full shift toward flipped learning, Coordinator of Instructional Technology and Libraries Sean Adcroft said a handful of teachers are currently attempting this model in some capacity.

However, he is “all up for a whole district doing it, as long as we did it right.” Adcroft citied intense research and training as pre-requisites to making this move, but ultimately believes that flipping offers a more inclusive model of teaching.

“Think of the limitations of reading. If a kid is diagnosed with dyslexia or a processing issue, where he can’t read as well as the next kid, he can listen, watch and hear as well as the next kid, so accessible media is a more universal way [to learn],” he said, citing the ability to pause, rewind and re-watch vodcasts to become fully versed with the lessons they contain.

Adcroft is also experimenting with flipped teaching, creating seven- to ten-minute vodcasts for his computer applications students. Charged with training these seventh graders to use Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word, he relies on vodcasts to show pupils how to interact with these programs, rather than asking them to simply read about it.

“Technology has reached a point where we can enhance the textbook,” Adcroft said.

Sophomore Eliana Rozinov is still becoming acclimated with the flipped model of her chemistry class. She values the additional class time dedicated to hands-on learning and practice problems, but has trouble keeping questions for the next day.

Galfunt is currently toying with the idea of an “interactive ‘blog’-type forum,” through which students can pose vodcast-based questions in real time. Meanwhile, Rozinov is willing to withstand the learning curve.

Eliana’s mother, Marianna Rozinov, is also keeping an open mind. She expressed high hopes for the flipped model in an e-mail to Galfunt, written at the beginning of the school year, but now fears that the chemistry concepts are too complicated for students to first encounter on their own.

“They go back [to the vodcasts] and it becomes more of a teach yourself kind of thing. And I don’t know if they’re learning as well,” she said. “As time goes on, we’ll see how [Eliana] does on the tests and everything.”

Sophomore Rachael Park is also uneasy about the shift. She views Galfunt as a competent teacher, labels her vodcasts “really good,” and enjoys the lab-oriented class periods, but struggles to maintain the relevancy of questions that are not simultaneously formulated and asked.

“Last year, I was in Earth science, and I remember always looking at the clock and wanting to get out, but in chemistry this year, time flies by,” Park said, noting that she juxtaposes her enjoyment with her determination to earn an “A” for her report card.

“I’m in high school to get the grades to get into college … [on Friday, Ms. Galfunt] said it’s not about the grades, it’s about the learning process, [a notion] which I cannot disagree with more. I will be learning the process in college, but for right now … I can’t risk anything.”

District officials are well aware of the limitations of flipped teaching, but are willing to ride the wave.

“I’d be fooling myself if I were to say there wasn’t a little bit of both, but right off the bat, it’s the benefits that jump out,” said Theresa Curry, district coordinator for Science, Technology and Health Education, citing trials with both general and special education students.

Prior to prompting any and all teachers to experiment with flipped classrooms, Curry urges them to first familiarize themselves with posting notes and homework assignments on their district homepages. “This whole initiative has encouraged teachers to even take the first step,” she said.